my employee is holding me hostage over a raise

A reader writes:

I’m new to management this year, and I’ve run into a problem with a direct report. “Sara” has been in her position for two years with no promotion or significant pay raise. My boss and I were going to start the process for a promotion, but Sara then had major issues with tardiness and skipping out on required activities (a diversity and inclusion seminar, not “forced fun”), which set us back in our plans. Sara is excellent in her position and there have been no issues with her work, just her work ethic. The three of us set out a roadmap to get Sara back in a place to work toward that promotion.

And then COVID happened, and our company froze all salaries. Sara’s work continues to be excellent, and her work ethic has improved as well. In normal times, she’d be up for a promotion.

However, the way she approached me about the promotion is rubbing me the wrong way. First, instead of bringing this up at our one-on-one in a few days, she dumped it on me right before the end of the week. She sent me a list of her job responsibilities from when she was hired compared to now. As you might expect, the current duties are more involved and have more responsibility, since that’s what happens when you’ve been in a position for two years. Still, I agreed she deserves a promotion.

Then she said, “I either want a raise and title change, or I want to go back to doing what I was hired to do.” And all of a sudden I’m being held hostage to give her a raise, or else all the work that she didn’t do when she was hired gets dumped on my plate. I’m incapable of taking on any more work, but if she refuses to do the work, there’s no one else it can fall to.

How do I approach her and have a coaching session that lets her know this hostage holding is inappropriate and unprofessional? If my boss and I pursue a raise for Sara (but no promotion), is that “giving in”?

Well … I think you’re looking at this wrong.

There are two possibilities here:

1. Sara is doing the work of a higher-level job than her title (and salary) reflects. If that’s the case, that should be formally recognized by changing her title (promoting her) and paying her accordingly.


2. Sara is not doing the work of a higher-level job than her title reflects. Since she was first hired, her duties have evolved in a way that’s natural for the role she’s in, and they are still appropriate for the title she holds. (For example, if I hire you as my assistant, I might not have you start drafting correspondence for me until you’ve been on the job for a while, even if I intend it from the start. When you do take it on, it doesn’t mean you’ve outgrown the assistant job; it means you’ve grown within it in ways we expected.) In this scenario, she might still deserve a raise so her salary reflects the higher level she’s contributing at. She could deserve a promotion too — but she wouldn’t have grounds to insist on doing less if you don’t promote her.

So it’s really important to figure out if Sara is currently doing the work of a higher-level job or not. One way to figure it out: If you formally promoted her, how different would the post-promotion work be from what she’s doing now? If the answer is “not much,” then you’re looking at scenario #1. But if the answer is “there would be significant differences,” it’s probably #2 and that’s the conversation you need to have with her — one where you explain the work she’s doing now is appropriate for her current title and pay, and the work that would come with being promoted would be different in XYZ ways.

Either way, though, I don’t see much here that warrants coaching her on professionalism. In scenario #1, Sara is right to ask for her work to be formally recognized (both in title and in salary) — and she’s not off-base to say that if that won’t happen, she’d like to revert back to the work of the job she’s being paid for. And if it’s scenario #2, you need to explain that the work she’s doing is part of the job she was hired for — but she wasn’t unprofessional to raise it.

It also wasn’t unprofessional for her to raise it at the end of the week rather than in her one-on-one with you. People are allowed to raise things outside of standing meetings. You can always say, “Let’s talk about it in our next one-on-one” if you want to — but there’s nothing wrong with her bringing it up the way she did.

And I wouldn’t look at this as Sara trying to hold you hostage. That’s adding a weird element that shouldn’t be present. Sara gets to decide what work she’s willing to trade for what amount of pay. You get to decide what work you want her to do and how much it’s worth to you. Ideally, those things will line up. If they don’t, then you see if you can resolve your differences. If you can’t, you accept that your business interests are no longer aligned and you both move on.

You feel like if you don’t give into Sara’s demands, then a bunch of work she’s currently doing will get dumped on your (already full) plate. But that’s not how it works. If Sara’s assignments are appropriate for her job and she’s no longer up for doing them, you need to part ways with her and hire someone who’s willing to do the job. If you don’t feel quite comfortable holding that line, I’d ask whether it’s because you know at some level that she really is doing work beyond her current role. But if you’re absolutely confident that your expectations are appropriate to her current job … well, then you make that clear and let her decide if she still wants the job.

But there’s no call here for coaching her on professionalism.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 580 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I want to ask people to keep their comments on this letter kind and constructive, per the commenting rules. The letter-writer is a brand new manager, which means this is probably the first time she’s had to deal with something like this and she doesn’t have a full slate of managerial tools developed yet (probably far from it). For new managers, when someone seems to be making your life harder (she’s demanding something / threatening not to do work!) it can be easy to just think they’re in the wrong — and new managers often don’t have a lot of support/guidance from their companies.

    She wrote in for advice. Be kind.

  2. CommanderBanana*

    OP, it sounds like you’re grasping for reasons not to give her a raise. Wanting to not give someone a raise based on the day they asked you about it, even though her performance merits it? Really?

    1. Just J.*

      Yes, Sara is doing everything that Alison advocates when asking for a raise / promotion. The fact that OP wrote in hints that there is something deeper going on. Has the tardiness improved? Is it the comment “then I want to go back to what I was hired to do”? As a manager that rubs me the wrong way.

      Sit down with your boss and talk this out. And btw, my company has also frozen raised during COVID. If you can’t afford financially to give a raise, explain that to Sara too of course.

        1. charo*

          Agree. But Sara’s lapses:
          “major issues with tardiness and skipping out on required activities (a diversity and inclusion seminar)”
          bother me. Did she listen to a tape of the seminar and prove she gets it?
          Or did they just “move on” after?

          I’d want to know “major issues” won’t be repeated.

          1. sunny-dee*

            Honestly, neither of those may be major issues (without other context). Does she have a job that requires being at her desk at 9am? If yes, then punctuality is important. But if she can get in at 9:30 and still get all of her work done at a high quality and on time, I have no idea why “tardiness” would even be a thing.

            As for the D&I seminar, that doesn’t sound like a “work ethic” thing, but a prioritization thing. She may have thought, “I need to get project X done by Wednesday, and I’ll just skip the seminar so I don’t miss the deadline.” It may have been the wrong choice, especially if the OP or the workplace was putting a big emphasis on the D&I seminar, but she may not have realized that it was more important than other tasks.

            If she is an excellent employee, neither of those reflect on her work ethic, but they do reflect on her job engagement. If she’s being underpaid or ignored for promotion, she may be checking out because it doesn’t really matter to her, anyway.

            1. AnonforThis*

              I echo this. While we don’t have enough info to gauge exactly what is meant by mandatory attendance at the seminar – people miss events all the time, for myriad reasons, and if it’s truly mandatory to have 100% participation, there usually needs to be multiple occasions on which the event is hosted, various ways of participating, etc. I would imagine that any employee who was out sick, on leave, troubleshooting the server that just went down, etc., would not be penalized the same way.

              I personally have had to sit out on a D&I seminar due to increased job responsibilities above and beyond my job description. If there are events that you need your employees to attend, employers need to ensure that their people actually have the capacity to do so. Having to skip an event, especially if the reason is because you’re busy working on higher priority items, is not indicative of poor work ethic.

            2. TJ1*

              Punctuality is always important. I’m sorry but if the work day begins at 9 a.m., she needs to be at work and ready to work at 9 a.m. Coming in at 9:30 is late regardless of how high quality her work is or if she’s able to complete it after being late. The LW stated it was “major issues with tardiness” so we’re not talking about a one-off situation here. I’m glad that Sara has improved but it has to be sustained improvement and not just a fix because it’s promotion time.

              1. skipping girl*

                Punctuality is important when being late will impact other people. If someone can’t leave till you relieve them, yes, 100% emphasis on the importance of punctuality. But punctuality is not a moral virtue that’s inherently valuable on its own merits.

                I say this as an obsessively early person. That’s a personal choice of mine. I don’t tolerate a pattern of lateness to meetings or roles that involve coverage etc. But I’m not going to deny someone a promotion on the grounds that they occasionally arrive late, if there are no other issues with their work. People deserve flexibility in their jobs, and I want to accomodate that when I can.

              2. Sandi*

                I work in tech, and there is no official starting time. I work 8 hours a day, and my boss in happy with me whether I start at 7am or 11am. I have seen some bosses who are really rigid about start times, requiring all their staff to arrive at 8:30am and leave at 5pm, despite the fact that there is no good reason. I am always skeptical of anyone who has issues with tardiness unless they have a good reason for their employees needing to start at a specific time.

                1. Diahann Carroll*

                  Right. Unless coverage is an issue or a meeting is taking place, punctuality is not always important, especially if the late person is salaried and will end up working late hours at some point anyway.

              3. Emma Cunningham*

                While I believe you are correct that late is late- the take away I got was she was always on time and then suddenly not – and then back to normal. What is missing is did they address the sudden tardiness in someway before the “road map”. Was there an excellent reason we are not being told? Her mom was dying of cancer? Her child had issues for a while? While I agree you should attempt to be on time for work- sometimes those family issues affect your ability. So once those issues resolved did she get back on “track”? If that is the case then I doubt she would derail again unless it was for something major. I know from many years of experience that “good” employees don’t typically just “go bad”. There is usually a reason. No one in my company knew I was the sole caretaker for my grandmother the last month of her life except for the aid who would come in from 9-3. Many times the aid was late and no matter how I called the company and explained I needed to be on time to work- it did not matter. They aides came when the came and always had an excuse. So for one month I was late many times. My boss at the time nicely deflected anyone’s complaint with- “It doesn’t affect you. You worry about you and let me worry about everyone. (However, my tardiness was reported each time to HR). When she passed it was quietly reported while I was on leave why I had suddenly been late so much. I hated being late but it could not be helped. I am still with my company and “back on track”. They still “coached” me about my tardiness once grandma had passed and even wrote in the “Coaching” that while “it had never been and issues they still had to document it”.

              4. Beth*

                This is not true in all workplaces and for all jobs. Some jobs require certain hours based on job duties (e.g. a receptionist needs to be at the front desk during open hours), others don’t. Among those that don’t, some employers have a set ‘start’ time, but some have a “please be here between 10 and 4 so there’s overlap for group meetings, but otherwise how you make your hours is up to you” policy, others don’t have set work hours at all and don’t care when you work as long as you get your work done. (And even for places that do have a specific start time, when it’s due only to policy and not a job need, I’d hope there’d be a little flexibility–it’s very frustrating when employers put a lot of unnecessary restrictions on work just because.)

              5. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                Punctuality is important when you are the receptionist or switchboard operator, if you’re the only one that has the key to the premises, if other people depend on your presence to get their work done. For loads of other people it is not important in the least.
                I was always at least 15 minutes late at the office, and even on arrival I would spend at least half an hour getting showered and changed after cycling in to work, then I’d make my breakfast, so I rarely started looking at emails before 10. Yet I exceeded all expectations and was the most productive employee at my level, so did it really matter that I started later? Also factor in that I am not a morning person, so even now, as a freelancer, if ever I read my emails early in the morning, I wait to “become civil” before answering any of them.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        I fully understand Sara saying “then I want to go back to what I was hired to do” in the context of what, to me, sounds like her doing significant work above and beyond what she’s being paid and recognized for over a long period of time. It also only sounds like it’s ramped up over time. I wouldn’t be surprised if she knows they were discussing a promotion and that was all she was holding onto. Now that salaries are frozen, which she surely knows, she isn’t going to continue to do all this extra work when it appears to be getting her nowhere and she’s likely as stressed out as everyone else in the country.

        This sounds like a woman at the end of her rope, likely burnt out. The idea of more money and a higher title was probably all that was keeping her at this high level and now that there’s no end in sight to the pandemic and this salary freeze, she can’t take it anymore. Her tardiness may have even been from burnout.

        1. Koalafied*

          Yep. I identify strongly with Sara. My boss strung me and my team along for more than a year working over our true capacity with the promise that we would soon be able to hire another 2 staff to redistribute the work – first it was “next fiscal year” and then when the fiscal year began with no hiring it became “after we get a third party audit to prove we need the additional capacity.” The audit was done and came back saying we need to hire AT LEAST two more people, then all at the same time we got miserable 2.5%-3% annual raises across the team and covid put the entire org on a hiring freeze. Several of us at that point put our foot down and said things need to change, if reinforcements aren’t coming then we can no longer sustain this workload which we had only agreed to originally under the promise it was temporary. I gave my boss a “proposal” listing the things I felt made the most sense to drop from my workload and my reports’, acknowledging that sure, ideally this stuff would get done, but it’s a nice-to-have rather than a must-do, and if the company thinks there’s value in that stuff getting done then they need to properly staff our team with enough capacity to do it.

          So I did engage in a 2-way dialogue with him about the specific items in my proposal and we came to an agreement, but even though it was 2-way I made it clear that the one thing that was not on the table was my team continuing to work 50-hour weeks on a routine basis.

          The pandemic, our pitiful raises, and the hiring freeze was a triple whammy that pushed all of us to the ends of our ropes – together they took away every possible glimmer of hope any of us were clinging to that things would ever improve unless we took charge and did the only thing we had power to do – since we can’t affect raises or hiring, we pushed back on workload.

            1. Koalafied*

              He approved some of the items in my proposal and we worked out compromises for the ones he took issue with, so it was a generally positive outcome – although it’s still very early so I’m not quite ready to declare victory until I see that requests to do the stricken activities don’t start to creep back in couched in “just this once” type of language that I no longer trust. I’m fortunate that my direct boss is a good and reasonable person – but unfortunate in that he has scarcely more power to control salaries and hiring than I do. We’re levels 7 and 8 out of 13 job levels in our company, and all the real power is held by people in levels 11-13. All those of us in levels 1-10 can do when it comes to staff budgeting is present arguments and proposals to our bosses or department heads to take up the chain to someone who has the authority to make a decision.

            1. Rebecca Howe*

              Bingo!! Once you’ve worked in management for a while you see the telltale signs of covert interviewing. For me sudden patterns of lateness or random last-minute doctor’s appointments are usually indicative. If you’re really in-tune to the company culture and person who’s doing this, you should be able to discern if you think you can retain them, too. Usually this is done with…raises. I think Sara is for sure burned out and fed up, and I can’t say I blame her.

          1. jasmine*

            Or, she may have had doctor’s appointments for health issues that she was uncomfortable discussing with her employer.

      2. Threeve*

        That’s what puzzles me. Salary freeze. Why did the conversation not turn to “assuming there aren’t going to be exceptions allowed for the salary freeze, what are our options?”

        The reasons the LW is taking issue with Sara’s request are a little off, but Sara knows she’s asking for something there is every reason to think LW can’t currently deliver.

        It’s totally fine for her to say “this needs to happen, or I want to transition back to the responsibilities associated with the role I’m currently in or start looking for a new position.”

        It is not fine for her to say “this needs to happen Right Now or I will be making immediate changes that will negatively impact you specifically, Boss.”

        1. Ice and Indigo*

          The fact that OP will be the most affected doesn’t mean Sara is making a point of personally threatening her. Sara talked to the appropriate person about this issue; the fact that it’s the same person who might have to pick up the slack could very well just be coincidence.

          I mean, you could turn that round just as easily: Sara is taking responsibilities off OP’s hands, so why is OP so offended at the idea of remunerating her? Shouldn’t OP be the one who most knows the value of Sara’s work?

          When you under-reward employees, eventually they start feeling like the problems they’d cause if they left or dialled back are, well, your problem, because you’re not paying enough for it to be theirs. That’s not manipulation, it’s just quid quo pro, because you’re sending them the message that the broken promises they get are their problem, not yours. So you can’t be too surprised if they start returning that attitude to sender. Sara is being fair and direct by putting the issue out there rather than just stopping the extra effort she put in when it turned out it got her nothing except more work.

            1. KateM*

              Oh and I’m very definitely feeling “I’ll do what you hired me for plus what I actually like to do, but anything else? Find another fool!”.

              1. Lucy McGillicuddy*

                I felt EXACTLY like this while I was trying to leave my old job (I successfully left! current job is wonderful!). I was never able to express it this clearly.

        2. Alice*

          My company’s salary freeze applies to merit increases but not to promotions.
          My company doesn’t have COL adjustments, just merit increases, which I wish I’d known before I started, but that’s a separate issue.
          So, it’s not impossible to have a salary freeze and also have the opportunity to promote (with a raise) at some orgs.

          1. Partly Cloudy*

            Good point. Other possible workarounds could be a small bonus or additional time off in lieu of the salary bump until that’s possible. Freezing raises doesn’t (necessarily) mean that the company might not be able to pay the electric bill next month and literally has nothing to offer.

            1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              And if it does mean that, then Sarah should know it and consider her options accordingly. She has her cards on the table, so now it is the company’s turn

      3. I'm just here for the cats*

        I can kind of see OP’s point though where sara rubbed her the wrong way though. I’m not sure if this was an email or face to face but I can see where getting this abrubtly could seem brash.

        I also think it is a little tone deaf for her to ask for a promotion when the company froze all salaries. I’m not sure but if sara knows about the freeze she shouldn’t be asking for a raise. I can understand advoating for herself, and maybe they can meet in the middle with a title increase.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          However, we know that the OP took issue with some things that shouldn’t have been issues (Sara bringing it up at the end of the week), so I’d hesitate to rely on her account of how all this was delivered.

        2. merp*

          One thing here is that we don’t really know how Sara raised this issue, if it was as abrupt as this letter makes it seem. This is one person’s interpretation when they already seem frustrated.

          1. Lizzy May*

            Even if it was abrupt, that can be interpreted more generously. People are nervous to ask for raises. They are uncomfortable. So it’s very possible Sara being more abrupt could be coming from her just trying to get it out or being awkward or nervous.

        3. Woodswoman*

          It sounds like the promotion was being discussed well before the freeze on raises, and as mentioned by others, plenty of places freeze merit increases (here’s more money because you’re doing great) but not promotions (here’s more money because you’re doing a more/a different job). I think the fact that she included going back to her reduced workload as an option indicates that she is not tone-deaf, seeing as she seems to realize it may not be feasible to get the raise.

          Salary freeze or not, I don’t believe it’s tone deaf to ask for resolution to an issue that was already in play- OP indicates that she should get an increase, had been doing the work to justify one, and when her performance slipped as a result of frustration because she was not being fairly compensated, she made the improvements her boss requested.

          1. Katrinka*

            I think that may be part of OP’s defensiveness. They know Sara deseerves a raise/promotion, and they’re embarrassed to be called out on it. It sounds like maybe they weren’t transparent with Sara and letting her know they had started the process for a raise/promotion when COVID hit and they plan to address it again with management once the initial craziness wears off. I think having that conversation with her would help Sara feel a lot more valued.

          2. Anono-nono-nonymous*

            See, and I think the offering (seems more like demanding, to me) to go back to a reduced work-load is the most tone deaf part of Sara’s letter. It read to me like they gave her the rest of the responsibilities of her current position and set some performance metrics she needed to meet before being considered for the promotion. There is nothing in the letter to indicate that the difference between the “old duties” list and the “current duties” list is in any way tied to the discussion of a raise and/or promotion. It reads more like she was slowly taking on more responsibility, like you do the longer you are in a position, and now thinks that that alone merits a promotion. While the OP thinks the current workload is the correct one for the role and the promotion would potentially come with even more, potentially different, responsibility and possibly a replacement for her current position. Isn’t that how promotions usually work? I’ve never heard of a promotion that didn’t come with at least some change in responsibilities, usually leaving the old job behind entirely and moving into the new position.

            1. Koalafied*

              My company does a lot of what they call “promote in place” where someone can move into a higher job level (new title with more pay and often better benefits) by putting together a revised job description that qualifies for the higher level. We have very clearly defined job levels for how much autonomy and decision-making people at each job level are expected to exercise, how many direct reports they could potentially be given, and the maximum sized budget and maximum contract value they can approve.

              So for instance, “Serve as internal point of contact for external vendors/partners,” might be a level 3 task, but “Research and evaluate potential new vendors/partners and conduct periodic reviews of existing vendor relationships to determine whether to continue or terminate the relationship,” would be a level 4 task.

              If someone has been managing existing relationships in terms of being the point person supervising and communicating with external partners, it’s a natural step for their boss to decide they’re familiar enough with how those relationships work to delegate the whole process of finding new ones and ensuring that existing ones continue to make sense. But according to our internal guidelines, those upgraded duties carry enough of a change in the level of autonomy and decision-making that the employee is performing a higher-level job than they were before and a promote-in-place is warranted. And the employee in this case would continue managing those relationships without any need to backfill – their old position is replaced by their new one.

              Our job level specs help us distinguish between Situation #1 (responsibility is now significantly higher level, promote in place warranted) and Situation #2 (work is being done with slightly more responsibility/greater skill & ease, merit raise warranted).

              1. Koalafied*

                (And in 99% of cases where someone is promoted in place, they were already doing the higher level work, the promotion is just formalized recognition of it.)

                1. TardyTardis*

                  But no company ever does this to an employee without promoting them or without paying them more, no never!

      4. Karia*

        It may rub you the wrong way but I’ve been on the other side of that. I deliberately took a lower paying job because I wanted low level duties while I dealt with some health issues. Then the company bought up another few companies and a colleague left. My workload *literally tripled*, the work became incredibly more complex, I was being asked to do tasks way outside my remit and skill set and suddenly there was no flexibility for the medical leave I needed.

        They gave me a 3% raise. I left.

        I would have been happy either to go back to the low level job I’d signed up for or get a salary commensurate with my workload. You can’t expect someone to be happy to do senior level work for junior level pay.

    2. AVP*

      I wonder if the problem here is that OP cannot give Sara the raise because of the COVID salary freeze, so OP is grasping at straws to keep this arrangement from coming to its natural conclusion. If Sara feels that way, and she’s not off base, and the salaries are inescapably frozen, she should probably just start looking for new jobs and see if she can get a better deal elsewhere – or at least, see what the market has to say.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        This is precisely what I think is happening. The OP cannot take on more work, but she can’t find money for a raise either.

        The solution isn’t to pushback, but to say to your superiors, “We don’t have to pay for Sara’s raise. She can’t do this work without it, and I cannot take on more. What do we do?”

        1. Sylvan*


          It’s also to be transparent to Sara about the salary freeze, if she doesn’t already know about this.

          A previous job of mine froze salaries. Some people stayed, understanding they’d have an opportunity for a raise later and being okay with that. Some found new jobs. Sara could use that information to do what works for her instead of trying to negotiate something that you can’t change right now.

      2. Alanna*

        Yeah, I think that’s right. OP needs to be honest with Sara. If OP thinks Sara deserves the promotion, I think she also needs to have a conversation with her own manager about the situation and advocate for Sara in an honest way. It’s possible to acknowledge the salary freeze up front and then discuss other options, including what the process will be for post-freeze promotions.

        Of course her bosses would probably prefer that she just sit quietly until the freeze ends, but… too bad? Advocating for excellent performers so that you can retain and advance them is part of being a good manager. It’s quite possible that more experienced managers are already making sure they have requests in line for whenever the freeze lifts.

        1. CircleBack*

          I once worked for a company that had a year-long freeze (raises only happened once/year)… but then I found out some people who were extremely unhappy because they were grossly underpaid and had a promotion and/or raise held out on them all year fought until their managers eked out a raise for them even mid-freeze to keep their department from having a mass exodus. I don’t blame Sara for pushing even if she does know there’s a salary freeze.

        2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          One of my friend was just in this situation. She is an assistant, by title, but has been doing the work of an analyst (a job that makes about $20K more) for about 10 months. They had been negotiating for them to waive the degree requirements for the position when COVID hit and froze everything. She asked if she could go back to doing the duties of an assistant. They said no, because they needed an analyst more than an assistant. She decided to look and found an analyst equivalent job at analyst equivalent pay. She quit. They were shocked and now have a vacant assistant position when they need an analyst. Them’s the breaks when you expect lower salaried and ranked people to do the jobs of higher salaried and ranked people indefinitely.

        3. TardyTardis*

          Some bosses would prefer Sara to do three people’s work without complaining or asking for more, in many cases, till hell freezes over.

    3. Nonprofit Nancy*

      I agree, there’s something not right about the fact that OP previously wanted to get her a raise and/or promotion, but now seem to feel that doing so would be “giving in” so is considering not doing it just to … spite her? To show her who’s boss? This is a bad instinct.

      Remember, the alternative to working with Sara is not “Sara learns her place and keeps doing the work without complaining” – it’s that Sara leaves and finds a new job who will pay her fairly (yes, even during a pandemic, this will happen). She’s not a vassal.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        What bothers me (in addition to how Sara seems to be treated as a commodity instead of a person) is that OP complains that if Sara stops doing it, “all the work that she didn’t do when she was hired gets dumped on my plate. I’m incapable of taking on any more work” with zero sense of irony. I’m sure Sara feels that way just as much as OP! She can’t continue to have this work dumped on her plate either! She’s already taken it on with no promise of promotion or extra pay and done it all this time and OP wants to refuse to recognize and pay her for it because of the day she asked and the exact wording she used? As my mother would say, this is like cutting off your nose to spit your face. Just pay the poor put-upon woman for the work she’s doing, OP.

        1. Jill*

          Yes! Sara is also someone doing all of this extra work during a pandemic right now! It’s no wonder that she’s become frustrated that her position hasn’t changed.

          1. Nita*

            But maybe this work is part of Sara’s responsibilities? And OP has her own work. For example, our admins will often compile reports and send out correspondence to agencies. But if an admin is new and doesn’t know the process yet, I’ll do it myself. If I know the admin won’t get to it for two days, but it’s urgent, I’ll do it myself. Still not my responsibility, technically, and I’d love to be able to assign it to the person who’s supposed to do it (and who is not also spending several hours a day doing the legwork for the report, or writing up the findings).

            1. Zombeyonce*

              But OP freely admitted that Sara deserves a promotion and was already planning on giving her one until she “behaved unprofessionally” by saying she deserved it.

              1. Traffic_Spiral*

                This is what sticks in my craw as well. It comes off as very “how dare you demand to be fairly compensated for your work, as opposed to simply hoping I will benevolently choose to reward you upon the day I happen to be of a magnanimous humor!”

                Get over yourself LW – pay her for her extra work or do the work yourself.

              2. CommanderBanana*

                Yeah, that is crap. If there’s some magical formula and day of the week that your subordinates need to use to ask for stuff, you may want to let them know. I’d hate to be turned down for a deserved raise or promotion because I asked on a Thursday under a waning moon when Mercury was rising without realizing it.

              3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                Yes, this reminds me of my former boss having a hissy fit because a former intern (= paid a third of minimum wage as per French law) said she’d consider working for him if he paid her a “good wage”. This was bad enough, but he was also simultaneously wondering how he would be able to afford to hire another guy who’d asked for twice my salary to do a job where he’d be assisting me and be trained by me. Women asking for money are problematic hussies, whereas men are automatically deemed to be worth it.

        2. Anonymous Educator*

          I don’t know if this is an appropriate analogy, but this situation reminds me of when you’re deciding where to eat in a group, and someone in the group says “I don’t really care where we eat,” but then proceeds to shoot down every suggestion others make. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t have an opinion.

          Same thing here. If the extra work Sara is doing is significant for you to not want dumped on you, then it’s significant enough to consider why it’s dumped on Sara… and whether that extra work deserves a raise and a promotion. It isn’t nothing to her but something to you.

      2. Amaranth*

        I think it speaks to being an inexperienced manager – it can feel like you’re not allowed to ‘show weakness’ when feeling challenged by a report, and a test of your leadership ability.
        I think OP needs to recognize that its not “giving in” to respond in a collaborative way. There’s no weakness in stating she’s glad Sara brought it up, because she’d been working on A, but the hiring/pay freeze put it on hold, so how can they make B work. Express appreciation for Sara’s improvements and discuss anything that might still be a *relevant* concern. OP also needs to either explain the increase in workload or see how they can alleviate some of it if it is beyond Sara’s paygrade. Or maybe Sara will move on. If its important to keep her, something will need to change, that isn’t a hostage situation, its business. Don’t make it personal.

    4. LGC*

      To be fair to LW, she DID have problems with Sara’s professionalism outside of this situation! So I don’t think she’s just being petty or that Sara deserves the promotion full stop.

      I do think you’re partially right that LW IS being petty, but I think it’s more of a BEC situation.

      1. LGC*

        Okay, I missed the sentence where she said Sara improved, but…I think it still holds? There were serious issues around six months ago, and while she’s improved markedly, she might need to show sustained improvement.

