should I ask for a pay cut if my work isn’t very good?

A reader writes:

I’ve been working in my current role for eight months. I left a highly dysfunctional job that I felt I was great at, but for a company with too many issues I couldn’t overcome. I received constant praise for my abilities and work.

During the interview process and when asked for my expected salary, I quoted much the same as I was on, except instead of the base ($100k) + at risk ($20k) I was getting, I was hoping for just salary ($120k). When I received the job offer, they met the $120k without question and on top have offered other benefits such as insurance I didn’t have previously.

Eight months in and I’ve yet to receive any direct feedback, as my manager is extremely busy at all times and she doesn’t seem to have any desire to have one-on-one catch-ups. She doesn’t have any sort of performance reviews or catch-ups with any other direct reports.

However, through informal feedback (e.g., projects that should be allocated to me being instead given to my coworker, and client comments made to my manager), I feel that my sense of being great at my previous job was perhaps a symptom of just being on the better end of the spectrum in a terrible company. I seem to mess up a lot and I doubt my abilities daily, and struggle to feel like I’m being successful. I still want this job, but I feel like I was overly confident in my interviews and the reality of my skills are a letdown for my new employer.

I’d like to proactively offer myself up for a pay cut. I don’t feel that I am justified in receiving this paycheck each month. I worry that I’m disappointing my employer and wonder if they would feel more inclined to give me some leeway if I were being paid less. I think this would also alleviate the sense of guilt I carry for not being up to standard.

Is there ever a situation where this would be the right course of action?

I don’t want to say there’s never a situation where it would be the right move, but this isn’t it.

If your employer has concerns about your ability to do the job they need done, those concerns aren’t going to be alleviated by paying you less.

I think you’re thinking of this as “well, if I’m bad at the job, it’ll bother them less if they’re paying me less” … but really, if you’re bad at the job and they want to address that, it’s more likely to be addressed by, well, replacing you. And I know your response to that might be “but maybe the higher pay is tied to higher expectations” and that’s true, but they presumably need the job done at this level regardless, which is why they hired for it that way.

It’s not completely out of the question that in some situations an employer could decide, “Well, we wanted a senior X but we’ll settle for a junior X and lower the person’s pay accordingly.” But that’s not how it would usually be handled — and you definitely don’t want to leap straight there without a conversation about what’s actually going on and how they actually feel about your work.

Plus, proactively suggesting a pay cut would be you saying “I can’t do this job and you should no longer expect me to be capable of doing this job.” And that might be exactly what you want to say — but if that’s the case, it’s better to have a straightforward conversation about that, rather than using pay as a proxy for talking about it openly.

So, all roads here lead to a straightforward conversation with your boss as the immediate next step.

Yes, she’s busy, and yes, she doesn’t have regularly scheduled check-ins, but that doesn’t mean you can literally never talk to her, especially about something this important. Say this to her: “Could we schedule some time to sit down and talk about how things are going?” If she seems reluctant to make the time, add this: “I have some concerns about my work that I want to check in with you about.”

And then, ask. Say, “Can we talk about how my work is going overall? I’ve gotten the sense that I might not be where you need me to be.”

It’s possible that you’ll hear that actually, things are just fine and that the signs you thought indicated disaster aren’t actually that alarming. Maybe those client comments came from notoriously unreasonable clients. Maybe projects were given to your coworker instead of you because she had a lull in her workload or a history with that particular client. Who knows.

Or maybe you’ll hear that yes, there are some things you need to work on, but it’s nothing serious and your manager is confident that you’re on the right trajectory.

Or sure, maybe you’ll hear that things are as dire as you fear. If that happens, then you can talk about what you might be able to do to improve, or whether that’s even possible.

But you won’t know until you have the conversation. Start there.

{ 104 comments… read them below }

  1. Lil Fidget*

    I think this is akin to the US laws that you don’t have to help the state prosecute you. Even if your employer does end up deciding they’re going to fire you, it’s be better for you to receive those extra dollars in your paycheck right up until the axe falls – and in the work world, you’re often the only one looking out for yourself. IMO, it’s up to your manager to let you know if there’s ways they need to get more value out of your position and help you achieve that.

    1. Specialk9*

      OP it sounds like you have an Evil Brain Worm whispering bad things about you.

      When I was in an abusive relationship, my normally sunny self confidence took a nose dive, and I started to have these weird slimy horrible thoughts that were like someone whispering poison into my brain (you’re stupid, useless, etc). After leaving, therapy helped me realize those weren’t my thoughts, they were from my abusive ex. I called it my Evil Brain Worm.

      It was hard to get rid of those Evil Brain Worm whispers, though, for years they popped up. These things linger.

      Therapy really helped me.

      1. OP*

        OP here. Funnily enough, I do look upon my last job like it was an abusive relationship. Gaslighting constantly, being pressured into doing things I didn’t feel comfortable doing, being verbally abused. My confidence has really been knocked about and I’m not really sure what normal is, anymore. Is it possible to have PTSD from a job?

        1. Perse's Mom*

          Alison talks all the time about bad job environments skewing perceptions – it’s really hard to recognize a healthy relationship if you’ve only ever witnessed or been part of deeply unhealthy ones, and the same idea applies to jobs and work environments.

        2. anon ^_^*

          Yes, it is possible.

          I’m not sure if it’s right for you (only you can know that) but if you feel like talking to a psychologist/counsellor/therapist may help, give it a try. Not every single psychologist will have experience in dealing with work-centred issues specifically, but a lot do, a lot more than you would expect!

