my manager won’t promote me because it would hurt a coworker’s feelings

A reader writes:

I work for a large university, and this year has been full of announcements regarding upcoming changes. Namely, as part of a massive departmental merger, my teammates and I will be losing a lot of paid time off and taking a cut to our retirement plans. I did the math and it comes out to an ~8% loss in total compensation. In the academic setting that we work in, most of our salaries are below-market for the types of technical jobs we do; many of us were recruited and accepted our positions because our now-bosses rang the praises of all the paid time off and great retirement plan. To top all of this off, because I was hired after an apparently arbitrary cut-off date, I will take a further penalty on my future benefits.

The whole thing has left a bad taste in my mouth and I’ve been thinking seriously about what I like about my job, my team, and the possibilities for juicy projects on my team. I only started my job here 10 months ago and I was in my gig before this for only four months.

During my 1-on-1, I asked my boss what the path to a senior role looked like for me. While my boss looked relieved at first that I was inquiring, what he said was frustrating to me. He talked about how when another coworker, Jamie, had been promoted from my current role to a senior role, there were some hurt feelings. A different coworker, Sam, the most senior among those of us who work in this particular domain on our team, was offended because he believed that people who hadn’t put in the same amount of time as him shouldn’t be promoted so easily. I knew about this, but my boss relayed this story to me and said that promotions were based on years served because of this. He acknowledged that I was taking on projects that were as complex as anything the seniors were doing. He also said that he knew I was operating with a level of autonomy on par with the senior role, but indicated that he only knew this after I told him in my yearly review.

Obviously, I want the slightly better pay associated with the senior role, but I also want the title so that my contributions aren’t diminished because I’m not a senior.

My boss seems to recognize the problems here, but I’m just extremely unimpressed with his response. Between the benefits and the upcoming merger and now this, I’m just feeling like it’s time to move on. Am I overreacting? Should I give it time? If I go on the market again will anybody be able to take me seriously with my two last gigs being less that a year? (Context: I work in tech.)

Your boss sucks.

Good managers don’t make promotion decisions based on longevity; they make them based on skill and accomplishment. And they definitely don’t make policies based on someone having hurt feelings about something totally reasonable.

And while yes, sometimes benefits change, when you’ve talked people into accepting below-market salaries based on those benefits, at a minimum you have to have a conversation about what’s going on, acknowledge how much it sucks, and at least try to explore other ways to compensate people (even if it’s just something like more flexibility).

So again, your boss sucks.

But should you start job searching? Maybe, maybe not — it really depends on which reason is driving you here, the promotion thing or the benefits cuts.

A year is pretty early to expect to get promoted in the vast majority of fields, so while your boss’s reasoning is offensively bad, it’s not outrageous that there’s not a promotion in your immediate future. Plus, a four-month stay followed by another short stay isn’t great and will raise concerns for most good employers. You might be able to get around that by explaining that you’re eager to stay somewhere long-term but your current job made significant cuts to your benefits (but then you’re also going to have to explain that four-month stay, and now you’re doing a lot of explaining … which isn’t insurmountable but it’s not exactly helpful). And then, at whatever job you move to, the two previous short-term stays will pretty much lock you into having to stay at the new job for at least three years even if you end up unhappy there.

All of that might be worth dealing with, except for the fact that, again, it’s not outrageous that you’re not getting promoted after a year. Yes, there’s the principle of the thing — that your boss is being overly influenced by a coworker’s hurt feelings. But is getting yourself into a job-hopper-ish spotty work history situation worth it just to take a stand on that particular principle? I’d argue no.

However … the cuts to your time off and retirement plan might be worth leaving over, although I can’t really take a stand on that without knowing more. It’s possible that as much as that sucks, it’s still smarter for you to stick it for two years there so that you don’t have two short-term stays in a row. Or maybe the cuts are significant enough to trump that. But I’d make the decision based on the cuts more than on your manager’s bad judgment.

{ 155 comments… read them below }

  1. Jaguar*

    It is worth noting that in tech, especially depending on how fluid the domain you’re working in (i.e., web development changes rapidly while desktop development is significantly slower), the “job hopper” thing is a lot more normal. Most people I know tend to leave before two years at nearly all their jobs. It’s not nearly the stain that it is in other fields.

    The downside to this is that you’re often expected to hit the ground running with little in the way of training or onboarding, which sucks.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      I was going to say, in advertising I’d say two short stays means you should stay at your next job 18 months to 2 years, not three! YMMV by industry of course.

    2. Spooky*

      Same in marketing and PR – even my boss (a VP) doesn’t have a stay longer than 2 years on his resume, and 8 month stays are fairly normal in the lower levels. I actually asked one of the hiring managers about this at my last job, and she said as long as the candidate could show progressive responsibility, it wasn’t a problem.

      1. Jaguar*

        In tech, it can outright be a stain if you stay at a job for an extended period of time.

        I’ve been in my current position for just over a year and a half. I hate, hate, hate job searching and have been dreading doing it, but I feel intense internal pressure because I’m not learning much in this position any more and if I stay here much longer, I’m probably going to be facing questions of why have I taken so long to find a new place to grow.

        1. Spooky*

          It’s the same in PR (though thankfully, not the side I’m on)! Each place you work in PR expands your network, and the bigger your network, the more valuable you are. People who have worked in more places tend to get chosen over those who have been in one place with the same brands and editors for too long…though there’s a sweet spot, obviously. But less than 8 months once you’re in the middle of your career still doesn’t look great – that’s just for the lower-level people (I was surprised it was that short).

          And for tech, I’d assume that staying in the same place signals rusty skills?

          1. Jaguar*

            I think the biggest concern is complacency. If you’re in one job a long period of time, the idea goes, you aren’t good at adapting to new environments and aren’t as good at picking up new technologies. But having rusty skills, not knowing other ways of doing things, etc. are all concerns. Not real concerns, of course, but idiotic biases hiring managers use to select candidates.

            1. Koko*

              Yes, the culture shock can be harder to deal with when it’s been years and years since you’ve last had to settle into a completely new environment. Over many years at a job you can lose sight of the line between things that are “normal in my office” and things that are “normal everywhere.”

        2. copy run start*

          I think the ability to learn and remain challenged is key. I’ve been in my role for more than 8 months but I know haven’t learned everything I can from it. I expect to hit that point near the 1.5 – 2 year mark and move on.

