why your boss won’t give you a raise

usnewsIf you’re wondering why you can’t seem to get a raise, it’s worth looking at why your salary hasn’t been raised. In many cases, understanding why your paycheck has stagnated can help you figure out the path to increasing it.

At U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about the most common reasons I see people missing out on salary increases. You can read it here.

how can I get my freelancers to turn in their work on time?

A reader writes:

I manage 15-20 part-time, remote freelancers, and my role is also part-time freelance. Let’s say our end-client sells access to a recipe database; my job is to find great recipe writers, teach them how to develop recipes according to our house standards, and then get them creating recipes for us on a regular basis. Once a recipe is submitted, I assign someone to test it, and then it is published to the database. I am paid per recipe that gets published.

There’s no real timeline to our need for new recipes, since we’re just building up a back catalog of content. In order to keep things moving and to plan the recipe-tester’s schedule (and ensure my own paycheck), I ask my freelancers to produce one new recipe per month. But consistently, after their first couple assignments, the work comes in later and later. It’s not that developing these recipes takes more than a month — most estimate that they spend about 20 hours on each recipe — it’s that this is a side gig for everyone, and there are no real consequences to submitting late work other than inconvenience for me and the recipe-tester.

How can I get my freelancers to complete their work on schedule, or at least on *a* schedule? If I stopped giving work to those whose work is late, I’d have to hire an entirely new team. I try guilting them by highlighting how much it inconveniences the recipe-tester when their work is late, but it has little effect other than getting lots of emails that are like “I’m soooo sorry, please tell the tester that I really really apologize, but the recipe still isn’t done and I have an emergency deadline from another client and my cat is sick, so the recipe will be two weeks late.”

It sounds like you either need to have consequences for late work or incentives for on-time work, or a combination of both.

On the incentive side, can you offer a monetary incentive for on-time work? Paying a bonus for work received by, say, the 20th of each month give people more motivation than they currently have to get things in on time.

On the consequences side, I hear you that you don’t want to just stop giving work to late recipe writers, since that would leave you having to hire a whole new team. But you’re losing much of the value of your freelancers if you can’t rely on them to keep commitments and get you work on time, so I think you should be open to the idea that maybe you actually do need to hire different people (and perhaps set up expectations with them differently from the start — more on that in a minute). If you really don’t want to do that, though, you still need to build in accountability somehow. One option would be to hire some extra recipe writers so that you have more than you need — and then let people know that you’ll prioritize assignments for the people whose work is on time (and those who are late will go to the back of the line, assignment-wise, and may not get work as frequently).

The other thing I’d look at is what signals you’re sending to recipe writers, particularly when you first hire them. For example, make sure that you’re talking about their work schedule as firm — not leaving anything loose-goosey. It’s the difference between saying something like “we’d like to get these from you once a month” versus “we require one recipe a month, delivered no later than the 20th of each month.” And when someone is late, that’s a prime opportunity to reset expectations — meaning that you’d call them and say, “hey, this was late, what happened?” and “Going forward, I need to get these no later than the 20th of each month. Can you commit to that?”

Note that none of this language is saying “if you don’t do this, we’ll stop working with you” — but most freelancers will assume that’s the implication, and they should. If you don’t actually want them to assume that, you can still reinforce the idea of accountability by instead saying something like, “If you think you’ll be late one month, I need to know about it at least a week before your due date” or “If you don’t think you can commit to that, let’s talk about whether there’s another schedule that would work for both of us.”

I think, too, that in your head you have to be willing to let them go at some point, because if you’re not, it’s likely to come across in the language and framing you use with them. If you aren’t mentally willing to consider cutting them loose if they don’t meet commitments, then you’re more likely to rely on trying to guilt them into action (as you’ve been doing). But if you know in your head that you will impose consequences after a certain point, it’s likely to lead you to use firmer language, and that’s likely to make people take you more seriously.

my assistant quit because of St. Patrick’s Day pinching

This letter was originally part of a five-short-answers column, but it’s getting enough interest that I’m making it its own post. The other four letters that were originally bundled with it are now here.

