where’s the raise I was promised months ago?

A reader writes:

This past May, I went to my manager to discuss a raise. I told her that I had been approached about two job opportunities that are paying about $15k more than what I’m making now. I’m happy in my role and not looking to make a change — and I told her that — but at the same time, that is a significant discrepancy in pay. I’ve done my own research and spoken to other people in my field and the consensus is that I am being underpaid.

She was very receptive when I spoke to her and thanked me for bringing the matter to her attention. She even said to me that if she was the one to hire me (the manager who hired me is no longer with the organization), she would have brought me in at a higher salary. She told me that there was an operations meeting at the end of the month and she would talk about seeing if they could get me a one-time increase on my base salary and then she would also make a case for me to have a good merit increase in June. Although she guaranteed no results, she mentioned that she’d go to bat for me. The expectations were that I would probably not get everything I was looking for salary-wise but that there would be an increase coming my way. I’m happy with the organization, the perks and the flexibility in the role, so even if I didn’t get all the way up to $15k more, I’d be happy.

I heard nothing back from her, so about two weeks after that operations meeting, I approached her again as a follow up. She brushed me off and said that merit increases would only be discussed at the end of the year and said nothing about that one-time increase she had mentioned in our first meeting. I was a bit taken aback so I didn’t say much and just left her office without getting answers. Do you have any advice about how I should proceed? Should I ask her again about my salary or discussions of a raise or should I just leave it and wait for her to get back to me? I really don’t want to leave my job, but at the same time I do work hard and I think I should be paid fairly for the work that I do.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 26 comments… read them below }

  1. CBH*

    OP I’m curious if the outside opportunities are still available to you to apply to/ accept. Your bosses reaction would be a big red flag to me. Your situation reminds of another Ask A Manager letter – where was my raise and promotion promised 3 years ago. It seems like you are a hard worker and not being compensated accordingly to the market rates. I understand that other factors come into play – you enjoy your job, people around you etc, but it seems to me this would be a good opportunity for you to figure out the pros and cons of your job and if it is worth it to stay.

    1. CBH*

      Also OP are there other forms of compensation that you would consider talking to your boss about? Could you negotiate extra vacation time? work from home? negotiate flex time? help with tuition?

  2. AdAgencyChick*

    You don’t have a raise until you have it in writing. Something tells me that if this OP had actually come to her boss and resigned, the company would have coughed out a counteroffer, but because she didn’t go that far, the boss talked about something happening, either sincerely or insincerely, and then once the danger of OP actually walking was past, she either allowed the bureaucracy of getting a raise to stop her from moving further (if she was sincere in her intentions originally), or else never meant to give the raise in the first place.

  3. Yet Another JD*

    I know this letter is from the archives, but if it were me I’d have started to job search after the manager blew me off. It’s unfair of her not to follow up and to be dismissive of OP’s concerns, and I would not want to work for someone who handled an unpleasant situation by trying to sweep it under the rug. What’s she going to do if there are other difficult situations that come up?
    OP said they’d been happy at their position, but now that they know they are being underpaid, how long would that last? Seems like it’s worth looking for a company willing to pay what OP’s skills are worth.

    1. VintageLydia*

      I agree with this. I definitely understand turning down a higher paying job because the current job is so good. Husband did that last week, actually. He was offered two jobs that would pay [very large sum] more than what he’s making now, but right now he works 100% from home, he’s only been with his current company for 10 months, and he generally likes the work he does (whereas the other jobs would be more boring, offer less autonomy and most important for him, not nearly as wfh friendly.)
      BUT, he’s still taking these offers he turned down to use as leverage for more pay, more vacation, or both. We’re comfortable, salary wise, but he really would like a small bump at least and REALLY wants a week or so more in vacation. If he doesn’t get either, he’ll probably go out looking even though at that point he’ll only be with his company for a year.

      (And these were OFFERS, not invitations to apply. One was from the owner of the company, and the other was from a former colleague who told him if he wants a job, ever, he’s hired and he has the pull to make it happen.)

      1. NicoleK*

        Would that reflect negatively on your boyfriend leveraging job offers twice in one year for more pay, vacation time, etc? Or is that a common practice in his field? I’m curious as to how managers would deal with it.

    2. Ruffingit*

      I completely agree with you. Frankly, were it me, rather than pursue an answer to this from the boss, I’d put my efforts into job hunting.