    3. Jaws*

      In tech, less than a year is a warning sign. So I’d recommend the OP stay at least the full year. Given the 4-month stint before that, maybe 18 months.

      1. Sofia*

        I kind of agree. I mean who knows how the job market is where OP is (but from what I’ve heard IT is good anywhere), but I would wait a few more months maybe get my resume together in the mean time, do some research, etc and start looking after being there 14 months – who knows how long it will take to find a job.

        OP has been at this job for 10 months already so 6 months isn’t terrible and then s/he won’t feel stuck at the next job!

      2. Editor*

        And, if the OP can do so, look for the next job in Massachusetts, where eventually it will be verboten to ask about salary history.

    4. Koko*

      Shoot, not only are short stints common in the tech world, from what I have seen there is a TON of poaching going on. Every developer I know who has an in-demand skill hasn’t even really had to job search – they’ve been lured away from a job pretty much every job, some they’d been at less than a year, by a recruiter offering a better compensation package at a different company. It was a foregone conclusion for them that short stays weren’t going to hurt them – because the recruiters were still contacting them!

  2. Rusty Shackelford*

    No, it’s not outrageous to not be promoted after working there a year. But it IS outrageous to be told you won’t be promoted at all until people who have been there longer get their own promotions, and that said promotions will be based on longevity and not performance. I’d put in your minimal amount of time and get out.

    (Along those same lines, I knew someone at a university who was promoted to a supervisory position, but was told she couldn’t get a raise because then she’d be making more than people who had worked there longer than her.)

    1. Whats In A Name?*

      Oh yes, I was limited to less than 5% raise to a senior position for same reason. Anymore and I’d be making too much and they couldn’t chance others finding out.

      1. designbot*

        I love how it never occurs to them that maybe they should be paying those people more. I’ve been the underpaid person who found out about a colleague’s higher salary before, and you can bet it hurt. But on the other hand the notion that they should have been handicapped because of my salary doesn’t sit right either.

        1. Mreasy*

          I’ve been that person, with the kicker that I worked in a city with a cost of living nearly twice that of the colleagues who I “couldn’t make more than.” (I had been hired specifically to live and work in that costly city.) I was paid woefully below market & left after a year.

    2. neverjaunty*

      Exactly this. The problem isn’t the current lack of promotion, but the boss running his office on seniority because of hurt feelings. Not because of union rules or some other outside force – but because somebody complained.

      What other crap is your boss going to let slide so that he doesn’t have to deal with sadfeels from a direct report?

      1. FunTillSomeoneLoosesAnEye*

        Bosses who manage with the “Let’s not hurt anyone’s feelings and not have anyone be mad” are by far the worst.

        Sometimes things need to happen that not everyone is going to like.

        1. Koko*

          “Let’s not hurt anyone’s feelings and not have anyone be mad” = “anyone except the most emotionally well-adjusted people who don’t throw fits and the people who played peacemaker in their dysfunctional families growing and learned to keep their head down as a survival skill”

    3. copy run start*

      I worked at a place where the newest supervisor was making about 50 cents more than me, in the lowest position in the office and with the least longevity. Her direct reports (still above me) were making $2 – $3 an hour more, and her peers making $4 – $5 an hour more. Because it was the government, it was all available online. I wonder if that was not part of the reason she left so quickly. There was no salary negotiation, so whatever the government equalizers felt you got based on your qualifications and experience was what you got.

      1. Jaws*

        Interesting. I’ve heard of managers getting pissed off if their direct reports made more than them. To my mind that’s ridiculous – sometimes you have brilliant, valuable people who don’t want to be managers. They should be paid appropriately.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I can totally see why you might have someone “lower ranking” than you who gets paid more. Because they’re really good at the specialized thing they do, and your managerial skills are broader and more easily found.

        2. doreen*

          That’s the sort of thing that really depends very much on field – sure, it makes sense for some managers/supervisors to be paid less than their direct reports (I’m thinking of commissioned sales in particular but I’m sure there are others.) On the other hand , in fields where the supervisors/managers have the same skills as their direct reports it doesn’t make so much sense – and it can make it difficult to find managers/supervisors. Why would a cop/firefighter/nurse/social worker/cashier/fast food worker take on more responsibility as a supervisor or manager for the same or less pay as their direct reports?

        3. DragoCucina (formerly Library Director)*

          The problem comes when the direct report ignores the manager’s instructions because he (in our case they were both male) knows he makes more. It required a major sit-down in one of our departments.

      1. DragoCucina (formerly Library Director)*

        In some school accrediting systems it specifically states a coach cannot make more than the principal.

  3. Whats In A Name?*

    I worked in academia for 12 years in a staff position. Unfortunately promotion/title change based on seniority vs. actual skill were common at the university’s I was in as well. It’s crappy, and I don’t have any advice but I do have sympathy towards your situation.

    I encourage you to stick it out, though, if you can. I am not sure what the extent of your benefits got cut or where you live at, but a lot of times a new job also means limited access to vacation/time off, getting to know a new office and then if you don’t like this job you’ll have to make another move. Forgetting the hops on your resume for a minute I would think that might get stressful for you as well.

    I hope it all works out, though, however you decide!

    1. Cordelia Naismith*

      I’m also staff at a university, and it’s the same here. Pretty much the only way to get promoted is to change jobs to a different office on campus or to have seniority. It sucks, but it’s very common in university jobs, as far as I can tell.

      1. Lemon Zinger*

        I also work in higher ed, and this is so true. I know there aren’t many opportunities for me to advance in my current department, so I’ll have to switch departments/campuses eventually.

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          Not in higher ed (risk management/insurance), but a lot of the divisions in my company work like this. I know that my current division won’t be promoting me again any time soon (even though I’m outperforming several people on my team, including someone who has a higher title than me), so even though I plan to ask about it during my final check-in of the year, if it doesn’t happen by salary review time next year (March), I too will be looking for a new internal position.

          1. Cordelia Naismith*

            Unless, of course, you were talking to What’s In a Name, who does indeed have an awesome user name. I need coffee.

      2. Anonyhippo*

        Yes, this is the way it works here in Higher Ed. To get promoted, we have to wait for someone to leave that higher level position, then apply and interview for it. There’s no guarantee that you will get it–even if you are already ‘doing the work’–because the interviews are competitive and the ‘best’ candidate is selected. The best candidate could very well be someone external.