A reader writes:

This past Friday, the office I work at got into the spirit of Saint Patrick’s Day. We were all asked to wear green, and items such as green hats, clovers, and other symbols of the day were encouraged. Non-alcoholic green drinks and green food were ordered for a catered lunch for everyone.

Despite being Irish (in fact the only Irish person employed here), my assistant declined to participate. She had complained that it was offensive and cultural appropriation.

The first incident happened when she was pinched while on the way to a meeting. She yelled at the person who did it. The second incident was before the meeting, she was pinched as she sat down. I was not present for either incident. For the second incident, she said she was pinched near her butt. The person who did it claimed he didn’t mean to do it there and she had started to sit down. My assistant got angry and, according to people in the meeting, she walked out and threw her ID badge down. No one has seen her since, and when I called she said she quit and hung up. People from the meetings said she didn’t understand the pinching and was angry and had yelled.

I’ve never had someone quit abruptly before. If she asks for a reference in the future, how do I decline? Should I let her next employer know she quit abruptly? Since she was my assistant, should I address it with people?

It doesn’t really matter if she “understood” the pinching or not. She shouldn’t have to get pinched at work, and the fact that people are brushing it off like it’s nothing that should have bothered her is weird. Even people who enjoy the pinching “tradition” for St. Patrick’s Day should understand if it turns out that someone else is bothered by it.

Quitting on the spot was a pretty extreme reaction — although nearly having her butt pinched is a pretty extreme thing in and of itself, and it sounds like she was already pretty upset with the way your office was handling the day. And for what it’s worth, plenty of Irish people do have problems with the way St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in the U.S.; she’s not pulling that out of thin air, and it’s sort of disrespectful of your office to brush off the concerns of the one person with an actual ethnic connection to the holiday.

Given all that context, you should give her whatever reference you would have given her if she hadn’t walked off the job. If she would have gotten a good reference before this, you should give her a good reference now. It also might be wise to apologize to her for what happened.

asking a client to cover child care costs, did I over-share about my new salary, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My assistant quit because of St. Patrick’s Day pinching

This letter got so much interest that I made it into its own post, so that it didn’t overwhelm the comment section here.

2. Can I ask for child care costs to be covered as as contractor?

I’m a part-time, work-from-home, freelance contractor for a professional organization. Most of the time, I set my own hours. This is good, because I have a one-year-old at home, so I try to do most of my work during his naps, on weekends, and in the evenings after bedtime. If there are time-dependent obligations, like a meeting I have to attend, they’re usually in the evenings, so I can call in after bedtime.

One exception is the professional development courses we host, which happen during the workweek. For those, I have to be on-site doing registration and being the organization’s point person. Those are usually held on Mondays, which is fine, because my in-laws, who work Tuesday-Saturday, can come over and babysit (the logistics of a part-time working mom life consist of many moving parts :D). However, my organization has just signed up to man a booth a conference next month, and informed me that I’ll need to be there for “as much time is reasonable.” The conference is Tuesday through Thursday, three full days.

Childcare in my city is usually about $15 an hour, while I’m paid $18. Being on-site means that my net income is drastically reduced those days, to almost nothing. Is this something I should share with the board’s president? And is it reasonable to ask for a childcare stipend for events that must be attended in-person that I can’t cover for free? I think of this as being something like a travel or hotel stipend for out-of-town board members, and it’s a cost that I’m incurring because I work for them. How would you suggest that I approach this as a contractor?

Typically contractors roll this kind of thing into their rates, or charge a travel fee (which doesn’t really apply here). It would be unusual for a contractor to say “I need you to cover my child care.”

But are you sure you meet the legal definition for a contractor? What you’ve described sounds more like a part-time employee. If you’re truly a contractor, though, then you can set your own rates, which means that you can say, “This is a bit different from our regular arrangement, which lets me work around my child care obligations. For daytime work, I charge $X/hour. Knowing that, does it still make sense for me to be on-site for this event?” (You could even leave out that first sentence, but for an organization that you work closely with, it often makes sense to give some context.)