          In my experience of work/school related PTSD, it was a lot to unravel but it really helped me get a realistic perspective of how I was actually performing at work, and that most of the things I thought I was terrible at I was actually pretty good. Now that I’m not spending quite so much energy on trying not to f*** everything up, I feel like I have breathing space to focus on the improvements I do need to make. (coz nobody’s perfect!)

        3. anon ^_^*

          Also, while your new workplace may be less dysfunctional than your old one, you still need clear feedback from your manager, that’s a very normal thing to expect, even if some managers treat it as optional!

        4. Akcipitrokulo*

          Yes. very possible.

          It’s also possible toxicJob has skewed your perspective so you’re actually doing OK at newJob.

          Also probably makes it more difficult/not first thing to occur to have a chat to your manager about any concerns you have. Which is a good thing to do! But leave pay out of it. That would just make it awkward and is not a good plan for many reasons.

          They want the job done and are prepared to pay for that – if they wanted a more junior role at less pay, they’d have hired for that.

          If your manager is at all reasonable, and you ask them “I wanted to catch up to know how I’m doing and if there’s anything you’d like me to do differently?” then it’ll be, at least, a respectful and positive conversation (even if “well, you could do…” is part of it).

          1. Different Kate*

            It may be true, OP, that you are doing a terrible job. But it may either be true, that your new workplace is a toxic one. To me, not knowing any details, sounds like probability is 50/50.
            1) They have to give you feedback. Formal once a year, but also informal – pretty much all the time.
            2) If they make you feel stupid and useless, that probably mean they talk to you the way they shouldn’t. At work, professional relationships are expected.

            Have you ever asked why your tasks were given to another coworker? Like is there a legit reason? Just doing so without explaining would make anyone feel awful. And yes that’s manager’s fault, to my opinion.

            Asking for a pay cut is definitely not the way to go. Addressing issue definitely is. So to address issues, you need to know details, right? So just find out! Explain what you feel and why, then ask whether your point of view is correct and what does your manager think. You’ll have to start from there

        5. oaktree*

          I was once in a job that was as toxic as your previous one sounds like it was. (Unfortunately, mine didn’t have the benefit of paying me six figures; rather, I made 10.25 an hour and had no health benefits. Hm.) In any event, though, I still carry a lot of fear and resentment from how I was treated at that job- the whisper campaigns against myself at times and coworkers at other times, the poor hiring practices, the lack of communication, the lack of trust my bosses had in their staff, and, of course, the fact that they fired me in January, after a ten-hour shift, in front of my coworkers and customers. I was on welfare for a while after that. I no longer trust any employer to have my back and am constantly afraid of being fired or sanctioned, even after having passed a probationary period and knowing there are no issues with my work.

          So yeah, it’s possible to effectively have PTSD from your job.

  2. it_guy*

    Please read up on the impostor syndrome. That’s not to say that this definitely fits you, but it may be something to consider.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I am possibly a little gun-shy about that now because of a handful of recent-ish letters from people who worried they were doing poorly and then wrote back in with updates saying that sure enough, they ended up getting fired. So I’m probably being more cautious about not pushing people to conclude in either direction.

          1. grey*

            I am really new to your blog and I was surprised you didn’t mention it, so I am glad to see why.

          2. it_guy*

            I had not realized that. It’s always a good thing to double check if your spidey-sense starts tingling.

          3. mynona24*

            I also don’t think “imposter syndrome” is “anytime anyone thinks they’re performing poorly.” Imposter syndrome is, in my opinion, feeling inadequate, *despite evidence/feedback to the contrary.*

            1. bonkerballs*

              And in this case, OP actually has some evidence/feedback (indirect though it might be) that she ins’t performing where she should be. This doesn’t sound like impostor syndrome at all, just someone who thought they would rock something, but is in fact finding themselves to be a little more mediocre than expected.

          4. DJ Roomba*

            Good to know! I’ve encountered far more people who thing they’re amazing when they’re adequate (is this reverse impostor syndrome?) than people who think they’re terrible when they’re a rockstar. I’m not doubting that impostor syndrome exists, I just worry that it could be a really convenient path to denial.

            Based on what the LW wrote, there does seem to be evidence that she’s not up to snuff and she’s provided a valid reason for overestimating her skills in the interview process. There could be perfectly legitimate reasons why she’s being passed over for assignments or not being praised which have nothing to do with under-performing, but that doesn’t mean her concern is misplaced. I feel like those here who are commenting that she prob. has impostor syndrome are inadvertently invalidating her feelings/gut instincts…she should be concerned and, as Allison said, she should def address those concerns with her boss.

            Good luck LW!! Try to stay positive, open to feedback/criticism, and eager to learn and improve!

            1. olives*

              “people who think they’re amazing when they’re adequate”

              That’s Dunning-Kruger. Just about as frequent!

              1. Seespotbitejane*

                I used to work at a place I referred to as Dunning-Kruger Inc. because everyone there was stunningly bad at their jobs and insisted that both our corporate overlords and our clients were all overly demanding and unreasonable. Management was pretty ludicrous. It was kind of a relief when corporate announced they were closing our office and laying everyone off because then I had confirmation that I wasn’t crazy.

    1. McWhadden*

      Impostor syndrome is real. But so is trusting your own instincts and ability to read a situation. I think if people feel like things are going badly based on onside context then chances are there is something to that fear.

      1. Mommy MD*

        Not as much as every personal situation must be “accommodated”. I just skip over those remarks now.