        With all due respect to AAM, university hiring is DIFFERENT.

        And, yes you may need to look elsewhere.

        1. Bigglesworth*

          I completely agree. At the university that I work at, the only real way it seems that you can get a promotion is when someone in a different department leaves. There have been several open positions in my department in the time that I’ve been here, but they’ve usually hired someone external or from a different department. I’ve only seen two promotions from inside the office (and it’s never been an admin moving up for either one of those).

          I know I most likely won’t be promoted. My manager has said before that I’m too valuable where I’m at right now as an admin assistant. We even had a conversation earlier this year about how much my duties have changed and how much extra responsibility I’ve taken on, but they won’t change my title or give me a raise. It’s very discouraging that they won’t give promotions based on merits/skills.

            1. Whats In A Name*

              In my experience they know there is a line out the door of people waiting to get into a university so they normally don’t care much when very qualified people leave in higher ed settings. Because of the difficulty of upward movement they also seem to expect a lot of turnover in positions below director as well.

            2. Bigglesworth*

              Basically what Whats In A Name said. We haven’t had much difficulty bringing people in from other departments and other departments usually have one or two people that used to work here. We are the department with the highest turnover in the school (we’re at about 60% for the past 12 months), but no one seems to be keeping track since it means they might need to change. It’s weird to say that my food service and retail jobs had lower turnover than this place.

          1. SJ*

            Commenting on this super late, but this is exactly why my last day in my current university staff job is on Friday and I have a new job on Monday at a different university. After many additional responsibilities and duties in my 3 years at this job, and so many comments about how valuable I am, they just couldn’t give me a title change or pay raise. Not worth it.

            1. HYDR*

              YES! I’m also staff at a University, and 1. the process for anything moves. so. slow. 2. title changes are not given out, and especially not a new pay grade 3. the sick/vacation/holiday leave is amazing, and very hard to leave. very hard. 4. our University is undergoing consultants to run more efficiently…so the lack of job security has everyone in a panic. It’s not a good place to be at, especially since the majority of staff have been at this University for 10+ years. 5. I took on a new role, but no additional pay, so I’m doing the role of someone 2 pay grades higher than mine, with no additional compensation. Resume building for sure!

              Hang in there, I sympathize with you OP!

  4. JOTeepe*

    I got the impression from the letter that the OP was asking about long(er) term possibilities when she was informed that her promotion would be stalled for a – let’s face it – terrible reason.

    OP – I think you could easily explain both short stints: “I left Employer X after 4 months because I was enticed by working in an academic environment with excellent benefits. However, less than a year after I started our benefits were cut significantly, resulting in a 8% loss in total rewards. As I stated, I left Employer X in large part because of the benefits package, which is no longer as lucrative as when I accepted the position.” Etc. Though, Alison does bring up a good point that it could leave you “stuck” somewhere potentially worse for a while.

    Therefore, my advice would be to keep doing what you are doing – even if working at a higher level without the compensation or title can be annoying at best, it sounds as if you enjoy doing this higher level work – and stick around, but perhaps passively look for new opportunities in the meantime.

    1. Jaydee*

      It’s a perfectly reasonable and factual explanation, but I worry that potential employers would see an employee who will jump ship as soon as there’s either a shinier, better offer somewhere else or as soon as there’s a rough patch at that job. I’m definitely not one to shy away from discussing compensation and benefits, but if you only have had 2 jobs and both were for stays of less than a year and your reasons for moving had to do with benefits, then that would be a concern. I would say to stick it out at the current job for a year or two, do good work, get as much experience as you can regardless of what your title is, solidify a good reference from your manager, and move on. At that point, I think you can legitimately say that the reason you are looking is that you want to do more of the advanced work but that there simply aren’t options for that type of advancement at your current job. If your boss can say you’re good at that type of work, you should be able to find another job pretty easily. And your boss will hopefully see that their policy of promoting people based on years of seniority versus qualification for the job is driving good employees away.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I think there’s a difference between “I saw something shinier” and “My compensation was slashed soon after I started working here.” I know I wouldn’t look at them the same way if I were interviewing you.

        1. Biff*

          Honestly, I’d be agog if someone told me that. 8% is nothing to scoff at. I understand that reorgs happen, but someone who has only been around for 4 months should either be laid off and given severance or left at the same pay rate.

      2. Mike C.*

        but I worry that potential employers would see an employee who will jump ship as soon as there’s either a shinier, better offer somewhere else or as soon as there’s a rough patch at that job

        This is true for just about everyone.

        1. the gold digger*

          Exactly. I have no loyalty to my employer. If there is a rough patch, I have no obligation to suffer through it. I am labor, not management, not owner. My goal is to be able to retire some day and not be a burden on society.

  5. Charlie*

    Dealing with something very similar right now, actually. I’m 33, and my boss is – as she admits, to my face – waffling on a promotion (in title and pay) for duties I already perform because she’s trying to mollify my much older colleague. Colleague is not as qualified as I am, but has more time in position, and believes in the strongest way that he’s “put in his dues” and is owed a promotion…..a promotion which would involve duties he has refused to get certified in and which my personal background (PhD research) specifically qualifies me to do.

    He’s also fond of taking cheap shots at two of my direct reports, ages 23 and 26, because he thinks Millennials are entitled and out of touch. His cranium is made of sterner stuff than mine, because so far his head has not exploded from the pressure of the cognitive dissonance.

    1. Edith*

      The next time your boss bad talks your reports for being Millennials you should remind him that you’re a Millennial too, since most sources peg the transition from Generation X to Millennials at 1980 or 1982. I imagine he’d either sputter and change the subject or invoke the no true Scotsman fallacy.

      1. Charlie*

        He’s not my boss, but otherwise, that’d be hilarious. Though I personally feel like 1980-1983 is actually a special little cohort I like to call the Oregon Trail Generation, sandwiched between Gen X and classic millennials. We got all the way through college before Facebook started catching on and we died of dysentery a lot.