3. Did I over-share about my new salary?

I recently started interviewing for positions at director level with 10-15 direct reports. However, I am relocating from a bigger market to a second tier market and the pay in general in my new city is less, like 20-30% less.

I found an interesting opportunity in my new town and interviewed with a senior VP and a team of the people I’d be working with. I was told they liked me and could expect a job offer soon. They mentioned they would struggle to meet my current pay but that if they put me at a director level in the HR system, it would come close.

Then early the next week, I was promoted unexpectedly at my current job (I fly in to work in the old, bigger city and work remotely from my new city a few days a week). I let the company I’d been interviewing with know that I’d just been promoted to a director-level position, and though I was still very interested in working with their team, I’d just been promoted and I’d received a raise.

I never heard back from the senior VP again. I emailed HR a week later and then two weeks lat,er and each time I was told by HR that they expected the VP to reach out any day, but they did not have any other information. I did not have his direct contact information or otherwise I would have emailed or called him directly.

My wife says I should not have talked about money or the recent promotion until I received an offer in writing. I was trying to set expectations of salary in an honest way, but did I overshare?

No. You gave them relevant information that sounds like it probably changed the calculation on their side — but the fact that it changed it doesn’t mean that it was a mistake to tell them.

They’d already told you that they were going to struggle to meet your current pay, so once you told them that you’d received a raise, they probably figured that it didn’t make sense to proceed, since now they’d be coming in well under your new salary. And presumably you were telling them about the raise because you would have wanted them to be able to meet it — which it sounds like they didn’t feel equipped to do. That wouldn’t have changed if you’d waited for them to make an offer before mentioning it.

4. Mentioning YouTube training in my cover letter

I’m in the process of applying for jobs after taking about 18 months off after moving halfway across the country and having a second kid. I’ve been volunteering specifically at nonprofits where I can meet people and make a bigger impact. That said, I still feel rusty and am nervous about my prospects.

My question: I’m applying for positions in development positions, and most prefer candidates with specific database software experience that I do not have (I’ve mostly worked with Excel). In my research for the job, I’ve started watching YouTube videos about the software they specify. Can I mention my YouTube “training” on my cover letter?

I wouldn’t. It’s not likely to convince them that you have real experience with the software (since it’s a different thing than actually using it), and it potentially will come across as a little naive for that reason.

But if you have a way of actually using the software and teaching yourself that way, you can mention that you’ve taught yourself to use it.

5. Being asked to copy too many people on emails

In our business dealing with realtors, lenders, title companies, etc., we are frequently asked to copy other team members of a person we are dealing with. For example, I am in a house sale transaction and the lender wants me to copy five of his team members every time I send him information. This is something they should handle internally. I as the client, should not be responsible to remember the five people I need to copy so he can do his job properly.

How do I politely say “please handle that internally” in a nice way? We are way too busy to try to remember everyone’s team members we need to copy on a transaction. We handle that ourselves on our end. Why can’t they?

Yeah, it’s reasonable to ask you to send it to two people, but not five. You could say something like, “Realistically, we’re not likely to remember to copy five people every time. I can send to Jane and copy Fergus, but for anyone beyond that, can you handle it internally?” They may say no, but it’s a reasonable request for you to make.

(And really, they could make this much easier on you by setting up a distribution list for you to use, so you only have to enter one address and it would get sent to all five people.)

weekend free-for-all – March 18-19, 2017

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand. (This one is truly no work and no school. If you have a work question, you can email it to me or post it in the work-related open thread on Fridays.)

Recommendation of the week: The Miseducation of Cameron Post, by Emily Danforth.  Curtis Sittenfeld (who is also excellent!) described this as “if Holden Caulfield had been a gay girl from Montana, this is the story he might have told,” and that seems right.

update: I racked up $20,000 in personal charges on my company credit card

Remember the letter-writer a couple of years ago who had racked up $20,000 in personal charges on his company credit card and was in a horrible cycle of using the card to take Paypal cash advances to pay it off each month, thus moving it to the next month, along with interest charges? He updated once a few months later, and again late last year. Here’s the latest update.