    2. OP*

      OP here. Yes, I do have a touch of self diagnosed Imposter Syndrome. I also have a history of unreasonably high expectations for myself and am not used to failing at things. However, there has been solid feedback in this case on my performance since I sent in this letter which is not just in my head unfortunately.

      1. Soupspoon McGee*

        One or both of these could be true:
        1) You’re truly struggling because you don’t have the skills you need for this job, and your job depends on the ability to just get it done without direction.
        2) You’re struggling because your boss is not giving you clear direction, resources to do your job, or feedback about where to improve.

        Either way, the lack of clear feedback from your boss means that she’s a shitty manager, at least in that respect. Regardless of how autonomous we need to be, we still need clear expectations and access to resources.

      2. Jen*

        OP, I am in your shoes. It has been terrible. Here is what I did. Realize that I possibly can’t fix this. Consider the possibility of getting fired. Start job hunting. In the meantime be as pleasant and accommodating as possible. Come in early and visibly work hard. Seek and incorporate feedback as much as possible. Remember that there are jobs I am good at.

        My last day is tomorrow after 18 months. It was a relief for everyone when I quit. And it was so hard for me to stay positive at this job. But I’m thankful I had a paycheck while job hunting.

        I hope you can find a way to make it work!

  3. Cordoba*

    Do not volunteer yourself for a pay cut. Do not volunteer yourself for a pay cut.

    I wouldn’t even use the phrasing suggested in the article.

    If the boss’s antennae are not up regarding performance issues from LW a statement like “I’ve gotten the sense that I might not be where you need me to be” is a good way to get them up.

    It would be like if the chef came out at a restaurant and asked “How’s the cheeseburger? It doesn’t taste like horse, does it?”. Even if you like the burger before, you’re going to spend the rest of the meal wondering if you’re eating horse.

    I suggest that LW just book a half hour with their boss as a general check in session. The timing works out well to just phrase it as a half-year review. “Hey boss, it’s been about 6 months since I really got up to speed here. I’d like to meet with you and see what you feel is working and if there are any things we should change, etc.”

    If you propose this and they decline because then that means they’re (probably) fine with your performance or (far less likely) have already made up their mind to fire you. A competent boss who is concerned about a marginal employee should jump at the chance to discuss what needs to improve.

    Do not volunteer yourself for a pay cut.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Yep I’m comfortable saying that’s pretty much 100% my rule – the only circumstance would be if they were literally having a layoff-type conversation with me and mused out loud that they would be willing to keep me if only I weren’t so darned expensive. And even then, it would only be a stall while I looked for another job.

    2. Triumphant Fox*

      Agreed. I would say using boss’s business as an excuse to gauge where you’re at and where you can improve is the way to go. You may also find there are resources to help you get up to speed that no one is telling you about because they are just busy.

    3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      “If the boss’s antennae are not up regarding performance issues from LW a statement like “I’ve gotten the sense that I might not be where you need me to be” is a good way to get them up.”
      There are three possible outcomes from this.
      1) the boss recognizes that OP is self-aware and open to constructive criticism and thus begins a beautiful working relationship
      2) the boss thinks this is OP’s way of saying s/he is overwhelmed or unable to catch on and maybe this is someone to watch.
      3) the boss thinks OP is fishing for more approbation than boss normally gives and boss is now wondering if OP needs more hand holding.

      This is generalizing, but overall, the odds are only 30% that phrasing a request for feedback in the form of “hey, I don’t think I’m doing well, do you” are going to help OP in the long run.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        4) the boss realizes that she’s been incommunicado with the OP and needs to communicate more about how things are going

        If I think someone’s doing fine and they tell me they have the sense they might not be where I need, I don’t think “oh, they must suck.” That would be really weird. Rather, it’s a clear sign to me that I haven’t communicated as well as I thought I had/need to.

        1. Leela*

          Yes! I’ve come to bosses before saying that I had the sense I wasn’t performing where they needed to be and they seemed genuinely shocked, saying that they’d been so hands off and not meeting with me because they thought I just “had a handle” on things. But seeing other people being very communicated with your boss with no indication as to why doesn’t automatically mean “oh they need more contact than me”, it makes me wonder “are they getting cool projects/promotions that I’m not even hearing about? Is my boss just writing me off because they think I’m a lost cause and they’re going to replace me as soon as they can so why bother?” etc.

        2. Cordoba*

          How is it better for LW to lead off with “I think I might not be doing well” instead of “I don’t feel like I’m getting good feedback on my quality of work”? Seems that also addresses the incommunicado issue.

          I don’t see any upside to LW starting the conversation by casting doubts about their own performance.

          Why ask if your burger tastes like horse? Just ask if the boss likes your burger.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Sure, you can start by asking “can we talk about how things are going overall?” But with a busy boss who doesn’t seem to meet with anyone, there’s a high degree of risk that you’re going to get a rushed “everything’s fine.” You want to have a real conversation, and you want to convey that there’s a real need for it.

            1. OP*

              OP here. That is a big worry for me. Boss is busy all day, every day. In before everyone, leaves after everyone, no breaks, with practically no time whatsoever free at any time, which is why I haven’t pushed about having any kind of review.

              1. Snark*

                The thing is, bluntly….that’s her problem to solve. You don’t have to worry about her schedule for her. You need, at minimum, to sit down with her for an hour right now to discuss where you’re at and what you need moving forward. And you need regular feedback and check-ins. Those are eminently reasonable requests for a fairly new employee, and if she’s a supervisor in any meaningful way, those are core job duties for her. She needs to make the time, and if she’s worth anything as a manager, she will. But you do need to ask, and make it clear it’s important.