        1. Edith*

          There’s your Millennial entitlement showing, thinking you belong in your own cohort and thinking nobody else had Oregon Trail…

          1. Charlie*

            That’s the joke, tho. But in all seriousness, that game came out on Apple II in 1979, which was really its first widespread sales success – so when we were kids, it was on every Apple IIe in every computer lab, in all its monochrome green glory. :D

            1. Edith*

              Yeah, I was kidding too. I was way more into Carmen Sandiego, but five inch floppies, DOS, dial-up, and not having the internet until junior high are not at all foreign to this child of 1984.

              1. Kelly L.*

                I identify with that too! I was born in the tail end of the 70s. Oregon Trail and Carmen Sandiego, yessss. As annoying as it was to die of dysentery all the time, going into the classroom and seeing either of those booted up meant a good day. Never had the internet until I went off to college in the mid-90s; I typed my high school papers on an electric typewriter that smelled like imminent fire, and was quite confused by all these printouts of dirty jokes that my wealthier classmates were always bringing to school. (They had the internet, because they had money, and were printing out their forwards.)

                Anyway, yeah, got on the internet at college, cell phones were a scattershot thing where a few people had them but you couldn’t count on it, finally got one of those embarrassingly late, like 2008 or so. Now have a smartphone and don’t know what I ever did without it.

                1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

                  Ha! We used to rush into the computer lab to get the Oregon Trail station rather than the math or typing games…though now I wish I had spent more time on the typing game.

              2. JennyFair*

                I have a kid born in ’95 who keeps an old desktop computer around *just so* he can play Carmen Sandiego on a heap of floppy discs. I have no explanation for this behavior.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  I had a Win XP Pentium IV desktop (Insignia, Best Buy’s house brand) that I kept running forever because it was the only computer I had that would play Titanic: Adventure out of Time. Until I found an online hack that would let me play it on Win 7. Then Old Wheezy was finally retired to the garage. He would still work if I booted him up, though!!

        2. Hlyssande*

          …..thank you for that. It’s the perfect descriptor. I didn’t have a cell phone until I went away to college and didn’t text until well after graduation. I remember the Time Before the Internet because it was my entire childhood until we got AOL dialup (and then Earthlink) in high school.

          1. Charlie*

            KSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSHT wrrrrrrrrr-ONKKKKKKKKK SQUEEEEEE errrrrrrrrrrr krpsht

            “You’ve got mail!”

            And cue happy times.

            1. Hlyssande*

              I may have singlehandedly gone through the entire 20 hours free in the first week all by myself.

              I will never forget that noise.

            2. Slippy*

              4.5 Mb of 5.2 Mb downloaded – SomethingSomething.MP3
              “Get off the phone! I need to make a call!”

        3. Pam*

          I think of my cohort- 1960-64 the same way- we aren’t really boomers, and are too early for Gen X.

          We didn’t have Oregon Trail- no computers.

          1. Chaordic One*

            I wanted to go to Woodstock, but my dad told me I had to have my pajamas on and be in bed by the time Lawrence Welk was over.

          2. designbot*

            Well that makes a lot of sense from where I’m sitting, since I’m the Oregon Trail demographic and my dad is in your unique little slice. And yeah, I can’t quite lump him in with the X’ers without a shudder, but he’s not really a boomer either.

            1. A Different KatieF*

              I’m 1965 too! That’s considered the first year of GenX. My husband was born in 1964 so I always tease him about his Baby Boomer ways and claim I’m his trophy wife

            2. Rater Z*

              It makes you young….that’s what.

              I call myself a half-war baby — I was born during the three month period between V-E day in Germany and V-J day in Japan. There’s still a few of us still working. I work with one now. He’s holding down a full-time job plus working part-time elsewhere.

              My son told me last night that I should be retired and I told him he knows why I’m still working (my wife’s medical bills, that’s why). Besides, I need to build up the 401-K. My only pension is frozen at $51 and change per month. Based on my family history on both sides, I expect to live past 100.

        4. Snargulfuss*

          Yep, we’re the ones that spent all that time trying to line the holes in the printer paper up with the printer to print out our junior high book reports!

        5. Alton*

          I was born in 1988, and a lot of this rings true for me, too. Oregon Trail was getting a little old when I played it from 1994-1998, but it was the only thing that worked on our ancient computer for a while. And when I started college, Facebook was still restricted to college students. I did have a simple cell phone when I was in my teens, but it was pretty rudimentary by today’s standards.

          1. blackcat*

            I just thought about playing Snake on my first ever, shiny, Nokia brick phone. Then I thought, “Man, I wish my phone had snake on it now.” The final thought in this series was, “Wait, I am totally sure there’s an app for that.”

            Indeed, there is. In my day, you had to program that shit into your calculator yourself if you wanted to play it on something other than a cell phone!

        6. Photoshop Til I Drop*

          Saw that in Garvey’s article, love it! Muct better than “Generation Catalano”, UGH.

    2. neverjaunty*

      Yeah, that sounds like a situation to get away from ASAP too. “I can’t give you a well-deserved title and raise because I lack the spine to actually manage Loudmouth”? Bye, boss.

  6. all aboard the anon train*

    Ugh, what a timely letter. I’m dealing with something similar. I’ve been in my current role for 2 1/2 years, but the department promotes based on longevity. It’s a dumb plan for a lot of reasons, but mostly because a lot of the people who’ve been promoted would never have gotten promoted on their skills and performance alone. I was told someone who was hired two months before me would have to get promoted before I could, even though I was also told that I was far better at the job than my coworker.

    I’m sorry you have to deal with this, OP. It sucks and it’s unfair, and your boss is totally not cool for reacting like this.

    1. Charlie*

      I think it’s a crappy strategy for bunting on a tough decision. Mediocre workers hate being reminded that they’re mediocre when better performers climb the ladder faster, so best to make it “fair” by tying promotions to absolutely nothing of any substance.

    2. Katie F*

      That sounds like a great way to lose some exceptional employees and create low morale and lowered standards in everyone left.

      1. all aboard the anon train*

        Seriously! Morale is very low, and I’ve already lost some great coworkers due to this. Not to mention it’s prompted me to start looking. Even with a flurry of high performers leaving, management hasn’t done anything about it when they’ve all said their mentioned the promotion rules and morale in their exit interviews.

    3. Chinook*

      “It’s a dumb plan for a lot of reasons, but mostly because a lot of the people who’ve been promoted would never have gotten promoted on their skills and performance alone.”

