I think my employee is overpaid

A reader writes:

I have an employee who is overpaid for her position. I inherited this employee from a former manager who hired her two years ago. Our business revenue has declined dramatically in the past 12 months, and I know I could hire someone to do the same job for about $20,000 less per year. Saving $20,000 would really help towards our budget.

Should I ask her if she would be willing to take this much less in order to keep her job or just go ahead and let her go for financial reasons? If she chooses to keep her job, she will no doubt look for another job and be very unhappy about this change and could possibly sabotage our work because she is in charge of billing and accounts receivable. (I don’t have any particular reason to suspect she would do that; I’m just worrying that a disgruntled employee with this type of job might mess things up. Just my paranoia.) However, I feel guilty about letting her go just because she is overpaid and we need the money. Can you help me decide what to do that is best for her and best for us?

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Should I be suspicious of this reference situation?
  • Getting my office to stop with all the reply-all’s
  • Company put hiring process on hold
  • Who owns a checklist I created at work to do my job better?

{ 287 comments… read them below }

  1. I'm that guy*

    “Revenues are up, I need to give my employees more money!” Said no manager ever.

    She’s not overpaid. She negotiated her compensation and both sides thought it was fair then.

    1. Not A Manager*

      This is very extreme. Lots of people negotiate a salary and then a few years later discover that they are *underpaid* for the market. Would you tell them that they negotiated a compensation that both sides thought was fair at the time, so therefore they’re not underpaid?

      In any event, the LW claims to have a valid financial reason to need to pay less now. “Our needs have changed” isn’t some kind of capitalist scam. If they legit can get the same skills for less money, and they determine that they need that money elsewhere, then by definition the employee is overpaid *to them.*

      1. Wisteria*

        “Would you tell them that they negotiated a compensation that both sides thought was fair at the time, so therefore they’re not underpaid?”

        As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what my manager told me!

        1. anon e mouse*

          Yeah, managers totally do use this logic or close variants of it.

          After I gave notice at my last job, people started telling me complaints about the company that no one had ever mentioned me prior to that, and one was about salary disparities. It turned out that one (female) colleague was getting paid literally 70% of what I (a man) was getting paid to do very similar work. When she pointed this out to our boss in her argument to get her pay increased, he basically gave her the old “everyone’s situation is different, you agreed this salary was fair when you were hired” line. After another year of only a COLA-sized bump she eventually quit without something lined up.

          (Without getting into the details, some pay disparity was probably justified, I have more credentials and was in a title that typically gets paid 5-10% more, but that was a huge disparity, and even my pay was nothing special for the title/field/region.)

        2. Koalafied*

          It might be what your manager told you, but do you think your manager was right? Do you agree that the salary negotiated is the salary negotiated and there’s no such thing as being overpaid or underpaid?

      2. Ray Palmer*

        “This is very extreme. Lots of people negotiate a salary and then a few years later discover that they are *underpaid* for the market. Would you tell them that they negotiated a compensation that both sides thought was fair at the time, so therefore they’re not underpaid?”

        That’s a loaded question. They agreed to do the job for that price and willingly entered into it. That’s not to say a raise is unwarranted provided they’re doing good work, but if people contractually agreed to work at a rate that is legal, then that’s where it’s at.

        I work a job where I’d *like* more hours or money, but believe the pay is fair. My particular role is specialised work, and we have a head office that calls a few shots. The manager of my field there makes a lot more than I do and barely does any of the work or have any idea of what he’s doing or talking about. Knowing how much he makes, I can *feel* underpaid, but I also agreed to this rate and am otherwise free to stick with it or try and find work elsewhere.

      3. LilPinkSock*

        I had a boss tell me exactly that. Never mind that my job scope and level of responsibility had changed dramatically, and it had been four years without a single pay increase.

      4. Not A Manager*

        My point isn’t that no manager ever says that. My point is that when managers make that argument, we correctly push back. “You agreed to these terms therefore you’re stuck with them forever” isn’t a good argument coming from either side of the relationship.

      5. Lukewarm Coffee*

        I’m struggling with the “this is very extreme” response. I didn’t see it as an extreme perspective. It was a valid perspective, just as yours is a valid perspective.