              2. Sara without an H*

                But OP — you ARE her job. Get on her schedule. Does she keep her own calendar, or does she have an assistant? Either way, you need to schedule some of her time.

              3. tangerineRose*

                Would it work to send an e-mail summarizing (quickly, with bullet points) sort of where you think you are and ask the boss what she thinks? Some of the feedback you’ve gotten that hasn’t been positive might be just because you’re new, and it might be where they expect you to be.

              4. Different Kate*

                Managing people is a part of her responsibility! And not the least important! Another sign of not-so-great manager… Good manager is able to delegate. This one seems to be doing everything by himself. No trust huh? I wonder why ;)

          2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

            Unfortunately, I know of people who made a comment to their bosses along the lines of “I haven’t been doing well” or “I feel I am not meeting standards” and that having a negative effect. This may very well be a case of knowing your boss and how he/she would react. My feeling is that since OP has had so little interactions of this type with her boss, it is better to be cautious.

        3. Lana Kane*

          As a supervisor, I can say that #1 and #4 would be my two likely reactions, depending on whether or not the employee was truly struggling or not. 2 and 3 would be alarming to me, if I managed a supervisor who immediately went there.

        4. Cat Herder*

          But you’re a thoughtful manager, and I imagine you are unlikely to leave a new employee without feedback for long stretches. Sure, OP should not assume her manager is bad, but nor should she put herself in a negative light. She can present it in ways that are a lot more neutral. I’m not saying, lie, but rather, be savvy.

        5. SarahTheEntwife*

          I had that conversation with my boss a while back and it turned out to be a case of “yeah, we’re going through a lot of changes right now and so everyone is a little scattered; you’re doing just fine given the circumstances”.

    4. Cat Herder*

      Totally agree on this wording. Don’t offer up “I suck at this job, don’t I” unless you KNOW FOR SURE that you suck. And, OP, you do NOT know this. You’re guessing, and you’re probably guessing because your previous job was such a mess.

      I too thought, imposter syndrome.

    5. designbot*

      I’ve phrased it just slightly differently before, “I get the sense you’re not happy with the work, but since you haven’t said I haven’t known how to fix it and I’d like the chance to do that.” That principal and I have a really good working relationship now and she knows that she can and should be blunt with me.

    6. Artemesia*

      LOL the horse example. I was at a very swank New Orleans restaurant and I had a side dish of steamed broccoli as well as a lovely fish baked in paper. Someone came from the kitchen with a very anxty expression and said sort of fearfully ‘is the broccoli okay?’ I of course didn’t touch another mouthful wondering what horror show with the broccoli had occurred out of sight.

      Exactly. Don’t poison your own well. Focus on ‘getting up to speed faster’ not ‘I am such a loser.’

  4. Mean Something*

    This site is where I learned that a dysfunctional workplace can mess with your head long after you leave the job! Is it possible that’s what’s going on here?

    1. BRR*

      ^ I went from functional to dysfunctional and it’s messed with my head so bad. It has been very difficult at times to gage the quality of my work because I’ve drifted into “is this good but just for here” and something it’s “this is great but they don’t know this is great because the bar is so low.” I’ve learned that a dysfunctional employer can severely impact one’s perception, more than I ever previously thought.

      1. Seespotbitejane*

        Oh man, the “is this just good for here” resonates so hard with me. At my last *super dysfunctional* job I spent a long time being micromanaged and having my boss freak out if I used the wrong color of manila folder (the color of the folders made zero difference to our process), then we got a new CEO who put me in charge of a critical project involving much much more money than I’d ever been responsible for before. It was like whiplash.

        Now I have a job at a reasonable company and it’s like being a new driver where I’m constantly getting up a little speed then losing confidence and slamming on the breaks. It’s a bit cyclical but seems to be evening out over time.

    2. Anonygrouse*

      +1! The “tell about a time your work warped your thinking” thread was so helpful for me when I was moving on from Old Job. There was definitely a part of me that was like “New Job should *not* being paying me $X+Y to do less and put up with more than I did at Old Job for only $X.” Work on challenging that thought!

      Also, there are plenty of jobs out there where even 8 months is still a getting-up-to-speed period — you needed time to recover from your old job, you’re still learning the nuances of the politics and culture at your new place, etc.

    3. Mazzy*

      But other people are saying they aren’t doing great, so it doesn’t have to do with a previous company

      1. Mean Something*

        “However, through informal feedback (e.g., projects that should be allocated to me being instead given to my coworker, and client comments made to my manager), I feel that my sense of being great at my previous job was perhaps a symptom of just being on the better end of the spectrum in a terrible company. I seem to mess up a lot and I doubt my abilities daily, and struggle to feel like I’m being successful. I still want this job, but I feel like I was overly confident in my interviews and the reality of my skills are a letdown for my new employer.”

        Maybe they are! From the letter, it’s not 100% clear to me that that’s what people are saying. A lot of it seems to reside in OP’s interpretation. I’d like to see these “I feel” remarks replaced with some real feedback.

        1. OP*

          OP here. I definitely think that the old job has distorted and colored my view. I was a bit of a “master of all” in my previous job, where there were no set boundaries and I was expected to step in and act in almost any capacity as needed. I had no manager or formal feedback at all in my time there. I basically could do no wrong as there were no processes in place for anything and the place was so dysfunctional that even if I messed up, there was no one there who would have seen it and pointed it out.