      Every time I hear about this, I think about this one medal in the Canadian military that they give for years of service without an issue (which could include showing up late for parade or not shaving). Whenever you get in trouble, the clock restarts at zero. I have heard it referred to as “congratulations – you never got caught” award.

  7. Katie F*

    Your boss is scared of hurting someone’s feelings? Yikes. That’s a rough position to be in, working for someone who can’t actually manage. Part of management is knowing that not everyone will like everything you do.

    If i were you, I’d get out. I know you haven’t been there that long, but I would start job-searching now. The cuts to time off and retirement are no small potatoes and if you’re already working at below-market rates, it would have to be a truly amazing job for me to want to deal with both the promise of further cuts in the future (as i’m almost certain there will be, if they’ve pulled this once I believe they’ll try again) and inept managemen tmore interested in sparing feelings than doing what’s best for the team.

    Odds are good it’ll take you a while to find a new job and you’ll end up over the yearlong mark – but I think you could in interviews simply say if asked why you’re leaving after a short time, “There were changes made to the compensation structure that were not in line with what I accepted when I took the position” or something like that and still make it clear it was a professional choice.

    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      “Your boss is scared of hurting someone’s feelings?”

      No, the boss is scared of hurting someone ELSE’S feelings. Doesn’t care about the affected employee.

      1. Artemesia*

        Just as the excuse when a MIL is abusive is ‘that’s just the way she is’ should be met with ‘well the way I am is I don’t put up with that @#$%’ — the excuse ‘it will hurt Newton’s feelings if you are promoted before him’ should be met with ‘it hurts my feelings that you pass me over for promotions I deserve to shield a mediocre performer.’

        1. neverjaunty*

          Yes to all of this. What it really means is “but you’re going to behave decently, where as Fergus will make snarky remarks and be difficult, so it’s easier to shift the emotional cost of his misbehavior onto you.”

            1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

              Nothing wrong with being the squeaky wheel, so long as you have the horsepower (skills, capabililties) worthy of receiving the grease.

      2. Katie F*

        I didn’t mean to imply the boss was scared of hurting the OP’s feelings – just that a boss who is scared of hurting ANYONE’S feeling is not going to be an effective manager in any way.

  8. Snarkus Aurelius*

    It’s time for yet another Office reference.  Under the new company, Sabre, Jim’s sales commissions were capped for the year.  This scene perfectly explains your predicament, OP.  (Apologies for the terrible video quality.)

    I’m curious as to why your employer thinks you work there?  Out of the goodness of your heart?  For charitable reasons?  Because your passion and love of the workplace far exceed any monetary or other substantive benefits.


    My point is that your boss literally eliminated nearly every incentive for you to do your job well aside from showing up and putting your butt in a chair.  You’re right to be concerned that your job history might not look great, but given that you have no reason to do an outstanding job, I think that’s all the message you need. I wouldn’t give them much more than they expect. People who go above and beyond deserve to be rewarded or your employer, who benefits greatly from that effort, isn’t likely to see that effort again.  (Hint: no, it’s not because we love corporate mission statements.)

      1. Artemesia*

        Love it. Perhaps the greatest waste of time every is the corporate, or organizational mission statement.

    1. Rebecca*

      “My point is that your boss literally eliminated nearly every incentive for you to do your job well aside from showing up and putting your butt in a chair.”

      Yep, my boss too. She told me that no matter what I did, I could expect nothing further with regard to raises or benefits, because others who make less than me need to be “brought up to speed”. My skills don’t matter, but I’m supposed to keep performing at a high level, making suggestions, improvements, and then I stopped listening and I just show up now. And I’m looking for another job.

  9. JKP*

    The problem with promotions based on longevity, what if the people in line ahead of you don’t want a promotion?

    The last corporate job I had (worked there for 3+ years), they kept trying and trying to promote me, but I didn’t want the additional responsibilities, even if it came with higher pay and title. I was working on the evenings and weekends to start my own business, so I didn’t see the point in them wasting time/money on training me further, plus I wanted to prioritize my time off of work. I sure hope no one else’s promotion was stalled out because they were in line behind me.

  10. jack of all trades*

    I haven’t even read this yet but the headline makes me want to scream. What about the feelings of the person you won’t promote? It’s like the person whose relative has stolen their identity and says they don’t want to get them into trouble because they’re family. Well, they didn’t care you were family.

  11. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Your boss is trying to rationalize holding you back. Unsuccessfully, but still trying.

    Start looking. This reminds me of the “Fergus issue” two weeks ago – where a guy is grossly underpaid but willing to work through the crisis – for now.

    If you’re under 40 and your benefits are cut – that can be devastating in the long term — the money you put away in 401K and IRAs now will determine your standard of living later in life.

    And – if you “work toward a promotion” that is overdue, that’s still money that you should have, that’s gone forever. I don’t know if retroactive raises are common in your business … they are in mine, but they’re often called “stay bonuses”…

  12. Lalitah*

    I work at a non-profit institution in life science research and the opposite happened: they were hiring administrative staff at way higher salaries than staff that had been there years with progressive promotions. It’s very common too to almost mimic the tenure track philosophy of rewarding people who have been there for years versus for competence. Institutions tend to tolerate a lot of more misbehavior from staff than private corporations that don’t have dysfunctional HR cultures.

  13. themmases*

    I think the cuts to benefits and lack of promotion are really two separate issues.

    Looking at just the promotion situation, it’s common to work somewhere you see no path forward, especially as a junior person. The thing is, during the 1-2 years before you would have been promoted anyway, you’re not actually being harmed. Put in your standard amount of time before you’d like or expect a promotion, and assume you’ll be leaving the company to get it. It happens all the time. Getting assigned senior-level responsibility is valuable even if you do it with a crap title. It’s that much more valuable if you plan to job search IMO.

    For the benefits, I’d only leave early if they changed in some way that was going to directly cost me money or make my job untenable. To me there is a big difference between losing a perk like PTO, even if that perk was theoretically worth money, and weathering an actual pay cut through e.g. increased premiums or paying out of pocket to replace some benefit. I get that it’s galling to be sold on low pay with great benefits, then have the benefits taken away– it’s happened to me. But I wouldn’t call it worth leaving over unless the change amounted to a pay cut or eliminated a benefit that I was depending on. Unlike your salary, these benefits are unlikely to affect what you’ll get at your next job. If you know you will leave anyway then they’re just an inconvenience until then.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      I think the cuts to benefits and lack of promotion are really two separate issues.