  4. Mena*

    Adding to Alison’s comments, this person has told you a lot about herself … makes nice in the moment, lacks follow-through, lacks the ability to drive action, doesn’t feel the need to close the loop with you.

    1. mazzy*

      I agree. I’m pretty sure she didn’t even bring up the raise. I’ve seen way too many coworkers put stuff like this on the backburner or get stage fright in larger meetings.

  5. Whats In A Name*

    I know that this is an older letter and would love to hear what the OP did in this situation. I was in a similar-type situation once, but instead of salary I was offered a more senior role and responsibilities – to the point where I was even asked to draft a job description based on what my manger and I thought were fair for the role I was growing into, we edited it together and he promised me he’d take it to the new Steering Committee meeting for approval and get back to me.

    I was young in my career and followed up only once, where I got a “oh yea, we never got around to that”. Naively I sat by instead of pushing the issue and ended up with no additional responsibilities and out of a job when they let 40% of the staff go in a major layoff about 6 months later. I wish I had started my job search when he blew me off.

    I am hoping this OP either moved on with a job search or circled back around with her manager to say, “we have a very specific conversation where you said XYZ, what was the result of the meeting?” If she still gives blow off, hope she was able to take one of those $15K salary bump positions.

  6. Trout 'Waver*

    It’s often the case that you have to move to another company to get paid what you’re worth.

    People (and especially managers) can be susceptible to first-impression bias, which means they see you at the level they first met you. If you improve or move up, they still view you as the person you were when you walked in the door. If that’s the case, the only real way to deal with it is to change companies.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      It could be that, or it could also be an organization-wide preference for not paying staff market-value raises except as a counteroffer (which my organization, annoyingly, subscribes to).

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        That’s crazy. We try really hard to keep both offers and raises within market but still with room to reward outstanding performance. Still, we’ve missed a few times, I have had to do three market adjustments off review cycle in the past five years, and only one was at threat of someone quitting. The other two were voluntary adjustments for staff we didn’t want to lose who were in a market that got hot all of a sudden and another who developed a very marketable skill we wanted to reward for their hard work.

        I don’t understand waiting ’til someone has one foot out the door to pay market. You build up so much bad will that way, and the person’s going to constantly be looking, if they think that’s the only way they will get fair pay (and will eventually leave because that process is so exhausting).

  7. LuvzALaugh*

    OP, been there done that. The raise didn’t come until it came as a counter offer when I tendered my resignation. Unfortunately, when an employer is underpaying like that and you bring up how the work itself and environment are what you are looking for and you don’t want to leave…..You just lost your leverage. Not all, but most times when there is a big discrepancy in rates like the one you described either the jobs are different skill difficulty and responsibility wise but labeled with the same title, you work at a nonprofit or small business that can’t always compete with big corp, or you work for an company that boosts its profits from reducing wages (companies conduct wage surveys annually.) They know what the wages are. They have you with the fringe benefits and they know it, you told them so. It’s business, not personal (even if it feels personal it is your wallet after all) Negotiating 101 : don’t reveal to the other side what is operating in their favor. Intrinsic rewards of your job are perfectly fine to console yourself with on why you are willing to accept less pay. Don’t reveal that when negotiating a raise.
    Also telling your employer I have two other offers is not the same as presenting them with the other offer and having a serious discussion surrounding the fact that you do not wish to make a decision to leave their employment with out having all the facts. Then getting anything they promise you before the offer expires (it is your leverage). Your manager saying “I will talk to my boss at the end of the month” (not sure when in the month convo took place) instead of saying ” I will discuss this with my boss and get back to you. I am assuming you have one week to make your decision with the other employer so I will have an answer for you in in a few days. ” is a pretty good indication you just got blown off. She stalled you long enough for the other offers to come off the table. IMO

    Also it could be that she DID talk to her boss but didn’t tell you that her boss was offended by you mentioning other offers and simply stated if she wants to leave let her leave if we give her a raise she is just going to be gone soon anyway as she apparently has been out looking.
    (a lot of people are not fans of the counter offer. I am open to it…depends on a lot of factors.)

    It is always hard to tell how to navigate this territory and how to play it. ALOT depends on culture AND relationship with your boss as well as how the decision maker on increases thinks. Some people are appalled at employees bringing up other offers and insinuating they will leave for more money and some want to retain the employee and will rectify a discrepancy or explain why they choose not to (maybe their benefits or 401k contribution is better…ect)

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      Some good points here. But if her boss was simply rebuffed by her boss or the higher ups, why wouldn’t she just come clean and tell the Op that? Makes me think there was more going on there, like when boss brought it up to her boss, she found out there’s some other financial issues with the company or something else at play like a merger that may affect number of staff.