          So far in my time here I have had multiple instances of following my gut on how to deal with a client problem only to find out it was completely wrong. I’ve had feedback from peers that they don’t think that my role (not necessarily me specifically) has value but implied it’s because I’m not doing what they expect of me. I’ve specifically and directly asked whether I can be included in some initiatives which are in my area of interest, but been passed over for involvement at all even at a basic level. I’ve been told that I need to “stick to doing my job” when I have tried to resolve some interdepartment issues which are affecting my clients. And most importantly even after all these months I’m struggling to keep all of my work on track and get across how all of the different technologies, teams and processes work together to make my tasks work efficiently.

          1. Nita*

            None of this sounds good. Especially the fact that you seem to have been thrown in off the deep end, people are aware you’re struggling, but your boss will not make time for feedback. It sounds like your training for the new job is also lacking, and the “stick to doing your job” is kind of alarming when you’re trying to resolve a problem. It sounds like you’ve landed at another dysfunctional job. Might be a good idea to start looking around for something else… it’s really not horrible these days to look for a new job after a year.

          2. Snark*

            I would encourage you to regard that as feedback, not evidence that you’re a helpless screwup! Transitioning from a role where you had extraordinary latitutde and no defined role and expectations to one where you’re expected to stay in your lane is a genuinely hard transition. But I think you’re hearing that you do need to stay in your lane more, and act only in your capacity. That’s useful.

            1. Snark*

              Also, “all these months” really isn’t that much time. I took at least that much time to even start being comfortable with my previous role, and I expect my new one to repeat the cycle.

          3. Blue*

            If you’re not nailing your official job, I think it’s understandable that they’d want your focus solely on that for the time being. What did your training look like? Were you able to ask questions about their processes and expectations, or to create resources for yourself to reference? I agree with the others – it sounds like you didn’t get the preparation you needed.

            (Also, it sucks to have to second guess everything that you’re used to doing, so I feel for you. I just started a new job and have been constantly asking myself, “Does it still make sense to do X here?” Fortunately, my coworker has given me time to pick her brain so I can make sure my thinking aligns with office practice, but it can be unsettling to go from office whiz to a person who doesn’t feel confident in what they’re doing!)

          4. Sara without an H*

            Let me get this straight: you’re in a role where nobody is clear on what you’re supposed to be doing, nobody is training you, and your manager is “too busy” to give you any feedback? OP, it sounds as though you’ve gone from one dysfunctional job to another. This does not mean that you are a hopeless screw up, just that you’ve landed in another bad place.

            1. Specialk9*

              Yes all of this!

              Your manager can’t make time for you?? Pfffft. That’s nonsense. Nobody thrives when their only feedback is reading tea leaves… by seance.

          5. media monkey*

            to me, some of that sounds like office politics (“stick to doing your job” has overtones of “don’t try and change the way we’ve always done this/ stick to your own department”). are your struggling because people don’t collaborate/ help you?

            In your place though, if you are struggling to keep work on track and get across processes, i don’t think asking to get involved in other initiatives would be the way to go.

            i hope things get better OP!

      2. Bea*

        They’re only gauging this on some client feedback and project allocation. That’s pretty limited.

        I’ve had clients hate anyone who wasn’t the person before the rep they worked with last. You need to take client feedback seriously but beware of wildly inappropriate expectations in those cases.

        I’m getting all the assignments others would have because I have more time and outside experience. So I can see how that could screw with someone as well.

      3. rldk*

        I don’t know that other people are actually saying that – it seems like there was only one instance of a client comment. Which could mean something about OP, or could mean something about the client.
        But regardless, the advice doesn’t change. OP needs communication from her boss if she’s unsure about her performance.

  5. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    If your boss is too busy, or just not in the habit of regular feedback, it may be hard for OP to nail down the purpose of a meeting and keep the focus on “what can I do to improve” instead of “I feel like I’m failing across the board.”
    I think a good plan is to ask to meet with your supervisor and ask about one specific aspect of the workplace or department.
    For example, the task that went to a coworker, instead of you, OP: Ask to meet and discuss how assignments are delegated because you’ve seen X job and Y job go to Bob or Alice. Were these one off situations? Are these not in your purview (did I use that correctly)? Does your boss think want you somewhere else now?
    Just speaking about one thing can help you get a better overall picture.

  6. Escapee from Corporate Management*

    OP, you don’t need a pay cut. You need performance feedback! I’m worried that in the absence of any useful information, you are putting isolated bits of data into your self-defined context, jumping to a conclusion, and proposing a remedy. However, the data may not be relevant, the context may be wrong, the conclusion may be inaccurate and the solution potentially harmful. Your boss may be busy, but no boss should ever be so busy that you cannot get 1/2 hour to discuss how you are doing. Focus on that. Once you talk, you may be pleasantly surprised.

    One other item to consider: when faced with uncertainty, do you always imagine the worst? That can be a driver here. If yes, there are techniques you can learn (with mentoring or counseling) to try to control that process.

    1. OP*

      OP here. Yes, 100%. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years learning to be being less of a pessimist and more of a realist. I will never been an optimist.

  7. Artemesia*

    To ask for a pay cut is to ask to be fired. This is a fake it till you make it situation. You need to sit down with your boss and identify some areas to improve because ‘I want to be more effective at delivering for the company.’ Not ‘I am terrible’, but ‘I am new and learning the ropes and want to focus on where I can best improve my effectiveness’. You are competent and confident and so you want to be better at the job. To ask for a pay cut paints you as cringing and incompetent — which you aren’t. New jobs are always hard at first; there is always a learning curve; you just need some feedback and guidance to get on track. Don’t go in with a punch me sign on our forehead but with enthusiasm to do a better job and a clear commitment to getting up to speed.