        Personally I don’t think $20,000 is necessarily enough of a reason to lay someone off, but understand that others may feel differently. It likely depends on the level of the base salary and uniqueness of the role.

        1. TardyTardis*

          I actually did have my pay downsized ‘because you’re being paid more than the top of the band for this job’ despite have more expertise than anyone else in it, and preventing some severe problems because of that expertise.

          But I had only a couple of years left till retirement, and I desperately needed the extremely good benefits because my husband had lymphoma. So in a way, my compensation was fair, but it was at that time I really felt motivated to start putting my novels up on Amazon.

    2. TechWorker*

      Also obviously the amount that is ‘fair’ or ‘correct’ to pay for a role is not one hard and fast number, it’s a range that varies between companies. Perhaps the previous manager was more generous or had a higher opinion of this employees work.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I ask that we take LWs at their word here, which in this case means believing them when they say, “Our business revenue has declined dramatically in the past 12 months, and I know I could hire someone to do the same job for about $20,000 less per year.”

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        “Our business revenue has declined dramatically in the past 12 months, and I believe I could hire someone to do the same job for about $20,000 less per year.”

        I’d make that one change, because OP won’t really know if the $20M-cheaper employee can do the job 100% as well as the current one and that the hireable people who can do the job 100% as well as her current employee don’t cost $20M+ until she actually starts making offers to the employee’s successor.

        OP wouldn’t be the first person to discover that her knowledge was actually belief in disguise. And while that sounds (and may be) pedantic, it does leave room for the scenario where OP ends up even farther in the red chasing budgetary savings that were never there to take advantage of.

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            M is the roman numeral for thousand; MM denotes million in the roman tradition (a thousand thousand). K for thousand comes from the Greek tradition.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              I think MM being million comes from finance; I want to say the Romans used M with a line over it. Other than that, spot on. I’d use a lowercase m for million… but after some especially nasty conversations on this subject, I try to avoid engaging any more.

              1. Donkey Hotey*

                Respectfully, it depends on what sort of work the person does and where they live.
                It took me forever to make the shift in my head that my purchasing friends would call something 20M and my computer friends would call it 20K and they were talking about the same thing.

              2. Koalafied*

                I don’t think anyone suggested it wasn’t reasonable; Insert Clever Name Here was just clarifying for Forrest what Sola Lingua meant.

      2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        I’d really be interested in seeing an update to this. Since the economy is looking a little grim, I could see this situation happening often going forward

        1. selena*

          There’ll probably be a lot of companies struggling with this issue right now: cutting the fat to survive. And the question of wether they should cut back on salary/hours of the current (loyal but possibly disgruntled) staff or hire fresh new people.

          1. Maika*

            Dan Price, the CEO of Gravity Payments, handled this exact same question at the beginning of the pandemic. You can reach back on his Twitter to see how he managed it. It’s pretty impressive actually. I get that not every company would be able to survive without layoffs, but are there other strategies.

            In this case, I would wonder if the exec team is taking a paycut to keep their staff employed?

            1. Donkey Hotey*

              Heck, is the LW/OP willing to take a cut? I’m sure they don’t think they’re overpaid.

              1. GammaGirl1908*

                Right? Somehow I suspect the one being asked to take a pay cut is a lower-paid person (like a receptionist or admin), whose household budget likely can least afford that kind of hit, and not the person being paid enough that it would be a far less painful adjustment for them.

                And nor is spreading out the hit being discussed, so that 5 people all take a $4,000 cut instead of one person taking a $20,000 cut. No, it’s likely one person who is already at the bottom of the totem. Yikes.

                Note: that is not explicitly called out in the letter and I’m making leaps. But the LW’s certainty that they can replace this person with an employee of the same quality cheaper and in a snap points to that idea.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  It would be helpful to know the percentage of pay. A 20% cut is different from a 50% cut. For some reason I am thinking of this person going from $40 thousand down to $20 thousand and thinking, “good luck with that.”

              2. Momma Bear*

                Good question. I think cutting an employee that you *think* you can replace (money isn’t everything – institutional knowledge is valuable) for less is very short-sighted and OP should take a good look around at what else could use a trim. Does the entire company need a small pay decrease to stay afloat? Has OP talked to the CEO about options?