      True. But one might cancel out the other, if they weren’t both in play. Knowing that you’d possibly never get promoted might not bother you if you had scads of benefits and an excellent retirement plan. Having your benefits cut might sting less if you expected to move up easily.

      1. themmases*

        I don’t know, I’m not sure I would want to bother moving up at a company where I knew the benefits were bad. It sounds like the OP’s reduced benefits are based on date of hire, which means they may not get them back if they get promoted. And they know the pay is below market, too.

        The OP’s question wasn’t about whether they should ever leave; it was about whether they should be trying to leave right now even though it might be detrimental to their job search. I basically just agreed with Alison that lack of room for advancement isn’t harming the OP until they’re experienced enough to expect a promotion, and the onus for leaving should be if the changes to their compensation are really bad. I think we can all take it as a given with every question– and every life situation ever– that people need to balance the specific pros and cons.

      1. themmases*

        You’re right, but I think for me personally (and a lot of junior people, frankly) there is a big difference in the pain of losing a benefit vs. losing take home pay. It’s not clear from the letter that the OP is losing the latter.

        Contributions to your retirement are obviously monetary and important, but early in your career they’re also abstract and the time you’ll need to use them is pretty remote. That’s different from a change in your take-home pay, either because your salary was cut or your contribution to something like health care got more expensive. Only the second one affects your ability to pay your rent and student loans right now. And only the second one has much possibility of affecting your bargaining position at your next job (whether it should or not). That’s urgent to fix.

        1. TootsNYC*

          early in your career is when those retirement contributions have power!

          The earliest contributions will earn the most money at the end.

          1. Christopher Tracy*

            But some people, especially those who are early career and may be in low paying positions with loans, can’t make retirement contributions anyway, so losing a 401K really isn’t going to matter as much as not being able to get promoted and the raise that goes with it. Hell, I’m in this boat myself right now. I need at least one more promotion to earn enough money to cover my bills, loans, rent, and start putting money away into a 401K. If my company suddenly slashed the 401K contribution, I could live with it provided I get my next promotion (which will be three pay grades above where I currently am) since I’m not really using it anyway.

    2. ArtK*

      OP mentioned a cut in retirement and benefits totally about 8% of current compensation. That sounds like a financial loss to me.

      I wouldn’t be quite so dismissive about the loss of any benefit. Although PTO many not be valuable to you, it is extremely valuable to a lot of us.

      1. themmases*

        I wasn’t dismissive. I just said that the effect is different than something that directly costs you money. Most people would react differently to a change in their benefits vs. a change in their take home pay.

        Please don’t speculate about my personal values and compensation. I didn’t say anything inappropriate to merit that, just because you disagree with my comment.

        1. TL -*

          You said that you wouldn’t leave over cut PTO, which is a value judgement you (presumably) personally would make. Other people – lots of other people – might leave over cut PTO quicker than a change in take home pay. Tons of people wouldn’t.

          I think that comment was a fair response.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          Keep in mind that many people take a job at a university specifically for the benefits. In theory, the benefits and job security are supposed to outweigh the comparatively low pay.

    3. Washington*

      The 8% reduction in retirement benefits is costing OP money. Retirement money is not abstract. It’s the actual money you’ll live off of when you can no longer work, and when you usually will have the least options for the type of work you have to do. Also, depending on the type of retirement plans available (or no longer available, as the case may be), lack of future career and salary growth may double the impact to the retirement plan.

      Retirement planning is a long game. Cuts now are cuts to real, tangible money that OP (and everyone really) should be looking at now – and treating like it’s already money in his pocket. Retirement money isn’t a perk.

      1. Rater Z*

        It’s called the power of compounding. The longer the money is working, the more it will make for you.

        Look at the rule of 72 .. divide the interest/rate of return into 72 and that will tell you how long it will take you to double your money. If the interest rate is 10%, the money will double itself in 7.2 years and then double itself again in another 7.2 years. Each year you are putting away the money, it is doubling after that 7.2 years so it can really add up fast after a few years. When I was doing taxes, we had a chart my clients could take home to see how the compound effect would work for them.

        I didn’t see anything in the letter from the OP about his/her age. If the person is young, s/he can get away somewhat with putting less into a retirement fund, but an older person (probably starting about 34-35) can really wind up getting hurt bad if they aren’t careful.

        The truth is that young people really need to put as much as they can into retirement funds. By the time they are 35-40, they could very well be in what is called the “sandwich” generation. That is, they are supporting children who are hitting middle/high school/college as well as having to start keeping an eye on parents who have had to retire for various reasons, including health or companies shutting the doors. For some years, during their best earning years, the money to put away for their own retirement might be available.

        1. Rater Z*

          Sorry, that last comment should end with “might not be available”.

          Yes, I did proofread and still missed it.

  14. Rosamond*

    My sympathies. My organization has finally transitioned out of a 30+ year practice of promotion based on longevity. I was here for the last 2-3 years of it, and it made our whole organization dysfunctional. From my perspective, the culture existed because managers didn’t want to manage. The practices only changed because of changes in leadership (basically new managers coming in and saying “WTF no.”) The transition was painful – there was restructuring, early retirements, managed exits, and yes, hurt feelings – but we are in a much better place now in so many ways.

    The practice was damaging to employees with longevity who were promoted, as well as those who were passed over. Staff who had been here forever were often promoted into positions they actually weren’t competent for, and sometimes didn’t even want. When new managers discovered these folks couldn’t/wouldn’t do their jobs, it was a very bad situation for them.

    Even though 10 months is a little soon to expect a promotion, it’s nice that OP got a reality check when the boss pretty much said, “I won’t promote you because I suck.” In my field it raises eyebrows if you leave a position in less than 2 years, but I know tech moves faster, so maybe OP should give it another couple months and start looking at the 1-year mark. The benefit cut is a good rationale.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I am in a similar position, except it was upper management holding back the managers who wanted to manage. It created a place where all you had to do to keep your job was not get fired, and it was insanely hard to get fired. No one exceptional stayed because there was no reward for doing so. (There were some good people in upper management who basically provided cover for the people under them but it was not the majority of them.)