    1. Camellia*

      I like this VERY much. It reframes everything as positive instead of negative, more of a ‘can do’ attitude.

    2. Seespotbitejane*

      This is excellent advice. I recently had a work problem where I felt like I was doing poorly and wasn’t getting adequate feedback and started to write kind of an apology email to my boss asking for help about how to fix it, but as I wrote the thing I had a couple ideas and ended up instead putting together a proposal to streamline the process that was frustrating me. Instead of having a cringy conversation with my boss about how much I suck, I was praised for streamlining our process.

      You should approach problems as if you are competent and they are solvable. If you need more information about a process ask for it but don’t say “I have no idea how X works and I can’t finish this project,” say “It’s important for this project that I have a better understanding of X, when can we make that happen?”

      You’re always going to be better off confidently asking questions rather than apologizing for not knowing the answer already. I hope you’ll give us an update because I really hope you aren’t at another dysfunctional job

  8. Snark*

    Ok, first off, OP, pay good attention to Alison, because NOOOOO DO NOT DO THE THING. You’re adopting this posture that’s abject, weirdly self-abegnating, and kind of pathetic; asking for a pay cut would be far outside professional norms. I’m put in mind of a whipped dog, cringing and smiling and showing its belly. You don’t want that to be your posture in your professional career, even if impostor syndrome is ruling your thoughts.

    What you need is not a pay cut, but active and involved management, whether it’s here or somehwere else. Your boss is the one who needs to step up here, not you, and no matter how busy she is, she needs to make time for regular one-on-ones and regular, constructive, actionable feedback.

    1. Les G*

      Ouch. I’m not on board with comparing OP to an abused animal, especially if she (like so mant women in, just guessing from the pay here, male-dominated fields) really is dealing with imposter syndrome.

      1. Snark*

        Well, good thing I’m not doing that! I’m using an analogy to illustrate how odd, awkward, and abject the request to take a pay cut would look and feel, and I don’t think it’s an inappropriate one even if it’s kind of vivid. It’s characterizing an impression she doesn’t want to give, not her herself.

        You police my and others’ language an awful lot, I’ve noticed, and you do so without giving the benefit of much doubt. At least on this site, I find the commentariat generally merits the assumption of good intent, and I’ve rarely been disappointed.

    2. Specialk9*

      That was my exact mental image too, reading the letter. It made my heart hurt. Thinking of giving back pay is startlingly out of the norm, but to do so based on a couple of inferred possibly-maybe criticisms, oh my. That’s not a place of inner strength, that’s a deep inner wound.

      OP actually sounds quite versatile, self starting, and solution oriented.

      See if you can fix the place you are, or rework your position (in place, or finding a lateral job that fits better), or if that fails, find a manager who doesn’t so thoroughly suck.

  9. I'm Not Phyllis*

    If there are serious concerns with your performance, even the busiest of managers will make time to discuss it with you in a functional work environment. My first thought in reading this is imposter syndrome, but in a way that stems from staying in a dysfunctional workplace. You don’t say in what ways it was dysfunctional, but if it was the norm there to fire people without warning or cut peoples’ pay when if they’re not performing at a certain level – know that it’s not normal. In most worlds, unless you’re breaking some sort of law, your boss will discuss performance concerns with you and – especially in your first year – give you a chance to improve. Good managers don’t fire people with no warning (layoffs are different). Also, cutting pay if you’re making mistakes is very much not a normal thing to do so I worry that bringing it up would make you look out of touch. I agree with Alison that they hired at that level because they need to have someone at that level, so offering to take a pay cut won’t save you if your job is truly in jeopardy. Please don’t do this.

    I do think it’s normal to check in with your boss especially during your first year. Not in a “I think I’m about to be fired and what can I do?” kind of way, but in general check-in kind of a way to make sure that you’re meeting their expectations, for them to give you feedback, etc. I see this as totally normal, although it may not be in all organizations. Also, do you have a work plan? If you don’t, it may help you to create one so that you can work towards specific targets and it might help lower your anxiety. If you already have one, try to focus your energy there.

  10. E. Jennings*

    Nothing about this letter suggests to me that you’re actually performing badly at your job! You are still new to your role and company, you have a manager who doesn’t give you much feedback, and it seems like you’re spiraling a little bit because you don’t know where you stand and and are forced to read breadcrumbs.

    Ask for a meeting, and say when you ask for it that you want to talk about how things are going overall. That gives them a little time to think and give you honest feedback.

    Some questions to consider:

    Do you understand the baseline expectations of your job and what you need to do to meet them? Do you understand what success and failure look like in your role? If not, that’s something you need to ask your manager.

    You say you “seem to mess up a lot.” Are you basing that just on the client feedback, or on something else? If you’re getting a lot of suggestions or guidance from coworkers, it might just be that you’re still new, or that the company culture is that everybody chimes in with ideas for improvement even if the work is already of good quality.

    What have you accomplished? You aren’t going in and screwing things up nonstop for 8 hours a day. Make a list of what you’ve done so far, even if it seems like you’re just doing the basics of your job. (“Managed 8 clients, successfully produced report on teapot spout density, mastered new system of spout inventory collection.”) Look at the job description for your role if you have to and check off what you’re doing, even if it’s not 100% perfect every time. Bring it to the meeting, not to talk up your achievements but to remind yourself of what you’re getting done.

    It’s fine to ask about the client feedback in the course of this conversation. “I heard Tea Leaves, Inc., had some issues with the way I’m handling their account. Are there things I should change about how I approach them to work together more successfully?”