I am (now, after the promotion ) on $60k. Previously it was $55k per year, so while not easy with two kids, rent, and car payments, I was soooo relieved not to be jobless, I just made it work … And I discovered that beans are marvelous!

As a side effect of this, I must tell you guys. I learned to cook at home a LOT … This was such an amazing journey, not only cheaper and healthier, but damn tasty.

In terms of stress management, I was seriously in trouble this time two years ago. I turned to exercise as a stress management relief source, and I have dropped 20 kg, with only changing diet and starting a running routine each week.  

I know I messed up bad, but to be honest I am a better ( less depressed, more active, more thoughtful, and happier) person now. Looking back, it was a serious kick in the butt and I made use of it to get on a better life path. I am so glad to hear everybody cheering me on along the path. This website (and the community here) were literally my backbone during a turning point. The advice I took away and what I did with it has truly made me a better human. I cannot express the gratitude ever enough … Thanks to you all.

open thread – March 17-18, 2017

It’s the Friday open thread! The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on anything work-related that you want to talk about. If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet*, but this is a chance to talk to other readers.

* If you submitted a question to me recently, please don’t repost it here, as it may be in the to-be-answered queue :)

my boss is insisting I get my tonsils out, my applicants including cover letters, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My boss is insisting I get my tonsils out

I took a day off work because I have tonsillitis. I returned to work with a sick certificate. My manager took me into the office and told me that since it wasn’t the first time I had tonsillitis, I must have them removed. I told her my doctor did not agree and I won’t be having surgery against my doctor’s advice. She has given me a week to go back to the doctor and demand that my tonsils are removed.

I don’t think her demands are reasonable and I felt uncomfortable discussing my health with her. I average 1.5 sick days per year and it’s been well over six months since I’ve had a day off.

I don’t know what I should say to my boss next week. I am certain she can not legally make these demands, but how can I politely tell her it’s none of her business? Since my boss isn’t willing to listen to me, is it time I get HR involved?

Yes. Or at least yes if your boss brings it up again.

Your boss is out of her gourd.

To be fair, I suppose it’s possible that she didn’t mean “you must do this,” but rather meant “it seems like it would be good to ask your doctor about this.” That would still be really overstepping, but it would be less insane then “I order you to have a medical procedure.”

If she raises this again, say this: “That’s not something my doctor agrees is necessary, and I don’t want to discuss my health with you further. Is there any issue with the amount of sick time I’ve used? My records show I average 1.5 sick days a year, which is quite low. Do you have a concern about my use of time off that you need me to address?”

If she continues hassling you, then yes, talk to HR immediately. This is ridiculous. (And if you’d like, you can go to HR right now; you don’t need to wait.)

2. Why aren’t my applicants including cover letters?

I’m hiring for a marketing coordinator role that is about 60% admin work (maintaining schedules, setting meetings, updating the website, etc) and 40% content creation (blog posts, emails, newsletters, etc.). In the job description, we state, “Please include a cover letter that tells us more about you, and why you’d be a great fit for this role.” That seems pretty straightforward to me.

95% of resumes we receive have no letter. No note, not a single sentence along with the resume. My gut reaction is just to delete any resume that comes in without a cover letter because if they can’t follow that simple instruction then I don’t have a lot of faith they are the right person to work for me. Am I overreacting? Is there a better way to get people to write a note/cover letter with their resume?

Nope, you’re not overreacting. It’s not like you asked for something time-consuming and outrageous; you asked for something that’s a perfectly normal part of the job application process. Rejecting people for not following instructions makes perfect sense.

And you’re likely getting people who are just resume-bombing — sending their resumes to every ad they see and not bothering to read closely. Which makes me wonder: where are you advertising? You’re more likely to get a lot of that kind of thing if you post jobs on Craigslist or big job boards like Indeed. If you go for more niche advertising (for example, Idealist for nonprofits, or other professional-niche-type sites), you’ll generally get much higher quality applicants who actually read your posting.