      1. DoDah*

        Loads of reasons. She didn’t tell her because:
        – She couldn’t deliver good news
        – She is conflict avoidant
        – She may not have actually had the conversation at the EOM budget meeting

  8. Sam_A*

    Yea I took a job right out of college that had a post-college program with three guaranteed raises in the course of 18 months. I got the first raise and then my boss “missed the deadline” for the next two raises, so I haven’t gotten a raise in about 2 years (and according to my boss, it’s normal for people to go up to 5 years without raises here). And then I got a “promotion” with way more work and expectations but no raise to go along with it; I was told I would get a raise when everyone else is up for a raise later this year but who knows, and according to Glassdoor, I’m significantly underpaid for my role within this company. Unfortunately this is a very niche industry, so I’m working on teaching myself some skills that can get me another job somewhere else, hopefully within the next 12 months. At least in this role, it seems to be a job that relies on your being content with the status quo and not having any real upward mobility or regular pay raises, and my manager’s actions, and the OP’s manager’s actions, are not conducive to sticking with a job from graduation to retirement.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      That’s really crappy. Especially because it was advertised as the 3 raises in 18 months.

    2. neverjaunty*

      Has your boss offered any explanation why the “guaranteed” raises were in fact not guaranteed?

      1. Sam_A*

        Because they were only “guaranteed” if the raise requests were submitted within the appropriate timeframe. He claimed that he never got notification of the deadline until after it had already passed.

  9. ECB~*

    “I told her that I had been approached about two job opportunities that are paying about $15k more than what I’m making now.”

    I think the message from your boss was quite clear. Brush off that resume and call the people with the offers back, pronto.

  10. Chantel*

    Ugh, this questions hits me hard and I feel bad for the question asker. At my last company, I asked for a raise, was told by my boss that I definitely deserved one, and then waiting 9 months and basically heard nothing. A few other things pushed me to find another job, and when I was finally a few weeks away from leaving another manager told me that the CEO had told her that he essentially thought my job was unimportant and that the company didn’t need me, and that was why I had never been given a raise. As far as I know, he never expressed this to my manager, so there was no way for me to know that I had basically no chance of getting a raise. It sucked so much! I wish higher ups would understand how frustrating this is and be more upfront about it.

  11. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    The IS/IT world worked that way for years – in fact, many management teams are happy holding their people back if they’re doing a great job in their current positions.

    What OP did probably did her little good. The way you go about resolving a dispute over lowball pay is –

    a) make it known -politely and professionally – you know you’re underpaid, and you’d like to see a resolution.
    b) start looking for one of those positions you have been contacted on. Follow up.
    c) a few weeks will pass – and assuming you get an offer – you take it to your manager.

    First remind her that you had this conversation some weeks back. If she addressed it with her higher-ups – she has a direction or strategy that she’s not revealing.

    Second, if there is no response, or “well, we’re talking about it, next year, blah blah” then say – “I wanted to resolve this issue NOW. I have a job offer for ($15k more). I would rather stay and this is a decision I really don’t want to make but I am forced to.”

    Gauge the reaction. They may already have planned for this – you just don’t know what their planned response to your notice is. If you are pressed for a time frame – be reasonable – they may ask for a few hours or even a day.
    On the other hand, if the decision makers are in the room – you might just say “I’m going out for lunch, I would like your answer when I come back…..” or you can be radical (only in certain circumstances, which I had once = “your opportunity to counter-offer ends when I get up from this chair” but that was an unusual situation.)

    You either get your raise at job A or job B. In any event you get a raise.

    1. Peter the Bubblehead*

      That only works if OP actually has an offer in writing from Job B in hand. From the letter, it did not sounds like she had a firm offer, only an opportunity to apply.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Agreed … you only do that if you have an offer in hand… because you could otherwise find yourself in the street.

        When you give your notice – one of two things is gonna happen. You’re gonna get a raise or you’re gonna be moving on.

  12. Stevie Wonders*

    One time my annual review was almost a year late (because my boss procrastinated). Fortunately, the company made it retroactive. (And the next review was on time.)

    The instances where I really boosted my salary were by switching employers. Especially nowadays, employees are taken for granted. Counter-offers can be risky, I wouldn’t accept one. $15K is a lot to leave on the table. I sure would look into those other opportunities.

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