    Be really careful about how you ask about projects being given to your coworker instead of you. It’s quite possible this decision had nothing to do with you at all, and you don’t want to come off like you’re taking something personally that wasn’t or like you’re questioning your manager’s decisions. Maybe something like “I noticed you asked Deanna to work on the spout circumference measurements a few weeks ago. I thought all the spout-related projects were in my portfolio, and I was worried this had something to do with the feedback from Tea Leaves Inc. — am I right in thinking that?”

    Do not, do not, do NOT ask for a pay cut — it will seem weird, and it will take a straightforward and run-of-the-mill checkin to the realm of “weird and uncomfortable” immediately. Making a statement like that about your perceived value to your manager will either come off as asking for reassurance or really not understanding business norms.

    Finally, I hope you can be a little less hard on yourself. I think the period when you’re 6 to 8 months into a new job is one of the hardest. Nothing is new and exciting anymore, you’re not obviously the New Kid so you’re not getting any breaks, but you also are still on a pretty steep part of the learning curve. Your manager has also done a poor job of communicating what she expects and where you stand. Never having 1:1 check-ins or performance reviews with a new employee is really bad practice, and it’s understandable that you’re anxious about where you stand. Try to sort out the noise of what’s going on in your head from the facts on the ground. Have some compassion for yourself. Good luck!

    1. E. Jennings*

      Actually — “what does success look like in this job” is a GREAT question to ask your manager even and especially if you think you already know the answer. It’s really important to be on the same page about what is crucial and what doing the crucial thing well looks like.

  11. Nita*

    Yeah, you really need a performance evaluation, not a pay cut! If your office has a scheduled time for performance reviews but it’s really far away, request a short meeting with your manager. In a non-dysfunctional office, they should recognize feedback is important, and be able to make time for that if it’s scheduled in advance.

    Messing up when you’re new is kind of to be expected. If the negative client comments are making their way to you, take them as constructive criticism, not as a sign that something is unfixably wrong. I get that messing up when you’re making over 100K is much scarier than when you’re making 50K, but presumably your employer thought that was a fair salary when they hired you.

  12. Leela*

    OP – is it possible that dysfunctional OldJob has distorted your view of things? It’s hard to say from the outside but I know I’ve come to new jobs dreading something I see because at ToxicJob that would have meant X, which lead me to think the worst. Sometimes it literally does mean X here too, sometimes it means Y, Z, or nothing at all but my guard was WAAAAAY up because of ToxicJob. I can’t say that this is the case here but maybe worth taking into account?

  13. Lana Kane*

    Speaking as a supervisor: Your first step should be to ask for feedback! You are jumping to paycuts when you haven’t even received confirmation that your suspicions are true. That your manager doesn’t do one on ones or regular feedback does not mean you can’t ask for it. I can say from experience that the lack of feedback, either way, can make a good, conscientious, high-achieving employee jump to some out-there conclusions. Let her know that you’d like half an hour of her time to get a sense of how you’re progressing, and receive any feedback she can provide.

    That 6 month mark is tough, you’ve been there a while, but you still haven’t picked up the nuances that more seasoned employees have. Feedback is absolutely necessary!

  14. Sara without an H*

    No, no, no, no, no. Tausendmal nein! Do not do this thing.

    I have serious doubts about a manager who hasn’t scheduled regular follow-up sessions with a new employee. So she’s busy? Getting you on board and working up to your capacity is her business, and she isn’t doing it.

    Eight months is not enough time to have the whole job figured out. In my industry (higher education), you need to go a full budget cycle before you’ve been exposed to everything included in the role.

    So, please, tell your insecurities to shut up and sit down. Do what it takes to get on your manager’s calendar. Come prepared with some specific issues where you want feedback. NOT “I feel like I’m not living up to your expectations,” but “I love working here, but there are some things where I’d really like your feedback. For instance, there’s the Platinum Cocktail Shakers account. Can you give me some advice on working with them? I’m not sure I’m on the same page as their rep.”

    Be upbeat and specific. And ask her if you can schedule a regular update meeting with her. As several of the upstream commentators have said, the salary isn’t your problem, it’s the lack of input from your manager.

    1. Stained Glass Cannon*

      “I have serious doubts about a manager who hasn’t scheduled regular follow-up sessions with a new employee.”

      YES. THIS. OP, if your manager doesn’t give you feedback and doesn’t even do performance reviews (for 8 months! a new employee!), if your manager has been handing off your work to someone else without explanation, I am inclined to say the dysfunction is with your manager and not with you. Do not let your manager’s neglect sink what sounds like an otherwise great job. You’re entitled to feedback, both specific and general. Go in with questions – and be mindful that you don’t ever put yourself down in the way you phrase the questions.

      I want to further add that the way you present yourself can affect how you feel about yourself. When you put on a show of confidence, you’ll feel more confident. When you present yourself as someone who is willing to learn and improve your performance, people will respond to you by giving you a hand up and a bit of leeway. (If they don’t, they are the problem, not you.) The more you behave as a competent, sensible person who’s up to the job, the more you will become that person.

  15. LP*

    Blows my mind that people want a paycut when they’re making this much money. Just give it to me, good lord.

    1. OP*

      OP here. With more pay comes more responsibility which I find weighs heavily on me. I’m not in any way complaining about earning too much, but there is a lot of insecurity in feeling overpaid for the quality of your performance. Life was easier when I was an engineer earning $50k and being an overachiever. Or in my last job when I was paid less but working 80 hour weeks frequently and doing the jobs of 3 people at times. It’s so much easier to feel like you are underpaid.