3. Giving feedback to an overly pushy intern candidate

So my husband has been hiring for his intern for next year. Generally this position is filled by masters students in their final year and is their practical experience portion of their degree, and it’s a great internship to have. It’s at a large company, is well-paid, and usually opens the door to a position at other large companies once complete. A significant number of applicants are from abroad (the company sponsors visas if needed) and as a result have wildly different ideas/norms about applying for positions. One applicant from this pool sent in his application to my husband (and was well-qualified and a contender, but wasn’t at the top of the pile and thus wasn’t interviewed or selected) and I feel really bad for him. He reached out to my husband every three days with almost identical emails stressing how much he wanted the position. One line he used frequently was “Although you need 1, I can guarantee to give you an effort equivalent to 10 engineers. Some hint: I’ve taken 5 courses as a Master’s student this semester which makes me ready for a super-busy intern life (which I’m loving as I can manage my time well and the mid term grades prove it).”

He also frequently stressed his (very thin) connections to the company: a coworker of his and his sister worked at two very separate branches of a company of the same name but which are actually owned separately and aren’t connected. When my husband sent him his (polite and encouraging) rejection email, he responded saying that he was “heartbroken: but would apply again because his family has been loyal employees of the company.

Would it be appropriate/kind for my husband to craft a feedback email about this applicant’s style? Part of it seems simply to be naivete about applying for jobs in general, but I could see several instances as well where his culture vs. U.S. culture just differed in terms of professionalism (aka, bringing up family members as examples as his family’s loyalty to this company as a whole). What would such an email say? This person is in his final stages of his masters program, and will need to be applying for professional jobs in the immediate future.

It would be a real kindness for your husband to do that. If he’s willing, he could offer to do a short call with the guy to give him some feedback. But an email could work too, and he could frame it as, “I can see that you’re really enthusiastic about working in this field, and I wanted to give you some feedback that will help make you a stronger candidacy. I think you’re inadvertently doing a few things that are shooting yourself in the foot: (specifics).”

4. When should I mention the impact that a brain injury has had on my writing?

I suffered a near-fatal brain injury a while back, and have been trying to return to the workforce ever since. Before the TBI, I was a great writer. Post-TBI, my brain has rewired itself to be stellar at math and programming, but the writing and “tell me about a time when you…” storytelling function is gone. This is well-documented, and meets ADA standards.

I lost my most recent job because I was asked to document a current model. Although I did so creditably, it took me forever, which took away time I spent on development of what I was *really* supposed to be focused on.

I have another interview for a dream job later this week: how do I appropriately set expectations about my writing?

For pretty much any disability that you might need accommodations for, the formula is this: Wait until you have a job offer and raise it then, in the context of “I have a disability / here are the work-related impacts and accommodations I might need / is that something we can make work?”

It’s wise not to bring it up before the offer stage, because you risk overt or unconscious discrimination. By waiting until the offer stage, you make illegal discrimination much harder; it’ll be clear if they’re pulling the offer because of what you told them, so it’s much less likely to happen. And they’re required by law to work with you to try to accommodate you if they can do it without what the law calls “undue hardship.”

Sometimes people worry that if they wait to mention it until the offer stage, they’ll look sneaky or dishonest. But that’s not the case at all. The law doesn’t require you to disclose it earlier, and decent employers will understand why you didn’t raise it until it was relevant.

5. Why does LinkedIn insist on including dates with work experience?

Am I not getting something? Why does LinkedIn insist on putting work dates in with my experience? Can’t my experience be considered without dating me? I try to edit, but it just keeps putting the work date in.

It’s because in many ways, LinkedIn mimics the basic info that a resume includes, and dates are considered highly relevant on a resume. The reason for that is that it matters whether your experience doing X was recent or if it was 20 years ago, and whether you did it for six months or five years.

LinkedIn probably has additional reasons for considering dates helpful, too. For example, since it’s a networking site, it can be useful to know whether the person you’re considering hiring worked at the same company as your colleague while she was still working there too, or a decade before that.