                When I was on a contract that was about to run out of money, two of my managers got new jobs and basically sacrificed themselves because they were the highest paid. They bought the rest of the team more time to job hunt with their actions. I have never forgotten that kindness.

                But also OP needs to remember that layoffs don’t happen in a vacuum. I guarantee other folks, maybe some OP wants to retain, are going to be watching how this plays out. If OP does this employee wrong, it may cost much more than $20,000 in time and effort to replace people who decide that kind of job insecurity is not for them. My last job several of us left the team at the same time due to poor management. If OP thinks the employees won’t talk, they are kidding themselves.

                Find a kinder path, OP. Hopefully it’s “just” about money and not that you have some other bias against this person b/c she doesn’t deserve to be managed by someone who simply doesn’t like her/sees her as expendable. Perhaps the one in the wrong job is you?

      3. Oof*

        I’ve wondered about this; perhaps they had a CPA when a bookkeeper would suffice. There are many ways where the position doesn’t fit the need, but I think most of us are used to the need exceeding the position, instead of the position overstating the need. I had a long conversation with our accountant about this, as we discussed our needs re: CPA, accountant, and bookkeepers.

        1. Koalafied*

          Some companies where turnover is moderate will give fairly generous annual increases for top performers that aren’t sustainable for employees who stay a lot longer than average. A $3,000 or $5,000 raise every year is a great retention tool and in a city it’s almost the bare minimum increase you have to give someone for them to even feel the difference. And if most people stay 2-3 years then their pay rate is only ever going to get $10k, maybe $15K above the initial rate you hired them at, and then you can hire their replacement back at the bottom of the range with some r0om to come up if they perform well.

          But if you have an employee who’s just very good at what they do but not necessarily developing any new skills or working at a higher level, and they choose to stay for 4, 5, 6 years, suddenly they’re making $20,000-30,000 a year more than they were hired at, and the median pay for that job probably didn’t start paying $20,000-30,000 more in the last 4-6 years.

          I’ve worked at a place like this and seen friends work at them – on one hand, the raises are great…on the other hand, the business is perpetually staffed by inexperienced young people who leave as soon as they get good at what they do, and looking back on my own experiences I see how the fact that almost everyone I worked with was also new and inexperienced somewhat professionally disadvantaged me. I didn’t get much exposure to what I would later learn were business norms, and there weren’t really any mentor/role model types around.

          Anyway – my point I guess is not that every business is always fair and on the up-and-up when they’re trying to cut salary costs – many aren’t – but there are common enough scenarios where it’s not nefarious or sleazy to decide to lay off a highly-paid employee and hire someone at a lower salary to replace them.

        2. TardyTardis*

          Sometimes you think you only need a bookkeeper, and only discover when it’s too late that you really should have kept the CPA. Penny wise, pound foolish…

      4. Wintermute*

        I don’t think we’re not taking them at their word, no one’s saying that they’re wrong and they couldn’t get someone cheaper. What we’re saying is that their attitude is part of a systemic problem with employers abusing their power in the labor relationship– when revenues are up they keep the money, when revenues are down it’s up to employees to bear the burden.

        Sure, they probably could get someone cheaper, but there’s a lot more to think about– what other employees will think when they see people being laid off because they’re paid more than the boss thinks they ought to be (despite coming by that number fairly), whether that is dealing with someone in a fair and honest way, what having layoffs in the recent past means for hiring (layoff-and-replace is a warning sign to many good candidates if they find out, because they wonder if they’re setting themselves up to have the rug pulled out from under *them* in a few months-to-years) and most importantly of all whether someone who potentially destroys someone’s entire life over a relatively small sum is the kind of person they want to be when they look at themselves in the mirror in the morning,.

      1. Sleepless*

        My husband and I just increased the amount we pay our 1099 contractors, just because our revenues are up and we cut some expenses, and because they’re awesome‍♀️

        1. Just stoppin' by to chat*

          What a great way to cultivate employee loyalty, which will help your business in the long run!

    4. Ann O'Nemity*

      Situations change. Market rates for certain types of jobs change. Market supply for jobs change. Job duties change. A big decrease in business may mean the job itself is substantially different than it used to be.