        So, yeah, LW isn’t coming off great, but I don’t think it’s entirely invalid.

        1. Alice*

          Not only did OP say Sara improved — she also said “Sara is excellent in her position and there have been no issues with her work, just her work ethic.”
          If her work has been excellent all along, and she sometimes came in late (while still producing excellent work), I don’t see why tardiness is necessarily an issue. I’m assuming OP would have told us if the tardiness was creating problems beyond “I want to see butts in seats.” That leaves missing the DEI training. Not great, but if that’s the one problem in what sounds like quite a while, I don’t see that it rises to the level of “serious issues.”

          1. charo*

            If “diversity seminars” aren’t important enough to attend, then why have them? It seems like a bad attitude to be late and skip a seminar like this, and just get away with it.

            Otherwise, I can relate to her frustrations. But I do question attitude.

            1. Alice*

              Diversity seminars are indeed important enough to attend, and they are also important enough that you need to have a plan for providing that info and training to people who are sick or otherwise not available that day.

              1. MassMatt*

                Meh. The ones I have attended consisted of the 100% white and 80% male upper management delivering platitudes to the 90%+ white staff about diversity. If diversity is a company goal then address it through hiring and promotions, not seminars and slogans.

                Serious company goals are not achieved through seminars, posters, or potlucks.

                1. ...*

                  I usually agree with this sentiment but I was offered a pretty great diversity training opportunity and it definitely wasn’t led by a white man. Since we don’t know the contents of the seminar we cant really know how valuable it was. I do agree that missing one seminar isn’t crossing into ‘major problem’ territory

              2. LJay*

                Do we know that it was only available one day though?
                It may have been offered multiple different days and times and the employee chose to skip each one.

            2. MassMatt*

              We don’t know anything about why the employee missed the seminar, whether it was a work conflict, illness, etc. or whether she just skipped it.

              IMO the reasons the OP is giving for not promoting her are either no longer applicable (tardiness) or trivial (not attending a diversity seminar—in my experience they are on the level of motivational posters). Tardiness may well be trivial also, depending on the demands of the position.

              If a raise or promotion is impossible because of COVID/budget issues, then it’s better to say so. It’s then up to the employee to decide whether to keep working there or seek other opportunities.

              What will the OP do if the employee leaves? Will budget for a new hire, possibly at a higher salary given the current employee might be taking on significantly higher responsibilities than the original role entailed, suddenly materialize?

          2. Indigo a la mode*

            That kind of pattern appearing abruptly and only happening for a short period also makes me think there might have been something big/urgent going on in her personal life at the time – maybe a move, bad breakup, or legal or medical issue. Obviously that kind of thing ideally wouldn’t impact her work, but I think we’ve all been in a personal situation that did. It may not have been a work ethic thing so much as a life event thing. Again, not that it excuses tardiness/missing work seminars, but it make have been out of character for her.

            1. Koalafied*

              Also, if she was being overworked without compensation, that can cause burnout, apathy, and resentment which can all add up to, “if they think they can find someone else to do this work at this pay and want to fire me over tardiness, I’d like to see them try.” It’s very hard to remain committed to an abusive job.

              1. Parenthetically*

                This was exactly the vibe I was getting. “I’ve been here for two years, done nothing but outstanding work, taken on a ton of new responsibilities that aren’t even in my job description, and have gotten zero recognition for it, much less the raise/promotion I deserve.” If that isn’t a recipe for, “You’re damn skippy I’m going to linger over my latte and croissant before I start yet another day of being overworked and underpaid,” I don’t know what is.

              2. Amaranth*

                Its also possible she had so much work on her plate that she skipped it in order to meet deadlines. Of course, that should have been discussed with her manager. :)

        2. Annony*

          I think that is part of Sara’s frustration though. She sat down with her boss and was told what she needed to do to get the promotion. She did it and now she is being told that she won’t get the promotion for the foreseeable future through no fault of her own. I can see where the OP is coming from, but Sara is probably feeling jerked around.

        3. Katrinka*

          But also according the OP, under normal circumstances, Sara would be up for a promotion by now. So they obviously thought she deserved some sort of recognition/compensation. Nothing has changed since then except that OP didn’t like how Sara brought up the issue herself.

        4. Yorick*

          And Sara has only worked there for 2 years. So the problems she was having are a longer part of her history with them than people are saying. AND it’s not crazy that she’s now starting to do more work and have more responsibilities than in year 1. Unless she’s doing much more or very different work, I’m not sure that’s so obviously worthy of a promotion (of course, if this company regularly gives promotions that early, then that’s different).

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        That was my read, Sara wanted “X” but they couldn’t give it to her because of “Problems Y and Z” that existed with her professionalism prior to Covid. What happened is that Sara started working on those – but the amount of time needed to prove this wasn’t a short term bandaid ran into Covid and a salary freeze (which may be necessary to keep the company financially viable for right now).
        The problem is that now Sara wants that raise that she thought she was working to – and it’s possible that the way she approached OP about it veered right back to the work habits/professionalism issues that prevented the raise when it was first broached.

        1. Black Horse Dancing*

          But Sara was doing good work before her issues–I wonder what happened, buckled down, corrected, and did the work she was supposed to to merit a promotion. I understand Sara completely–she’s asking for what she was told she would get. And OP is bristling because she asked it at the end of the work week. Frankly, that’s bs. She’s doing the work–pay her.

          1. Alli525*

            Yep – if they had already laid the groundwork for the raise, then it was maybe already in the budget. If I were OP I’d be making the case that this was a planned raise that has already been delayed (pending an improvement in work quality, which has happened) and therefore merits an exception to the salary freeze.

          2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Oh I don’t think the OP is fully off the hook either here. They do need to not take this as a personal attack.
            I guess where I’m coming from is that it’s possible there had already been a conversation (when the salary freeze came from the top) that this also affects raises that hadn’t been approved yet (which is how this situation appeared to me – it was in process, but the freeze hit before they could get final approval through). From the letter it does read like the freeze is known about company wide. Also, not knowing the industry (Covid has impacted some much more significantly than others) can impact how much maneuver room OP has.

            I guess I’m going more shades of grey as opposed to black and white being all that is seen.

        2. Sacred Ground*

          Except that her request wasn’t in the least bit unprofessional, per Allison. The employee is, in fact, doing exactly what AAM often recommends people do in a situation where they are doing the work of a higher job than what they’re being paid for.

          OP is really grasping at straws here to find some other reason to deny the raise AND promotion other than, “we just can’t right now, sorry.” OP doesn’t want to be the bearer of bad news, doesn’t want to acknowledge the company’s (and thus her own) responsibility for the employee being underpaid and overworked, wants to blame the situation on the person being hurt by it.

    5. Sylvan*

      Searching for a bad faith interpretation of the request, too. “Hostage,” really? She’s trying to start a reasonable negotiation.

      1. Junger*

        Yeah, that seems like a very dramatic description for what is ultimately a salary/workload discussion.

        It’s not like Sara is threatening to damage the department or hurt the OP (even if that might end up happening).

      2. Shirley Keeldar*

        Exactly. The “hostage” wording is odd. I think OP is panicking at the prospect of all of Sara’s work landing on her plate and I sympathize…and yet, that does not mean Sara is doing something she shouldn’t.

        Look at it this way–in any negotiation for salary or promotion or hiring, there’s an implied “I’ll walk away if you don’t give me what I want.” That’s what a negotiation is. Mostly people don’t bother to say it because it’s so obvious. Sara just said the quiet part out loud by offering three choices rather than the traditional two–1) pay me what I’m worth and what you promised; 2) give me work that aligns with what I’m actually being paid; or 3) I’ll quit.

        Maybe her tone was aggressive, maybe it was just frustrated (I’d be frustrated by now if I were Sara), but I think it would serve OP well to take tone out of it entirely and just react to content. Sara has offered options 1, 2, and 3. Which one are you going to take her up on?

        1. Koalafied*

          Yep – Sara did OP a huge favor by explicitly tell her exactly what it will take to retain her, and she’s flexible enough that if more pay isn’t in the cards she’s willing to accept a reduced workload at her current pay as an alternative instead of just finding another job.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            She’s probably willing to accept the reduced workload because it would free up time to look for a better job.

      3. Traffic_Spiral*

        The thing is, “hostage” implies keeping something that doesn’t belong to you. Sara’s labor is her own, and if LW wants it, she has to pay for it. LW seems to be under the impression that she owns Sara outright and is entitled to all her labor, and therefore Sara demanding payment for it is basically taking LW’s rightful property.

        There’s… um… some unfortunate implications there.

    6. Laura H.*

      There’s a salary freeze. That sort of ties OP’s hands a little bit.

      I’m of the opinion that Sara should acknowledge the freeze, and advocate for her earned raise with understanding that while it’s fiscally impossible or difficult to implement immediately, she’d like it in consideration as the freeze eases. That’s reasonable.

      OP wants to be a good manager. Part of that is trusting your employee and also knowing when they need to be called out (professionally and politely) for lapses in behavior. You can also ask for raise conversations to be saved for a one on one if that’s how you process better. Dropping stuff like that on anyone isn’t great.

      If your employees know your reasonable expectations and you stick to them, it’s more likely to get favorable results.

      Good luck Op. :)

      1. Nonprofit Nancy*

        But Sara did express her understanding of that, and her point is that if there’s no additional money coming, she needs to take some things off her plate and go back to the scope she was originally hired for. True, things don’t often work that way, but it was at least an acknowledgement that a raise/promotion might not be possible during Covid.

        1. Sacred Ground*

          Exactly this.

          “You honestly can’t pay me appropriately for the level of work I’m already doing, then we need to adjust my workload to a level that you can afford.”

          What on earth is the problem with this?

          1. Elbe*

            I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with asking, but I think it’s a pretty unrealistic if Sara expects that to actually happen. Her ability to go back to performing other tasks depends on whether or not the company actually needs someone to do those tasks… and it sounds like they don’t.

            It sounds like Sara is probably just going to have to leave this company if she doesn’t want to wait for the salary freeze to end.

            1. FUISA*

              But if Sara leaves the company will have to spend money on recruiting someone new and training them. More importantly they may also have to pay more than they are paying Sara if her duties have grown to the point they’re a higher level job.

              1. Elbe*

                Sure, but a lot of times companies have salary freezes because they simply don’t have the budget. A lot of companies have much lower than average revenues right now and are struggling to make payroll as it is.

                Even if everyone things that Sara deserves the promotion, and even if retaining her would be best, it’s possible that it’s just not possible. It could just be that the company can’t spend money it doesn’t have.

                1. Nonprofit Nancy*

                  But they also can’t give her a no raise title increase that would at least improve her standing in her future career? they can’t promise her a raise if certain financial metrics are met in the future, or anything?? If the pandemic is affecting their business, they can’t prioritize the remaining work and take some of it off her plate?

                  They are daring her to leave then. And then OP will still have to do all the extra work.

                2. Elbe*

                  A lot of times title changes require a pay increase, especially because I assume Sara is a woman. You can’t have one “Sr. Manager” making significantly less than the pay bracket of other people with that title. The LW can look into working some on-paper magic, but there a lot of reasons why it may not be a viable option.

                  It sounds like the LW already has indicated that she’ll receive the promotion in the future. If they have details about when the salary freeze may be lifted, sharing those may placate Sara for a while. But the fact is that they can’t make any promises because the issues here are caused by a pandemic out of their control.

                  No one here is daring someone to leave. It’s a genuinely bad situation and it’s entirely possible that even if everyone is doing their best this relationship just may not work out. There are factors in play here that employees and managers and companies aren’t able to control.

                3. Koalafied*

                  Over my career at multiple companies, I have lost track of the number of times one of my coworkers quit from burnout and was ultimately replaced by two people or a single but higher-pay-grade role because the org couldn’t find a candidate who was able and willing to do the former employee’s whole job at the pay former employee was getting, and they need the work done. They “find” the money for more salary all of a sudden, that wasn’t there when they thought they could keep getting the work done at a discount by their existing employee.

                4. Koalafied*

                  (And almost as often, I’ve seen that money that was never available when a case was made for it based on job duties can also suddenly be “found” to make a matching counter-offer when the employee notifies that they’re leaving for an actual better-paying job.)

            2. TardyTardis*

              True that. As long as Sarah is there, she’ll be expected to work to GS-6 expectations on a GS-4 salary, and be told she has no right to complain or change. But if they tell her that, she might leave, so they’ll going to pretend it’s all her fault.

          2. Amy*

            Two things bothered me here, 1) LW is upset that she missed the diversity seminar but didn’t state whether she has had issues with this previously and whether it was during regular working hours and a paid event. I’ve worked lots of places that have these on off days or shifts and while they are deemed mandatory, a lot of people will take the point and skip it because they have other obligations or they just plain don’t want to come in on their day off. If she’s already feeling overburdened I could understand this mindset even more. 2) The whole she does good work but doesn’t have a good work ethic. So, so many times you hear this from employers who want employees to prioritize their job over everything else in their life and those who don’t are labeled as not being team players or having a bad work ethic. No, some people just want to do the job they’re being paid for and go home and forget about it. Also, this designation falls inordinately on women because they’re usually the ones who have to deal with kids and house stuff so they’re punished as not having a good worth ethic if they’re not able to stay late because they have kids to pick up.

            All around the LW gave me a bad vibe and not someone I would want to have as a manager.

            1. Yorick*

              Well sure, lots of people skip mandatory stuff and just take the loss, but do those people then insist on promotions? Not if they’re reasonable – that’s the loss they’re taking when they do the cost-benefit calculation on skipping the seminar.

              1. D'Arcy*

                Except that it’s patently unreasonable for employers to schedule “mandatory training” that does not occur during employees’ regularly scheduled work time.

        2. Alex*

          Exactly. Sara has raised the issue that her responsibilities don’t match her pay/title, and she’s willing to adjust either variable to reach equilibrium, but something’s gotta give. I think there are three outcomes: Sara gets a raise/promotion, Sara gets a more appropriate level of responsibilities, or Sara leaves. But the outcome that’s not on the table is Sara accepts the current state of affairs indefinitely.

    7. M2*

      It might also not be up to the manager if the company has a freeze. If it is #1 the LW should ask their boss if Sara can get a promotion or raise. I know many people who were up for/ deserved promotions and due to Covid that has changed. None of those people have pulled a Sara but instead continued to do the higher level work.

      That being said, if someone is a stellar employee companies can sometimes do something. It might not be both or it might be a slight raise and no promotion or even more vacation days. I think the LW needs to think long and hard about how life will be if Sara leaves. I don’t know if the LWs boss will push to get Sara promoted as it sounds like until recently she had some issues. For me not attending a diversity seminar is a pretty big deal and I probably wouldn’t push for a team member to get a promotion if they missed inclusion training.

      1. TardyTardis*

        But how long is everyone expected to do higher level work for lower level pay? You know some companies will continue to ride that pony till half the department leaves.

  3. 2020storm*

    This rubbed me soooooooo the wrong way. This is a perfectly normal and respectful way to ask for a raise—and this reaction is why people don’t. The LW seems to be taking this all very personally.

    1. 2020storm*

      Plus, sending this as a note and not doing it in a one-on-one gives the LW time to process the request so they’re not put on the spot. Just like the first commentor said, it’s like grasping at reasons to not give her a raise based on the day she asked!

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        That’s what I came to say. OP, if she had brought this up in the one-on-one, would you think, “I wish she’d told me before so I could prepare some answers for her. Instead I felt blindsided, like I had to answer right then that I’d give her a promotion or not.”
        I think you still have a bad taste in your mouth about Sarahs early days. Either she improved (thanks to your guidance, time and effort) and you should see this as a success or she hasn’t and you should think about letting her go.

      2. KateM*

        Exactly, I was thinking “why to be mad because Sara left you more time (at least a whole weekend) to think it over?”.

      3. 2020storm*

        I’d like to add, after reading Allison’s totally spot-on comment, that I can see how I might take this type of email personally, even more so as a manager who has the stress of figuring all this out. Thank you for asking for advice, LW.

    2. ThatGirl*

      Also, if she’s gone two years without a raise, how else is she supposed to get one? I’ve only ever gone about asking for a raise this way when there wasn’t a regular process in place for reviews and raises to happen annually.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Yeah. It’s very weird. I’ve had the same title for 6 years, but I do a lot more than I did 6 years ago. I have gotten a raise every single year, though, and some were pretty nice raises. I also got bonuses some years. If I was still making what I made originally, I’d feel the same way as Sara. I’ll just go back to the easy work, thanks. You can give this garbage to the people whose pay reflects that they can handle it.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          This. If you’re going to pay people like you did two years ago, don’t be surprised when they only do the work they did two years ago. If they advance, employers need to keep pace.

        2. Sacred Ground*

          “You get what you pay for” is a universally-understood rule in literally every transaction other than employment.

        3. Lemon Ginger Tea*

          I’m in a similar position, but I get “cost of living raises” that are applied evenly to all staff (not turning my nose up at this at all, but it’s different from raises given to individual employees). I’ve started several conversations with my boss about my interest in a “merit based raise” to acknowledge the higher level and increased responsibility my work involves now, in contrast to when I started.

          What do people think about this? How do you view cost of living versus merit based raises?

          1. TardyTardis*

            Sadly, in our current economy, the only way to get raises is to leave for somewhere else if a company wants to play the ‘you’re lucky to have a job’ game.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        At the top of the form showing us the questions we’d be asked during our review, the boss had put “the review is not an appropriate moment to ask for a pay rise”. Except I never saw my manager outside of review time, since he worked at a different site. That was fine by me, in that I needed zero input on how to do my job. But then I never got a pay rise the whole time I worked there.
        The review was an appropriate time for my manager to ask me to go full-time, though, and he asked every single year. I answered, every single year, with “I’m sorry we can’t discuss that, because I’d need a significant pay-rise to make it worth the effort.” And suddenly all the terrible problems caused by Rebel not being in on Friday were not so terrible after all.
        (Now earning more for less work as a freelancer thank you!)

    3. Threeve*

      I don’t know, I feel like a list of “here are the only things I’m going to be willing to do if I don’t get a raise, here are the things I am going to suddenly stop doing” is pretty abrasive.

      I would take it personally too–I wouldn’t call it being taken “hostage,” but Sara knows that suddenly reverting to only her original job description is a scary prospect for LW specifically, not the company as a whole.

      It’s not just “I deserve it” (probably lots of other people are overdue for raises/promotions too) it’s “I’m going to make your life difficult if I don’t get it.”

      1. Caliente*

        Come on, really? Its personal? Work isn’t personal, but how about if Sarah thinks its personal that LW is riding her back all the way to the finish line without paying her fairly for her work?! And I love how LW is all concerned about themselves having to do more work – I don’t want to do this, I want someone else to do this, but I don’t want to pay them for it because they asked me on the wrong day (in my own mind since theres no stated day to ask). I would say the LW is a bad manager simply because the only person they think about seems to be themselves! Which is fine but then don’t manage people and treat them like like your personal fricking servants. Indentured servants at that, because servants get paid. ugh.

      2. fposte*

        It’s not the smoothest way to make the request. But I don’t think any of us are at our smoothest right now, and the point isn’t hugely unreasonable.

        The question that’s raised for me with the way Sara phrased things is if this relates to her earlier shortfalls–it sounds like when she got into a groove she cut her workload by coming in late and blowing off requirements, and now she’s arguing for her workload to be cut again. That’s not an automatic dealbreaker but I might discuss explicitly with her what her understanding of compensated growth to be and what her trajectory from here might look like. There really isn’t a situation where you’ll always get more money the moment you show growth, and I really like Alison’s clear differentiation between a stealth unfunded promotion and in-job growth.

        I also think the OP maybe just doesn’t like Sara a ton, and that’s okay–it’s just useful to separate that from an understanding of her performance. I do applaud Sara for what seems like a big improvement in that she’s using her words this time–rather than just ducking out, she’s stating clearly what it is she’d like her job to be at this level.

      3. Sacred Ground*

        It’s not Sara making OP’s life difficult. It’s OP’s bosses who expect OP to get and keep employees without paying them appropriately.

        1. Lemon Ginger Tea*

          +100!! I feel like this could be applied to the political / class warfare landscape these days, too…

          1. Lizzo*

            +1,000. Something about the real issue being companies paying a living wage, but there’s all this “LOOK OVER HERE INSTEAD–THIS IS THE REAL SOURCE OF YOUR PROBLEMS!” that distracts us from the issue of a living wage.

            Can someone help me out with articulating this? Words are hard toda.

      4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        It’s the same logic the company uses in “well, the employee isn’t going to improve without a PIP and the promise of unemployment hanging over their head.”

      5. Aquawoman*

        There’s a difference between “I’m going to make your life difficult” and “I’m going to make a decision for myself based on my circumstances that will unfortunately have the result of creating a problem for you.” If there’s “extra” work that’s not resourced appropriately, it’s LW’s responsibility to deal with it.

      6. Tuesday*

        But I don’t think Sara said she would suddenly stop doing some of her work. I think that was the LW’s spin on it. She said that Sara told her, “I either want a raise and title change, or I want to go back to doing what I was hired to do.” To me, that does mean, “If I don’t get a raise, I will immediately refuse to do this work and leave you to deal with it yourself!” It’s just starting a discussion. Eventually, yes, she would probably stop doing the extra work, but that would probably be by getting a new job and leaving, not just crossing her arms and refusing.

        1. hbc*

          For my employee who sounds an awful lot like Sara (but has had several raises in the past few years), it absolutely has meant crossing his arms and refusing to do work.

          1. Tuesday*

            I’m not saying that’s impossible, just that it’s not at all clear that’s what she actually meant. The LW seems to be looking at things in a particularly negative way (as indicated by the “hostage-taking” language). It sounds like that might be because the LW herself is overworked and stressed out thinking about what it would mean if Sara wasn’t there to do as much work. But I think it’s worth thinking about whether she’s making assumptions that are going to make this situation seem more difficult.

          2. Black Horse Dancing*

            WHy should someone do extra work without getting rewarded for it? If employee has taken on extra work, not gotten recognized nor paid for it, why shouldn’t they go to their original duties–what they were hired for? It’s not as if the company would do extra work for their clients unless paid/compensated–no one is giving a Ford Explorer to those who paid for a Ford Focus!

            1. Yorick*

              Because adding responsibilities and tasks to an employee’s plate over two years doesn’t mean making them do extra work without getting paid for it. I’m skeptical that she’s doing such higher-level work already that she’s being ridiculously underpaid and her job title sounds too junior. Sure, it does happen, but in my experience you barely start doing your whole job until you’ve been there two years.

                1. Yorick*

                  I think a promotion and raise is probably reasonable, since the OP wanted to do it when it was possible. But I doubt it’s the scenario that commenters seem to think: that Sara is doing much higher-level work than her title implies, is too overworked and underpaid, isn’t getting paid market rate for her work, and is now frustrated because this has dragged out over a long time so her bad attitude/work ethic is totally justified. She’s only been there 2 years, and I don’t think that scenario usually happens in that little time in most jobs. It’s much more likely that this is the other scenario Alison mentioned, where she’s doing higher-level work because she’s growing in the current role (or even just taking on the full role – the training period can last a long time in some jobs).

              1. Idril Celebrindal*

                I don’t know about how common it is, but I am in what sounds very much like Sara’s situation. I was hired in one role, and before I was there a year I had already progressed to work above the level I was hired for. By 2 years I was several levels higher and still doing the initial tasks as well.

                I have been getting tiny “merit” increases, and have been trying for a year to get my title and salary to match the work I’m doing (getting me up to the bottom of the market rate for the work I’m doing would be at least a 50% raise). I got put off and put off, and no one gave me a reason other than “HR is dragging their feet”, and then they shut down the whole discussion Because COVID.

                If I leave, my department will grind to a halt, and I’m sure my manager would have a response similar to OP, but in my view they have had at least a year to fix this situation (that they have known about for 4 years) and have refused and I don’t deserve to be taken advantage of any more.

                OP, I realize you’re between a rock and a hard place, but if your management won’t budge on the pay issue, you probably need to start planning for filling Sara’s role when she leaves.

              2. GrumpyGnome*

                I was hired for one particular job and ended up taking on additional work within 5 months that was far beyond what I was originally hired for and beyond what I was compensated for at that time. The person that had done the role before me passed away unexpectedly without training anyone or documenting anything on a job she’d done for 15 years. I ended up writing all of the job aids for that position and I trained 4 people as back ups since I needed that much help. I also had to fight for the knowledge of how to do that job since I had no direction other than ‘look at these accounts and figure it out’. I ended up reconciling $4 million in accounts and recovering a further $1.2 million in that role within a year and a half and I was not given any kind of raise or title promotion and was told I’d never be able to get a promotion in that role. A few months later I left for another role in the company where I could progress (and came out of the 4 month training for that job as a subject matter expert in two areas) and they spent the next 2 years begging me to come back.

                My point is that it does happen. I watched the same thing play out with other coworkers in my area. Sometimes you get the right person in the right role and they excel. It’s fair to want to be compensated for that and the LW states that Sara does deserve the raise and promotion so she could very well be the same as my coworkers and me.

              3. LJay*

                This. And Sara has been there for 2 years and has had apparently significant work ethics problems.

                So 6 months (minimum) training and learning the job.
                6 months good performance?
                6 months coming in late and blowing off requirements?
                6 months course correcting/good performance

                I honestly wouldn’t be even considering promoting someone like that or giving them anything other than our annual cost-of-living raise.

                It makes me wonder whether the OPs expectations are in-line with what most people’s are for that.

            2. hbc*

              I think you missed the part about multiple raises over the course of the past few years.

              And plenty of companies go above and beyond what they’re contractually obligated to do for customers and employees.

              1. Black Horse Dancing*

                And many do not. Heck, most whine when minimum wage is discussed. In the US, minimum wage should be $18/hour to start. It’s 7.25. Don’t tell me [lenty of companies go above and beyond when they move company work overseas for cheap labor, layoff employees and give huge bonuses to executives, and socialize their losses while privatizing profits.

            3. fhgwhgads*

              I think the crux of the question is “is this actually extra work?”
              If it’s the scenario 1 Alison described, the answer to your question is “they shouldn’t”, but if it’s scenario 2, the answer is “this is not extra work, this is work that always belonged with the employee’s position, but it took a while for her to be ramped up enough to take it on.”

          3. Alice*

            TBH, if your org has an employee who’s been crossing his arms and refusing to do work for years and you still have that employee, I think maybe the manager is also not doing work that needs to be done ;)

            1. hbc*

              He hasn’t been doing it for years, he just started doing it. But yes, his choice to dig in his heels over a pay dispute during a pandemic and economic downturn shows he’s not exactly a team player.

              Though I do find it odd that everyone is saying how it’s totally reasonable for Sara to be doing this, but you’re implying that it’s bad management *not* to punish that behavior.

              1. Alice*

                That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that it’s bad management not to resolve the situation. That doesn’t mean 0-60 in five seconds, but it does mean that if OP and Sara discuss the issues and realize that their goals are incompatible, it doesn’t make sense for Sara to stay.
                PS “resolve the situation” and “punish Sara” are different. The resolution might be letting Sara go, but it wouldn’t be a punishment; it would be a recognition that it’s no longer a good match.
                I don’t know where the manager in your situation is, in terms of trying to find a resolution. But for your sake I hope that something is changed soon.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          I know I’m commenting late but I do want to agree with this. I assume OP was paraphrasing, but their own retelling of Sarah’s email was that she said she *wants* to be doing work that lines up with her pay–either by increasing the pay or decreasing the work. This seems like a request, not a demand. And I think it is generally a reasonable request even if it’s not always possible to say yes to. Jumping to “she’s refusing to do work” and “she’s holding me hostage” is a pretty extreme and uncharitable reading of Sarah’s message, unless there is something that OP left out.

      7. What the What*

        Work through the entire scenario though:

        Management (including the OP – remember that the OP was part of developing and communicating the plan) promises Sara that if she does X, Y, Z, she will get a promotion and a raise.
        Sara does X, Y, Z.
        Management refuses to give Sara a promotion/raise.
        Sara says that if she doesn’t get a raise, she will stop doing X, Y, Z.
        Sara is considered wrong, abrasive, rude, and holding the OP hostage by refusing to continue doing X, Y, Z without the promised reward.

        1. Uranus Wars*

          I think where I am confused is there is a freeze. To me, the OP isn’t pulling back a promise for spite, the money isn’t available right now. I think she should explain this to Sara and figure out what will work in the interim – shifting duties, more PTO, a title only bump (if that is possible in their company) but this doesn’t scream bait and switch to me the way it would without a freeze in salary.