I resigned, and my employer asked me to write them a check

A reader writes:

I work for a state university in Washington state. Part of my job requires me to travel to conferences, and we book flights, hotel accommodations, and registration far ahead of time. I gave notice last Friday and today my boss came into my cube to let me know that she’d like me to cut them a check for the flight I won’t be taking for the conference in a few weeks, since it’s a nonrefundable and non-transferable ticket and I’d be getting flight credit for the balance. I’m shocked. I said that if they’re planning on sending a colleague in my stead (they are), I’d be happy to make sure that flight credit goes to their ticket cost, but she waved it off and said it was too late and especially with how expensive that last minute ticket was, they would need a check before my last day.

I’m not sure what to do. I bought this flight (and was reimbursed) in good faith and see this as a cost of doing business on their end. Clearly they don’t agree and my boss waved off my questions saying “it has to do with being a state agency, you’re lucky we’re not charging you the whole cost of the conference.” Can they make me pay? What could they do if I just don’t write the check? I’m pretty sure my last paycheck will hit before I leave and she’d previously mentioned that the way payroll works means they couldn’t just deduct it from my paycheck. I’m just not sure what the best way forward is. (In the interest of transparency, I’m not going to have this boss as a reference so I really don’t care about preserving my relationship with her.)

You are right, and your boss is wrong.

This kind of thing is a cost of doing business. If employees had to pay for this kind of thing when they resigned, no one would ever want to book travel more than a month or so out, because they wouldn’t want to risk having to pay in case their circumstances changed.

These are business expenses — expenses incurred in the course of doing your work. It’s absurd to suggest that you should pay for a work-related flight that you’re not going to take.

And no, they cannot make you pay. To make you pay, they would need to have a written agreement with you where you agreed to cover the cost of the flight if you ended up not going on the trip. They have no such agreement, and they can’t magic one into existence. They have no standing to invoice you for random things you never agreed to pay.

The exception to this is if there really is some bizarre exception for state agencies, like your boss claimed, but I would bet money that she’s wrong about that because this is really not a thing that happens. You should check your employee handbook to be sure there isn’t some weird policy in there on that, but it’s highly unlikely that there is. You could also ask her to show you the policy she’s referring to, because she likely won’t be able to.

And you don’t need to worry about them deducting it from your paycheck, because your state law prohibits deducting this kind of thing from an employee’s paycheck (they have a very limited list of the times when paycheck deductions are allowed, and this isn’t one of them).

So no, absent some unusual policy just for state agencies — which, again, it’s pretty likely she has made up — they cannot make you pay this.

Start by saying this: “Can you show me the policy you’re referring to that requires me to pay this?”

Then, assuming no such policy materializes, say this: “I’m not able to cover a business expense for the university. This is a cost of doing business; people leave or can’t complete travel plans for other reasons, and I’m not able to shoulder that cost on the university’s behalf.”

If she makes things unpleasant, you could also suggest she contact HR for clarification about the policy, or you could do that yourself.

But since you’re not concerned about preserving the relationship with her (which makes this much easier), you can stand firm; they don’t have a legal claim to that money from you.

update: our museum volunteer is out of control

Remember the letter-writer in 2014 who managed a museum that was saddled with a rogue volunteer who no one could control (and who was protected by the board of directors)? She wrote in with an update later that year and again in 2015. Here’s the latest update.

I’m still here at the organization. I’m extremely dedicated to turning this organization around, and it’s slow going but I feel like we’ll get there.

The rogue volunteer, Steve, has pulled back quite a bit from the organization. The collections objects are still at his house, for now. We recently updated our strategic plan, and one of the initiatives is to get everything out of his house in the next year. We found a temporary storage location that we can use for free for a few months this summer, and our collections manager will be moving everything from Steve’s house, using volunteers to help inventory the objects and choose items for deaccession, and then attempting to reorganize our other storage units to fit what we’re keeping.

We have had a large decrease in the number of people donating money over the past few years, and we’re starting to investigate now and see if it could be because of Steve badmouthing us. I think that’s likely the case, as he was our main donor-relations person before all of this. Steve and three other former staff members meet weekly for lunch to complain about the current staff and the way we’re taking the organization. It’s a pretty toxic situation overall. Hopefully we can find new donors and come out of this without too many scars from Steve.