      1. Artemesia*

        Pay is not the issue. Focus on delivering. How do you know your lane when there has been so little training and feedback? Focus on ‘what can I do to do a better job for the organization’ and approach your boss for that feedback. Frame issues of concern as not always knowing what your lane is and if there are areas you are confused about, particularly that are organization specific, find out where the information you need is, or whom you need to talk to to get up to speed. No one cares about the pay now; they care about the performance. Focus on improving your performance with the attitude of ‘ of course I can’ when you know more about the things you need to focus on.

        I had a job once that was a mystery to all concerned; I know how you can eat yourself alive over not knowing what you need to do. Don’t do that — don’t chew inward — face outward and get the feedback you need to succeed. Feeling bad doesn’t pay for doing bad and taking a pay cut doesn’t either.

  16. Bea*

    It’s been 8 months!! Are you sure it’s not the learning curve getting in your way and spooking you?

    I had a breakdown a few weeks into a job once thinking I was out of my element. However after suffering a few cycles I found that I was well within my scope. The learning and processing and being highly functioning for daily operations just took me awhile to settle into. There are positions I’ve seen take 6-18 months to really gel for a person.

    Don’t ever offer to take less money. Ever.

    1. Snark*

      That’s the other thing! Once you get into mid-career, big kid pants positions, getting really comfortable with your duties takes more than 8 months. I’m just starting a new job, and I expect it to take six months before I even have a handle on all the acronyms!

      1. Bea*

        I slide into things awkwardly easily most times but hell yes, it takes so much time as you get deeper into a career path.

        It takes be a solid 2 months to get a places accounting down. Then another 6 months to get comfortable in all the other operation details. Then there’s the crap you only do annually to wrestle with. On top of having bosses who can’t do my job, so I’m blazing my own trails. Meeting people. Learning things. All the things!

      2. E. Jennings*

        It’s true early career too! I always thought I was a pretty good intern by the end of my 3 months with a company, so it kind of blew my mind once I’d stayed somewhere longer than 18 months to realize that I actually had no idea what I was doing for the entire first year.

  17. Buu*

    You’ve gone from a job you mastered to one you have to learn. Have a think what areas do you think you’re struggling with? How are you going to tackle them? If it’s a technical thing can you read up on the areas or ask an industry friend for tips? Use the resources you have to outline the problems you think you have and how you’d solve them, e.g ‘Struggled to find time to tidy teapots – research some time management systems and implement them’, ‘Having problems with coffee grinding, – ask my friend Sansa who is a coffee expert for advice when we next meet up.’ etc

    Do schedule that chat with your boss but try and come up with an action plan ahead of time. Without feedback it may be tricky to pin down problem areas but I suspect you have an idea. If your boss does have concerns it’ll look pretty good if you’ve already done a bunch of research on how you’re going to address the problems.

    OP you’ve identified some possible problems and have reached out for advice, that means there’s a chance to improve things. Sometimes work is hard, especially when you’ve taken a step up.

  18. Alexandra Hamilton*

    The fact that this person (woman, right? I cannot IMAGINE a man writing this) wants to proactively offer themselves up for a pay cut means that they probably can’t accurately assess their own performance. That just… isn’t a normal impulse in corporate America. Impostor syndrome maybe? Anyway, no, you absolutely should not suggest that. It would be so off base that it would raise eyebrows big time. If a subordinate came to me and offered to be paid less because they thought they were crap at their job, I’d be questioning their judgment from that point forward because it’s just so off base. As Alison explained, that just *isn’t how things work.* Your job-hop negotiation sounds like it was normal, not greedy. If anything, you probably undershot the numbers, seeing that they accepted it right away with no counteroffer. Just ask for how you’re doing and ask for training if you need it.

  19. Miss Displaced*

    Yeah… No don’t do that.
    I don’t know if there are rightfully some problems here, or if you’re feeling some imposter syndrome. Likely, it might be a little of both, but perhaps not enough to overly concern your boss yet. I mean, you’re 8 months in, but some higher-level jobs can take 1-2 years to really learn and perform well at.
    But you fo need to discuss your concerns with your boss, and what you think is needed so you can perform and come up to speed better (training, support, practice, whatever).

  20. Moonbeam Malone*

    OP it sounds like fear is a big motivator for you so I want to say this: it’s okay to fail. And, importantly, there are different kinds of failure! Some forms of failure are bumps in the road on the way to success. You’re out of your comfort zone. It felt safe when standards were lower. Give yourself more of a chance. Get more comfortable with making mistakes and actually learning from them, see if you grow. Maybe this job won’t be a good fit long-term, but I get the sense you’re not giving it or yourself a fair shake yet. (And maybe you’re not giving your manager enough of a chance yet either. They should want you to succeed. Show a true proactive interest in improvement and they may surprise you.)

  21. Penelope*

    It’s one thing to feel you’re being underutilized or not kept busy enough but paid way too much for that situation to be fair to the other workers of the world (that’s where I’m at currently) but it’s another to think you’re bad at your job and are being paid too much to be bad at it. Get better? Why is the pay cut the only thing OP is thinking about?! What about actually rising to the demands of the job and being great at it? Sounds like that unhealthy environment rubbed off a little too much, whether OP left it or not.

  22. Jennifer Juniper*

    OP, that’s some seriously low self-esteem and self-loathing I’m getting from your letter! Please, please, please get thee to therapy ASAP!

    A fellow traveler

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