A reader writes:
I received a minimal raise (2%) at my last review. Another team in our small company just lost a big client, so getting any raise at all was a positive. But I asked for another $1,500 on the grounds that I’ve been a top performer among my peers (strong margins, returning clients, etc.). I wasn’t surprised when I was turned down by my manager’s boss.
My immediate manager is on a set salary+sales bonus structure, and did pretty well this year. My manager just gave me card saying that their personal success this year was due to the team effort, and my work in particular, and that the company was being short-sighted in not providing a minimal (from the perspective of the company) additional bump in salary. In the card was a $1,250 check (from their personal account).
Can they get in trouble if someone finds out about this? Can I ethically take this money?
You’ve officially stumped me.
I do think that ethically you can take the money. Your manager is saying that her own earnings this years were due in part to you, and so she wants you to share in them. I don’t have an ethical problem with that.
But I’m at a loss about the rest of this question. I don’t think you could get in trouble, exactly, if someone at your company finds out about this, but I also think it won’t look great. My bigger concern, though, is how it will look for your manager, and overall. If I were in charge at your company, I wouldn’t be pleased that your manager is openly criticizing their compensation decisions and correcting them on her own. I’d worry about things like whether it’s creating an us vs. them dynamic (her team vs. the rest of the company’s management), whether you’ll expect it next year too and what will happen if you don’t get it, the reaction of other team members if they find out, and the impact of this manager essentially rewriting the company’s salary decisions. (For instance, on that last one, what if it turned out that she was giving bonuses from her personal money in a way that appeared racially biased? She’d have taken control of that type of thing out of the company’s hands, but the company could still be liable for it.)
And yes, all of that might be over-complicating something that should be much simpler (“here’s a reward for helping me earn my own reward”), but when you’re looking at issues like this from the perspective of the company as a whole, they’re often not simple at all.
All of which is to say … I don’t know. It’s very well-intentioned of her, but I’m not sure it’s a great move.