          1. TardyTardis*

            OP is taking the company’s word there is no money. This is not always correct. I would bet there have been some promotions in that company since the covid freeze.

      8. Ellen N.*

        When women stand up for themselves they tend to be labeled “abrasive”. Would you call a man who asked to do the job he was hired for and is being paid for “abrasive”?

    4. Elbe*

      I wonder if Covid stress may account for some of this.

      If employers and management are scrambling to avoid layoffs and make do with reduced revenues, I can see why an employee so firmly holding them to pre-Covid expectations and job descriptions would seem a little abrasive. I do think that a lot of cultures have taken on more of “we’re all in this together” approach, and the LW’s company may be one of them.

      But any employee can state their needs at any time. Sara can communicate what she would like to happen, and the LW can communicate whether or not that’s possible. And if they can’t come to an agreement, they can amicably part ways. Just because something may not work out doesn’t mean that it’s anyone’s fault. If anything is holding the LW “hostage”, it’s the salary freeze – and COVID, more broadly. It’s a crappy situation for sure, but it’s not Sara’s fault.

      1. TardyTardis*

        But companies can sometimes say they have to freeze without actually telling the truth. A place my husband worked for as a student back when glaciers roamed the earth had the boss tell them there was no money for raises, but somehow the boss was driving a beautiful brand new car for everyone to admire.

        1. Elbe*

          Sure, but there’s no reason to think that that’s the case here. So many companies have seen their revenues absolutely plummet due to COVID. I’m more likely now to believe that there is no money for raises than I would have been before.

          And, regardless of whether or not the pay freeze is legit, the LW certainly can’t do anything about it. If the company is unwilling to give the LW additional salary, there’s nothing to be done, even if it is unfair. If the LW is unable to offer Sara a promotion or raise, Sara will have to seek it elsewhere.

  4. Littorally*

    I think you may be hearing her as being combative and “unprofessional,” when in fact she is completely fricken exasperated with being strung along with excellent work, increased responsibilities, and just when it looks like you’re taking steps toward promotion with her — whoops, our hands are tied! Obviously covid is the great upsetter of plans, but I don’t blame her at all for feeling as though she’s getting taunted with the desired promotion/pay raise dangled constantly just out of reach. “Well, if you just do this… well, now, if you just do that…. well, now, if you just wait for this pandemic to be over…”

    1. Jen*

      Yes! This! She’s frustrated she’s gotten more responsibility and no pay raise to compensate for it. I completely understand that. Yes, roles evolve, but so does the pay within that role.
      She probably has gotten tired of sitting back and waiting for the raise to come, and has given a matter of fact request for what she wants. That’s not unreasonable and I would personally appreciate the directness of her approach. Plus, she’s probably hinted at the raise or how much extra work she has taken on and the hints have not been acted on.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        TBH, she very likely already is and this conversation was really an ultimatum. That was probably OP’s last chance to give her that raise before she really actively started looking for other work.

        1. Wendy Darling*

          Yep. I was Sarah at my last job. I dusted off my resume a bit before my company froze salaries because I had been pointing out I was working above my title for months, and when I finally had the come-to-Jesus conversation where I listed everything I was doing, which was 100% of the title above mine and 75% of TWO titles above mine, I was told I would have to wait for the annual review cycle (my previous reviews were all basically straight A report cards).

          When they did freeze salaries for 2020 I shifted into high gear and after a few months got a job offer for 35% more than I’d been making, doing more interesting work that’s more in line with my career goals. And yet somehow when I gave notice my manager was SHOOK. She asked me if there was anything they could do to convince me to stay.

          I said no. Even if they matched the massive raise, I knew I’d never be able to get another one. They could have doubled my salary at that point and I probably still would have left.

          1. big blue bowl*

            >She asked me if there was anything they could do to convince me to stay.

            Yeah, the answer to this is “not right now, but if you get a time machine to go back to our last serious conversation about my future in this company, there sure was something you could have done then!”

            The inequalities between employer/employee means that a lot of Employee Giving The Employer One Last Chance sounds very very soft. But it’s the softness of the last straw.

            1. Wendy Darling*

              She actually asked me multiple times and I did say “Not without a time machine” one of those times in a fit of pique that she kept asking me.

              I actually empathize with her a little bit because she was HOSED by me quitting. She’s not a bad manager (although not a great one), and had basically no power once the salary freeze came down. There’s also a hiring freeze on so my role won’t be backfilled, and the company is actually in a field that’s had a huge *increase* in business due to the pandemic, so that’s going to be awful for the team.

              But I also had a lot of frustration at people having the unmitigated gall to be shocked and saddened by me leaving. The company’s stock is at the highest price it’s ever been. My division had been raking in giant Scrooge McDuck piles of money all year. The salary freeze is JUST IN CASE at some future point the money stopped coming in. They could absolutely afford to give raises as normal, they just chose not to, and I wasn’t going to sit around and wait to see what excuse they came up with to not give me a raise in 2021 either. I was the fourth person to leave in six months and there’s a reason for that.

                1. Perbie*

                  That sort of short sighted capitalism reaps the above rewards; the best employees will go to companies that treat them better, and their product will start to falter and fail sooner or later

              1. Veronique*

                I know you’re NOT my (soon to be former) coworker, but honestly you sound like you very well could be as her situation is SO similar and our company is in a similar “doing well but still on a freeze” situation. I’m so glad you moved on!

          2. What the What*

            Ah yes. The old “What can we do to make you stay.”

            I had a similar situation – but with no frozen salaries. When they refused to give me the raise/promotion, I gave my notice. My manager asked me if there was anything they could to make me stay and I said “You could pay me more.” And she said, “Oh… I’m afraid that’s not on the table…”

            I’m still not sure why she even asked the question. What answer was she hoping for?

          3. CommanderBanana*

            Screaming. That’s why I turned down my exit interview at my last place. Anything I might have said I had already said.

          4. Salsa Verde*

            This is one of my biggest pet peeves. We didn’t do anything (or much) to show you that you were valued until you said you wanted to leave, and only NOW that you are leaving do we want to try to convince you to stay. That makes me so angry – if I’m valuable enough that you want me to stay here, you should have made that clear in the past.

            In my experience, this never works out, even if they employee does stay for more money/benefits/whatever increase was worked out. They will usually end up leaving shortly anyway, within a year or so. If someone gets to the point that they actually turn in their resignation, they have done a lot of deliberation to get there. They might be satisfied with a raise for a short time, but soon all those reasons they compiled for wanting to leave will start surfacing again.

            Also, this always feels like the employer playing a game, like a cat with a mouse. The employee has asked for a raise or promotion and been denied until they make it clear they are ready to leave, and only then will the employer “give in”? Feels like a game of chicken to me.

            1. AllMadHere*

              Yes. I left my last job during a raise freeze (pre-Covid; the company had lost a couple major clients and was losing money). When I told my boss I was leaving for a new position, he offered me a raise AND bonus. What he was offering was slightly higher pay than the new position, so I waffled for a couple days. The best advice I got was from my dad, who asked “Do you really want to stay somewhere that could have paid you what you’re worth, but didn’t?”

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*


          Most employers do not have this weird culture of “we do not typically give people merit or COL raises, but mayybe if you walk on water and raise the dead, we’ll maybe possibly discuss considering something”. I’ve only encountered one place like that in my life (interviewed there, they said I wasn’t a good fit, and in hindsight, I think they were right! I do have a ton of bills to pay, so, no, I’m not.) Hopefully, Sara finds one that rewards her efforts/increased job responsibilities.

    2. Alex*

      Yes exactly this. I was in Sara’s position a few years ago. I’d tried everything and heard every excuse. I’d absolutely had it.

      I went out and got an outside offer that I was willing to take. Actually, I had every intention of taking it when I applied, but after going through the process, realized that it wasn’t a step up from my current role. Still, I took it to my boss, who told me that I would have to wait a few more months to see if they would give me a promotion.

      I told her I needed a promotion the next day or I was leaving. My boss got a bit of a panicked look and went to the senior managers. Lo and behold, the promotion materialized!

      Now, if I wasn’t very valuable, they could have made the choice to let me go and hired someone new, and that would have been a valid choice if it was a better business decision for them. It wasn’t a hostage situation, and similarly, Sara is not holding you hostage, she is asking you to make a choice. Either pay her for the work she is doing, or she will do work commensurate with her pay.

      1. Littorally*

        Same. I busted my butt for four years in a department where I had solid performance reviews and excellent feedback… but we also had five different managers in those four years, plus annual company reorganizations, and from 6 months in until my last day I kept getting told “Well, the standards for a promotion are now X, Y, Z, A, B, C…” Every time I met the standards I’d been told, they tacked something new on, and trying to keep from busting out some very unprofessional comments toward the manager of the day got harder and harder.

    3. Works in IT*

      My manager has been stringing me along with well I just need the time to sit down and fill out a form to create the new position so you will be paid what you deserve for the work you are doing for two years. Can confirm, it’s very hard to take but COVID as a reason when I’ve been given but something as an excuse for so long.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        Right?? If they’d just given us the promotion ages ago when it was universally acknowledged that we deserved it, we wouldn’t even be having this problem! I think this is the cry of everyone who’s getting screwed out of promotions by COVID.

    4. Iron Chef Boyardee*

      “she’s getting taunted with the desired promotion/pay raise dangled constantly just out of reach. ‘Well, if you just do this… well, now, if you just do that…. well, now, if you just wait for this pandemic to be over…'”

      Exactly. Exactly x100,000.

      That’s been my experience at some of the toxic jobs I’ve had in the past. It’s like, they say to me “You can’t have X until you do Y.” And after I’ve worked my butt off to make sure I’ve done Y and done it darn well, and I show my boss that I did Y far above and beyond their expectations, they say “We’ll think about it.”

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        well, now, if you just wait for this pandemic to be over…

        Which is especially grating since this pandemic may never actually be fully over.

    5. fposte*

      Maybe, but then I think her expectations could be a little high. She’s had this job for two years, which isn’t that much, and even earlier this year she had performance problems (OP is separating them out from performance, but I wouldn’t). Then there was a freeze, which is frustrating but didn’t happen *at* Sara. So I don’t think it’s correct to say she’s been strung along unless she’s in a really fast-promoting industry.

      1. Lizzo*

        I take issue with the idea that two years “isn’t that much”. I’ve been at at least one job where I had to completely reinvent the role on day one, create all the documentation, create and execute everything pertaining to marketing/communications/PR/member relations/event planning, oh and essentially function as interim executive director when that position was suddenly vacant for four months.

        And that was just my first 12 months on the job.

        If this is a small team, a role expanding in scope this quickly is totally plausible.

        It is also plausible for team members to get burned out if they’re not being recognized and compensated fairly, and for that to have a direct impact on performance.

    6. Garnet, Crystal Gem*

      This is exactly what pushed me to leave my last job, and I wasn’t nearly as direct as OP’s employee with my terms. I also didn’t bother with asking for a raise because it wasn’t going to happen because my org was knee deep in financial trouble.

      At the start of the pandemic I was crushing it at my job, because I was working remotely without the constant in office interruptions. My boss and manager took notice and regularly acknowledged how incredibly helpful and responsive I was. This lasted for about a month and then layoffs happened, I was faced with being laid off or taking on some of the responsibilities of a colleague who quit pre-pandemic, with the promise that my new workload would be managable. That turned out to be false.

      I presented my increased workload (broke down how long each task was taking me and what tasks I was working on) to my manager (similar to OP’s supervisee) and asked if some of the work could shift, or be elimintated temporarily. Since I broached the conversation during a 1:1 instead of via email like OP’s supervisee (which I had inititally planned to do) I think she felt both blindsighted and defensive—some other readers have already noted the advantages of OP’s supervisee emailing them. Conversation was really hostile on my manager’s end and only mildly productive overall. Some of my painpoints were heard and understood, but a lot of the feedback I recieved was similar to what Littorally pointed out “Don’t you think this overwhelming because xyz…this is just one last minute request things will slow down when…we can’t hire someone…”

      They were keeping me on the line and expecting me to perform two roles at the same level as my old one, without making it worth my while. A raise was out the question, a title bump wasn’t even presented, and the extra work I did was rarely acknowledged only criticized. IMO OP should consider themselves lucky to be forewarned. My team was “suprised” when I put in my two weeks.

  5. Amber Rose*

    Look at this from her perspective. You asked her to make some changes to qualify for a promotion, she did what you asked, and now you just keep putting her off and putting her off. Yeah, Covid happened, but if I was her I’d be pretty understandably miffed and feeling like you were just blowing hot air and not intending to keep your word.

    This isn’t hostage holding, it’s reasonable boundary setting.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      Maybe they can come to a compromise? Like we can give you a title boost and more vacation days. But we cant give a promotion at this time. But we estimate that in x months we should be able to give you a raise by X amount of dollars.
      I think LW needs to be clear about budget and pay freezes company wide and that it’s not just a her thing. And also if the LW can to be able to give a timeline and what they CAN give Sara.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Like we can give you a title boost and more vacation days.

        It sounds as if Sara is a bit overworked, and it’s not work the OP is willing to take on in Sara’s absence, so I’d be concerned that “more vacation days” wouldn’t result in those vacation day requests being approved. I mean, technically, vacation days are money (in that they’d have to be paid out when Sara leaves), so it’s also possible with a salary freeze that the company may not approve, especially if it’s possible Sara may leave very soon afterwards…

    2. Mayflower*

      This in particular:

      “Sara is excellent in her position and there have been no issues with her work, just her work ethic”

      … definitely sounds like so much hot air.

      1. fposte*

        Except she isn’t turning up when and where she’s supposed to. I would call that performance, not work ethic.

        1. Mayflower*

          The worst examples that OP could even come up with are:

          1) “Major tardiness” – irrelevant if work is getting done, and especially galling from the employee’s standpoint when said employee is putting in major unpaid overtime to complete tasks above and beyond their position, and

          2) “Skipping out on required activities (a diversity and inclusion seminar)” – so this company is underpaying a high performing female employee but wants to waste her valuable time on a diversity and inclusion seminar? Give me a break.

          1. Jaw Drop*

            Also, if Sara was a man, no one would be looking into these minor one off situations. She asked for a raise, she deserves a raise, give her a raise. Or let her work less and be paid accordingly during this pandemic. You choose.

  6. WorkIsADarkComedy*

    Some coaching on professionalism is needed, but the person to be coached is the OP.

    Using the term “hostage” implies that you believe Sara is using an unfair advantage that she has. It fails to recognize that she has rights and interests just as much as the company has. A professional relationship recognizes that both parties have legitimate interests, and that communication should be both open and respectful. Sara was quite open, and I don’t see anything disrespectful in either the request or the basis for it.

    Calmly considering the equities and the needs of all parties will help you greatly.

    1. Public Sector Manager*


      Seriously, Sara was candid, direct, and forward. Plus Sara had an excellent point from Sara’s point of view–the company is not paying her market rates for the work she’s doing. If the OP’s research confirms what Sara is saying is true, then they absolutely have to pay Sara more or risk Sara leaving in a hot minute. And if it’s all part of Sara’s job to do those additional duties, the OP needs to be candid, direct, and forward. Sara is modeling how someone should interact with their manager and vice-versa.

      The OP is committing a sin many new managers make, taking things personally. It’s not like Sara is refusing to do an annual report that’s outlined in Sara’s job duties. And it’s not like Sara refusing to work outside her pay grade means that the OP has to do the work (maybe true for the short term). If Sara is working out of class and OP has no bandwidth to take on more work, then the OP needs to lobby executive management for another employee.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        “If Sara is working out of class and OP has no bandwidth to take on more work, then the OP needs to lobby executive management for another employee.”

        And fast, because Sara’s very likely looking for other work since to her, it sounds like she’s not getting a raise or promotion and OP’s going to get this work dumped on their lap whether they like it or not and even though they said they’re unable to take on more work. If it has to get done, OP’s going to have to do it when Sara walks out that door to a job that is willing to pay her what she’s worth.

        1. Ali G*

          And good luck to the OP replacing Sarah at her current salary. If the job as grown, you are going to have to pay for it one way or the other (assuming the OP even gets to hire someone).

    2. LDF*

      Yes! I got a promotion during COVID and I was ready to walk if I didn’t because like Sara, I believed it was overdue to reflect reality. I wasn’t holding my manager hostage by bringing up a promotion fairly frequently, I was advocating for myself.

    3. Just another cog*

      Yes! +1

      Tardiness and missing an occasional meeting (aren’t diversity training etc online videos/calls these days that people can attend). This sounds like an old school out of date/touch company that is about to lose an employee (and likely a pattern of a revolving door with staff turn over).

      1. Texan In Exile*

        Exactly. Tardy yet her work quality is great? I am confused. Unless she is in a position where she has to be in her seat between X and Y hours, why does her arrival time matter? And if it does matter, then how can her work be great?

  7. Mayda*

    I’m in this same position. In fact I’m wondering if this was written by my boss LOL. My company is notorious for paying low for industry standards. I have added more onto my plate and have not been compensated even though I’ve been there for 1 year and 6 months and one of the few who has a degree. Ultimately I think that the company paying everyone so low per industry standards is intertwined with other issues and I have taken it upon myself to look for another job in the upcoming year. If you don’t pay people what they deserve to be paid, sometimes, their work reflects that!!!

    1. AMT*

      Yes, I’m guessing that “fire her and hire someone else” isn’t stated as an option alongside “promote her” and “do the work she won’t do” because it’s not going to be easy to find someone to do that amount of work for Sara’s salary. She’s only in a position to hold the LW “hostage” because she’s being underpaid.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        A salary freeze indicates there also may be a hiring freeze. Firing Sara might mean muddling along with Sara’s position unfilled, and it sounds like LW physically cannot do both jobs.

        Their company sucks.

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      If you don’t pay people what they deserve to be paid, sometimes, their work reflects that!!!

      Interestingly enough, the OP makes a big point about saying that Sara’s work is excellent. I’m not really sure what the details are in terms of “work ethic” vs. “work,” though. Does it matter if Sara is tardy a few times if she gets her work done excellently? Doesn’t sound as if Sara’s primary job is answering phones (though maybe that’s a part—I don’t know), so tardiness shouldn’t really matter. Missing a DEI seminar isn’t great, but did Sara have a good excuse for that? Is there another one she can attend?

    3. Lynn*


      I know promos are out of the question for at least a year (after being jerked around for about a year), but that my job is relatively secure. I made the decision for myself that I am just pulling back.

      I sign on later, sign off earlier, take more breaks to clean up and stretch during the work day, and get to spend more time on hobbies and learning that is unrelated to work. I don’t try to go “above and beyond” anymore, and I don’t volunteer to help with extra responsibilities. I still get my base job done and am professional, but I save my extra energy for my personal development outside of work now. I hope you get to do that as well!

  8. WellRed*

    I’m so tired of Covid being a reason for companies to freeze hiring and raises, deny raises, deny promotions etc.

    1. Ashley*

      It is exhausting to hear but there remains a huge piece on uncertainty in many industries. Consider if a major client of your company are restaurants. How can you be confident that income levels from 2019 will hold for 2021? It is true not all industries are equally impacted and some are actually thriving because of COVID, but you need to understand your industry and your company before being irked by this. I do think to many companies make large blanket statements of none when they really need to have an exception track, but economic realities are it might be no promotions or raises or be prepared to have positions cut in the near future.

    2. Mimi*

      I think this depends heavily on the industry. My industry has been decimated by the pandemic, so everyone is understanding about the pay freezes, furloughs, layoffs because we can see every day that we’re bringing in maybe 5% of the revenue we did last year and that every company is hanging on by a thread.

      But if you work for a company that has been only modestly affected, or not affected at all, then this is a terrible way to do business and destroys morale.

      1. Anonymouse*


        My company and industry has, as of yet, been largely unimpacted. We had a 90 day hiring freeze just to gauge the situation but that has been lifted (my team actually has one opening right now, my boss has interviews lined up). Regular merit raises/COL adjustments on April 1 went through just fine.

        (If things continue and large swaths of people/businesses start losing their homes/offices to foreclosure then my company might end up more impacted than we have been thus far.)

    3. pcake*

      In some cases, where the companies are making much less money and are barely staying afloat, it makes sense. Sadly in other cases, Covid is being used as an excuse by companies that are flourishing.

    4. Mr. Shark*

      Well, it all depends on the industry. Many industries bottom line has been affected by covid, and you can’t deny that. To give our raises or promotions (with more pay) when companies are laying off or furloughing employees wouldn’t make any sense.

      1. WellRed*

        I’m not denying that many companies are affected but I do think it’s become a blanket stance for others. My company did a wage freeze and some other cuts because we are affected and I think it’s fine. at least they are re-evaluating regularly.

      2. LDF*

        It’s pretty frustrating that “my rent went up” isn’t an acceptable reason to ask for a raise but “our profits are down” is somehow a great reason to deny one.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          I don’t really follow that logic. If the company’s not making money, then… they can’t give out more. Just because my rent has not changed does not mean I can ask my company not to cut my pay when they’re cutting across the board. I realize that there are many companies out there that remain profitable and like to screw their employees over, but there are a whole bunch right now who are struggling to hang on. Can’t get blood from a stone and all that.

          1. LDF*

            Sure, but somehow the reverse isn’t true, that when they have money they’ll happily give you a raise if your rent goes up… No, you have to show that you’re adding value to get a raise even if the company is swimming in profits. It’s so unbalanced and one-sided.

        2. Ali G*

          “Your rent went up” is never a valid reason to ask for a raise. You get a raise when your job evolves to the next level. Your rent is not a business case to increase your salary.

          1. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

            That’s true, but many companies don’t routinely offer COLA wage / salary increases. I’ve worked with companies that have gone years without adjusting folks’ salaries. Meanwhile, the companies are located in parts of the country that are notoriously high-priced, to the point where people are just unable to live in the cities where they work.

      3. Annony*

        It might though. Furloughing or laying off people in the sales department doesn’t negate the need to hire someone to replace the security guard who quit.

    5. AvonLady Barksdale*

      But in many cases, it absolutely IS a reason. It’s not an excuse. I just got my pay cut further yesterday (I’m now 20% down), bonuses were halted, 401(k) match is frozen. I’m super salty about it, but our clients, even our steadiest ones, have put all of their work with us on hold. Without client business, our bottom line is badly affected. This is with enough of a cash cushion to continue to keep all of the staff on and all of our benefits. But our revenue is entirely based on client work, THEIR revenue is based on other things. If COVID weren’t a reason for businesses to slow down, thousands of people would still be employed.

      1. Mel_05*

        Yeah. I wasn’t thrilled about my situation this summer, but I really couldn’t blame the company when I heard how hard we’d been hit. The money wasn’t there.

    6. Sylvan*

      I don’t like companies using covid as an excuse for screwing up any more than the next person, but if they don’t have the money, they don’t have the money.

    7. chem girl*

      exactly this. our company put raise freezes starting April 1. but every meeting is how “things are back to normal – no, better than normal!” we are in the construction industry so yes, things are great now. Anyone can see it.but they don’t want to bring raises back JUST IN CASE things drop again.

      Yet, we are budgeting for next year as if things are normal and our bonus is based on how well we do vs budget. So things “are not normal” for raises but “are normal” for budgeting – aka not getting my bonus. So frustrating.

    8. TardyTardis*

      Oh, it doesn’t matter, really–a company who doesn’t want to hire or pay people more money will always think of *something*. Some companies have been playing ‘you’re lucky to have a job’ since 2008.

    9. allathian*

      Yeah, this. If there truly are financial issues for companies, that’s one thing. But there are companies with freezes even when the pandemic has meant more business for them, and I really don’t understand what they think they have to gain by it.

    1. Mimi*

      I think it would set a bad precedent to allow people to skip out on mandatory work events based on their race or ethnicity.

    2. MayLou*

      I’m not sure I follow the logic here. I’m a gay woman, but I was still required to do the annual diversity and inclusion training which focused heavily on gender and sexuality issues. Being part of a minority group doesn’t mean you don’t have to complete mandated training. Being a person of colour also doesn’t make you an expert on diversity.

      1. Sylvan*

        +1. Also, D&I trainings have IME included information on what to do if you experience or witness discrimination. It’s good to know your company’s culture about those things, even if you’re unlikely to ever have a reason to put that knowledge to use. It’s decent training for anyone.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, this. Although having diversity training once a year sounds like a lot. For new employees, sure, but attending the same training every year? I’m really not sure what that’s meant to accomplish. I guess it looks good on the social responsibility report if 100 percent of employees attended diversity & inclusion training… But if it doesn’t contribute to a shift in company culture towards more diversity and inclusion in hiring and promotions, what’s the point?

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        Also there’s more than two races and having extra melanin doesn’t magically make you perfect re: interactions with every race out there.

    3. AndersonDarling*

      Yeah, I’m assuming there was an explanation for why she didn’t go. If it was important and required, didn’t the manager follow up? If the response was “I’m perfect in every way and don’t need this training.” then that is up for reprimand. But if the response could have been “The CEO put me on a massive project that had to be completed that afternoon,” or”I was hit by a car” or “I was paired with Manager Pervert and I wasn’t comfortable being in contact with him.”

    4. Important Moi*

      As POC myself, I’m not sure if not attending a required activity should be ignored.

      Taking the letter at face value, for a period of time Sara was consistently tardy and missed one required activity. Tardiness is no longer an issue. Can the required activity be mitigated another way? Sara can’t go back in time to attend this event. Is this really a valid reason for no raise for Sara? Only the OP knows for sure. It seems like OP is searching for reasons not to give Sara a raise.

      I find the overall tone of the letter off-putting and will leave it at that.

    5. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      My question is why didn’t she attend?
      Did she “skip” it or did she choose to prioritize work or a scheduled vacation day or surprise sick day over it?
      Was she unable to fit one of the sessions offered into her work schedule? Does your company offer an online program to watch and take a quiz and give you three months to do it (mine does). Or do they schedule a seminar for one or two times during one day? Because that doesn’t work for everyone.

    6. MK*

      Well, no. Being a POC doesn’t make it ok to skip on a work-mandated diversity seminar; possibly this one wouldn’t have been useful for Sarah to attend, but she should have discussed it with her boss, not skip it. Also, being a member of one or more marginalized group doesn’t make you a model of inclusivity.

    7. Smeralda*

      I think these are all good points.

      I commented from the perspective of an Indigenous woman who recently sat through several mandated d&i seminars at my very white company, that were all focused on race relations. As the only PoC in the seminars, I felt very on-display and aggravated that the focus seemed to be creating a safe place for white people to congratulate each other on being allies. As someone who experiences racism, I felt stepped on and exhausted by the content.

      1. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

        I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone come out of one of these seminars with anything actually valuable. Feels like the latest consultant cash-in opportunity to me.

      2. darlingpants*

        Yeah I think that if Sara is queer or POC or even just women are a minority at your company then maybe you should give her some slack on this part. Some (a lot?) of D&I seminars are bad, and sitting through them as a minority is really enraging.

        My grad department had one about gender from a professor who obviously cared a lot, but they 1) emailed only the women in the department and pressured us all to show up “to support the professor,” 2) spent the whole time talking about how good academia is for mothers (not parents, mothers) because “your schedule is flexible” and 3) said nothing about recruiting or retention issues, sexual harassment, absurd workload expectations, the fact there are no academic jobs any more. I think that good D&I is extremely important but I also no longer trust that the random person who is going to be speaking at my company knows what they’re talking about.

        1. IEanon*

          Ah, yes. I will, unfortunately, never forget the academic D&I seminar where I was bullied into coming out as bisexual because I didn’t want to answer the question, “When did you ‘decide’ you were attracted to men?”

          Got to see my supervisor interrogated on their attraction to an androgynous pop star, though, so at least there was some entertainment value..?

        2. Evan Þ.*

          If they’re really that horrible (and the one you describe sounds pretty bad), then straight white men shouldn’t be subjected to them either. The answer should be to improve the seminars, not excuse some people.

          1. GothicBee*

            Sure, but in this instance I think it’s less about excusing her from needing to attend and more about not making the seminar a hill to die on, especially if Sara really is overworked and underpayed and is also a woman of color. It’s just something to think about in the context of everything else.

      3. I'm just here for the cats*

        Smeralda, I’m sorry that was your expereince with a diversity seminar. That is NOT what D&I should be like. I work where D&I is very highly regarded and everyone takes place in some sort of training. The areas I work in work very closly with our D&I department (I’m at a university). Even at other jobs i’ve held D&I has never been about white people congratulating each other on being allies.

        1. Helena1*

          I’ve seen a couple of versions – most are “this is a boring tick box we all have to sit through annually, like fire training, please sit quietly and let us get through the next 30mins as quickly as we can”.