      1. CamJansen*

        Agreed. Every job I’ve held since entering the job market during the recession has essentially been downgraded to save the business money. The whole “we used to pay x, but surely we can now pay % less for the same output if we hire someone new.”

        On one hand its crappy because wage compression follows the employee if they can’t successfully advocate for a raise or are locked into a payscale (here’s looking at you, academia!) On the other…I’ve come to terms with the business will always be loyal to the business. Cue shrug emoji.

    5. pleaset cheap rolls*

      Hmmm, I don’t know about salaries but certainly companies give bonuses when revenues go way up.

      “Would you tell them that they negotiated a compensation that both sides thought was fair at the time, so therefore they’re not underpaid?”

      Good point.

      1. Wisteria*

        I said it above, my manager told me I was fairly paid and that I should have negotiated better when I pointed out that I was underpaid! I even had the data from other people’s salaries!

        1. Not So NewReader*

          “Gee, if you wanted me to stay on as your employee then you should have paid me better without making me guess or grovel.”


          “I bet you don’t say that to white males, do ya?”

    6. Massmatt*

      I have worked jobs where my salary was increased due to a market analysis of industry/competitor averages. Companies should do this periodically to make sure they are competitive and also that people starting out are not hired making more money than more experienced people for the same job.

      I’ve also had jobs where my compensation was directly tied to productivity and sales; for those jobs an incoming tide raised all boats, both my company and I made more $. This is not unusual.

    7. Ana Gram*

      That’s kind of what happened to me. We did a market analysis, realized people were underpaid (well, duh, I could’ve told you that with the fancy consulting company’s opinion) and I ended up with a $26,000 raise due to my tenure and education.

      So, sometimes, yeah, it happens. And it should happen more often!

      1. KRM*

        My last year at my last job I got a big bump to bring me to market. But it was low market, considering that the next year I got a 20% raise at the new job after we got laid off! But it was at least an acknowledgement that we had been underpaid by quite a bit.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Eh, I meant A/R, original post said something about accounts receivable. Here we just call everyone business specialists, but my mom worked in accounting and the A/P clerks were A/P clerks and the A/R ones were A/R clerks. Doesn’t really matter to me either way.

          I have worked in a role with access to that info, and I would say when a person thinks they are getting screwed they might specifically look at it. I think the “payroll self” is on the job 99% of the time, but when people have a reason to wonder if they are being treated fairly and personal self interest may take over. Not to share it with others, but for their own info. I don’t think one could go say, “Hey, Jane got paid 20k more than me, wth,” to the boss, but it would certainly influence how one views their role.

    8. Saberise*

      You really don’t know that. I am one of 15 admin asst in our department. One is paid $10k+ more than the rest of us because she took on additional duties at some point. She stopped doing those duties 5 years ago but they aren’t comfortable asking her to take a pay cut. So now she is doing the exact same work as the rest of us at $10K+ more.

    9. NotAnotherManager!*

      We give our employees performance- and revenue-based monetary bonuses annually. The revenue determines the bonus pool; the performance data establishes the allocation. We also do assess the comp market annually and adjust up as needed. It’d be dumb not to – that’s how you lose good people.

      People do end up being overpaid. I have someone right now who is overpaid because they have received regular increases year over year, and their market value has plateaued and then decreased. Objectively, they haven’t kept their skills fresh (despite being provided training opportunities and specific feedback in evaluations) and have fewer work opportunities because their skill set is now beneath that of less experienced people. There are a few reasons that we have not been able to let them go, but they are constantly asking for promotions and comp increases based on years of experience when we have had to lower their bill-out rate over the past few years to get them any work at all. Markets change; needs change.

  2. I'm that guy*

    For #3 whenever someone replies to all you should reply to all with STOP REPLING TO ALL!!!! Do that as many times as needed.

    1. Miss Fisher*

      And that is exactly why I came in one morning to about 500 messages saying things like, this isnt meant for me or stop replying all.

    2. Moi*

      That’s actually how the email server crashed my freshman year of college after a campus wide email went out without the recipients being BCC’d. Between the “Stop replying to all!!” and the “Please remove me from this list” it was a glorious hellstorm.

        1. Moi*

          Hello! :D

          Either option is quite possible. My college was huge about St. Pats, but we were also located in a rather rural area and drinking was a favorite past time for a lot of folks.

