asking for a raise during layoffs

A reader writes:

I work in the home building industry and well, you know what’s going on in that market right now! The admin assistant was let go because my company can’t afford to pay her anymore. I am a very efficient worker and so I am now doing my jobs (I already wear many hats in the company — AP/AR clerk, operations assistant, website management, and Green EnergyKey Program Director) as well as hers!

They told me there is no guarantee that they will be able to keep me, although we are closing a good number of houses lately and this directly affects my probability of staying. I feel that now is the time for a raise if there ever was one. I am very stressed and working much faster than usual, to the point of being in a frenzy at times. There is so much to do that it doesn’t all get done. Can I and should I ask for a raise?

Probably not. Your company is laying people off and already told you that they might have to lay you off too. They’re looking for ways to cut costs, not increase them. Unfortunately, they reality of the job market right now is that so many people are out of work that they could probably hire someone for less than what they’re paying you to do everything you’re doing. (Whether they would be able to keep that person once the market picks up is a different question.)

There’s an argument to be made that there’s no harm in asking, but there actually is a risk, no matter how small, that they might be frustrated that you don’t understand the financial situation they’re in, and that that could make them more inclined to add you to their layoff list. I’m not saying that’s fair or reasonable, but I don’t want to advise you to do something that could jeopardize your job in this economy. This is just a really bad time, and my general advice is that those of us with jobs should hunker down and ride it out.

Anyone have a different opinion?

{ 11 comments… read them below }

  1. Lisa*

    Be thankful you have a job to and, as Ask A Manager suggested, hunker down and ride it out. A person’s real character comes through when times are tough. The company is doing everythng they can right now to stay in business. The market will turn around, and when it does, the staff that hung tight in the tough times, will be noticed. If you find yoursel find yourself in the same situation in a solid, growing market, ask us your question again.

  2. Anonymous*

    Agree that in a perfect world those who hang tight will be noticed later, but this is not necessarily the case in many companies, so there’s always the option of moving on, trying to find another opportunity where the compensation is proportional to the work, or the work is at least not more than one person can handle even at 100% utilization.

    If the original submitter might be laid off anyway, probably a good idea to be looking anyway, and if there really is “so much to do that it doesn’t all get done”, there’s a strong possibility that will be a negative reflection on the person’s performance (regardless of all the extra work taken on).

  3. Anonymous*

    If you’re committed to the company, why not ask for some form of future compensation, like stock options or profit sharing? That benefits you in the long run and also shows a committment to the company’s success.

  4. Chris*

    My husband found out two weeks ago that a promised promotion and salary bump are not coming as expected–the non-profit healthcare system he works for is in a hiring and salary freeze now. He’s already doing the additional work and has taken on the additional responsibilities, but he isn’t receiving the pay that’s supposed to go along with it (though the situation will be re-evaluated in June). He has worked there for about six years. However, they are aware that they cannot afford to lose him–they’d spend twice his salary in about six months in consultant fees, since no one else in his department can perform the tasks that he does, nor do they have the education/expertise. So instead, and as a gesture of goodwill, they moved him into his own office (he was sharing an office-like area before) and gave him extra PTO (about an extra 9 days) to be used before June 30th. We’re not entirely happy that he’s already doing the extra work, and he has saved his department over $350,000 this year (which is much more than he makes–and this aspect of what he does isn’t really in his job description, but he actively seeks out ways to save money and reuse/repair equipment), but at least the management in his department and even higher up is trying to send the message that they do not want to lose him. His managers are far from perfect and they do make many, many mistakes, but on the other hand, these same people have made it clear how pleased they are with his contributions, and I believe they are sincere and that they will make things right once they can. But my reason for writing all of this is to say that if employers cannot give raises or bonuses, they could–and should, in my opinion–do other things that let valued employees know that they want to keep them. Instead, too many companies are sending the message that even valued employees that are vital to day-to-day operations should just be glad to have a job. There is some truth to that, of course, but most people don’t need to be reminded–and I think this approach is short-sighted and likely to be remembered by the employees once things turn around (as they eventually will).

  5. JT O'Donnell*

    I wouldn’t ask for a raise BUT, I would consider asking them to let you post a job opening for 1-2 unpaid internships. College students are desperately under-prepared for the working world. Less than 37% of them ever work while in high school or college. The result are young grads today who have zero professional skills and can’t get any jobs. Not to mention, stats came out this week that young professionals are losing jobs at the highest number in this economy as compared to older workers.

    Giving some eager young people a chance to learn from you on a part-time basis is not only rewarding, but when times get better, you’ll have a new hire already lined up.


  6. Anonymous*

    My experience has been similar to Chris – I am doing the work of three people, not being financially compensated appropriately, and the promised hire of someone to do one of the jobs has been taken off the table. There’s nothing I can do about the compensation, or the lack of new hire. However, because I work hard (including, as Chris mentions, making a point of looking for ways to save the company money), my boss has given me a lot in other ways. (For example, permission to come in late/leave early for personal reasons, redirecting anything she can off my plate, and a lot of praise.) This is not only because she’s a fantastic person (which she is), but also because she knows that when the economy does turn around, I’ll be out of there and it will be extremely difficult to start training someone all over again. On the other hand, the higher-ups at the company don’t treat anyone with this respect, and therefore they aren’t building up any loyalty in any of the workers.

  7. almostgotit*

    Wow. While there is a recession going on, it’s always dangerous to be doing work for free. Why SHOULD the company hire someone else if you’ll do it for free? Why should they pay you any more, either? Now, or ever?

    Yes, I’m cynical, but I don’t believe in the Great American Myth anymore, either. It’s been disproven, anyway. Sometimes? Hard work and self sacrifice don’t lead to a darn thing. My advice here: Yah, darn it, hunker down. But also, LOOK FOR ANOTHER JOB. If nothing else, a job offer may be the only way to get a raise (a counter offer) from your current employer. It also reminds YOU that your labor is valuable, whether you’re paid for it or not. Which you must never forget. Ever.


  8. Hammarlund*

    I would consider contacting an employment attorney early on. Depending on the outcome of your initial conversations with the attorney, you may want to have the attorney inform the company of her opinions regarding constructive discharge BEFORE you file for unemployment.

    I say this because it may be an easier task to prevent the company from raising a full defense to an unemployment claim than it is to win the unemployment claim once everyone has donned their full battle gear.

  9. Gordon, the Pay Raise Maniac*

    What are employers thinking of during recession? It's a good question :)

    What do you think, what is on your boss' mind nowadays? It is possible that he has been having sleepless nights trying to find new ways to increase the sales? It can also be that he is counting employees who are not that performing.

    One thing is for sure though: your boss is trying to find answers to questions like: How can I survive this? How could I save more money? Who owes me money? How could I get this money back?

    Yes, your boss is trying to find ways to sell more and spend less. You may be thinking that he is meditating on this day and night.

    Basically the world of an entrepreneur is made up of two things: spend little and sell as much as possible.

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