          On the other side of the coin, my husband’s company are being put through a whole series of talks, in which the white participants try to out-woke the course facilitators (in good faith, not trolling, but still obnoxious).

      4. wanda*

        I’ve put on dei seminars for college instructors. That training sounds like it sucks. I’ve heard about a lot of seminars that sound like they suck.

    8. Almost Empty Nester*

      So…you’re actually advocating for OP to discriminate? Very peculiar take on that. I work for a very large, very diverse company that everyone would recognize. No one is exempt from any diversity/inclusion required learning because of their color. Actually just typing that makes me feel icky.

      1. Smeralda*

        No, I’m advocating for the OP to consider all the factors in why the employee didn’t wish to attend the D&I seminar. With something that is so real and so emotionally charged, especially for those of us who experience racism, I have a lot of sympathy for people who’d rather not put themselves through that.

        Make your D&I seminars a place where you elevate marginalized voices and stories, or make it optional.

      2. Lyka*

        Not at all what Smeralda was advocating. She explained her question above.

        For the record, I’d imagine many BIPOC employees have experienced the hypocrisy of diversity and inclusion trainings that single out non-white people or overly congratulate the company for simply holding the seminar. It can be frustrating and alienating.

        1. Smeralda*

          Exactly. I’m very skeptical of the usefulness of mandatory d&i seminars. Making a workplace welcoming and safe for everyone means 1) equal compensation for equal work 2) management refusing to tolerate racist / sexist / otherwise bigoted behavior by their reports 3) evaluating hiring And promotion practices that somehow always result in the same demographics being selected.

          It really doesn’t have to do with forcing a “dialogue” about prejudice among your staff.

      3. Nancy*

        Exactly being a POC doesn’t mean a person can’t be sexist or homophobic or ableist or even racist against a PO different ‘C’.

        1. Smeralda*

          Um ok but I don’t think that going to an hour long seminar is going to erase anyone’s colorism, sexism, homophobia, or what have you. It is management’s job to create an equitable workplace where prejudice is not tolerated. That doesn’t happen through a seminar.

          1. Legal Beagle*

            Then what you’re really advocating for is no DEI seminars for anyone, not BIPOC employees being allowed to skip? Some of those seminars are legally required to comply with employment regulations, and the company has make sure that all their employees attend.

            1. Smeralda*

              I’m advocating that they be optional and that the OP consider the totality of events around her employee skipping the seminar.

              1. NotMyRealName*

                Then none of the problem people will ever attend. Every optional DEI seminar I’ve ever gone to had a dearth of white, straight cis-men.

                1. Smeralda*

                  If someone is a “problem person” forcing them to attend a d&i seminar isn’t going to make any difference!

              2. LunaLena*

                I understand your point, but you are coming from the perspective of “D&I seminars are NEVER worthwhile” based on bad experiences you had. And yes, that one you attended sounds pretty awful. But in my personal experience, they can definitely be helpful, especially for people who have never lived in a diverse community and therefore simply never had to think of D&I. For example, I used to live in a very white-dominant area, where the most interracial interaction most people had was ordering takeout at the local Chinese place. For many of my co-workers, I was the first Asian person they really got to have a conversation with. It was a small company so there were no D&I seminars, but occasionally they would ask me about things they’d heard, which gave me the opportunity to correct some of their misconceptions (like the oh-so-common one that Asian-Americans are really from another country, or that they don’t speak English well). They didn’t mean to be ignorant or casually racist, it was simply that they’d never had a chance to learn otherwise.

                I now live in a slightly more diverse area, and with my current job (a university) we did have D&I seminars that were run by the multicultural/LGBTQ+ office. I thought they did a great job of highlighting common instances of casual and overt prejudices that minorities face every day and explaining why even something innocuous-sounding like “So what country are you from” can be not great. I wasn’t the only POC or minority there, and they gave everyone opportunities to talk about their own experiences or ask questions. Several people there expressed their astonishment that things they thought were harmless were actually hurtful, especially since they were hearing it directly from their peers who were minorities.

                The university also holds yearly optional seminars for more specific subjects, like transgender issues, people with disabilities, and military veterans. Even if I don’t find them personally enlightening, I think they have worth if only because the fact that they hold them at all is an indirect reminder that minorities have to struggle with minority-specific issues constantly.

    9. Ice and Indigo*

      Among other things, ‘inclusion’ should include accommodating disabilities. There is NO ethnicity that automatically understands how to do that.

      Besides, exactly how inclusive and diverse would it be to have the training have nothing but a bunch of white people at it? People say ‘Nothing about us without us’ for a reason.

      1. Good Wilhelmina Hunting*

        Exactly. I worked for a company that was all puffed up about how “diverse” its workforce was – but only if the “diversity” was among the fee earners, and then only if they were from the same two or three example groups that always get trotted out by some organization trying to polish its D&I credentials.

        As a member of the support team, I never made it onto their glossy brochures as an example of inclusivity, and the Aspie traits that had led me to develop a vast array of skills and deep technical knowledge that were valued for several years by my original team were suddenly treated as “performance issues” by the new brooms. Advice from my consultant and the occupational health doctor fell on deaf ears and I was manoeuvered out eventually by underhand mans.

    10. Jennifer*

      I don’t agree with this. If she was asked to participate on a panel and she refused, that would be different. But simply attending shouldn’t be a big deal.

    11. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      A lot of seminars are legal CYA seminars, where they need proof that everyone in the company attended the seminar and received the information on a signature sheet, or a completion certificate, etc. “I Sara attended the seminar and promise to not get the company sued,” is basically what they’re looking for.

      1. hbc*

        Yeah, even if they’re useless, insurance agencies set your rates around doing stuff like that. And if Sara ever pops off with some -ist rant against a coworker, it looks a lot better when she contests her termination (or the rant-ee sues) to say “We told Sara not to do it and here’s her signature” than “Well, whatever, we assumed she’d know not to do that because she’s a POC.”

    12. I'm just here for the cats*

      I completly disagree. Everyone can learn something from Diverrsity and Inclusivity seminar. Diverisity and inclusivity is not just white people learning how to be less racist, so therefore a POC doesnt need to be attend, because they know about it already. D&I seminars talk about not just race, but religion, disabilities, sexual orientation etc. And everyone has implicit bias, regardless of your race, which should be a reason to attend a mandotory D&I seminar. (Bias against homeless, bias against a person with a disability, bias against religion, etc).
      Also, if Sara is a POC than she should have attended becasue her voice and presence should be heard/seen in the company. Maybe there was a Q&A or group session where her voice and her point of view would have been helpful. Or maybe just seeing a POC in the room would wake people up and be like “oh yeah we do have diversity here” instead of “all I see is white people so this doesn’t really matter”
      one thing to consider is maybe the seminar would have highlighted how if a POC person feels excluded, or discriminated against, or whatever, how they can address the issue.

      Now I will say that there should be a way to make up the seminar. It seems really odd that they have a mandatory seminar and don’t have a contingency plan for if someone misses. I would like to know more about the missing seminar. Was it that Sara was too busy with work to attend, was it not on site and she had to travel and couldn’t get there. Was it after regular hours and she couldn’t attend because of family obligations? There’s a lot of unknown with why she missed. Now if she just blew it off with no reason or said she just wasn’t going to attend, than that is a bigger issue. But there should be some way to make it up and she shouldn’t be punished just becuase she didnt attend this one event. In all of my jobs there have been multiple ways. Either the seminar was recorded so others could watch it later, there were several events at diffrent times, and/or there was an online “class” that you completed.

      1. Smeralda*

        1) whether or not “everyone can learn something” depends on the topic of the seminar at hand
        2) d&i seminars vary greatly in quality and usefulness, so it’s definitely not a given that anyone can learn anything, let alone that everyone can learn something
        3) it is so completely not a PoC’s job or obligation to show up at a d&i seminar as an example of the company’s diversity. We are not props. We are employees – presumably hired for our abilities, not for our pigment or for the emotional labor of explaining racism to people.

      2. Jennifer*

        I disagree that everyone has something to learn there. That depends on the topic and quality of the seminar. But if it’s just a CYA seminar as someone else mentioned, I wouldn’t have a problem with going, pretending to listen, and signing a form saying I had.

        I do agree that it should have been recorded so that people out of the office that day could watch it. It’s highly possible there were people that had the day off or had to call in sick that day.

    13. Shergak*

      I agree on this one. Many D&I seminars end up being meaningless pablum where people talk about the company’s great record on blah, blah, blah, and tend to paper over the huge issues facing PoC today. Or they end up being sessions for non-PoC to get validation from PoC that they aren’t racist, right?

    14. Public Sector Manager*

      Two thoughts on this:

      1. We don’t know where Sara works. I work for a public agency and diversity seminars and workplace conduct seminars are required by statute. Everyone has to go. We do it twice a year, so if you miss one, you have to go to the other. There are penalties for our agency if we don’t do it.

      2. I know a lot of people bristle at the idea of sitting through seminars that don’t benefit them. I used to skip those all the time because I had “real” work to do. And notwithstanding the great work I did on the services that were meaningful to my agency, not attending cost me a promotion that was really important to me. I came to terms with all this by understanding that I was being compensated for my time. If my employer wants to pay me to sit in a seminar rather than do work that will result in great customer service, increase in stock prices, etc., then that’s the decision they’ve made. If I have to much “real” work, I flag it for my boss, and then my boss takes the calculated risk–is the seminar or the widget more important?

    15. Observer*

      Nope. There are many types of D&I, and no one group has a lock on being where they need to be on that issue.

    16. Anonymous Educator*

      If the DEI seminar is useless to BIPOC and targets only white employees, then they should get a better DEI seminar.

      1. trans and tired*

        They should! But if that’s the one they have, I wouldn’t blame a POC employee for wanting to skip it. I once sat through a seminar about transgender inclusion that made me want to tear my hair out and scream in frustration because I disagreed with basically everything the (entirely cisgender) panel was presenting. I kept my mouth shut because I didn’t want to call attention to myself. If I end up called to attend that kind of seminar again, I’m going to have a schedule conflict that can’t be moved.

          1. D'Arcy*

            Call me an absolute cynic, but I strongly suspect that, “101 for the privileged majority” is the best you can plausibly get out of diversity training.

      2. Jennifer*

        Most of them are pretty terrible, tbh. If it’s about racial diversity, I honestly don’t know what I would get out of it. It is really for the white employees. But there is more than one kind of diversity so it would depend on the topic.

    17. Allonge*

      There is no equivalence here but as a woman I would absolutely want to attend the gender discrimination seminar. I want to know what the official rules are, what can and cannot be done! Not because I don’t have awareness of misogny issues, but because I need to know the specifics. One of the stupidest ideas I have heard of was a gender issues seminar for men only. WTeff.

      If someome has a specific, personal issue attending, they should explain what their issue is to their manager or better yet the training organiser and ask to be excused / for alternatives to get the training. These are always useless is unlikely to be accepted though.

    18. Madame X*

      It doesn’t seem to be an issue for Sarah anymore but even if she is a person of color she could still benefit from participating in a (well-run) diversity and inclusion seminar. Not all people who fall under the umbrella of “people of color” face the same types of discrimination issues ( nationality, ethnicity, LGBT, disability status and etc…)

  9. agnes*

    Alison’s response is spot on. I am wondering if you have been communicating to her all along about where things stand –for example, that salaries are frozen now. One thing that often causes this kind of issue to come up is that management isn’t keeping an employee updated. If the last thing she heard from you is that she has met your PIP requirements, then quite naturally she’s thinking that the raise you discussed earlier should be forthcoming.

    In any case, I don’t think she was unprofessional at all. She was direct and gave you information you needed and asked for a response. It is wrong of an organization to expect someone to do work that would normally be paid at a higher rate for a lower rate. It is also wrong for an organization to not explain to someone that the work they are doing is expected of an employee at this pay rate.

  10. KHB*

    Sara sounds frustrated. Does she know that you agree that her work merits a promotion? Does she know that she would have gotten one already if it hadn’t been for the work ethic issues? (And what was up with that, anyway? Was it just a bad attitude showing, or did she have something personal going on that caused her to be tardy and miss the required seminar?)

    1. Ginger Baker*

      My first thought on reading that was “Did her bad attitude happen after being told a year ago that she would get this promotion and now, one year later, still no promotion?” I ask because I know when I have been busting my ass for something I was promised/told would happen, and then nothing materializes for a significant amount of time, I can definitely start to feel resentful and check out mentally from [whatever the situation, job, relationship, whatever].

      1. KHB*

        From what I can tell of the timeline, it sounds like the bad attitude set in when she’d been in the position for only about a year total (since it came and went before “COVID happened,” which was six months ago, and she’s now been there for two years). To me, that seems way too soon for it to have been motivated by exasperation over a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t promotion.

        Still, I wonder if there’s more to the story than we’re hearing – like she was struggling with childcare or a family medical situation or something – because otherwise, the “give me a raise or else I’ll refuse to do part of my job” email seems like entirely the wrong tone to take for someone who knows she’s recently annoyed the boss with concerns about her work ethic.

        1. Yorick*

          I agree. A two-year timeline makes it sound pretty unlikely that a “you haven’t promoted me yet so I’m gonna relax my work ethic” is reasonable, and also makes burnout not seem super likely, especially a year ago. That depends on the industry and the workload, of course, but I don’t see any reason to think she’s overworked – just that OP would be if she had to do some of Sara’s job.

      2. Dino*

        This was my thought, too. I wondered if the work ethic issues were due to her not feeling valued after waiting for the promotion. Not okay, but more understandable.

  11. Oryx*

    OP, I’m a little concerned that as a manager you are thinking of retracting a promotion that you yourself admit Sara deserves just because she didn’t present the idea in a way you liked.

    I’m also concerned that you view Sara advocating for herself is “holding you hostage.” Perhaps she is wildly off-base in her beliefs that a raise and title promotion is warranted, although, again, it doesn’t sound like it since you admit yourself she deserves a promotion and were considering her for one in the Before Times. Salary freezes aren’t fun, but I can’t fault Sara for wanting compensation if her duties have drastically changed nor can I fault her for asking. Either way, I think you should ask yourself why you are treating your employee from a such an antagnostic point of view.

    1. nom de plume*

      This post needs blinking lights and a siren.
      OP, please take a moment to note how many of us find your reaction oddly defensive and off-base. There is nothing about what Sara did that warrants your interpretation of “hostage-taking,” and the fact that you think giving her the promotion you actually believe is due means “giving in” is disturbing – it suggests you believe that employees should somehow know their place and ask only in the nice way that sings to you?

      That’s not a healthy attitude to management. You’re approaching this from an oddly personal angle, as what promoting her would cost you personally, rather than what value Sara adds to the company. Take a step back and assess the bigger picture. It’s not a battle of wills. It’s a reasonable negotiation. Like another commenter said, Sara’s not a vassal. Happy employees are assets.

    2. Firecat*

      Yes it’s a important part of emotional intelligence, especially if you are a manager, to focus on the message without getting hung up on how the message was delivered.

      But even then there is nothing at all wrong with Sara’s delivery either!

      Unless there is context missing we don’t know. It’s totally reasonable to say – hey I’ve been doing these promotion tasks for 6 months now with no promotion in sight – can I get that raise and promotion now or revert back to my old role?

  12. Delta Delta*

    It seems like she sent the email in advance of the scheduled one-on-one meeting, which feels entirely appropriate so it could go onto the list of things to cover in the meeting.

    1. Bagpuss*

      Yes, I would see this as totally appropriate – it means that you have the opportunity to give it some thought and to speak to others if necessary ahead of the one-to-one, rather than having it sprung on you at that meeting.

      And if she is frustrated by lack of progress then it is not surprising that she chose to give you a heads-up – she may have been concerned that if she raised it at the one-to-one she would get brushed off because you hadn’t had time to consider it r speak to the powers that be before the meeting.

  13. Temperance*

    OP, I have been in Sarah’s shoes. My former boss kept giving me additional duties and stringing me along for a promotion, and when a job became available, it went to another colleague of mine instead of me. It was heavily implied that my grandboss liked the work I had been doing for her, so she kept me around.

    So what I did, when offered, was accept a coverage position in another office that my grandboss didn’t have in her sales territory, so I wouldn’t have to do all her personal tasks and marketing. She couldn’t stop me because HER boss asked for me, and it would have been obvious that she had been blocking me from promotions.

    1. Mighty Mouse*

      Good for you!!!!
      I had a boss who liked to threaten us with more work and weekends when we pushed back as a group about our terrible work-life balance and being run around like crazy on our on call time for non-emergent situations. I was paid pretty poorly despite promises of making more than my previous job (he didn’t mention I wouldn’t qualify for the bonus that was to be 20% of my income the first year and that he would do his best to limit or withhold it later). Add in some other abuses and gaslighting and I QUIT. So did one of my colleagues at the same time leaving him in a serious lurch. He was angry of course, but there was nothing he could do.

  14. KeepLearning*

    There is a Catch-22 about the OP’s approach. On the one hand, OP writes that Sara asked on the “wrong day” or not at a weekly one-on-one, so does not deserve one. And since she is bringing up her concerns outside the preferred venue, OP does not want to “reward” her “unprofessionalism” by giving her a raise. On the other hand, if Sara does not bring up the issue, she might not receive a raise for months or possibly years.
    OP should decide whether this is an employee she wants to retain, and then should advocate for her.

    1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      There’s also a nice bit of irony.
      OP gave Sara a list of ways to improve and tasks to successfully learn and take over NOT with the understanding that this is required to keep her current position, but for getting a promotion.
      That wasn’t holding her hostage. She was free to leave, right?
      So she stayed and did all those things.
      And OP said, not yet.
      And Sara kept plugging on.
      Until she realized that hey, I don’t see the goalpost anymore. I will ask my boss who was so supportive in the beginning, even when I wasn’t doing well. Now that I am, I am sure this will go well.
      “how dare she threaten me?”
      Um, no?

    2. Snark no more!*

      I’m really tired of my directness being taken for unprofessionalism. Being direct is not a character flaw and if Sara has been strung along, I see no other choice for her but to directly state what she wants.

      1. cmcinnyc*

        OP, ask yourself, really ask yourself, if Sam made this ask with this approach–is he unprofessional? Or are you expecting a woman to not only do her job but to make sure you feel emotionally comfortable with her as well? Yes, I know OP is a woman. We do this to each other, too.

        1. Anono-nono-nonymous*

          Not OP but, yes. There is a huge difference between politely re-opening the discussion regarding a planned and worked toward raise and promotion and unilaterally deciding which of your assigned tasks you will continue doing and which you will stop doing because you believe it is outside your job description. First of all, I don’t believe I have ever seen a job description that did not list “other duties as assigned” as one of the requirements. Second, presumably those new tasks were assigned to Sara for a reason. The company needs someone to do them, either the person who holds Sara’s current job title or the one she is angling for being promoted too. And last, it is not up to the employee to decide what is and is not inside their scope of work, that’s for the manager and higher ups to decide.

          Does it suck to not have had a promotion or a raise for 2 years, yes. (I know. My job is SCA and the wage is set. We don’t get raises unless the feds redo the determination). Does it also suck to have worked hard towards a promotion and then to be essentially stonewalled because of a global crisis, also yes. But this happens all the time, and in less dire circumstances than a global pandemic (think economic downturn, or company loses bid on new big contract that would have brought in guaranteed revenue over the next 10 years, etc.)

          If Sara leaves, which she has every right to do, OP and her bosses need reevaluate the job description before re-posting it for a replacement. But, Sara also needs to work on respecting boundaries. It’s soooo passive aggressive to send a side-by-side list of “original” and “added” job duties and then give an ultimatum and make demands and it would definitely rub me the wrong way the way it has the OP, regardless of the day on which it was sent or the gender of the employee.

          1. Phoenix Wright*

            I’d say what Sara did was the polar opposite of passive-aggressiveness. She was being direct in her expectations, and OP seems to want to punish her for it. Also, while it’s not up to her to decide the scope of her job, she has a right to ask for a raise and promotion if she feels the added tasks exceed what she believes it to be, just like OP (or whoever is in charge of this decision) has a right to approve or refuse said raise. And she also has a right to push back if she feels her workload has become excessive.

            Employees are not robots or slaves on which you can pile up tasks indefinitely while refusing to pay them more, while demanding they shut up and obey. Being the boss means you have the power of choosing which tasks and what remuneration belong to each job, but it doesn’t inherently entitle you to your employee’s labor.

          2. Salsa Verde*

            But the OP didn’t say Sara sent a list of duties she will and won’t do, OP quoted: Then she said, “I either want a raise and title change, or I want to go back to doing what I was hired to do.”

            That does not sound like an ultimatum nor a demand, honestly. She said I want, not I will. I do think this is a case where directness is being interpreted as aggression and unprofessionalism. She is not deciding, she is asking her manager and higher ups to decide, as you noted is their duty.

            I guess I don’t know what would have been considered more polite? It seems like Sara was reopening the discussion.

  15. Mimi*

    I would not be at all surprised if the tardiness and skipping seminars is a symptom of her frustration and dissatisfaction with her job. She sounds like she feels unappreciated (and it also sounds like she may in fact be unappreciated) and this frustration is showing up in these ways. It’s not professional, of course, but it’s very human.

    I had a coworker who did basically these same things for this reason. She felt frustrated and unappreciated, which she indeed was, and after 4 years of being a model employee, started coming in late, wearing more casual clothes than the dress code specified, taking time off at the last minute. Not surprisingly, she quit shortly thereafter.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        That plus burnout from being overworked and underpaid. It all makes total sense to me when you put the whole picture together.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      I also couldn’t tell – was it just this one event that Sara missed? It kind of sounds like Sara had a bad week, or maybe a bad month, and the OP was pretty unforgiving about it. And employees shouldn’t skip mandatory trainings, but life happens. Was she apologetic? Did she have a reason? Was there an option to make it up? Were there other events?

      Maybe the tardiness issues were longer-term and had real impacts to her work performance or coverage or something. But it kind of sounds like OP is pretty rigid as a manager.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Yeah, I’m kind of confused, because a good employee missing a required seminar usually generates concern rather than derision. Maybe the LW just left that part out, but if someone misses a required event, it should lead to just those questions. If the answer is, “Screw those things, I hate them” then that tells you something very different than, “I woke up with a migraine that morning” or even “I forgot about it and by the time I made it to the seminar location it was too late to come in.”

        1. Alanna*

          Yeah, if the answer is “diversity and inclusion are dumb!!!” then that’s obviously a bigger concern, especially if the promotion is to a managerial/strategic role, but at that point you’ve got bigger problems than the meeting. If Sara made a decision to deprioritize the meeting, a conversation about why this is important/a priority and what she should have done (talk to the manager about extending deadlines) seems sufficient. If she just forgot, well, that’s not ideal, but pobody’s nerfect.

          1. Annony*

            To be fair, it could have been “the diversion and inclusion seminars here lack any substance and are a waste of time.”

      2. Alanna*

        As someone who does excellent work, and also tends to roll in a little late, has missed the occasional meeting, and has to be reminded multiple times to finish my HR trainings every year… I’d be looking for another job if my boss suddenly decided to be hardcore about this stuff, especially if the first I heard about it was when I asked for a promotion. (Of course, I know myself and have chosen to work in a field where stuff like this is considered secondary. Maybe Sara doesn’t — but in that case, I’d think the effects of the tardiness, missing the training, etc. would be a big enough deal that her work wouldn’t be “excellent” anymore.)

      3. GothicBee*

        Yeah, I’m wondering about the work ethic issues too, especially if her actual work is apparently great. I’d like to give OP the benefit of the doubt, but the reaction here about Sara holding OP “hostage” makes me wonder if the OP is taking Sara’s tardiness and missed seminar personally too, especially if this is not a coverage based job in which the tardiness has an impact on her ability to do her work.

    2. Sylvia*

      I agree with this. It’s still not okay for Sara to do, of course, but when you’re working your tail off and improving your work, but your boss does not seem to notice or care, it’s very demoralizing. People often start to think, “What’s the point? No one cares if I do a good job anyway. Why bother?” And so their work starts to suffer because they feel unheard and underappreciated.

      Putting the promotion and raise aside, I wonder if OP ever actually told Sara that her work and work ethic had improved. Even just vocalizing that kind of positive feedback can be a huge deal to making Sara feel more appreciated.

    3. Alanna*

      Holding up a promotion over tardiness and missing one seminar seems a little excessive to me given that her work is otherwise excellent, though it depends on context, I guess — if her tardiness was seriously affecting workflow or her coworkers, or if the seminar was heavily communicated as mandatory and she was repeatedly told to block out that time or give advance warning if she couldn’t make it, I might feel differently.

      But in any case, it sounds like Sara took the message to heart and cleaned up her act.

      I also sort of get the vibe that OP just… doesn’t like Sara, and it’s bleeding into her assessment of her performance. I get it — if OP is someone who is always organized, always on time, never misses a meeting, etc., it’s frustrating to manage someone whose work is excellent but who blows off some of the small stuff. But while they’re valid issues to coach an employee on, they’d seem like pretty petty reasons to hold up a promotion in my office.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        This is the vibe I get too. It can be hard as a new manager when you just don’t quite click with someone you’re managing, you have different communication styles, etc. But you have to take a deep breath and try to detach from that before you jump from “not exactly how I would have done it” to “unprofessional and unacceptable.”

      2. Smithy*

        I get that – I also wonder if this is a case of being a new manager and struggling to assert authority. For some roles, becoming a manager comes after years of being a strong individual contributor and then suddenly you’re back to being a beginner.

        Like with so many skills, I think the longer someone is a manager the better it goes. And right now while the OP is looking for “more time” to get her footing as a manager, Sarah is looking for immediate action.

        1. Alanna*

          I’ve been pretty pro-Sara in this thread, but to be fair to the manager for a second, wanting to promote someone and not being able to for reasons beyond your control sucks. Your employees end up holding it against you, even if you’re advocating hard for them and losing credit with your own bosses as a result. It’s understandable if the manager would rather just find a reason not to do the promotion rather than put herself in that situation.

          I’m in a similar situation (a promotion I asked for last year and was told was reasonable was held up first with general bureaucratic stuff, and then, the minute it was about to clear through, Covid hit). My manager is excellent, and has basically done hostage-taking on my behalf — she’s refused to let me take on any more responsibility until the promotion goes through, even though there are things on her plate that she wants to reassign to me. It has really helped staunch some of the burnout I’m feeling.

        2. Lady Meyneth*

          This is absolutely true. I’ve been at my company a little over 2 years, and my manager had just been promoted when I started. I can honestly say now that she’s a great manager. But 2 years ago? Yikes! It was actually pretty awesome to see how much she grew into the role, and to see that we could give her feedback and she’s think about it and act on it.

          OP, I think you need to recalibrate both your reactions and your expectations a little. That’s natural enough for a new manager and specially during a pandemic. You’ll get there! But Sara has a right to look out for herself, that’s not holding you hostage. She isn’t in the wrong here and you need to ackowledge her excellent work, in feedback, in job title and in money. If you can’t do the last 2 yet, you need to communicate that clearly, and you need to be prepared to lose Sara to another job sooner rather than later.

    4. boop the first*

      Right! And it’s not just acting on frustration with the work, it’s also the natural fact that every workplace has some variation of Lousy Worker, and when you’re a Good Worker, you get to watch Lousy Worker fumble around, come in late, ask you to cover their shifts (which pleases management because they get additional Good Worker time), all for the same benefits/pay, so where’s the motivation to continue being Good when you could be Lousy?

  16. extra anonymous for this*

    Wow–I wasn’t expecting to come to AMA today and see exactly my situation but clearly a different worker! I’m in very close to Sara’s position here. It’s unbelievably frustrating. I’m doing a completely different, much higher-level job than I was hired for (think project manager instead of administrative assistant). I was promised a promotion nine months ago when I was doing mostly higher-level work still in the first sphere, then the company froze nearly all title changes due to COVID… then I started doing even more high-level work in a different field due to the pandemic and was promised ANOTHER promotion, which this time would be into that different field… The company has HR set all titles and pay scales, so my boss and grand-boss can’t do anything about it except continue to badger HR. It’s so disheartening–I’m completely out of the loop on it, and I just have to take my bosses at their word that they’re “doing the best they can” without knowing at all what that looks like. I had been going really above and beyond–lots of extra hours, high-quality and high-visibility work–through the summer, but after a few months of waiting on promotion #2 and hearing increasingly pessimistic things from the bosses… yeah, nope, I clock in and clock out, I’ve quietly stopped volunteering for anything else high-level, and I’ve started thinking of this job less as an immediate career-builder and more the job that pays the bills and provides great benefits while I work on a creative pursuit and applications to a (debt-free, and very necessary in my target field) professional degree.