    3. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      Oh, I have to jump in here with my funny anecdote for today. I was accidentally cc’d in a message scheduling the details of the press conference that president of the European branch of my company will be giving this week. (I’m in a little US satellite office.)
      The original sender send me an “apologies. please disregard.”
      So I did.
      Got a couple reply all message from the video company.
      I was going to ask to have my name removed, but I don’t want to create MORE messages.

    4. LibMgr*

      So, our local government system recently switched to Microsoft Office 365 and Outlook has this lovely “like” feature for emails. A person can just “Like” an email, letting the sender know that (a) it was received, (b) they like or at least acknowledge its contents. Anyone on the email thread can tell at a glance who “liked” the email, and only the original sender gets a notification (which can be disabled in Settings) that someone liked their email.

      This has completely eliminated the “thank you” or “okay, got it” type reply-all messages in my organization, and friends it is GLORIOUS. Thank you, Microsoft!

      1. Chinook*

        Wait, it does? Where is this marvelous thing? Which ribbon? Is it a right click feature? I need to know!

        1. uncivil servant*

          When I’m viewing a message, I see a thumbs up button at the top right beside the reply, reply all, forward buttons.

          Before I realized we had this function, I noticed that I was receiving fewer “thanks!” emails. Nothing rude, but they were the type of messages where some recognition was normal. Then one day I opened my notifications tab (which I was ignoring because most were about meetings I already knew about) and saw that people had been liking my emails for weeks. Oops!

          1. Chinook*

            I think it may be an add-in or something your org. added because it isn’t an option on mine. I did find an Add-In for likes which sends a regular email but acts like a quick reply for the replier. I am going to have to explore more.

            1. Batty Twerp*

              There is an option on the web-based version of office365. In an opened email, the three little dots on the right (next to the reply, forward, etc.), under Other Reply Actions, there is an option to Like.

              I’m not at my desk right now so I dont know if there’s anything in the desktop version.

              1. Beany*

                I see it, right beside the different arrows for replying/forwarding! Never used it, never knew what it was for.

        2. JB (not in Houston)*

          I’m pretty sure it is only the web version that has this, not the mobile or desktop app. At least, that used to be the case.

      2. Thankful for AAM*

        Me too! I dont see it! I googled for it and I see only some 2015 info about a thumbs up icon that I don’t have.

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        Very interesting! I’m curious what happens if someone on the chain doesn’t use outlook 365. Can they still see the likes? Do they get an email?

        In some group texts with my in-laws a lot of the people have iphones and it seems they have a function similar to that but if someone in the group doesn’t have an iphone (i.e. me) then it sends them a text about people liking texts. So like if person A sends a picture then I get a bunch of additional texts that just say “Person B loved and image” or whatever. I’m really not a fan.

        So I am very intrigued by this concept of being able to just “like” an email in acknowledgment… but if there is a chance that is just sending someone an email that says “MCMonkeyBean liked this email!” then I would definitely not want that.

    5. Kuddel Daddeldu*

      After an especially annoying mail storm, I have personally coded a rule on the email server that prevented anyone but one specialized account to send to all (actually, more than 100 recipients). If really an announcement to all was needed (flood warnings and company-wide seasons greetings, mostly), a small number of IT, HR and Facilities employees can send it. A reply-to-all will not make it through.
      Now I usually don’t believe in engineering solutions for social problems but in this case I found it justified (and had top management backing).

      1. Wintermute*

        Honestly I believe in engineering solutions FIRST to social problems– you can’t have a problem if you make it physically impossible.

        It’s just adapting process safety best practices, really– engineering controls are always superior to administrative controls. Expecting people to be aware of what they’re doing and not press a button is the weakest form of safety. Making it so the button cannot be pressed is essentially “elimination” the highest in practical terms and an engineering control, one of the better ones for things you can’t get rid of.

        That kind of process thinking doesn’t have to be applied to things as dire as “this valve could dump 15,000 liters of vinyl chloride onto the floor of the shop, creating a toxic cloud and an explosion that could level a city block”, you can use it for anything that could disrupt business. Thinking of it at that level taking away the “reply all” button would be eliminating the hazard. Substitution would be replacing the “reply all” button somehow with one that has a different functionality. Engineering controls would be a popup warning saying “you are about to reply all to 650 people, enter your employee ID to continue” or something like that. Personal protection would be expecting people to use email box filter rules to deal with what happens when people reply all.