      Fast forward to a few years ago when the next generation of leadership came in and cleaned house. It was tough on the mediocre people who didn’t understand why they were suddenly being pushed to update their skills and do more (training provided, job descriptions refreshed, etc.), but it gave us managers the opportunity to offer promotions and raises based on merit that had previously been all but unavailable.

  15. Lizzy*

    Something similar happened to me. I talked with my boss about how my title wasn’t reflective of my responsibilites anymore, because I had gone from a part of the team to managing the team, timeliness, and overseeing projects.

    He agreed with what I said, but he said he couldn’t “officially” change my title, but I could just act as manager. His reasoning for not changing my title was 1.) that other people might be offended, and also 2). the last person with that title quit and didn’t do a good job.

    That job was also basically the worst place I’ve ever been, so I had other, more pressing, reasons to leave.

    But also my boss sucked.

    Is there anyone else you could casually talk to about it who might have more perspective? I don’t know if there’s someone above your boss, but maybe there’s some way you could have a conversation about it without outwardly complaining or throwing anyone under the bus. (Not sure if this is good advice — would have to see what other people think about it.)

    1. LEY*

      Oh, so you can’t have a raise or put the official title on your resume but you can have all the extra work and responsibilities? How generous of him! What a great guy!

    2. jack of all trades*

      2). the last person with that title quit and didn’t do a good job.

      I was working retail many moons ago and asked for a raise and was told no because when he gave the last girl a raise he almost had to fire her afterwards (don’t know why). I gave my notice right then and there.

  16. mistersquawk*

    I worked at a place where raises were given based on your personal life (so like one coworker got two raises when he worked there- one at the time each of his sons were born). And another coworker had such a hold on the boss that the person below him could not be promoted to even become his equal. The lower coworker went from tech to tech II to tech IIa to tech IIb to tech IIc (the last 4 were ALL made-up positions) because the older coworker would’ve freaked out if he had been allowed to become a tech III.

    1. Pwyll*

      Yup. I worked somewhere similar: the moment you had children your compensation was dramatically increased and rules about hours worked, presence in the office, etc. went out the window and you received unlimited PTO. It was absolutely infuriating to the junior staff who had to magically pick up the slack.

      1. JM in England*

        I’ve noticed this in previous workplaces too. It also seems that employees who are married and/or have children tend to be taken more seriously than their (often equally effective) singleton and childless counterparts…………..

    2. AMT*

      That sounds like one of those small (family?) business where bizarre things happen because there’s no HR, no lawyer, no one to tell management that they’re nuts.

      1. mistersquawk*

        It was! I was there for four years and put up with a lot.
        The good part was I also gained a lot of technical skills because I was the cheapest so got to do a bit of everything.
        The bad part is it was my first career job so when I went to a big company I was so blown away by normal business procedures that I put up with a lot there too.

    3. Rebecca*

      My boss actually said out loud that one of my coworkers didn’t need as much money as another person because her husband had a great job and he carried the insurance, meaning her paycheck would be greater than someone making even more money per hour, but who carried insurance for their family. I just shook my head. My boss also allows the lowest paid, lowest performing person in our office work at least 5 hours OT per week because this person has a house and car payment, and boss can’t justify giving this person a raise, so she circumvents that by allowing a lot of OT. I could go on, but I think you get the point. My boss sucks, too.

      1. DoDah*

        I was once refused vacation after 3 years of not taking any vacation/sick time because, “you are not married and don’t have kids–what do you have to be tired about.”

    4. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life*

      I worked for the “personal life” petiole too! Though they hated it if people got married or had kids unless they could somehow control every aspect of that, they insisted that you couldn’t possibly ever ask for a raise based on merit, it had to be requested based on home life situations. It was BIZARRE.

  17. Jeanne*

    If you want to leave based on the benefits cuts, see if you can do a little research on what benefits are offeren elsewhere. For ex, maybe you were offered 4 weeks off and now you have 3 weeks. Other companies are offeeing two weeks off at your level. Find an online message board and see what you can learn.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Yeah, the benefits question could be pretty much moot–lots of times, when you switch jobs, you start back at the bottom anyway.

  18. happymeal*

    As a former survivor of a very large well known higher ed institution, let me tell you that they are not meritocracies and based very much on seniority.

  19. TootsNYC*

    Here’s what I’d do:

    I’d stop thinking of this as a job that I’m investing in, and I’d start thinking about what I can get out of this job that will help me get (and thrive at) my NEXT job.

    So, I’d be willing to take on senior-level stuff; I’d spend more energy on learning as much as possible from it. And my payoff would be that I can go into a job interview with more concrete examples, accomplishments, achievements. And a greater and more mature perspective.

    And when I hit the 1.5-year mark, I’d start looking.

    I’d now treat this job as a means to an end–the end being a job with more pay and more responsibility.

    1. themmases*

      +1. The OP can have their promotion, it just will likely be somewhere else.

      IMO the senior level work benefits them in taking this approach. I have taken on bigger and more complex work in a dysfunctional office before… I got lots of trust and compliments but zero change to my title or compensation. Over time those tasks seemed to become identified with me and people increasingly took the attitude that it was normal to have an assistant doing this stuff. That was the case even with a formal ladder we could reference and see that, no, it wasn’t normal.

      As an applicant, I just had unusually good experience and accomplishments compared to others with my title. The baggage of being the go-to for that stuff wasn’t a factor.

  20. CrazyCatLady*

    My sympathies, I might be in the same boat. I’ve been put on the fence for the last two months about whether or not I will be exempt (a nice raise) or non-exempt (loss of 1/2 my PTO and worse retirement benefits). It’s a ridiculous position to be in. I’ve been in my role at a small college for 10 months, and my last job was for 1.5 years. I really love my job, but I’ll likely start looking again if they take away the benefits.

    1. Audiophile*

      It blows when companies offer different benefits for exempt and non-exempt workers. I can see part-time vs full-time.