    So, yeah, I’m with Sara all the way here. Solidarity!

    1. WellRed*

      “The company has HR set all titles and pay scales, so my boss and grand-boss can’t do anything about it except continue to badger HR.”

      Oh, BS! If they want to, they can make it happen. Sorry you are dealing with this!

      1. Uranus Wars*

        This is not always true. My boss is a VP and approved a key FTE that I needed, we both dug our heels in pretty hard and I spent a lot of professional capitol advocating to our CFO, but the CFO would not open up budget for me and I had to nix the plan for the position and continue to go on understaffed by one.

    2. Nonprofit Nancy*

      There is a real danger in doing manager-level work without the title (and a decent company can usually at least offer a title without a pay raise, it costs them literally nothing) because you won’t have anything to show for it when you try to get your next job at the correct level for you. This happens in my field all the time, I see my boss discard applicants whose title is “assistant” or “coordinator” which are more entry level in my area without even looking at the duties described, especially if the role she’s hiring for is “senior manager” – she’s only looking for someone who is currently a manager. It’s short sighted but it’s real. So yes, if your title is assistant and you’re being paid as an assistant and there’s no sign of that changing, at least you should try to restrict yourself to actually only the assistant level of responsibility.

      1. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

        joining in as [an unfortunate] number four! i’m sorry we’re all going through this and can get through it soon.

    3. I'm A Little Teapot*

      There’s a fairly simple solution here, though not so easy in the execution. Find a new job.

      1. extra anon again*

        Haha, yeah, I’ve been looking for a couple of months now and so far have turned up empty. Not a lot of positions in this immediate field, and hardly any can match the benefits this company provides… and those few jobs have almost completely dried up due to COVID. And with the pandemic I’m less able to pick up and move to a more job-rich area (this had been the plan for the summer in case promotion #1 fell through, actually). But hey, if I stick around for a few more months before moving on, I become fully vested in the retirement account, which is something at least.

      1. AnotherLibrarian*

        Not automatically. At my work, job titles here are directly tied, in a very structured way, to pay. So, if your title changes, your pay scale has to change. That’s in the Union contract. Therefore, when they froze salaries increases and new hires, titles also froze.

  17. Snarkus Aurelius*

    “I’m incapable of taking on any more work, but if she refuses to do the work, there’s no one else it can fall to.”

    If you cannot pay her more to take on extra work that you agree is more involved with more responsibility and you cannot take it on, then I question the value and necessity of the work you’ve assigned her. It’s valuable and necessary enough for her to do it, but not valuable or necessary enough for her to get paid accordingly. Right?

    And who was doing these duties when she started? Because someone was or they were created and evolved with her in the role. Either way, you’re trying to get something for nothing here, which she is rightly calling you out on.

    If you agree that she would get that promotion and raise, that’s great. But if the pandemic is causing budgetary setbacks, well, you’ll have to do without until the pandemic is over or you find the money.

    That’s not holding you hostage anymore than telling someone, “You cannot leave the grocery store without paying for what’s in your cart.”

    1. Malarkey01*

      One of the best times to show your value and ask for promotions is when you know you’re indispensable and they’d have a tough time filling your position. Sara is doing everything right.

  18. Jennifer*

    This is a very interesting question to me. I get the impression that Sara is actually entitled to a raise, but the point Alison raised is valid. Maybe she just gradually took on more duties that are actually part of her job know that she’s more experienced.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with how she asked for a raise. It would be easier for me to raise a topic like this over email as well. Maybe she thought she was giving you the weekend to mull it over. Do you dislike her or have any other hang ups? It seems you may be approaching BEC level with her, so just stop and think about that.

    1. Jennifer*

      The only reason I say this is because you’re referring to this as “holding you hostage” when she’s just asking for a raise, something I’m assuming thousands of people do every day, is very extreme. Either you’ll come to an agreement or you won’t. I understand not wanting to go to the trouble of finding someone else but it’s not the end of the world. Either way, things will be fine.

  19. Ellen Ripley*

    I do think that “either you give me a raise/promotion or I stop doing what’s become part of my job” is a bit more aggressive than I would have gone with, but I’m sure it’s a result of her frustration. Look at it from her POV: she’s worked hard, she’s corrected the defects you’ve pointed out, she’s taken on a lot of new responsibilities, and she has gotten neither a raise nor a promotion. Maybe you won’t be able to give her a raise right now because of the pandemic, but she deserves to know that and then make her own decision about seeking a new position rather than being strung along.

    Side note on the diversity & inclusion seminar: sure, she shouldn’t have (tried to?) skip it, but often those sorts of events are performative bull hockey, so I don’t blame her for the impulse.

    1. Sylvia*

      Well, it’s not aggressive if Sara is doing things that are clearly above her current pay grade. There’s no reason she should have to keep doing higher level work for the same title and pay, and it’s not unreasonable for her to claim she is only going to do what she is being paid to do. But that’s why Alison’s distinction is important. If Sara is only doing more work that’s just a natural progression of her current job, that’s a little different.

    2. PJH*

      I do think that “either you give me a raise/promotion or I stop doing what’s become part of my job” is a bit more aggressive than I would have gone with,

      It’s also possibly a paraphrase of what was actually said and/or implied, through the eyes of the OP, regardless of how nicely (or otherwise) it was originally put across.

      “Since it appears that raises and/or promotions are off the table, I’d like to return to what were my original job description and duties, and for what I’m currently being effectively paid for, please.

      for example is perfectly polite, and perfectly able to be mangled into what ended up in the OP’s letter.

      1. Niels*

        Hi Alison,
        I feel like forgot one thing.

        Note: I really really love your response and completely agree with your reasoning.

        But OP also mentioned that the company froze all salaries due to covid.

        It seems to me that that could put OP between a rock and a hard place.
        Maybe “Sara” DOES deserve a raise, work-wise, but STILL cannot be given one by OP, due to company policy.

        I don’t think you addressed that possibility in your reply.
        Could you perhaps elaborate on what to do if this was the case?
        (or did you mean that, in that case, OP should give Sara just the title bump, without any pay increase?)


        1. Alanna*

          Not Alison, obviously, but I’ve been in Sara’s situation (twice! my company has done two pay/promotion freezes in the last 5 years under somewhat unique circumstances — a union organizing/bargaining process, and now Covid. Both hit when I had a promotion request supported by my supervisor but not formally approved.) I appreciate when bosses 1) are upfront about the situation 2) advocate as hard for me as possible and 3) find ways to make me feel valued anyway.

          At the very least, if Sara’s request is reasonable, OP needs to move past the emotional reaction and have a conversation with her own managers about Sara’s promotion, and be upfront about what she learns. How long do they expect the freeze to last? How will they handle promotion requests that accumulated while it was in effect? What happens if someone gets a better offer elsewhere — is there any space to do promotions and raises as part of a counter? “We are in a salary freeze right now, but I think your request is reasonable, I’ve taken it to my superiors and here’s what they say. Nothing is guaranteed, but here’s my plan to advocate for you as soon as the freeze lifts” would go a long way.

          OP should also think about what she CAN do to make Sara feel more valued at the company, and discuss options with her supervisor. Right now, my boss is refusing to assign me new high-level duties, or let others assign me new high-level duties, until the promotion goes through. That means she’s continuing to do some stuff she’d really rather hand over to me. At one point, we considered trying to do the title bump anyway with no raise; generally I wouldn’t want that, but at the time, things were pretty bleak at the company and I thought it might be better to have the right title on my resume if I needed to job search. (Happily the picture has improved and promotions are moving again!)

          And, of course, Sara might leave. It isn’t easy to find a new job right now, but people do. And leaving is a very reasonable thing to do when you are undercompensated and there is no possibility of change, no matter how bad your manager feels about the situation.

        2. Leah K.*

          Sara already addressed this in her email to OP. If she does deserve a raise, but cannot be given one by OP due to the salary freeze, she would like to have her responsibilities scaled back to their original level so that she is being fairly compensated for the work that she is doing. As far as OP is concerned, there is no scenario where Sara stays in her current role, with her current title and salary, and maintains a current workload. Either she gets a raise and a promotion and does all the work that OP needs her to do; or she stays in her current role with her current salary and decreases her workload; or she quits. Given how direct she was in her communication with OP, I think she is fully prepared to walk away from this job if they cannot compensate her fairly.

        3. All the cats 4 me*

          Alison, I would like to hear your thoughts on this as well, as I am gearing up for my annual review and would like to be prepared if I am presented with this response.

          Thank you!

        4. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Ah! I wrote it on the assumption that the company froze routine annual raises but not necessarily special case raises/promotions — but re-reading the letter, I’m not sure that’s the case. The OP does talk about pursuing a raise now as a possibility, so I *think* that’s still on the table. But if it’s not and Sara does deserve a raise, then all she can do is to explain the situation and agree to put something in writing committing to a raise at whatever point the freeze is listed. From there it’s up to Sara whether or not she wants to continue in the job under those conditions.

          If Sara’s response is “ok, but then I’m going back to my original list of duties,” then it’s back to what I said in my response — it depends on whether it’s scenario #1 or #2. If it’s #2 (this has always been the job), the OP explains that and if Sara isn’t willing to do the work of the job anymore, they need to part ways. If it’s #1 (Sara is working at a higher level than her current job/pay reflects), then the OP and her boss need to decide whether they’re want to (a) hold firm and insist Sara continue what she’s been doing — given that many people’s responsibilities have increased beyond what they should be right now because times are tough and that’s just how it’s going — knowing that it means Sara may leave and they’ll have to re-hire, or (b) agree that it’s not reasonable to require her to do a higher level job when she’s not being paid for it.

          I know a lot of people here think (b) is the only fair option in that situation, but the reality is that lots of people are being asked to do more for less right now, because companies and industries are in crisis. You can say “no thanks” to that, but you’ve got to balance that against the reality that your company may choose to — may *need* to — find someone who will. So it’s messy.

          1. nom de plume*

            Alison, with respect, the fact that people are being asked to do more for less is, in itself, a problem – it’s not “just how it is.” I think it’s naive to believe it’s just due to COVID cuts and back pay will amply appear when the economy stabilizes. So I would quibble with the degree to which the exploitation and lost wages extant in that dynamic are just glossed over here.

            However, if OP is looking for an illustration of being held hostage, this is it: Do more for less or lose your stable income.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              In some cases, yes, companies are exploiting people. In other cases, it’s either this or close their doors entirely. As was discussed above, it’s naive to think that every company can continue on at the same workloads and pay they had before a significant chunk of their revenue disappeared. And there are companies that *are* doing well by people and adjusting salaries once they can. There are others that aren’t. It’s always up to you whether you want to stay during something like that, and whether you trust your company to do the right thing, but there’s no solution here that’s just “everyone stays at full pay and a comfortable workload while revenue contracts enormously.”

              1. history geek*

                In many of these cases, the CEOs should be taking the massive pay cuts. Not the employees. Very few majors companies complaining that they are struggling have anyone on the upper ranks willing to make less. And gotta keep making those profits for the shareholders.

            2. Yorick*

              But she’s not necessarily being asked to do more for less. It’s very normal for your workload to increase and/or for you to be responsible for higher-level work after 2 years in a position.

          2. Rob aka Mediancat*

            Sara seems to have put “Stay in your current role, get no raise and no promotion, and do the extra work” off the table, though. It may be business reality that they need Sara to do this, but Sara has already implied that her response then is going to be to find another job — which will still either stick OP with the work she says she doesn’t have time for, or require them to hire someone at fair market value to do the job, which could very well be more than what Sara’s making now.

            And honestly, if I was told, even in the nicest of tones, “You can’t have the position or raise, but you have to do all the extra work,” I would pretty much believe the company didn’t actually value me or my work.

    3. Partly Cloudy*

      And how many of us have quietly allowed our plates to get more and more full, never advocating for ourselves and asking for compensation for the extra work? How many of us have found ourselves in a situation where if you do a good job, you get to do other people’s jobs too with no extra pay? I say good for Sara – especially as a female – for trying, even if the timing is unfortunate due to COVID.

      There are some pretty significant unknowns here too. Does Sara know there’s a freeze on raises? Why did Sara “skip” the required seminar?

  20. KM*

    Thank you for this! This reminds me so much of a conversation I had with a previous manager. I had been in a position for four years, and it had evolved, but I was absolutely doing the work of the role above me and felt I should be promoted. I wrote up a note with the job description of the role above me, and the projects I was on where I was already acting in that role. I gave it to my manager during a (scheduled!) one-on-one, and I was told my approach was “off-putting.” I was so shocked! It had been an ongoing discussion, and I thought having notes and examples would be useful for my case. I got the promotion & raise but in my offer conversation, I was scolded by my manager for the “way I went about it.” It was bizarre. I always thought there was a gender issue at play (I was a younger woman employee, previously an assistant, and was talking to an older man at the director level), and I honestly never looked at that manager the same way again. I had a manager a year later who really advocated for me, and I moved up to a manager level within a year.

    1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      I commented above about the same thing. I imagine that bringing it up in a one-on-one would have upset OP as well. S/he would have felt ambushed, forced to provide answers s/he can’t or doesn’t want to give. Lose/lose for Sara.

    2. RKMK*

      It’s absolutely gender-based. Studies have shown women get penalized for advocating for themselves, while men are rewarded.

      1. Sylvia*

        Don’t even get me started on how men are deemed “confident, strong, and assertive” while women are “abrasive, bossy, and bitchy.”

        1. Komnenos*

          My girlfriend has been called those exact words in her job.
          As a paramedic, when she may be directing people to get out of her way while she’s saving a life.

    3. sciencenerd*

      At first, I mistakenly read the one part of your second to last sentence as “…an older man at the dictator level…”.

    4. Smithy*

      Because of the gendered issues at play when women ask for raises, negotiate, etc. – I think the flip side is that very often by the time issues are raised, it’s when it’s hit a point of frustration.

  21. RKMK*

    OP, you absolutely need to ask yourself if internal bias is colouring how you interpret a women’s ask for a raise:

    “Hannah Riley Bowles, a senior lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and the director of the Women and Power program, has been studying gender effects on negotiation through laboratory studies, case studies, and extensive interviews with executives and employees in diverse fields. She’s repeatedly found evidence that our implicit gender perceptions mean that the advice that women stand up for themselves and assert their position strongly in negotiations may not have the intended effect. It may even backfire.”

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      It doesn’t mean women shouldn’t ask for raises, but the fact that asking can sometimes backfire because of implicit or explicit sexism isn’t something to discount. And women can be sexist against other women, as someone noted earlier, so having a woman as a manager doesn’t necessarily make it any better.

  22. AndersonDarling*

    There is also a legal aspect to consider. Is Sara an hourly employee doing salary level work?
    I was in a situation where I was an admin and the team kept laying-off salary staff and giving me their jobs. I was an admin making decisions on what bills we would and wouldn’t pay, and I was reviewing legal documents and deciding if we wanted to break contracts. It was very illegal to give an hourly employee the job duties of a salaried employee (Exempt vs non-exempt). I reported to a dysfunctional Director and his bonus was tied to how much $$ he could save. SO he didn’t care about the legality, he just wanted to increase his bonus.

    1. (Former) HR Expat*

      With all due respect, this is not illegal. The default assumption in non-exempt. A company can add all the tasks they want at any level, so long as you’re paid for the hours you work. The problem happens when exempt employees are made exempt, the bulk of their work is non-exempt, and they aren’t paid as a non-exempt employee (I.e. for any hours worked).

      1. (Former) HR Expat*

        And that’s overly simplified. Your situation can cause legal issues, but based on other exempt employees who are doing the same tasks as you. They would be able to claim non-exempt status.

        That being said, there may be some other laws in the legal field that would be considered illegal based on the decisions you were making, but that illegality wouldn’t be specifically because of FLSA.

    2. MarsJenkar*

      I know it’s illegal to misclassify a worker with non-exempt duties as exempt, but I thought the other way around was legal, just not widely practiced.

      1. Partly Cloudy*

        It’s my understanding that in and of itself, it’s legal to make anyone/any job non-exempt, but consistency is key. People with the same title and responsibilities should either ALL be exempt (depending on what that title and responsibilities are) or all be non-exempt.

    3. Observer*

      It was very illegal to give an hourly employee the job duties of a salaried employee (Exempt vs non-exempt).

      This is totally not true. You can give an hourly employee any duties you choose, as long as you pay them for ALL of the time they work.

      What is not legal is to put someone on salary who does not meet these thresholds and then not pay them for every hour they work.

  23. dobradziewczynka*

    I don’t get how the tardiness and missing one seminar equals a bad work ethic. How are you producing excellent work and have a bad work ethic?

    Her tardiness could have been part of a personal issue that she was dealing with – yet her work continued to be excellent.

    She skipped out one seminar, just one and is being penalized for that? A diversity and inclusion one – which would it really affect her work? I don’t get it.

    The work ethic issue is probably her not going above and beyond – and why would she? What incentive would an employee who does excellent work, gets no raises or promotions in two years(pre-Covid) want to do more?

    I hope OP gets a bit of reality check – employment is a two-way street… you cannot expect/get the stars if you are paying for dirt(sorry English is not my first language).

    1. Analyst Editor*

      Very well said, hear hear.
      I wonder if there are unstated personal reasons for LW’s dissatisfaction with Sarah.

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      How are you producing excellent work and have a bad work ethic?

      Yeah, I don’t understand this either. The hours I work are not my work ethic. My work ethic is how well I do my job and whether I complete projects on time, not whether I show up to work “on time.”

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        I actually don’t agree–I think a work ethic is more about how much time and effort you put in as opposed to how good your output is. Those things are of course highly correlated, but some people have to work very hard to still produce only mediocre results and other people produce fantastic work with very little effort.

        Honestly–I would say that my work ethic is not great, but my results are usually good.

        But the question is–if the work produced is good, then how much should the work ethic really matter? If you’re getting the work that you are paying for then in many jobs that should probably be enough.

    3. SciDiver*

      This stuck out to me too–if her work is excellent and everything is done on time, she doesn’t have a work ethic problem. Plenty of (even most) people work for money rather than passion, and I wouldn’t be super chipper and eager to be at work when I felt undervalued and overworked. Visible enthusiasm for the job doesn’t equal excellent work, and vice versa!

    4. Yorick*

      Do we know it was just one seminar that she missed? OP says “required activities” and then gives an example in parentheses. Maybe that was the only one, but it’s just as likely based on the letter that she skipped a lot of stuff.

  24. Maj. Pothead, reporting for doobie*

    OP, I really do not want to sound harsh, and I know you mentioned that you are new to management and I believe that your intentions are good, but you come across as incredibly inexperienced and reactionary in this letter. I commend you on taking the leap into management.

    That said, in addition to your characterization of this as a hostage situation, I’m really puzzled by this statement: “Sara is excellent in her position and there have been no issues with her work, just her work ethic.” I’m honestly not even sure what this is supposed to mean. Given the over-the-top tone of this letter, I’d encourage you to reflect on whether her “tardiness issues” are really “major”. Additionally, on the single activity she “skipped out on”, I’m curious is this was communicated effectively or if there was some other reason she missed it. I’m sorry, but your letter just doesn’t ring true and comes across as almost hysterical.

    Now, to be fair, perhaps Sara has made mistakes at work (who hasn’t?). But, you don’t mention anything that she has done, or not done, that should stop a well-deserved and long-overdue promotion. You seem to be irritated with her and trying to rationalize not giving her this promotion. Also, you seem to be fearful that her “additional” work will wind up on your plate. The latter is an understandable concern but, first of all, them’s the breaks when you go into management. Secondly, if you and your team need more support to cover these tasks, that is a conversation you need to have with your boss to either hire someone else or prioritize and eliminate unnecessary tasks. Best of luck to you in your new position, but based on what you’ve written, I do not believe Sara is at fault here. In fact, it sounds like you are lucky to have her on your team.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      The part about the additional work really stuck out to me. Who was doing this work before Sara took it on? Who does OP think is going to do the work if Sara leaves all together?

    2. Anonymous Hippo*

      To me, saying someone has wonderful work but not a good work ethic, smacks of that vague and undefinable “not a team player” that gets thrown at people who don’t “play the game”.

      You just can’t produce excellent work with a poor work ethic. I completely understand a great employee who has done everything asked of them for a promotion and repeatedly had the goalpost move on her, might pull back on more of the extracurriculars in the office. That’s you losing the employees buy-in/morale, and IMO, the first step to them walking out the door.

  25. AvonLady Barksdale*

    LW, hang on a second and consider this: if you don’t work with Sara and see it from her perspective and advocate for a raise/promotion for her, she will likely leave and… you’ll get stuck doing her work anyway.

  26. Gymmie*

    Confused about the “work ethic” – if she is doing an excellent job and her work is good, I kind of don’t get this comment. I work very differently than many people I know. I can’t focus for long periods of time, but I’m really smart and efficient and do work faster than most people I see at work. My work is great and continue to be promoted, but I’m often walking around the office, etc.

    I get that if you need to be somewhere at a certain time you want this to happen, but I think it’s so much less of a big deal that is being made here.

    1. Sylvia*

      Maybe, maybe not.

      I used to work with a woman who was a fantastic employee in most ways. She was great at her job and she made our clients very happy.

      But she was late for work every. single. day. She just wasn’t very good at getting going in the morning.

      Management let it slide because she was so well-liked by our clientele and was otherwise good. But it got pretty frustrating for the rest of us. I mean, I’m not a morning person either, but I still had to make sure I was on time because that’s what adults do (barring emergencies, etc.).

      Not saying this is what Sara does, but a smaller problem could cause a bigger impact sometimes.

      1. Neon*

        Did her arrival time cause an actual problem for you or your company? If not, then why do you care what time she gets in?

        Did you consider also just adopting a more flexible schedule?

        1. Sylvia*

          Nope, didn’t really cause any problems. It was just annoying because the rest of us were expected on time. And I couldn’t “just adopt a flexible schedule.” We had set schedules and were expected to adhere to them.

          1. Lady Meyneth*

            > And I couldn’t “just adopt a flexible schedule.” We had set schedules and were expected to adhere to them.

            See, that’s the problem right there. If set schedules weren’t a necessity for the job, I’d be pretty annoyed at my company for making them required, and I’d try (hard) to negociate flex time with my boss. Your frustation was directed at the wrong person.

            1. Yorick*

              It’s hard not to feel frustrated with the person who gets special treatment, even though the manager is the one doing it.

              I agree that it’s better to allow flexible schedules. But if the company culture is one that expects people to be on time, OP has to require that and Sara has to be on time.

              1. Uranus Wars*

                I try not to play the time keeper, but I agree it can definitely affect others on a team who’s hours are 7:30 – 4 and one person comes in at 8:30-9 routinely and still leaves at 4. Depending on dynamics, it can affect others work, too, sometime indirectly (one less person to man an email box, answer phones, greet walk-in traffic, etc).

                I also think I am a little bias in this email because I have an employee who, on paper, is good at her job, but who is so unprofessional in person and in her approach to anything that coaching her has become a nightmare because she can’t see the problems at hand. This would be the same employee I commented yesterday who says I am not touchy-feely.

      2. Important Moi*

        You may not be a morning person, but Late Coworker may have bought more value to the company. Value can mean different things to different people. Harsh? Accurate? I don’t know.

        I’ve been on both sides of this. I’ve had tangibles that made me valuable and intangibles that weren’t valued.
        I’ve had intangibles that made me valuable and tangibles that weren’t valued.

        It is like being on a sports team with a superstar and you are not the superstar.

      3. Alice*

        I was waiting for the part where you would say “and as a result, everyone else had to take turns covering the reception desk/answering her phone/doing something else that impacted you.”

    2. Nonprofit Nancy*

      I wondered what “work ethic” meant here, I assume it is related to coming in late, long lunch breaks, leaving early, or not going “above and beyond” on assignments – although I’ve also seen it used as like, “not sufficiently apologetic when things go wrong” or “not enough hustle to fix things” – occasionally to the disadvantage of workers who are just not drama llamas. It’s possible in some jobs, especially widget making type jobs, to hit all your metrics while still doing these things, and I don’t think it’s wrong for a manager to bring them to the employee’s attention, in most cases. Still, I would’ve liked to know more. If it’s like, “doesn’t attend option events” or something, that could definitely be an issue …

      1. dobradziewczynka*

        Precisely. I have heard the work ethic thing thrown when someone is showing boundaries, versus someone coming in late and taking long lunch breaks, etc… what does it mean?

    3. scmill*

      I’m retired now, but I worked for over 40 years in IT as an exempt employee. Most of those years had flexible hours, mainly because IT people tend to work all the damn time racking up hours getting called in the middle of the night. I worked for one small, petty company that scrutinized arrival and departure times with a magnifying glass. I left that place as soon as I could and could never understand why anyone stayed. Tracking comings and goings to the minute always seemed to me to be counterproductive and just got an eye roll and a sharp “get out of my cubicle” from me.

  27. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    OP, Sara isn’t saying “give me the promotion or I’ll quit without notice”, she’s saying “you told me I was eligible for a promotion, then COVID happened and I never heard about it again”. If she sent the list by email, she’s taking all the steps to make it official, which makes me think… was is ever official?

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      She’s also offering to do less work (the work she actually originally signed up for!) if a raise isn’t possible.

  28. TallTeapot*

    I do disagree with Alison on this–if pay is frozen across the organization due to COVID–there is nothing that this manager can do. If pay raises are frozen, except in certain critical circumstances, well, that’s a hard question for the supervisor–can you make the case that Sara is an exceptional case? Is her work enough of a business necessity to call for it? I suspect that if that is the case, you are going to have to really put some capital on the line to get the raise.
    But without reading the email, I also can’t say if Sara approached it professionally or not. If she literally said “if you don’t pay me more right now, I will refuse to do any of the newer work I have been taken on over the past 2 years–COVID is just a smokescreen”, then I’d be ready to start searching for a new hire. It’s a pandemic–businesses are facing tons of uncertainty and there’s no guarantee that we’re going to be seeing improvement any time in the next year, frankly. It’s not business as usual and that does strike me as unprofessional if Sara is not willing to acknowledge that. It’s not as though the job market is exactly booming with opportunity for job seekers right now (except in some fortunate industries).
    But again, lots of speculation on how Sara’s tone came across.

    1. Ampersand*

      I agree, I was surprised not to see any mention of the freeze on salary increases in the advice. I am curious if this was intentional or an oversight.

    2. Ice and Indigo*

      Would it be impossible to give Sara the promotion, but with only a nominal raise and an agreement that her salary would be reviewed in Date X, by which time business might be better? That would at least give her more respect and standing.

    3. CatCat*

      I don’t see how the pay freeze impacts the advice. I mean, either OP and Sara can get on the same page or they can’t. It’s not unprofessional of Sara to ask for what OP agreed she was on track to receive.

      OP can certainly say it’s not possible for Sara to get what she’s asking for and the reason for that is the pandemic hiring freeze. But that doesn’t make Sara unprofessional to have asked.

      1. Ampersand*

        I think it impacts the advice because it makes getting on the same page impossible if the answer is Sara is in fact deserving of a raise that the OP can’t give her. It introduces a third scenario which has to be “how to retain a good employee when you can’t give them what they want/deserve.”

        1. CatCat*

          It introduces a third scenario which has to be “how to retain a good employee when you can’t give them what they want/deserve.”

          The answer is that you can’t.

          The employee might stay if they have zero other options, which isn’t a retention strategy as it is not something the company has control over. Under these circumstances, a good employee is likely to become demoralized and become not as good of an employee.

        2. Observer*

          If Sara is indeed deserving of a raise that the OP can’t give her, then the OP needs to accept that there are going to be things that Sara is not going to do. The pay freeze is not Sara’s problem. It’s the OP’s problem, and they are going to need to figure out how to navigate that.

      2. Yorick*

        I mean, if the company is announcing freezes and layoffs and budget shortfalls and whatnot, it could be kinda tone-deaf to ask for a raise. It really depends on the way it was worded. It might be perfectly fine to ask to scale back the work to fit the current pay since a raise seems unlikely. But it might be unprofessional or show poor judgment or something if there was a tone of “where’s my raise?”

    4. HB*

      Sara is currently doing her Job A at Salary X. The question is whether Sara’s job is actually more synonymous with Job B with Salary Y.

      If she’s actually doing Job B, but at Salary X, then Sara needs to have the option of moving back to Job A that is commensurate with the salary she’s receiving.