    6. Lucy P*

      In my business, we’re expected to always reply all. Worse yet, my boss has me monitor his inbox. We’re using POP accounts. So, if I’m copied on a message to him, I get double copies of everything.

    7. BBA*

      The only way to stop a bad guy with a reply-all is with a good guy with a “please, everyone, for the love of all things, please stop replying to all.”

      1. Runaway Shinobi*

        There’s also the Ignore function in Outlook, which means you don’t see all the replies (if you’re in Conversation View). Very handy for birthday messages.

        1. Crankypants*

          In Outlook, you can also create a rule that sends the out of control Reply All emails straight to the Deleted folder.

  3. Lynn*

    For reply-alls; you can also set up your inbox rules to automatically move these to a different folder (or trash) for you, and when you send emails, if you BCC everyone, then they can’t reply all.

      1. Dave*

        I still don’t understand why people don’t embrace bcc more. I have heard then people don’t know who you emailed but just forward those two people who need to know a list. Then again I work with folks that are copied on an email addressed to me (don’t ask cause that is problem 1) and they will forward it to me even though my email is clearly in the subject line.

        1. Atlantian*

          Ugh, my old boss used to do this. Usually with a “CC me on the reply, please” note attached. It drove me nuts. He implemented a ton of “CC everyone at X level on every Y, Z, A, etc. e-mail” rules for day to day stuff that just caused more problems than they were worth, too. Like, I don’t need 600 just FYI e-mails in case you need to know on the off chance I’m out and someone has a question e-mails a day. I just don’t. If it comes up, we’ll manage.

    1. Popcorn Burner*

      This was my favorite way to deal with mass emails at my former employer. I don’t need to see 50 selfies, read others’ replies to self-congratulatory emails, or hear others’ thoughts about a friendship between two coworkers I’d never met.

  4. Scarlet*

    Fantastic example of why employees don’t have any loyalty to employers anymore. Talk about a lack of respect for your workers – presumably this person has been working hard for the company for years, doing well, and furthering your business. Then in the middle of a global pandemic you are really thinking “let’s cut $20k off this person’s salary and get some poor schmuck to work the job for less”.

    Alison is right – we are talking about a savings of $1667/month. Do you really feel like it’s worth it to do this any person, let alone a loyal employee?

    1. Rachael*

      I agree! Also, she might be worth $20k more a year. You get what you pay for and might find that the new person doesn’t work on the same level or has the same polishing.

      1. SillyLittlePittyPat!*

        Or, when the next employee finds out (and they will!) the position used to pay $20k more, you may have a problem on your hands.

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Alison is right – we are talking about a savings of $1667/month.

      My guess is that the savings will be even higher (as in 100% of her salary after she quits).

    3. Scarlet*

      Also to add – OP I do think you should give some thought to the overall picture here. What type of employer do you want to be? The type that supports your employees through difficult times, or penny pinching capitalists who’s only focus is the bottom line? Then, I suggest looking ahead – what types of employees do you hope to attract and retain going forward when the pandemic is over and business booms back up? We only have to look at the last recession to know that people who weren’t treated well stayed only as long as they had to, and not a second more, and those companies that didn’t support their employees were left with a culture of negativity and toxicity they’re likely still dealing with.

    4. The Supreme Troll*

      Scarlet, I absolutely agree. I can understand the counter-arguments here, and the OP could be doing something that is very well legal and very well helpful (to the company’s bottom line)…but that is also a really, really, uncool thing to do.

    5. WellRed*

      I really dislike it when employees are looked at solely as an expense. I also dislike it when managers then jump to assuming the worst of an employee in how they will respond. Yes, the employee will leave the job, but most people don’t automatically jump to sabotage.

      1. RVA Cat*

        Yes, that makes me seriously wonder about the letter writer.
        That malicious thought pattern plus the company’s financial woes makes me see a Workplace Full of Bees going into a death spiral.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Yes, typically when employees are told they are not worth it, they tend to leave.
        I am a little surprised OP thought of this solution, when all one has to do is picture one’s own self being the recipient of this message.