  21. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    OP, I’m curious about the reason why your previous job was only four months. If it was for a reason that could be explained in just a couple words (e.g., it was an internship or a contract job) then it may be safer to move on sooner. You can adjust the title on your resume to make it clear at a glance why you weren’t there long:

    Spout Programming Intern, July 2015-November 2015

    Interim Kettle Technician (short-term family leave replacement), July 2015-November 2015

  22. Milton Waddams*

    This is actually fairly common — most likely they are being polite about “a coworker”, and are actually saying that you don’t have the support of the majority of your coworkers. Promoting someone without the approval of their coworkers, especially when they will work with those co-workers regularly or even be expected to have some authority over them, is likely to create a passive-aggressive nightmare that will continue for years. Not enough for the resistant co-workers to be fired, but enough to gum up the works quite effectively. The reason it is so common to promote externally is because it unites the team rather than divides it — everyone hates the new boss equally.

    If you are interested in getting promoted past a certain level, you have to have buy-in from your co-workers. They have to feel like you being promoted will make their lives easier, and that it is better for it to be you than to be them or their friends. This means focusing not only on how well you do your own work, but on how well you help out those in your department.

    This can be frustrating sometimes as it makes getting a promotion resemble running for political office more than proving one’s worth as a professional. Often to get the backing of a whole department, you have to have the knack for supporting the work of people who hate one another and have conflicting goals, without either side feeling like you are working with their “enemies”. You have to win the approval of gatekeeper employees who may not actually be very good at their jobs, or particularly nice people, but who can thwart your efforts to advance if you alienate them.

    Keep in mind that sometimes the position you want isn’t the position you want — the worst thing in the world is to be stuck in a Peter Principle type scenario where you don’t have the resources to succeed but there is no safe way to get back to familiar ground. Make sure you know what you’re getting into when you seek higher-level positions.

  23. specialist*

    You’re 10 months in. Work another 2 while working on your resume. Go back to the boss and talk about what you need to do to get promoted. It hurts your feelings to be working at a much higher level than your complaining coworker. I would try to get in at least 18 months at this job before going to another.

  24. take a knee*

    I’m waiting for my boss to tell me this in 6 months-1 year when I push for a promotion. I asked for more experience managing projects, couching it in all these terms to make it clear I wasn’t demanding it, and I didn’t need it right now, but hoped to get it down the line. I was told – in so many words – hell no, back down. And then – this was the kicker – the boss kinda laughed and said if you ever were in charge of a project then you’ll get more responsibility.” The laughter implying that of course I wouldn’t want that / couldn’t handle it. WTF? That’s like second grade Spiderman movie common sense right? With project management experience comes more responsibility, that’s the point. I feel for you OP. Work a few more months at least, but def keep your ears open.

  25. Abvincent*

    This advice should completely be abandoned. Let’s talk about this empirically and not based on mythological what-ifs rooted in has been HR policies. You came here because something has made you professionally unhappy; you have been denied advancement opportunities entirely due to a weak boss; you were told your work means nothing because evaluation is based entirely on tenure; you have lost benefits you rightfully feel entitled to.

    You already know all this, which is why you are here. So why not explore better opportunities? The advice explains because potential employers may see your two short job tracks as “problems”. Who cares what potential employers think? You can’t plan your future perfectly. No one sits down and say, “This is how my life will play out…” You run into road blocks and you figure out how to fix it.

    Look at your situation empirically. Will any of it change in a month? I find it stunning at the response states in one breath a boss shouldn’t evaluate a person based on tenure, while in the next breath saying you shouldn’t expect a promotion entirely due to tenure. ???

    It is your life, professionally. If you are unhappy you owe it to yourself to explore if there are better ways to fulfill yourself available. You may very well run into weak employers who are startled by your two job shift over a short period of time, you may very well take a job you think is worse than the one you have now, you may very well not find anything else to take to begin with. Life is risk. But by God do not live your life based on “what-if” HR policies of “Oh an employer may not like your few job changes…yadda yadda yadda”.

    If you are unhappy where you are, then do yourself what you owe yourself and start looking for something that makes you happier…knowing no matter how hard you try, you may end up worse off than you are now. That is just how life works.

  26. Barry*

    One thing which might help is an internal move. Your resume can be constructed so that it emphasizes that you had one employer, but multiple positions.

  27. Otter*

    OP, you have two problems. You’re in academia… problem #1, BTDT with little room to grow, ALTHOUGH I had a supervisor who was supportive and probably would have tried to help me to move up. I ended up leaving the organization when a good opportunity came my way, and while she was upset, she was also very happy for me, and I think she understood. The week before I was offered the new job, she lamented that she wished there was a way that she could promote me and/or increase my pay. So, at least she recognized the flaw of the system. After I left, an opportunity arose for a small promotion, and I would probably have been put into that position, but it would have only been a small step, unless I got another degree to open more opportunities for different positions.

    Problem #2, your supervisor all around sucks. For him to be concerned about, “feelings,” means that he is poor at priortizing merit. I fully understand, because my current supervisor is like this and it’s pathetic and I’ve lost respect for her. We have a problem coworker that she will not properly deal with, “because it will hurt her feelings.” This coworker is making the entire dept miserable, because she screwed up so badly we are expected to clean up her mistakes and she has also become infamous for being unprofessional and stupid, so now we are all affiliated with that infamy, since she is often the person the public deals with. If your supervisor really wanted to, he *could* have tried to find a way to mentor and help you grow, even if that would mean moving to a different dept. I work at a public agency right now, the head of organization wants to promote me, but there is nowhere to promote me at this time (only dept with only a director, but no mgr position… but director will probably retire in the next couple of years). In the meantime, he has taken me under his wing as we have been working 1-1 on a high level project, that typically a director would work on and he is afraid that I will leave due to lack of opportunity, so he is trying to make a new hybrid position for me, based on my project. The difference here between our situations is the willingness of our supervisor (note, this is not my direct supervisor, but my supervisor’s supervisor, the big boss at the top, so yes, he does hold more power) to go to bat for you, to see what they can do for you, EVEN if the system is not currently set up in a way to make that path easy/possible for you.

    In your shoes, I’d apply to a different dept at the university… one where there is more opportunity to move up and go from there. I’d also make sure that your direct supervisor is someone who is willing to support and help you grow. My current direct supervisor is unfortunately NOT that person, I got incredibly lucky that her boss took me under his wing. He is grooming me for promotion, but understands that right now there is nothing available, so trying his best to come up with alternatives. Someone willing to do that for you means a lot, they do not have to help you, but they really believe in you and your potential, so recognize the need to continue to challenge and help you to grow your career.

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