      The fact that salaries are frozen is irrelevant when the first question is what is the salary she should be receiving based on the duties she’s performing. If my company told me I had to start doing a lot of extra duties of a higher level position but they weren’t going to pay me for it because “Salaries are currently frozen” I get to decide whether or not that works for me. Now, the alternative may be to stay at my current job title/duties and they can then decide to cut my salary, and again! I get to decide whether to stay or not! But the salaries being frozen actually *isn’t* the obstacle in the conversation. It’s what job is Sara actually doing.

      1. Minerva*

        Seriously? The company is a group of people who have made a decision and can be pushed back on, or asked to make exceptions, or many other things. They can be asked what they can do to retain Sara if that’s important to OP. Its horrible management to just take what’s given from above as word of deity and never pushing back.

        Management roles are about managing both relationships with the rest of the company as well as reports. Is the group under resourced for the work it’s doing? Should OP be pushing for more headcount? Can another manager help clarify whether Sara is working at her pay rate or not? Is there a hiring freeze, in which case, might you have to be more careful to retain Sara? Lots to do beyond salary freeze, too bad Sara.

    5. Paperwhite*

      “There aren’t that many jobs right now” is neither reason nor excuse to do something as petty as deny someone’s request as punishment for asking and scolding them for asking. “We can treat you badly because you can’t get another job” is truly holding someone hostage.

  29. CatCat*

    I think it’s interesting that OP views Sara as “holding the OP hostage” for saying she wants the promotion and raise she was on track to get and that OP agrees she deserves. Why doesn’t the OP view the company has “holding the OP hostage” for freezing all salaries?

    It’s just seems odd that OP thinks this is on Sara rather than on the company.

    I can see why it *seems* like Sara because if Sara quits or ends up having to be fired, her tasks land on OP’s plate and OP feels boxed in by that. But it’s the *company’s*, and not Sara’s, responsibility to make sure OP has adequate resources.

  30. SheLooksFamiliar*

    OP, Sarah is not your supplicant. She’s a frustrated direct report who wants to know when you’re going to come through for her, and her message to you was blunt – maybe it needed to be! – but it was appropriate.

    This situation isn’t about your feelings regarding Sarah’s message to you, it’s about doing the right thing for an employee you admit does great work. Sarah stepped up her game, now it’s your turn. Let her know you have her back, and do what you can to put her in the right role and pay grade.

  31. Keyboard Cowboy*

    If you turn this around it sounds like a perennial AAM favorite! “I’ve been working here for X years and I’ve been taking on more and more tasks. My boss was about to give me a raise and promotion, but then Covid happened! Now it’s been five months since we started quarantining – how do I push for the raise and the promotion we had had in progress before?” And bringing up a special concern outside of the context of a 1:1 seems normal to me. If the employee brought it up on Friday morning and has a 1:1 on Tuesday afternoon, maybe she was hoping she could get some status updates back during the 1:1.

  32. Peridot*

    Boy, there’s a lot of loaded language doing the work here.

    “dumped it on me right before the end of the week.” — On a Friday? On a Friday at 5PM? On a Thursday? Regardless, she didn’t “dump” anything on you. She communicated with you.

    “As you might expect, the current duties are more involved and have more responsibility, since that’s what happens when you’ve been in a position for two years. Still, I agreed she deserves a promotion.” — You graciously conceding that she deserves a promotion is undercut by what comes before. You make it sound like Sara is naive and just doesn’t understand how jobs work. Trust me, she understands.

    “And all of a sudden I’m being held hostage to give her a raise, or else all the work that she didn’t do when she was hired gets dumped on my plate.” — But it’s not sudden. You were discussing a promotion before the pandemic, so that’s five or six months ago. And again, there’s that word “dumped”. I’m curious to know how much work has been “dumped” on Sara in the last six months.

    “I’m incapable of taking on any more work, but if she refuses to do the work, there’s no one else it can fall to.” — This is not actually her problem. It’s a problem for management.

    “How do I approach her and have a coaching session that lets her know this hostage holding is inappropriate and unprofessional?” — If I had a manager tell me that advocating for a salary and title commensurate with the work I’m actually doing is inappropriate and unprofessional, I’d be looking for a new job willing to pay me what I’m worth.

    1. Ice and Indigo*

      Honest question, OP: do you not like Sara?

      Because you haven’t described anything especially bad about her as a worker; if her work is excellent despite some time keeping issues, her work ethic can’t be all that bad. The work is getting done. So much of it that you can’t cope without her.

      Inexperienced or inept managers often worry more about the *appearance* of a good attitude than the attitude actually displayed by the work output. Sara hasn’t presented as a keener, and she’s willing to advocate for herself when it isn’t convenient for you. These are not big causes of concern unless you think a good worker cares more about the company than about herself – which you’d need to pay waaaay more to expect from her!

      Sure, people should be on time, but if that’s the worst you can say of her, that’s not really a ‘work ethic’ problem – not if the work gets done and done well. It’s an appearance problem.

      Honestly, I’m getting the feeling that you’re feeling threatened because she doesn’t do enough to assure you that she really, really cares. But that’s not a major job requirement. She’s competent and responsive to feedback. You don’t have to like her for her to be acting reasonably.

      1. pamela voorhees*

        I really like this question and phrasing because here’s the thing — in theory, it’s okay to not like an employee. You don’t have to, and probably shouldn’t, only surround yourself with people that you’d enjoy seeing socially. But where I imagine that becomes difficult is that you DO have to treat Sara fairly and professionally. I’m not a manager, but I’m sure it feels like cognitive dissonance to simultaneously think “I don’t like Sara” and “I really need to advocate for Sara.” But those can both be true! If what Ice and Indigo said rings true, it might help to separate out Sara-my-Good-Employee and Sara-who-Annoys-Me into two different mental people? And then only allow yourself to deal with Sara-my-Good-Employee at work, and save all thoughts and feelings about Annoying-Sara for a journal. A lot of what other folks are saying are essentially compassion exercises about looking at this from Sara’s perspective, which also might help if this is the case.

    2. Sylvan*

      I’m about to make a nitpicking comment, so I totally understand if it’s deleted. But I’m noticing that OP is “incapable” of taking on a higher workload, while Sara would be “refusing” a high workload. So the responsibility of managing the workload is being shifted to Sara even though it belongs to OP.

      1. All the cats 4 me*

        That struck me as well! Why is OP – a manager- entitled to refuse additional work and frame it as “impossible”, but underling is expected to absorb it without -presumably – appropriate compensation? Is there some flavour of “you should be grateful for your job”/ “loyalty to the company” at work here?

        Although I will say that OP mostly strikes me as
        1. Assuming negative intent (contrary to ALIson’s advice to default to assuming positive intent whereever possible),

        2. Panicking somewhat due to inexperience, not realizing that there are multiple options in the company’s and OP’s toolbox, and

        3. Defaulting to conisdering Sara’s request a personal issue, whereas Sara is simply presenting a request and stating her (Sara’s) position in the negotiation to the appropriate company representative –who happens to be OP, as OP is Sara’s boss/manager.

        I also think it is excellent that OP has asked for advice and hope OP will take it onboard and recognize it as a growth opportunity. If OP is not being offered training in management by the company, in her place, i would request it and/or seek it outside of work if necessary.

      2. Yorick*

        I’m not sure we know that Sara has a very high workload, though. What we know for sure is that OP is incapable of taking on that work in addition to her current workload.

    3. Annony*

      It sounds to me like the company has pushed OP past her limits with the increased workload, hiring freeze and salary freeze. She just didn’t have the bandwidth left to deal with this. None of that is Sara’s fault, but this sounds like it is a misplaced emotional response due to stress and feeling helpless. I’ve been there. When I was leaving my last job, my boss just kept putting more and more and more on my plate while also expecting me to train my replacement. I couldn’t do it all and felt a lot of resentment towards my replacement who would not leave me alone and kept interrupting me while I was desperately trying to finish my work. It wasn’t his fault, but I was working 12 hour days and I just couldn’t handle it.

      1. Uranus Wars*

        I wondered this too after first read. I was there just a couple weeks ago and wondered if this was misdirected emotions.

        Sara didn’t do anything wrong but her request and action could have been the final rock on the pile that buried the OP at the end of a week that was already on the verge of mental collapse.

        I am glad the OP wrote in, because I think (even though she might not have intended this) she wants to do the right thing but doesn’t know what that is based on messages from management, her own thoughts and some of Sara’s past behavior might be clouding it.

  33. Tessa Ryan*

    I read this as, “She was being assertive and that’s off-putting. She may be doing more work, and better work, but she’s had performance issues before. And she had the *audacity* to ask for a raise or a change in title because she’s doing more work. Plus she asked in a straightforward manner, and that’s unprofessional and holding us hostage.”

    I may be off base, but I wonder if a male employee had asked OP for a raise in the exact same way, and even had the exact same issues previously, it would not have been considered “holding them hostage.”

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      she’s had performance issues before

      I’m still unclear as to what these performance issues are. She was tardy a few times? The OP mentions several times that Sara’s work is excellent. What does being tardy matter, then? I hate people skipping out on DEI seminars, but is that really a performance issue, unless it’s chronic that Sara always skips out on PD? Sounds as if she missed one seminar.

      1. Yorick*

        To me, it sounds like that DEI seminar could have been an example – it was in parentheses after saying she skipped a pluralized “required activities.”

  34. RKMK*

    I think my first comment got eaten because I tried to link to a New Yorker article, but OP, you should google “Lean Out: The Dangers for Women Who Negotiate” Maria Konnikova, June 10, 2014, and do a little gut-check about your internal latent biases.

    “Hannah Riley Bowles, a senior lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and the director of the Women and Power program, has been studying gender effects on negotiation through laboratory studies, case studies, and extensive interviews with executives and employees in diverse fields. She’s repeatedly found evidence that our implicit gender perceptions mean that the advice that women stand up for themselves and assert their position strongly in negotiations may not have the intended effect. It may even backfire.

    It’s not that men are immune from being seen as tough or unlikeable when they make aggressive demands. Attempting to negotiate can make anyone seem less nice, Bowles repeatedly found. But it’s only women who subsequently suffer a penalty: people report that they would be less inclined to work with them, be it as coworkers, subordinates, or bosses. The effect is especially strong, Bowles has found, when people observe women who engage in salary negotiations. “Money in particular seems to be a hot one,” she says. “

    1. A Woman Who Negotiated*

      Oooh this strikes home. When I was negotiating the terms of my current job, I learned that the company had no parental leave policy (“we always work it out with the individual” :-|) . I was considering having a baby in the coming years and considered it an important point. My now-boss assured me they would work it out and have a policy cemented in the next quarter… of course it took another year and many more discussions in which I reminded him what he’d committed to me, but they did eventually roll out a respectable parental leave policy. Several women higher up in the organization have since enjoyed the policy and told me privately that they worried they’d suffer professionally if they had advocated for a policy the way I did, so they were grateful for my being the squeaky wheel.

      Cut to a conversation with my boss a year or so after the policy was implemented, he decided to give me his “read” on me as a crusader who likes to have a cause and likes everything to be fair. Apparently he’d decided that because I hadn’t had a baby since the policy was implemented, I just did it to make a point. How could he know I’d suffered a miscarriage… nope, I’m just a thorn in his side trying to make a point.

      1. AnonInTheCity*

        Wow. That really sucks and I’m so sorry he said that to you. And even if you HAD done it because you weren’t personally invested but wanted things to be fair…that’s a good thing? I went to HR at my last job to get transgender health care written into our policy even though it didn’t affect me personally. I figured as a (queer) non-trans person I had more political capital to spend on it than someone who had personal stakes.

      2. WFH with Cat*

        Your boss’s comments were completely out-0f-bounds and, frankly, quite stupid. I would have been tempted to ask if he thinks that white people who advocate for diversity in the workplace or male managers who advocate for pay equity are doing so only because they want to be crusaders for a cause. And, even if that were the case, how would it be a bad thing? It’s truly absurd of him to assume that only people who are personally affected by a policy/benefit are going to be — or, worse, *should* be — the only ones to argue in favor of it.

        Also, very sorry for your loss.

  35. Manager 1*

    I’m not sure how someone can be considered to have “excellent work” but also not a great work ethic. If she is meeting all requirements, going above and beyond her job description, it shouldn’t matter if she is tardy— I’m regularly late for work (but never when there is a meeting) but get great reviews because I do my job well.

  36. Onelia*

    As Alison and many other posters have noted, this is clearly less about the performance aspect of Sara’s role, and more about they way she approached it (in the OP’s eyes). I don’t see anything wrong with her approach. She (hopefully) knew a promotion was coming. She provided you with documentation and research that she felt supported her position for the promotion, and advocated for herself.

    Something about this has set the OP off. If I was them, I would be thinking about how their own beliefs and possible inherent biases are coming into play. Would this approach be seen as more acceptable if it was coming from a male employee (if it isn’t). Is the employee from an underrepresented community? Have they been treated differently because of education levels or other social factors?

    There are so many groups and people that have discouraged from advocating for themselves, and I suspect some companies still (whether intentionally or not) operate under a kind of system that continues to perpetuate that kind of environment.

  37. Lord Gouldian Finch*

    Even with a salary freeze that should not mean it’s impossible to increase salaries, merely that it requires justification and perhaps more approvals than previously. In this case one of the issues you need to consider is what will the cost to the company be if Sara quits tomorrow? If you end up having to hire a new employee who is less efficient and can’t cover all the duties that Sara covers, that’s a loss. If she quits and you can’t replace her because of the freeze, and you can’t cover the work, then the work gets dropped and that’s a loss. If you end up having to bring in a temp from a temp agency to fill the void, that’s probably going to be a substantial financial hit and hence a loss. So with all that in mind, is it financially worth it to pay Sara more?

    Although only you can make that decision, I suspect the answer is yes. Remember, as well, you don’t necessarily need to pay her exactly what she’s asking unless it’s regimented (like she’s moving from a Processor I to a Processor II with a specific payscale). You can come up with a counter-offer of more money even if it’s less than she wants (maybe with some other trade offs like additional vacation days or permanent WFH in writing or the like).

    She is offering you her services for money. It is not unreasonable for her, having increased the value of those services with experience, to request more money.

    1. NotJennifer*

      I was wondering about this too. My company had to do a salary freeze for raising the general pay scale or giving other COL increases they would have done in the spring, with the hope that as things pick up they can make that up. (And it actually seems like we are on track to get there, which feels amazing.) However I got bumped up to a different pay scale this spring because of new duties I had taken on as I matured in my position. It actually sounds similar to where Sara might have been — hired for a specific position with specific duties, but started to take on more, and maxed out at the pay grade I was originally on. But in my case my supervisor made the case for me to be bumped up, and I was.

      And reading what’s happening here, I feel even more grateful. It wasn’t anything huge, but both the extra cash and the gesture were meaningful. (And also, being near the bottom of the next pay grade means I have room to move up, instead of stagnating. So that’s cool.)

  38. GarlicMicrowaver*

    I’m sorry, but I still found it hard to sympathize with the OP here, all subjectivity aside. Do you feel threatened by Sara? You know you’re digging your own hole by contributing to power play dynamic stereotypes, right? Holding hostage? Really? Also, I would definitely have gone to to you on a Friday, just like Sara did, so you could have time to think about it in advance of the 1:1. Nothing wrong or unprofessional with that.

    You are grasping at strings to NOT promote her. Tardiness here and there… one missed event… in the overall grand scheme of her performance, those should not be deal breakers.

    Either we are missing part of the story or you would benefit from some in-depth managerial coaching.

    1. Ice and Indigo*

      I’ve also been known to raise an issue at the end of the week because I knew the manager took it as a sign of disloyalty if I appeared to care about anything as much as my (underpaid) job, and felt they’d need some time to calm down from their affront that I’d raised it at all. Just saying.

  39. Solar*

    “I’m offended that you asked me to compensate you fairly” is not a good look…

    I do wish LW had gone into more detail about the tardiness/performance issues. Missing a single diversity seminar itself would not ramp up my concern levels – anyone can have a bad day and run late. I’m not sure how sustained those issues were. Regardless, though, it sounds like those issues are over, and that the employee is performing beyond her level.

    Salary freezes don’t necessarily mean promotion freezes for people performing beyond their level. The question for LW is, is this a person worth making an effort to keep in the company? If so, you should lobby for an exception to get her a promotion.

  40. Absurda*

    Just a couple things that stood out to me:

    OP, you want to say no to a raise/promotion because she asked in a way you don’t like. Not because she didn’t earn it, just because you don’t want to encourage the behavior of asking for things when you think she shouldn’t. You’re sort of treating her like I treat my dog: I’m about to get up to feed her (because it’s dinner time) but she starts whining for food. So, I don’t get up. I don’t want reinforce the whining for food behavior. This is okay for dogs. Not okay for employees.

    Consider, by bringing this up outside of the one-on-one, Sara did you a favor. She gave you time prior to your meeting to think about her request and see what you can do rather than putting you on the spot in a meeting. Also, consider how long you’ve been talking to her about promoting her. If this is something that’s been talked about for a while but has yet to materialize, she may be getting frustrated and think you’re just stringing her along.

    If the promotion was based on her improving her work ethic and she’s done her part of that, she does have reason to expect you to keep your end of the bargain. You need to have an honest conversation with her of what you can/can’t do for her right now and what the current situation is for your company.

    1. Alice*

      Someone should make a book of memes or cartoons about management, with the title “Okay for dogs; not okay for employees” :)

      1. lobsterbot*

        “petting behind the ears”, “feeding the occasional table scrap”, “calling them good girl!”

        1. Lady Meyneth*

          You think you’re joking, but I’ve been called a “good girl” in my first (obviously really dysfunctional) job!

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      I mean, I’m actually all for not reinforcing bad behavior, even with employees, but I don’t see anything in what the OP describes of Sara’s behavior in the negotiation process to be inappropriate. It’s also okay to not be passive-aggressive. If an employee is doing something not in the way you want them to, you can say “I think you’re bringing up a valid point we should definitely address. In the future, I’d like you to approach it this way, though.” The OP shouldn’t say this, but a manager in another situation could.

  41. AnotherAlison*

    I agree with everything Alison says in the response.

    I’d add it is hard as employees to adjust to this current environment. I agree with Sara’s position and Alison’s response, but I can see that Sara’s reaction also doesn’t fit with 2020 reality.

    I had a situation happen yesterday that I consider somewhat parallel. We’ve gone back to the office over the past couple weeks. Some teams are on a week in/week home block schedule due to space constraints with social distancing. Some people are staying home due to childcare or health. Some of us have to be in the office full time like the olden days. Some of my project team members were asking for more flexibility yesterday. I said I’d pass that on to their functional managers. . .then there was a RIF. I’m guessing they’re less concerned about how unfair it is that they have to work in the office every day than they were yesterday. While I’m on Team Sara, now’s really not the time to gripe about all the extra work. It’s happening everywhere to everyone. I think the company should have given her the raise earlier, but now isn’t a smart time to complain.

    1. Nonprofit Nancy*

      Fair, but there’s still a good amount of hiring going on. If Sara can’t get any traction on her work – not even a title change? – she should start looking, and she may find something. Then OP will get stuck with all that extra work either way.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Agreed, it’s possible. Lots of variables depending on the job, level, industry, region, etc. If I were in Sara’s shoes, I’d lean towards not bringing anything new up with the OP right now and just go see what’s out there. Then I could weigh my options and see if I wanted to then push the cause at the current place. Which she may have already done. If not, it’s pretty bold to flat out tell your manager that you’re not doing part of your job anymore.

    2. Observer*

      So? There is a hige difference between an adivser telling the employee “maybe this is not the best time”, which is sensible, and a supervisor actually penalizing someone for having the audacity to ask for something that does make sense.

  42. mgguy*

    I can see it from Sara’s side because I’ve been there.

    I was in a situation where I was explicitly told to take on the rather extensive duties and mission-critical job duties of someone who had retired. This had been the plan all along(he didn’t retire out of the clear blue) but was promised a pay bump after I took over his duties.

    Those duties were QUITE different from what was in my job description(which, BTW, did not include the catch-all “other duties as assigned” and were things that required the advanced STEM degree I have and also quite a bit of hands-on training that I’d received. At the time, in 2016, I was being paid…$13/hour to do that.

    The promised raise(and title change I requested to go along with it) drug on for well over a year with various excuses as to why it wasn’t happening. At one point(I’ll add in a one-on-one, requested by me, meeting with my supervisor) that I considered it unacceptable to do the work I was expected to do without the promised raise. My supervisor’s response was “I’ve had two people have made about you doing something wrong since you took over those duties. I have a PIP written up for you that I’m happy to print off for you now for you to sign if you push this issue.” It was…not a pleasant meeting…because I stated I would refuse to sign the PIP since I had not been notified-formally or informally-that there were any problems at all with my work and that it would be in violation of the employee handbook which we both received to be put on a PIP. Turns out she was bluffing about having it written up…I was finally made aware of the TWO complaints in 6 months(while I was still learning the ropes of the new job), corrected them, and nothing else became of it before I finally went over her head. Seems she’d never even submitted the needed paperwork for the raise, either.

    The bottom line-if your employee’s duties have changed substantially-as mine did-you need to recognize that by paying them appropriately for the higher level duties. If you have issues with their work, address them THEN. If you don’t hold up your end of appropriately compensating for very much expanded/changed duties from their original hiring(of course with the caveat that raises do take time to process), I don’t think it’s unreasonable for an employee to follow their signed and agreed to job description.

    BTW, yes, I finally did get the raise, but it still took some fighting to get it up to some semblance of where it needed to be(including an offer letter from another job).

    That’s just me, though, but as someone who HAS been-in my view-screwed over by supervisors who expected work well beyond the hired job and thought they could continue to take advantage of a lower wage for higher level work.

  43. Jam Today*

    It sounds like Sara has been eating sh*t for this company for two years, taking on more and more work and responsibility without any acknowledgement in the form of title or compensation. If she’s annoyed, she has every right to be. Give her the promotion and the raise.

      1. Black Horse Dancing*

        It’ll cost them more in OT for OP and/or hiring and training a new employee and OP will still have to do the work. Pay Sara more or let her rsume original duties. And OP can then work more.

        1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          That doesn’t change the fact that the company froze raises for COVID. A lot of times they’ll say, “Well we have a freeze now so there is nothing we can do.” And chances are, OP and OP’s manager literally can not do anything about it, because the decision was made well above their level.

          1. Crop Tiger*

            Then Sara should be allowed to go back to what she was hired to do, and OP should pick up the slack. None of this is Sara’s responsibility.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              Actually, if Sara goes back to what she was hired to do and no one picks up the extra responsibilities, that erodes the pay freeze.

        2. Always Late to the Party*

          I just don’t think the “just give her the raise” is very helpful advice for OP when their company has a pay freeze, even if what you say is correct. There may be dozens of Saras within this organization, who are all deserving of a raise. Certainly OP could try to push for an exception for Sara but it seems unlikely with hiring/pay freezes. if OP could just give Sara a raise, chances are OP wouldn’t really need to ask for advice.

          1. Annony*

            I agree, but it is important for the OP to try to see this from Sara’s point of view to try to come to a solution. It seems like Sara feels ill used by the company. She isn’t going to react well to the company saying “we need you to help us weather this and will give you the raise as soon as we can.” The trust isn’t there. So the OP should try to look for other ways to show appreciation for her work and acknowledge that she does deserve a raise. Maybe offer her some extra PTO or let her leave early more often. Give her some choice projects that will look good on her resume. Basically explain that the salary freeze means that she cannot get the promotion she deserves right now (the OP did say that she had earned it) and see if there is anything else she wants while waiting out the freeze. What she shoudln’t do is lecture her on how unprofessional it is to ask for a raise. That would burn every last shred of good will left.

            1. mgguy*

              As someone who’s been there, I can say that even in writing a “We’ll take care of you once we get through financial crisis/pay freeze/etc” still isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

              Also, promising when you can’t deliver(if you do this, we’ll be sure you’re taken care of with an appropriate raise)-again leads to a lot of bitterness and resentment from the employee.

              I stuck it out with an employer who did me like that, and in retrospect I shouldn’t have. They were more generous and more receptive when, first of all, my direct manager changed and the new one actually took an interest in learning what I did and what was involved(even though it really was way beyond their education to understand the how and why) and also took it on themselves to see what people in similar positions were making. Still, though, it took two years to get where I should have been from making peanuts(and also making the argument “If I leave, you won’t be able to hire someone to replace me for what I make”) to actually getting a fair salary, but that wasn’t a pleasant two years.

      2. What the What*

        But it is that simple. If they don’t want to give her the promotion/raise, then she will stop doing the extra work and start looking for another job… leaving her manager to do the work she won’t do.

        It’s not like Moses himself came down from the mountain with raises frozen for this company because of COVID. Policy isn’t set in stone. If they want to keep this employee in the job she currently performs efficiently, she has told them how they can do that. If they choose not to do that, then there are consequences: they lose the employee or so severely damage her morale that she won’t perform at the level they have become accustomed.

        But it -is- their choice.

        1. Always Late to the Party*

          The company I work for has a raise freeze right now because their number one priority is avoiding layoffs. What you suggest would not be possible there. We don’t know how large the org is, where OP falls in the chain of command, etc. There may be dozens of Sara’s who deserve raises and promotions. Management may be willing to let them all leave if the org cannot actually sustain the salary increases.

          When OP says there is a freeze on raises, and your advise is “give your employee a raise anyway,” that’s unhelpful unless you have some info about this organization that I do not. There may be creative solutions, but that is not what Jam Today suggested.

          1. Crop Tiger*

            But What the What is right. OP might not have a choice, but the company does. They can pay Sara to do the work, or they either pay to hire and train someone else or make OP do it until they quit and then hire and train someone else. Policy is -not- set in stone. I was told for a year that my company was absolutely not allowed to give raises because we were a union shop-until I put in my notice. After which I was suddenly offered a substantial raise.

            I didn’t take it. The pay and benefits were better at the other place.

            1. Always Late to the Party*

              Right or wrong, my org would’ve let you go. Again, i know nothing about OP’s company or where they are in the chain of command, but larger companies may not be as willing to break on the raise freeze even if it means losing a lot of Sara’s.

              I stand by my comment that telling OP (since they, not their upper management, wrote to AAM) to give Sara a raise and promotion is overly simplistic and unhelpful advice.

              1. Crop Tiger*

                In my case they couldn’t have left me go without cause because I was under contract. But they also lied about it not being possible to get me a raise, until it meant they were going to lose me. OP should check to see just how impossible it is to give Sara a raise or be prepared to start doing her work with no additional pay herself.

              2. Rob aka Mediancat*

                Under the circumstances, there may BE no helpful advice, because OP is faced with A, give a raise and promotion she can’t give; B, let Sara do her old job and get stuck with extra work; or C, have Sara feel unappreciated and leave for greener pastures, also sticking the OP with extra work and possibly forcing them to hire someone else. There is no magic formula here, I think, that’s going to end up with everyone being happy.

                That being said, “push for the raise” is about as helpful as anything else; possibly if OP lays it out for the higher-ups they might make an exception. They may not, but figuring out a fourth option seems to be the only way for everyone to leave reasonably satisfied.

                1. Always Late to the Party*

                  Your version is much more constructive than “STFU and give Sara a raise and promotion” which was the jist of the advice that started this subthread. You, unlike Jam Today, recognize the nuance of the situation and give potentially constructive action OP could take.

                  Folks in this thread seemed real determined to argue with me about things I did not bring up.
                  …then again I keep checking back so maybe I too am feeling determined to argue. Maybe it’s the full moon. Aooooooo!

          2. Black Horse Dancing*

            Then allow Saras–all of them–to resume their original duties and let OP and other managers pick up the slack.

            1. Always Late to the Party*

              Yup, that is in fact what happens when organizations are not flexible about raises like that. I’m still unclear how literally any of this helps OP.

              1. Black Horse Dancing*

                It helps OP retain Sara and gives managers a better appreciation for their employess plus a reason to push the company to give raises, rebudget.

          3. What the What*

            That’s still a choice! If the company absolutely cannot give her a raise because money is that tight, then the fair thing to do is to reduce her workload like she’s requested, or to tell her “We really want you to stay, but we understand the situation that we’ve put you in. If you decide to interview for other jobs, we will give you the best possible reference and we will work with you to ensure a smooth transition. But if you decide to stay and continue to perform your current duties, we will do our best to get you that promotion as soon as financially possible.”

            Maybe she leaves, maybe she doesn’t. Hopefully the company is telling the truth if she stays.

      3. Jam Today*

        But COVID has only been since March. Sara has been taking on more and more of a burden with no acknowledgement. My company has also frozen merit raises, but there are ways around that (i.e. a promotion — moving someone into a new cohort is given a raise commensurate with their employment level). My point to OP is that if she’s picking up an attitude from Sara, its deserved; the company has not treated her well and she’s within her rights to assert her value.

        1. Always Late to the Party*

          Thanks for clarifying – that didn’t come through (to me) in your comment initially. Sorry for being nitpicky :)

  44. Summersun*

    I’m not sure we have enough context to judge the tardiness and non-attendance of the seminar, considering the info given.

    The LW’s wording seems to imply that those are strikes against Sara. In my experience, increased responsibility with no other recognition lends itself towards both changing priorities (no time for seminars) and more flexibility (more on my plate means late nights to get everything done, thus a hard morning start time eases up).

    I can’t say if or where communication broke down regarding those possibilities, but my overall impression is that Sara is taking on more and more while LW just keeps clamping down harder and harder on her.

  45. boop the first*

    Has Sara been present for all of these conversations that management has been having about her?

    I ask, because you have been building fateful plans behind the scenes, writing out plotlines and character development for Sara. You’ve written such a specific timeline and plot in your mind, that Sara choosing the soonest convenient day and deviating from your script threw you off so badly that you can’t function.

    You can’t control other people, but you could communicate with them to let them know what’s going on, and through that, have a clue yourself. If Sara’s gone so far as to rehearse her own written script and write her own timeline, it means she’s been waiting for a while and thought you guys had forgot about her entirely. Does she still not actually know about your plan??

    If she knew, she’d be a little embarrassed about being aggressive when it wasn’t needed. And regretful for being made to stew in her frustration and anger for so long when she didn’t have to. And annoyed that she had to experience all that only for you to take it away from her just to be controlling, now.

  46. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    OP, I suggest that you don’t look at this email dump on Friday as a bad thing. Now you know how Sara feels, and you’ll be able to read the material she sent you at some leisure, instead of being faced with it cold during your one-on-one.

  47. Smithy*

    While the OP is wrong – I just want to say that I have some empathy for the situation of being a new manager for a high achiever eager for advancement yesterday.

    My first management role was supposed to be “easy” because I was managing someone who did their job so well. The reality was that while I was learning how to manage and figuring that out, I had a direct report desperate to do more and more. I also was not senior enough where personally I could grant her a promotion, so it ended up heavily involving my boss and I looked more and more like an impediment. It also put me in a more defensive place about my role as her manager, about my own abilities, etc. My direct report was a woman, I’m a woman, and my boss was a woman – but just about every struggle/pain point of patriarchy in the workplace felt involved.

    It took a lot of work and self reflection to not bring my own defensiveness to the situation and see this as a growth opportunity as a manager. There is a good way to work through this!

    1. Nonprofit Nancy*

      Yeah I do take Alison’s point that people are going to come down hard on the OP – particularly because every single commenters here is an amazing employee who doesn’t get the respect they deserve :) – but this is a tough situation for her.

      1. Smithy*


        Being a new manager in a new job can just do a number on someone’s confidence/defensiveness. You want to both prove that you can do your job while also finding room to learn how to be a manager. I also think it makes wanting to hold onto clear indicators of “unprofessionalism” when the realities may just be more complicated.

    2. Always Late to the Party*

      Agreed – I agree OP is off-base but the lack of compassion for them in this thread is a bit staggering. Clearly lots of folks projecting their own stuff here.

      1. Paperwhite*

        But the manager has all the power in the situation. She can have Sara perp-walked out of the building tomorrow if she decides to.

        1. Always Late to the Party*

          Sure, but she still deserves compassion! She’s a new manager; she’s living through a crazy time just like the rest of us. She wrote to this blog to ask for advice, which is an incredibly vulnerable thing to do. *She* is the one, not Sara, who will be linked to this post and know all these comments are addressed to her.

          I agree she needed to be set straight.

    3. Jane Plough*

      Agree on OP viewing this as a growth opportunity. I can identify with the experience you mention of being a new manager and having a high performer pushing for things I couldn’t deliver (or felt I couldn’t deliver) and I can see how it could escalate into defensiveness on both sides. The key for OP is to recognize that this is happening, look dispassionately at the facts, weigh up the value Sara brings to the company, and either advocate for her promotion to OP’s own manager, find an alternative solution (that might indeed mean Sara isn’t doing all the extra work and the company just has to cope with that) or at least be honest with Sara so that she can make a decision on whether this company values her enough to stay.

      Another dynamic that new managers can fall into is a tendency to over-assert your authority – to expect that your reports should confirm to specific behavior patterns because “you’re the boss”. I experienced this at times when I was new to management and being challenged by reports, and to be honest it came from a place of insecurity about my own position and a degree of impostor syndrome which I had to work through. OP could consider whether some of her opposition to Sara’s approach is that she feels underconfident in her role as a manager and threatened by Sara’s directness? Just a thought – and from a place of kindness as let’s face it, many new managers have been there.. It’s ok to still be learning!

      1. Smithy*

        Absolutely. I work in nonprofits, and while my sector hasn’t been heavily impacted by COVID – the realities of what budgets do and do not allow for can often mean that all the organization can carry is a team of X many people at fairly narrow pay scales. Therefore, when someone has truly outgrown their role, sometimes the kindest thing a manager can do is that frankness with a direct report about how they want to grow and where they might get that growth. Even if not at their current employer.

        But again, I think a lot of this comes with time and experience. So being rattled and defensive in year 1 of management isn’t a point to beat yourself up! Just an area to work on.

  48. Hiring Mgr*

    It makes sense that a new manager might react like this – it could very well be the first time OP has had some kind of “conflict” with a report, and as we know most new managers get zero training on how to work with employees when these sort of things arise. AAM’s advice here is spot on.

    The one thing that’s unclear is whether Sara knows about the salary freeze, or that it’s still in effect. If not, certainly start there.. But from the letter it sounds like you’ve been all working on this promotion together so if you see it from her perspective it’s logical that she would ask you about it

    1. Smithy*

      This is so true. My first year in management, I had a very high achieving direct report who I do believe was hired for a position she was over qualified for. She was constantly pushing for requests where I didn’t know how to answer, and the best gift I gave both of us was just asking her for time to consider the request. And then giving her deadlines on when she’d hear back from me.

  49. Always Late to the Party*

    OP, I feel for you! I understand why you feel stuck! If Sara knows (i) the company is not giving raises/promotions right now and (ii) you will get stuck doing any work she refuses to do, I understand why you feel like she’s put you in between a rock and a hard place. On top of that, if you’re having weekly check-ins where she’s saying everything’s fine, and then she lays that out for you via email at the end of the day on Friday…I totally get why you’re reacting the way you are. (I admit I’m filling in a few details that weren’t in the letter to give OP the BOD, but plenty of folks in this thread are doing the same for Sara)

    I don’t think that really warrants coaching but I understand why you feel defensive; if you’re like me it would have been hard not to let worrying about that email ruin my weekend.

    Alison’s advice is good as always, but please seek more support from your own manager if you need it in figuring out how to solve this. This is a really sticky situation. Just remember, it’s not Sara who created it!

    Good luck!

    1. What the What*

      I agree. It’s not unreasonable for the OP to feel defensive and to feel upset by the fact that they feel they are powerless here. Upper management has told them they can’t give a raise, Sara has told them that if she doesn’t get a raise, she will stop doing extra work. The person who has to pick up Sara’s slack is the OP, so they are hearing “If you don’t give me a raise, which you aren’t allowed to give me, you will have to do a bunch of extra work because I will refuse.” It’s not really about the raise or the email or the timing of the email… it’s about the workload that the OP is being indirectly threatened with.

      But of course, that’s not Sara’s fault. Sara did not put the OP in the position where he/she is unable to give raises to keep valued employees. Sara did not create a situation where valued employees may choose to leave or suffer a loss of morale due to lack of promotions and raises. The OP’s anger is misdirected.

      1. Always Late to the Party*

        Oh, hello again!

        I agree OP’s anger is misdirected. This thread is full of people letting them know that. I was trying to show OP some compassion since it felt like every comment I read was just telling them how wrong they are. And, even though I agree they are being reactive, I can empathize because I recognize some of my own defense mechanisms and patterns of behavior in OP’s letter.

  50. Mazzy*

    I would try to reorganize the role into a Sr. Whatever Sara Is and give a pay bump. If her issues, which seem minor according to your letter, don’t work out, how much money are you going to really be out? I think it’s worth the risk.

    I sense that your real anxiety is fighting for someone – anyone – when you know upper management is going to push back. Unfortunately, that is part of being a manager. As a manager, I’d advice, stop stressing out about that. Instead, view it as a “going through the motions thing.” Tell yourself, I must ask for Sara to get a title change and raise regardless of whether upper management is going to push back. After a while, you get used to asking for stuff like this and occasionally getting rejected.

    Make a plan for additional responsibilities to show, and clarify if making up the missed event in some form is part of the raise.

  51. Someone Else*

    OP, be prepared to have to replace Sara when she leaves you because you don’t value her.

    That’s not “holding you hostage”, that’s making the best decision for herself. This
    should be a HUGE flag to her: “Yeah, they SAY they value me, and they SAY they’re gonna eventually recognize that but what they’re really doing is stringing me along and dumping more and more work on me. I’ll believe it when I see it.”

  52. merp*

    I have a question re: the 2 scenarios above, if she is doing work above her position or not. Alison, you say that if a promotion wouldn’t change her work much, that could be a sign that what she is doing already fits into her current position. But what about places where you have to already be doing the higher level work for some amount of time in order to even get the promotion? Wouldn’t a promotion then be pretty similar to what she is already doing? Not sure if that is the case here but Sara does sound frustrated, and I’m partly asking because this is definitely how my workplace works.

  53. What the What*

    I think it’s important to look at this from your employee’s point of view. You’ve delayed her promotion and raise, which you say she deserves, for more than a year. Yes she had some minor performance issues that contributed to this delay, but most of the delay appears to be out of her control. And even though you say she deserves the promotion and raise, you are put off by how she has asked for it (even though it seems like she asked for it professionally)… even though she deserves it and you’ve been delaying it. She appears frustrated by your delays, but why shouldn’t she be?

  54. Analyst Editor*

    I want to offer some possible perspectives of what’s going on under the surface.
    With regards to the general attitude towards Sarah – I suspect LW generally has a FEELING coming off of Sarah of disrespect or disdain towards THEM/their competence as manager. Whether this is a true reading of Sarah, and whether Sarah’s attitude is deserved – I can’t tell. Maybe there’s a personality clash or even political disagreements.
    With regards to Sarah springing the conversation on LW – consider that her email might have been the product of a lot of thinking, drafting, and rewriting to state her case as calmly, objectively, and thoroughly as possible – rather than blurting things out in the moment, during your one-on-one, without facts on hand and where emotion might get in the way. Wouldn’t it make sense that such an email gets finished on a Friday afternoon?

  55. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    You can’t take this stuff so personally! I think that’s why you feel so attacked and backed into a corner, you are looking at it as a threat, when it’s really just a standard business conversation about something that’s uncomfortable for most people who aren’t fully aware of their overall power as a manager!

    The good news is that your knee jerk reaction is wrong but you seem to have reached out to someone for assistance instead of just responding poorly to Sara. That’s a good instinct to follow up with, so I want to praise you on that.

    The good news is she did it in email as well. It’s much easier to digest, I don’t know why you’d want your first “Raise or I’m not doing the extra work” in a 1:1, that puts you on the spot. I’d try to look at it from a whole different angle from every prospective you’re having right now.

    1. SciDiver*

      This LW does seem to be taking all of this way too personally! I was a little shocked by the title–how does an employee hold their manager hostage? The power dynamic here doesn’t support that, as the manager you have more power than Sara does. It might feel like she has more leverage because she’s advocating for either a promotion or a return to the job she was hired to do, but you hold all the cards. You have the ability to pursue the promotion/raise for her or not, you have the ability to return her to her previous duties or not, and ultimately you have the ability to fire her.

      If the pay is competitive and reasonable for the work she does, you as a manager have the ability to decide you aren’t on the same page and to find someone who will do all the work you want for the pay you offer. Or, you realize that hiring a new person will be more costly in the long run than retaining an excellent performer. By no means do I think you should fire her, but your frustration and anger over the issue makes me think you’ve lost sight of how much power you really do have in this situation. She’s putting a lot on the line by explaining that she needs a reduction in duties or an increase in pay to stay in the job. You have control of the rest.

    2. Salsa Verde*

      I think this is an extremely important point to take from this:

      people who aren’t fully aware of their overall power as a manager!

      I think lots of managers don’t have an understanding of their influence/power, and it’s a detriment to their work, especially new ones. Even if you are managing former peers and you feel like they know you as a non-manager, the power dynamic has changed. Being a manager is a lot of responsibility, and like it or not, you are an authority figure and you need to act as such.

      I have encountered so many managers who are not willing to exercise their authority even when it is desperately needed. I think that is a subject that should be covered first in any management training course.

  56. The Original Stellaaaaa*

    Did Sara skip the diversity seminar, or did the seminar occur on a day that Sara also happened to be out sick or taking a scheduled day off? I also question if it’s really all that awful for someone with no hiring authority or HR duties to miss one of these things. This is a fake reason to deny her a raise.

  57. Bex*

    This situation reminds me a bit of an issue I had about eight and a half years ago. I was struggling to find a decent job in IT in the area my partner and I relocated to. After fruitless searching (all the jobs were way too poorly paid), I transitioned and took a role as an apartment manager, which at least covered our housing.

    The property management company I worked for started asking me to handle more computer issues for them – it started with “we’re having trouble setting up this printer, can you help?” Eventually, that shifted into them asking me to come out on a weekend, upgrade all the machines in the main office, and take care of recycling of old machines, once cleared of data.

    I told them no. They were surprised, and wanted to know why. I said they weren’t paying me for that sort of work. They countered that they were paying me, therefore whatever work they told me to do was what they were paying me for. So I pulled up the job description and duties I’d been hired on with, and pulled multiple similar postings from around the region, and told them no, you don’t get IT work for the meager wages you’re paying me as an apartment manager. If they wanted me to do IT work, that would come under a different pay scale. I realized that somehow, in the time that had passed, in addition to all my apartment manager duties, I’d been tasked with maintaining and verifying weekly backups of the company server, scouting for new telco services for the main office, spent at least 5 hours a week providing troubleshooting and support for IT work (including getting programs to run on their antiquated main office systems), and just generally been shunted into IT work, despite the fact that wasn’t what I was hired for.

    It was a bit of a standoff. I got told that I was rude, insubordinate, and “not a team player”. I told them if they felt that way, they were more than welcome to dismiss me, but I wasn’t going to do the work they wanted for the $11/hr they were paying me to collect rents, maintenance requests, etc.

    They ended up hiring a part time IT person. Three months later, I got a call from a recruiter and very quickly moved into an IT role (which is where I wanted to be).

    Saying “I was hired to do X, Y, Z, and now you have me also doing A, B, and C. This merits a raise and/or change in title, otherwise I’d like to go back to what I was hired for” is not out of line.

    1. AnotherLibrarian*

      I completely agree. If that is what happened, but I agree with Alison’s phrasing. Either Sara is doing more work than she was hired for and should be paid for the additional work. Or the work has gotten more complicate, as Sara has settled into the role and this work was always some of the duties the job would have included. We can’t know which of these things is happening here.

      1. Bex*

        True – these could be expanded duties of the position, although it’s still possible this expansion of work merits a raise and/or title bump. For example, from junior analyst to senior analyst.

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      One time I had a manager (whom I otherwise admire) tell me that “other duties as assigned” covered something that was wildly out of my job description, when I asked for a corresponding raise. I ended up staying because I enjoyed the work, but I also wasn’t sad about the major bump in pay I got when I switched jobs.

      1. Bex*

        I despise “other duties as assigned” – it’s used as such a catch all that it’s no longer meaningful. There should be some sort of reasonable limits, but I think we (as a whole) keep butting up against this idea that because the employer is paying wages, they get to dictate all the work done. It’s something we (again, as a whole) need to reassess. Yes, reasonable adjustments and expansions to job role are expected. But if, for example, someone is in accounts receivable and suddenly gets told that it’s also their job to seek out and schedule meetings with potential new clients, that’s clearly a significant departure from the norms of the role that should be discussed.

  58. AskAnEmployee*

    OP, look at it from this perspective, your company is holding Sara hostage, just as much as she is holding you “hostage.”

    You are telling her: “Continue doing extra work even though we won’t pay you” and her options are really either to agree to that or quit, just like your options in response to her demand of “pay me appropriately or reduce my duties” are to either agree to that or fire her.

    And, also, while being approached about a raise “rubbed you the wrong way”, I bet it “rubbed her the wrong way” when you continued paying her less than she deserves.

  59. Notoneoftheboys*

    This is really interesting to me from a management perspective. Within my first 2 years of managing my team I had employee talk to me about a raise and title bump. He was frustrated by doing more than the others in our department, but that was because he was senior to them by almost 2 years, and so had more experience in the role. I told him that there wasn’t much I could do, but that I would talk with upper management to see if we could give him a more senior title and pay increase. In retrospect I don’t think he actually deserved the title bump because he wasn’t fulfilling duties outside the role, he was just doing them better than the less experienced team members.

    Nothing happened until he got a new job offer and threatened to walk. The company then agreed to a raise and a title bump (for both of us as his raise would have put him above me salary wise).

    A year later he asked for another significant raise. I told him it was unlikely and that he wasn’t fulfilling the responsibilities of his new role as it was. I acknowledged that some of that was due to circumstance (we were understaffed so he had to do more low level tasks than he wanted to), and gave him a meets expectation rating (he’d gotten exceeds for the two previous years). He was unhappy and contested this and then within a couple of months left the company.

    My point is that you have to be really really sure that someone is performing at the right level before you give them a promotion. If she’s just excelling at her position and not going beyond it, it may end up coming back to bite you.

  60. LGC*

    Oof, LW. I’ll admit I cringed when you said that you felt like she was holding you hostage.

    I’ll grant that your annoyance is valid, though! It sounds like Sara was kind of brusque in her approach, to put it mildly. But…it seems like the hostage part was a sidebar, when for me it was the headline. (Okay, it was the title of this post, but most of the answer is about Sara’s performance.)

    This is callous, I’ll admit, but…why is keeping her the only option? She’s not bound to you forever, and even if you yourself can’t personally fire her…someone else can, right? Hypothetically, your company can fire her if you want to (if you’re in the US). Therefore, she CANNOT hold you hostage.

    (It works in reverse as well – Sara has the ability to leave if she so chooses.)

    One of the things I’ve had to learn is that…like, everyone is ultimately here by choice. In that – they aren’t being forced to be here regardless of anything that happens. And keeping that in mind is kind of freeing – the worst thing that usually happens is that someone quits or gets fired.

    1. Ama*

      The most important thing I learned as a new manager is that it isn’t my responsibility to manage my direct report’s emotions for them. Maybe I do have to tell them something I’m pretty sure they aren’t going to like, whether it’s that I can’t give them the promotion they want or that I am delegating a task to them that’s going to be annoying (although I have learned that a subset of not managing their emotions is also not to decide they will hate a particular task just because *I* don’t like doing it). What is my responsibility is to make sure I give them a clear and honest picture of what the job is, what the expectations are, and what the possibilities are for growth — if they decide that’s not going to work for them, that’s a normal part of doing business.

      I also think it’s easy as a new manager to feel like you’ve personally failed if a direct report isn’t happy with their job situation and either asks for changes or decide to leave — but people decide they aren’t happy at jobs for all kinds of reasons, including just changing their minds about what kind of work they want to do, and what workload they are able to handle.

      1. LGC*

        Yeah, I had to get over that myself.

        I was a bit flip about it but what came through is that LW feels like she HAS to make things work out with Sara or else the world is going to end. (Okay, I’m exaggerating a little, but not that much.) And…like…it was freeing for me when I realized that it wasn’t a tragedy if things didn’t work out between me and an employee. I hope things do, and I’ll try to make things work. But I’ve learned to be more okay with people quitting or getting fired – it’s not necessarily a failure on my part if someone leaves or if a situation goes south.

  61. big blue bowl*

    LW, I would ask you to take a step back and not see this as your employee waging an attack on you and trying to dump more work onto you. This isn’t an adversarial relationship, it’s a business one. Sara’s acting professionally here. You were going to promote her. And if she leaves, she leaves. No one here is a hostage.

  62. Kate H*

    I’m coming at this from your employee’s perspective. I’ve taken on a LOT of additional responsibilities in the past year, including taking a large portion of work off my supervisor’s plate. I was told a few months ago that I would be considered for a title change and raise “when things settle down.” I *wish* that I could clock back in from lunch and go to my boss with this.

    But I can’t, because in my org, he doesn’t have the power to give me a promotion or a raise and leadership would not care. You said in normal times, this employee would be up for a promotion. Unless your company’s freeze won’t allow it right now (in which case, you need to communicate that to your employee), why wouldn’t you be going for it now?

    1. Anonymous Hippo*

      [quote]But I can’t, because in my org, he doesn’t have the power to give me a promotion or a raise and leadership would not care. You said in normal times, this employee would be up for a promotion. Unless your company’s freeze won’t allow it right now (in which case, you need to communicate that to your employee), why wouldn’t you be going for it now?[/quote]

      This is something I face as a manager, that it seems like a lot of commentators overlook. Being give the title of manager doesn’t mean you are given the actual power to hire/fire. Honestly, is more like a supervisor. I had an excellent employee who was being overworked inordinately, and was actively job searching (she was open with me about it) and I spent a solid year harassing everyone above me that we need to hire an additional headcount to spread out the work, and give her a raise. In the end I finally pushed through a tiny raise, but the kept putting off the headcount issue, and eventually she left for less money, but a job where she wasn’t ball the the wall every second of every day. She absolutely did the right thing, and I’m glad for her, but it was awful to have to sit there and basically be able to do nothing except commiserate.

  63. Elbe*

    “And then COVID happened, and our company froze all salaries. ”

    Does Sara know that there is a salary freeze at the company, and that the LW is unable to give her a raise or a promotion right now? Because if she does, then I think that she knows that she’s asking for something the LW has no power to give her. And if the company has no need of someone to do the work she was previously doing, then she’s not going to be able to go back to doing those tasks, even if that’s what she wants.

    It sounds like this may be a scenario where the employee and the company isn’t aligned. If the company wants X work for Y pay, and Sara isn’t okay with that, then there’s no solution here other than for them to part ways. The LW should explain the situation to Sara, and make whatever preparations are needed if she leaves.

    1. LW*

      Sara knew of the pay freeze — no one received the usual annual merit increase.

      I’ve realized I need to have a further conversation that will allow Sara and I to be more in line with what her duties should be and are so she’s not feeling overworked.

  64. Anon Today*

    LOL. Pretty sure I’m Sara(not really). Don’t worry boss, I’ve decided to leave in a few months and start my own business. I’m getting all my ducks in a row now. I’ll be a competitor.

  65. Observer*

    OP, one thing that I haven’t seen and that you also need to consider. “Giving in” is not a useful or reasonable paradigm if what you want is to be effective, fair and respectful.

    If Sara is asking for something reasonable, you give it to her. If she’s not asking for something reasonable you don’t give it to her. And if you don’t want to encourage unreasonable behavior, then you don’t reward it by giving in to unreasonable demands and you never make it necessary for someone to engage in unreasonable behavior to get what they deserve. To do otherwise is to create a lot of very unpleasant situations that are going to make your life much harder than it needs to be.

    Just for the record, I agree with Alison that fromyour description, Sara was not being unprofessional and it’s also possible that she’s not being unreasonable.

  66. Annony*

    The one thing I disagree with Alison’s advice on is how to determine if someone deserves a promotion vs a raise. Instead of comparing the work they would be doing to what they are doing now, I think you should think about what the job title would be if you were to advertise their current position (with all the current responsibilities) to try to recruit someone new. Just because they are already doing the work that would go with a higher job title does not make it the natural growth of the role. If you couldn’t recruit someone with the same amount of experience as they currently have into the role with the current title and salary, then they are doing a higher level job and that should be recognized.

    1. nom de plume*

      Yes, I fully agree with this. Role-creep is not “natural growth,” and that part of the answer bothered me a lot.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I agree that role-creep is not natural growth. And there are also roles that include X, Y, and Z, but you’re not going to do much or any Z until you establish yourself for a while.

  67. LQ*

    There are a lot of times when someone will dump a steaming pile of dung on your desk at the end of the week and now you have to deal with the clean up and it’s horrible. I suspect this was like someone left a steaming bag on your desk but it’s fine, it’s just like some nice tasty dumplings. But in that moment you’re stressed about that bag of steaming stuff on your desk and it just stinks.

    She took time to sit down and think about it and write it up. She didn’t spring it on you with a by monday I expect money on my desk. She gave you time to consider it and see what would work. She helped put together a case for your leadership on the promotion if she is doing it. Or to identify tasks you do want to take off her plate. She really is letting you be the boss and asking for your help on this.

    The points about is the work she’s doing really at the level you want are good take time to consider those. But this is a good thing from someone who is unhappy.

    I suspect you’re stressed and overworked and it felt like throwing one more thing on your desk (see steaming pile) but you have to do the best you can to find ways to throw off a little steam yourself and then come back to this and see it as good.

  68. Batgirl*

    OP, I think it is a great idea to make sure with mentoring that employees advocate for themselves in the right way. But you’ve got to be very, very careful that you’re not telling people *not* to. Especially if you’re dealing with women or non white people; don’t make success a narrow path beset by delays where they have to ask in juuuuuust the right way or understand the company’s needs over theirs endlessly. It’s certainly ok for them to turn down the deal if the offer isn’t good enough for them.

  69. Spearmint*

    *If* it’s really true that you can’t get her a promotion or raise due to company-wide COVID issues, you may be able to other things to minimize this employee’s (justified) dissatisfaction over the short term and give her some sort of recognition for her accomplishments, even if it’s not enough.

    You could give her unofficial time off (assuming she’s exempt) by letting her work half days on Fridays when there’s no pressing work or letting her have the occasional three day weekend without using PTO. You could let her devote some of her time to professional development opportunities of her choice beyond what people in her position normally do, and have the company pay for them. I’m sure there are other perks or benefits you could give her too.

    None of this will make up for the lack of a raise or promotion or guarantee she won’t leave, especially in the long term, but it *might* make her more willing to stick it out a bit longer and see what happens with your company’s ability and willingness to give raises and promotions. (Though it would also be completely reasonable for her still be just as dissatisfied even with these minor perks)

    1. LW*

      I asked for a raise for her and it didn’t go through. Thank you for the suggestions about “unofficial” time off — I may be able to do that even though she’s not exempt.

  70. WorkingFromCafeinCA*

    I just wanted to say thank you Alison for this section of the letter- which reminds me of a conversation I recently had with my therapist after months of feeling guilty about what I’m willing/able to do work-wise as a parent to a toddler during quarantine:

    Sara gets to decide what work she’s willing to trade for what amount of pay. You get to decide what work you want her to do and how much it’s worth to you. Ideally, those things will line up. If they don’t, then you see if you can resolve your differences. If you can’t, you accept that your business interests are no longer aligned and you both move on.

  71. Joanna*

    I’d like to flip this a little for the OP. You seem upset that your female employee asked for a promotion she deserves in the wrong way. The way she asked, which was professional and reasonable, irritated you enough that you want to deny her the promotion and raise you agree she deserves. You read as a woman to me, but if you are a man, you might want to spend some time investigating if your irritation my be related to how you believe women should ask to have their needs met. If you are a woman, you might want to really dig into your own beliefs about how women, and yourself, should asked to have your needs met. My concern is that if you are a woman, you could be letting gendered expectations of the “proper” way for women to ask to have their needs met hold back not only your employees, but also yourself. You mentioned that you can’t take on any more work. Are you over worked right now? If so, have you asked for help, or are you just dealing with it because that’s what you have to do.

    I know I’m making a lot of assumptions here, and my comments may not be relevant in this situation. But, I hate to think you might miss out on asking for what you need or deserve in your career because you think being direct is inappropriate. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way.

    1. Batgirl*

      My thoughts were that it was either this, or the company as a whole is grooming every poor sap to work ‘over and above’ without pay. Initially the skipping out on a seminar sounded pretty bad, but when its someone who does so much extra work that not doing it amounts to a ‘hostage’ situation? She had other stuff to do. Of course she doesn’t want more training! Blimey. Then look at the tardiness accusation, yet ‘good work’ implies this is a job where timeliness doesn’t actually affect the work. I would ask myself if the company is trying to juice people to the last drop and calling it ‘a work ethic’.

    2. CommanderBanana*

      ^^ This

      I know the LW didn’t specify and I kind of assumed it was written by a woman, but boyyy, have I heard the whole “well you definitely would have gotten X except for the way you asked it” in the workplace before.

  72. Trout 'Waver*

    Holy cow. Punishing someone because of how they asked for a reasonable thing, instead of addressing the very reasonable thing is incredibly unprofessional.

  73. Bostonian*

    I think the whole point of this letter got missed by making the headline have the “hostage” quote, so people are focusing on that and going tiki-torch mob on the OP.

    I mean, Sara essentially said “give me a promotion and raise or I will not do X duties”, which is an ultimatum. That’s not how you frame a request for a promotion.

    I don’t think OP’s reaction is great, but if everyone can give Sara the benefit of the doubt that her missteps are “COVID stress”, why can’t we extend the same grace to the LW?

    Ideally, OP would have explained to Sara that there is a freeze on raises but believes Sara deserves one (assuming OP does, in fact, believe that Sara should be given a raise and promotion). I think Alison makes a great point that there’s a possibility that what Sara thinks is promotion-worthy is actually growth within her current role. This is why defined job descriptions and duties for every position in the career ladder are important!

    From here, OP needs to determine whether Sara’s duties merit a raise and promotion and be clear with Sara about it.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      Hard no.

      Sara has been strung along for at least 7 months so far, and is doing additional duties outside her original responsibilities.

      People don’t go straight to ultimatums, especially given the long time frame in play here. I find it highly likely that Sara has tried bringing this up in other ways and is now frustrated.

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      Then she said, “I either want a raise and title change, or I want to go back to doing what I was hired to do.”

      This doesn’t sound like some kind of hostage-holding situation. Sara is presenting two reasonable options to the OP and saying what is currently happening isn’t sustainable. So the OP has several options here:
      1. Tell Sara no, and risk Sara leaving for another job.
      2. Get Sara a raise and a promotion.
      3. Allow Sara to do her previously assigned duties.

      1. LQ*

        You can also adjust Sara’s duties in a way to reduce them to the appropriate pay level that may not be previously assigned. That she listed all of them is an invitation for the OP to adjust them. Every time someone’s brought me a list I’ve looked at something and asked why on earth they were doing that thing. (Answer is always because I’ve always done it that way.) Who knows there may be enough on the list that isn’t important, isn’t important to the organization, doesn’t need to be done that it can be shifted away or blown away. (That’s not to say don’t promote Sara if it’s a good idea to do so.)

    3. Maj. Pothead, reporting for doobie*

      But she didn’t say, “give me a promotion and raise or I will not do X duties”. Per the original letter, she said, “I either want a raise and title change, or I want to go back to doing what I was hired to do.” Aside from stating directly what she wants, how else should she state her position? Stating what you want is not an ultimatum.

      1. GothicBee*

        Yup and if neither of those options are tenable for the OP, I don’t think that means there’s no room to negotiate regarding the job duties. I mean Sara might still leave, but that’s always a possibility regardless, so it’s not worth getting worked up about it until you actually review the options, see what’s actually a possibility, and talk it through with Sara. And none of that should change just because the OP feels like she should have asked differently.

    4. Beth*

      I think OP is pretty clear that Sara’s work does merit a promotion. We have them saying, “In normal times, she’d be up for a promotion,” and “I agreed she deserves a promotion.”

      What Sara is doing here is being really clear about her limits. She believes (accurately, it seems from OP’s description) that the work she’s doing is worth more than she’s getting for it. And she’s looking at a scenario where the company is explicitly telling people that for the indefinite future, no one’s compensation is changing. In that context, is it any surprise that she’s telling OP this is unsustainable for her? I don’t think she’s making idle threats or trying to manipulate OP into pushing a raise through; I think she’s giving a good-faith warning that something needs to change for her to continue working here, and offering a couple options of what that might look like.

      What OP should really be worried about is losing Sara completely. They have on their hands an excellent employee with a strong list of accomplishments and duties under their belt, who has gone years without much tangible recognition of that work. If they can’t find a way to make this work for Sara, they’re likely to lose her to another employer, and they’re going to be stuck handling her entire workload until they can get a replacement hired and up to speed.

    5. Anonymous Hippo*

      I don’t actually see this as an ultimatum, but even if it where, I don’t think ultimatums are unprofessional, unless you make them willy-nilly and don’t follow through. An ultimatum is just just a boundary, clearly stated.

  74. CommanderBanana*

    I worked for a manager who did this routinely – she would always take exception to *how* people raised issues and would focus on that rather than the actual issue that was raised, so nothing ever got addressed because Soandso was upset when they raised an issue, or asked on a Friday, or asked on a Monday morning, or raised an issue over email instead of in person, or tried to call a meeting instead of putting it in an email, or used the wrong tone of voice, or or or.

    Her entire department turned over three times in three years, and last I heard she was shuffled into a role that with no direct reports.

  75. Anonym*

    Alison, forgive me if this is the wrong place to raise this (or if it’s already been done), but would be open to doing a post on best practices for how companies make promotion and raise decisions?

    I’m in a somewhat similar position to Sara (been doing the next level job for over a year, supposedly in line for promotion), but found out that my company gives each (huge) department one cash bucket for raises and promotions, and it’s 3% of current total salaries. This means that for every promotion/salary jump, some of our colleagues are going to get less than 3%. The managers hate it, and it means there’s a huge backup in promotions because they don’t want to punish perfectly good performers to promote deserving people. It truly sucks.

    This can’t be the best way of doing it, and it would be great to hear your thoughts on good approaches or policies companies can implement, and maybe some common ones to avoid.

    Thanks regardless!

  76. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

    LW, when I was a new manager, whenever someone would approach me about a topic I didn’t fully understand, or that I didn’t feel entirely empowered to answer, it made me feel *extremely* uncomfortable and often that discomfort would lead me to feel like the person asking the question was causing me to feel uncomfortable (instead of recognizing that I just didn’t have sure footing in this new area of my work). For people who like to have an opportunity to prepare for challenging / difficult questions, being ‘put on the spot’ like that can be an even bigger challenge. For me, I had to get comfortable with being more transparent if I didn’t know the answer to something or if I needed more time to think about it; it was as much a shift in thinking about my need to have a ‘ready answer’ or that I had to address a longer-term decision immediately in the moment (note: I don’t mean addressing feedback quickly, etc.; I mean things like making a snap decision on whether someone is ready for promotion–stuff like that).

    I was helped by having a leader I could talk to about these things. Getting that guidance really helped me gain confidence in my conversations with my direct reports, and it also helped me get perspective beyond my own/my immediate circle on how folks / their work were perceived.

    It sounds like from your letter that you think the person is ready for promotion but that you’re a bit put off that they said they either want the promotion or they don’t want to do the new duties anymore. I agree — that’s a bit off-putting of a way to end an email, but maybe your employee is just frustrated because of the delays. Everyone is seeing different effects of covid on their work; some people are having their hopes of promotion delayed (::raises hand::), some are seeing the pace of their work increase a lot. Others maybe aren’t seeing huge changes in work but are having to juggle all the difficulties of navigating covid while working (maybe a working parent).

    I think it’s OK to talk to your employee and let them know you agree they’re ready for promotion and you’ll do what you can to make that happen, and follow up with a question about the frustration that came out in the email & is there anything going on outside of the promotion discussion that the employee wants to talk about. Maybe they don’t. It’s hard to say, but it’ll potentially open up a new line of communication between you two, and if it works well in that vein, future discussions are going to be a lot easier.

    1. LW*

      Thank you, I really appreciate your comments. I did actually have a conversation with her the following week about what I would ask for from the higher-ups, and it went really well.

      I’m also thinking I need to have a conversation to renegotiate her workload, if she feels she’s not compensated fairly for it.

  77. Not A Manager*

    Sara is on her last nerve. If she says “pay me properly for my duties or give me duties that reflect my pay,” that means “or else.” You can hear that as an ultimatum, but it’s also a fact. If something doesn’t change about Sara’s job, she’s going to quit.

    1. LQ*

      I do not get why people get so upset about ultimatums. They are just clearly delineated boundaries. Which is something that this site tells people to do all the time. And a boundary with a choice. That’s ideal. I don’t get the hate.

      1. jenkins*

        Yes, absolutely this. Sara’s made a clear statement of her position. She’s unhappy with the status quo, she could accept either X or Y solution but she can’t put up with the way things are for much longer. That’s useful information for the company to have! She could have just quietly found something else and quit, but she wants to work it out. Since she apparently does deserve everything she’s asking for, why would anyone expect her to just putter along cheerfully forever without receiving it?

  78. AnonGoodNurse*

    Had this happen to me in Sara’s role. My boss reacted somewhat similarly at the time. So I found a new job. When I told them I was leaving, they suddenly found the raise and promotion were within their budget. Unfortunately, it was too little (I was offered more at my new job) and way too late.

    So the question is if she falls into category #1, what’s going to happen to your workload if she finds a new job that’s willing to pay her? (Frankly, it’s something to think about if she falls into category #2… since she thinks she’s worth more, if she doesn’t get it, it wouldn’t surprise me that she move on. In which case, OP is back doing all the work anyway. That doesn’t mean you give her the raise if you’re convinced it’s not the right thing to do (or the freeze won’t allow it), but it’s an outcome OP should seriously consider.

  79. CommanderBanana*

    I’m also a bit confused about how missing a diversity training cancels out years of excellent work….? If I was given that reason as the basis for not getting a raise, I think I’d start looking elsewhere too. It does seem grasping-at-straws-y.

    1. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

      I got the impression that was basis for past constructive feedback but that Sara had turned things around since then. I work for a place where if you don’t complete mandatory training, you’re not eligible for bonuses / promotion either.

  80. jenkins*

    I don’t see that Sara is holding LW hostage any more than the company is holding Sara hostage. Sara has been doing what she thought they needed to see in order to get that promotion and raise, and yet nothing has materialised. So from her point of view, the company’s stance is ‘yeah, and? Forget what we said before, keep doing this work for this pay or quit’. Now she’s setting out her position in return; ‘pay me what this work is worth or reduce my responsibilities accordingly’.

    If she’s truly off-base about the level she’s now working at, that’s a conversation LW needs to have with her. But you know, I think every employer I’ve had has given me a pay bump after a year or so to reflect the fact that I’ve grown in the role and I’m contributing above the basic level I was originally hired at. Yes, of course it’s expected that a successful person will grow in their role and that doesn’t necessarily warrant moving them up to a higher-level position – but my employers have still found a way to acknowledge and reward that growth. After two years, with nothing to show that I was of any more value now than when I was first hired, I’d be feeling quite demoralised too.

    To be quite honest, it strikes me that LW is finding reasons to be annoyed with Sara because if she admits that Sara really does deserve what she’s asking for, LW will have to find a way to give it to her or risk losing her altogether – and the status quo is much easier for LW to deal with, so if she can put Sara back in her box for a while then maybe everything will be OK.

  81. elbereth*

    LW, it might be worth unpacking what you mean by “professional”. It seems to me that you believe that she has been insufficiently deferential to you, her manager. But “deferential” and “professional” are not the same thing at all.
    I’d go so far as to to say that being professional has an element of not being overly-deferential when there is an issue that needs to be addressed.

    1. LW*

      You’re right. I felt dumped on, but I see now that she saw the problem and brought it up as soon as she could with me.

  82. 0_0*

    Gahhh this pandemic has so many layers of pain and suckiness.

    I went above and beyond earlier this year in my job covering for a coworker on leave– it was actually an opening to talk to my boss about how I’d been doing a portion of this coworker’s responsibilities for years, which he acknowledged and agreed. I told him I wanted a merit based raise, or if that wasn’t possible right now, more PTO. SOMETHING. He assured me I’d see it in my bonus this year and pushed off the issue of increasing my hourly wage.

    …something tells me I will not be seeing it in my bonus this year…

    Nevermind that they’ve hired more people, opened two more offices around the country, and expanded our office this summer so that we now have multiple open work spaces in anticipation of hiring more people. But somehow a raise for me isn’t in the cards. Yes, I’m applying. :-/

  83. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    Alison (or others), I wanted to ask about this point:

    (For example, if I hire you as my assistant, I might not have you start drafting correspondence for me until you’ve been on the job for a while, even if I intend it from the start. When you do take it on, it doesn’t mean you’ve outgrown the assistant job; it means you’ve grown within it in ways we expected.)

    Using this example, would you include things like “drafting correspondence with clients on behalf of Alison” in the job description/duties from the outset, as one of the things the assistant would be hired to do, even if you wanted to give it a little while before you gave them free rein to do it?

    This is the part I wasn’t clear about, as it seemed from the letter that Sara was clear on what she was hired to do and that her responsibilities now have diverged/expanded considerably from that, but then it got me wondering whether in general the job being “hired for” reflects what a trained person would be doing, isn’t it?

    Thinking back to my own JD for my current role, there are things I didn’t start doing (and wasn’t expected to) for about a year after starting, even though technically I had the level of access privileges to be able to use those systems all along (and the technical knowledge in general, but needed to get up to speed with the “company specific” ways they do things, like there are several correct and effective ways to approach a particular problem, and the way I’d suggest doing it ‘in isolation’ isn’t necessarily the same way the company would like it to be done because of consistency with other systems etc… and it takes a while to get familiar with all of this).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yep, I’d include that in the job posting because it’s a significant thing and I’d be screening people on their ability to eventually do it. But job postings aren’t 100% comprehensive, and there are always things you’re going to do that won’t be perfectly captured there. Or the needs of the role change in a way that wasn’t the case when the job ad was written, but where it’s still perfectly appropriate for the person in role X to do Y (and where presumably Y will be included the next time an ad for the job is written).

  84. Iron Chef Boyardee*

    “2. Sara is not doing the work of a higher-level job than her title reflects. Since she was first hired, her duties have evolved in a way that’s natural for the role she’s in, and they are still appropriate for the title she holds.”

    I’m cynical enough to wonder if an employer might just go ahead and say this is the case, even if it really wasn’t on the date of hire.

  85. Just Another Zebra*

    OP, I’m certainly not trying to pile more onto you, but I want to give you some perspective.

    At my last job, I was in a supervisor role. The manager and assistant manager were above me. The manager left, and I was asked to pick up a few things from the ASM role. Over the subsequent twelve months, I ended up “adopting” 90% of the ASM duties, and about 50% of the manager duties. These were things I was not paid for, was not trained for, and it ended up hurting my productivity at my “real” job duties. I approached the ASM and DM, asking for a title change/ role shift/ raise, or to allow me to relinquish these added responsibilities and return to the job I was hired for (sound familiar?) I was told they were “looking for the best manager for the company” and that I should “hold out a little longer”. Another two months passed. I was burned out. Cue malicious compliance – doing precisely what my job description required and not one iota more. I left two weeks later.

    All those responsibilities I’d been juggling came crashing down in those last two weeks. Employees didn’t have a schedule, orders weren’t placed, shipments weren’t received. I walked out on my last day whistling a jaunty tune while the fires burned around me.

    I’m not saying this to scare you, or make you angry. I’m trying to demonstrate things from Sara’s perspective. She sounds burned out, fed up, and at the crossroads. You yourself admitted she was due for a raise and promotion. You must find a way to give her something, or she will almost certainly leave.

    Good luck.

    1. allathian*

      Ouch! I understand the burnout and wanting to get back at an unreasonable employer, but I don’t think you’re going to get a good reference from that company, at least not from your last manager there.

      1. Just Another Zebra*

        They went bankrupt eight months after I left, and the previous store manager has always been a glowing reference for me. So it’s been a non-issue.

  86. Arvolin*

    I have a couple of questions for LW.
    What does the pay freeze encompass? Does it include a promotion freeze? Can you promote someone without raising their pay? Does it include a hiring freeze?
    How hard is Sara working? Weekends and evenings? Is she exempt or non-exempt? If non-exempt, are you paying her for all her hours or committing wage theft?

    Then, let’s consider the outcomes.
    You can talk to Sara and try to see if you can squeeze out something that will keep her temporarily happy. You may be able to give her a promotion, possibly without a pay increase for now. You could have all the paperwork set up and ready to go, and involve her in it. Remember that the pay freeze isn’t Sara’s problem, it’s yours. To Sara, you are the face of the company, and how you are treating Sara and how the company is are the same thing. It can really suck to not be able to give an employee what she deserves because of decisions made higher up, but all jobs have parts that suck, and the pay freeze is not something you get to blame on others. Resources are always limited, and always less than you want. If you can come up with something that satisfies her (and empty promises are almost sure not to cut it), then you get what you want out of Sara. It’s a two-way street.

    You can cut Sara’s responsibilities back, since she’s willing to be flexible on that. This leaves you with more work than capacity, but that isn’t Sara’s problem. Her responsibility is to do her job well, and you’ve said she does that. You’re responsible for the work done by your unit. If you do that, seriously consider restarting the additional responsibilities and promotion when you can appropriately reward her for it, or she will eventually find a job elsewhere with more responsibilities. This keeps her doing useful things.

    If you don’t do one of those, it sounds like Sara is likely to give up on the situation. If Sara is working extra hours, she may stop doing so. If she’s going the extra mile, figure out what you’re going to do with that mile yourself. You may not like that, but you really have no recourse except firing her (going into the next outcome). This leaves you in a bad position, which you can’t do anything about, particularly if she’s working normal hours and handling her duties well within those hours. Sara will know that she’ll never get a promotion at your company, but she may not expect one anyway at this point, and she will start looking for another job fairly shortly.

    Sara may already be looking for another job. If she doesn’t get the promotion or reduced responsibilities, she certainly will. This means that, at any point, you may be looking at a resignation letter with two weeks’ notice (if not less; in an at-will state Sara can quite at any time). Even if there isn’t a hiring freeze, the best you’re going to get is someone who can probably do Sara’s nominal job after some training, likely not as well as Sara does, and you may well be going with an empty slot for some time. This is actually worse for you than cutting Sara’s responsibilities back, or her dropping a few balls that are above her pay grade.

    Given that, your job is to try to get the best outcome for the company. Nobody ever said management was easy.

  87. Paris Geller*

    I don’t have much to add, but I will say this: it’s very, very likely Sara has one foot out the door. OP, you mention you don’t want to be doing some of what Sara’s doing now if she goes back to her original job duties, but. . . that’s also going to happen if she leaves. Yes it’s a pandemic and a lot of places are in hiring freezes right now, but it’s there are still stories here every Friday of people finding new jobs even in this weird time. It’s not impossible for her to jump ship, and you should proceed as if she’s very, very likely to if something doesn’t change.

  88. Rachel*

    The thing I’m still most curious/confused about is the diversity seminar. The reference to it as an “activity” and the fact that OP clarified it had a real work purpose rather than being “forced fun” makes me wonder whether the seminar did actually take place during the workday, or if Sara was supposed to attend (uncompensated?) on her own time (because it strikes me as a bit odd to clarify “it really did have a point to it” without clarifying “it was part of what she was being paid to do during that workday”). To me, that makes a really big difference in how much it makes sense to hold this against Sara.

    Granted, even if it WAS paid and during work hours, the fact that she’s apparently managing a dramatically increased workload could still be a pretty good excuse. Without further context, it’s hard to know how big a deal this was.

  89. Bob*

    She is not holding you hostage, its that you think raises should be given by employer goodwill and should not be asked for by the employee even when they have more than earned them.
    I’m glad you spoke to Alison before getting mad at Sara. Alison has given you good advice but since you were planning to get her a raise, what you should be doing instead of getting mad at her is apologizing to her, explain that you realized this independently just recently and want to remedy it and Covid is adding roadblocks but you intend to find a way to make it happen (if that is your intention).

  90. Feddy McFedFace*

    I’m sure someone has already said this, but it rubbed me the wrong way that the example OP offered regarding work ethic had to do with a diversity seminar. I work for the federal government and those programs are the most insulting lip-service possible- it’s a joke to think these clownish seminars will have any significant impact. I skip them too, very intentionally— I’d rather spend my time supporting my direct reports.

  91. CreativeWolfe188*

    Gah, I feel for “Sara.” I’ve been in my first job out of college for five years. Got a title change at the end of year three that reflected the work I’d taken on voluntarily (including a management role), but it only came with a marginal pay increase. Now, two years later, I’m just frustrated and struggling to know when is the “right time” to talk to my boss about my lack of job satisfaction, what’s causing the lack of satisfaction, and the reality that my work is worth more than $15k more than what I’m being paid now. As an employee, you walk that fine line between wanting to help out and grow in a position, and putting yourself in a situation where you’re not getting paid for the work you’re doing. I suspect that’s the position both Sara and I are in. Unlike me, it sounds like her boss knows what she’s worth. She’s given you the work ethic pursuant to the respect she seeks. Like you don’t know how to handle her promotion/pay increase, she doesn’t know how to ask for what she’s worth. My suggestion is to give her some grace instead of using one misstep as an excuse to reject her. A lack of understanding is likely a surefire way to push her towards looking for a new job. A small part of me really hopes my boss reads this even though I know he won’t.

  92. lazy intellectual*

    I’m confused about something…do you have to give Sara a promotion in order to give her a raise???

    If you are unsure about promoting Sara due to her previous issues with tardiness, then don’t promote her, but if she is good at her job, definitely give her a raise! Not giving her a raise for 2 years despite good work is awful. Cost of living inflation is a thing, and you are actually causing her to LOSE money. You better start compensating her appropriately if you want to retain her.

    My last employer also didn’t give me a raise the entire 2.5 years I worked there. When I switched jobs, I got a 60% jump in my salary and what was equivalent to a DOUBLE title promotion.

    Think about it this way: the Sara you have now could easily be a manager or some higher equivalent in another company. She will definitely become that soon if you don’t step up.

    1. lazy intellectual*

      Oh wait I overlooked the salary freeze thing – my bad! But yeah definitely give her a raise as soon as it’s possible!

  93. Beth*

    OP, I’m wondering why you’re reading so much combativeness into this promotion discussion with Sara.

    From your description here, it sounds like you have an employee who, despite being mostly excellent for years (I hear you that there was a brief lull, but it sounds like those issues were addressed once you had a conversation with her about them and were not long-term issues), has not seen her work recognized in a tangible way. She gets hr work done; she does it well; she has taken on additional job duties over time. From what I’m reading in your post, it sounds like you agree that she deserves a raise and a promotion, and possibly has deserved them for some time.

    Based on that, I don’t read her as trying to threaten you here. I read her as telling you, “The status quo, where I do higher level work for lower level compensation, has become unsustainable for me. We need to find some way to handle that, sooner rather than later.” In the context of company-wide salary freezes, I don’t think it’s weird or aggressive that she offered reducing her workload as one way of rebalancing that scale; she’s likely trying to show flexibility and open a dialogue with you.

    I see how the concept made you panic, given your apparently already-overwhelming workload. But you have to remember, she doesn’t manage you, she likely isn’t tracking what you do on a daily basis, and she almost definitely isn’t aware of all the resources you have access to as a manager. This isn’t coming from a place of “I know you can’t take this work on so you’ll have to give me a raise;” she’s likely assuming that you could take on some of the work, or that it could be assigned to someone else. She’s just trying to find a way to make her job sustainable for her, that’s all. You should work with her on that, not hold a raise over her head over a defensive reading of her wording; if you can’t find a way to make it work for both you and her, the likely “plan C” is her starting to job hunt because she can’t get what she needs with you, and then you’ll lose all of the work she’s doing instead of just some of it.

  94. Laura*

    Anyone else see a red flag here? A previously well performing employee who was reliable is suddenly having tardiness issues. This could be a symptom of burn out which says that the company may not be attuned the work loaf on Sara’s desk. When she started having issues a conversation should have happened to check up on her state of mind, which could have been a catalyst for the conversation about promotion and/or raise.

  95. Annekitty*

    Honestly I have to wonder if those performance issues were actually burn out from Sara feeling like she was doing more then she was paid to do. Then when you talked to her and she realized she could get that raise she kicked it into gear again and now seeing that it’s not going to happen is upset.

  96. Tara*

    I was in Sara’s position at my old company. Raises were froze right at raise time, I had already been taking on more responsibility but then the nature of my work meant I had double / triple client work with no relief or raise in sight. I got tired of demanding that raise and found my dream job at my dream organization making more money doing less work. Sara needs to start applying for other jobs.

  97. Sarah*

    So I do disagree with Alison a little bit, that the whole ‘or I’ll go back to doing my original duties’ is a bit adversarial unless there’s some other context like Sara asking about a raise/promotion regularly and getting no indication of when or how to make that happen. But it does sound like she should have gotten at least a raise a year ago but didn’t due to… what honestly sounds like some kinda minor issues. And I 100% agree that there’s no ‘hostage holding’, just that she should have been asking about timelines/expectations for a promotion for the past few weeks/months. If she had been, then her request is a little blunt, but perfectly reasonable. Although if it’s from an email, which is sounds like it is, then… you may be added some of that adversarial tone when you’re reading it.

    Was it just one mandatory seminar she missed? Was it clear that it WAS mandatory and she didn’t have other more pressing obligations? And really, if this was one seminar that occured at a single time, then there’s no way that can be held as fully mandatory – what if someone had vacation that day? Or was sick? But seriously, missing one seminar was a factor that held up a promotion? (also, if this was an in person thing, was it one where people are required to talk and share their own experiences? I know my work has done some like that for DEI. I kinda hate those, and telling employees that they have to share private experiences of discrimination against them with coworkers is crappy and people should 100% not be required to do that)

    As for tardy-ness, is being on time actually important to that role? Or was she missing meetings she should have been at? And if so how soon did you address that issue with her? Because if she had a bad week or two that seems like in many salaried jobs a ridiculous thing to stop a promotion over; If it was a bad month or two, well then unless you first addressed it after that first week or so then sorry, that’s on you for not communicating expectations.

    Oh, and add the complete stress of covid and 2020, and yeah, I wouldn’t want to continue giving what felt like 120% if I was getting paid what I thought was 80% then I might be a little more forceful than normal anyways.

  98. Emily*

    I have some confusion regarding this statement:

    “Sara is excellent in her position and there have been no issues with her work, just her work ethic.”

    @OP – I’m curious to understand how Sara is excellent in her position and you have found no issues with her work, yet there was an issue with work ethic that prevented promotion in the past. I’m asking this question because excelling in a role doesn’t typically go together with work ethic issues. Can you please elaborate?

  99. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    Being new to management, one thing you need to realize is that being short staffed should not fall to the responsibility of your employees. I realize that this may be company wide, but as a manager it is up to you to make sure the work load is covered if someone suddenly quits or needs to be fired. In other words (and in this case) your decision shouldn’t be made based on the fact that her work could fall on your plate and your plate is full. That’s not Sara’s problem, and she should be treated fairly based on her work. Yes COVID has thrown a wrench into everything, and a company’s finances may be affected. But employees can’t be expected to work like dogs and not get any type of benefit from it.

  100. LW*

    Many points are well taken. Thank you for your comments.

    To answer some questions that came up:
    1. I like Sara, very much. Outside of work, we would be friends.
    2. I went to my boss and we put her up for promotion. I offered alternate ideas for how to reward Sara for the work she’s doing (retroactive raise, for example). However, Grandboss said she deserves it but the company is just not promoting people or giving raises right now.
    3. I believe that raises aren’t happening because layoffs are starting, and no one received the usual annual merit raise.

    1. pcake*

      Then why not talk to Grandboss about something you can do to show appreciation to Sara? Maybe paid half days off twice a month, letting her pick a new office chair or paying for her lunches, at the very least. Or maybe you could take one of those tasks she’s doing and assign it somewhere else for now?

  101. Happy Pineapple*

    This raises a question for me personally: how can you tell when your job duties have expanded beyond your original role, especially when job descriptions vague phrases like “other duties as needed”? My manager continues to pile on more work, and I don’t know when or how to draw the line for what isn’t my responsibility/I should be paid more if I’m going to do it.

  102. AJ897*

    The OP seems to be wanting to play the victim card here, even though they’re the one in the position of power.

    As a young professional, I occasionally had managers who tried to do the same thing. I had an education in management and psychology, so it was very clear to me what they were doing. But it was always very odd; people often try to play the victim in personal situations, in order to gain some sort of psychological advantage in an exchange. But it’s downright weird to see it happen in a professional setting.

    The manager is the one whose behavior is entirely unprofessional in this situation. As usual, Alison is spot on here. There is nothing unprofessional about being honest and direct with your manager. Those are qualities that should be valued in an employee.

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