    6. AnotherAlison*

      Another idea:
      Add responsibilities for this person. If they’re overpaid for their current duties, can you expand their role so they can bring in another $1667 of value? I realize it’s not a sales/operations role, but I would at least go through the exercise of brainstorming some ideas. Are their process improvements that would save others in the company time that they could use to make sales? Can they find a way to get paid by customers faster?

      1. Not So NewReader*

        One group I supervised, I had asked them to come up with ways to save their labor
        and “make things easier”, I said.

        They knocked the ball out of the park. The people doing the work often know where the waste is and how to reduce costs in over-handling, lost materials, etc.

        In my own personal life, I hired my friend to help me with my house. It was no secret that there was a BUDGET. My friend routinely found materials at 50% off or greater. He set aside the easier parts so MY labor went into doing the easier parts, not his labor (and pay). He showed me where we could scrub things up and reuse them. I kept apologizing for making him fund his own paycheck. He just said, “This is what I do!” And we kept working for way longer than I ever expected. People who actually do the work KNOW where to find the cost savings.

    7. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      What wasn’t clear in the letter is whether OPs business has hit hard financial times because of a general industry-wide downturn, as opposed to something specific to that particular business. If it’s more systemic in nature, it may be that the reason she can get the same work for $20,000 less is because that’s “across the board” what employers are now paying (whether that’s “willing to pay”, “value of the work itself has decreased”, or whatever is left deliberately open ended).

      I think this is an old letter so is pre-pandemic, but of course the pandemic isn’t the first time hardship has hit companies and employees, so perhaps that part is secondary.

      In that case, if the employee were to seek to leave — if the ‘payment available for that type of work’ (as above, whether due to willingness to pay or etc) is now less across the board, she won’t benefit particularly by leaving as similar salaries will be available elsewhere.

    8. FYI*

      Agree. There is such a thing as institutional knowledge, which can take years to acquire. The employee knows the systems, she knows the people, she understands what’s happening in a way that no one new will be able to dive into. Is that what you want while revenue is down?

    9. lazy intellectual*

      In addition to the literal number of dollars, the OP is not considering the long-term, intangible effects of this. If other employees find out what happened, overall morale and employee loyalty might go down. If word gets around outside the company about what they did, their reputation might take a hit and they might get less applicants who want to work there. Also, if they have a habit of cutting salaries or letting good workers go anytime the budget slightly shrinks, what will happen to the quality of work/output?

      1. Wintermute*

        A solitary decision like this is the start of the grease trap effect for many companies.

        You lay someone off because you think they’re overpaid. Employees B and C decide to start looking for jobs because they’re good employees who have earned some discretionary raises over the years and worry they could be next. Employee D decides to start looking because they know they have in-demand skills and worry a company that is doing layoffs is taking a turn for the worse.

        The employees that don’t leave? E isn’t too worried and has a case of sunk cost fallacy, F G and H have no options because they’re not very good employees.

        So you hire in someone, a few candidates find out through the grapevine you’ve laid someone off for salary reasons so they decline an interview, thinking your business is in trouble and more layoffs are coming sooner or later, you get someone that’s average but not great, person I.

        Then B C and D quit for greener pastures. You have to replace them in a hurry, you hire three people, two work out okay-ish but your turnover is high so great candidates take a pass, one has to be fired early on because they don’t have what it takes, you have to lower your standards to fill their slot.

        By now E decides this place is going to hell and quits, and I decides they are being surrounded by increasingly poor co-workers and seeing rapid turnover, better to quit now before this place impacts them or their reputation. Now you have to replace them.

        And so it goes, in cycles, the better employees quit because they have options, your turnover is so high you can’t afford to fire the worst until things stabilize because business has to get done. But things never stabilize, you may get a few people that let inertia, or finally having a job after a long period of unemployment lull them into staying, you might snag someone that’s a superstar by sheer luck or by looking at nontraditional employment paths (people re-entering the workforce, with something in their past that would normally be disqualifying in a company that was picky, etc) but if they’re really that good then they’ll probably leave after using your place to repair their job history. And so you start to concentrate more and more dysfunction into one place, the bar steadily lowers, people with options leave, then people without GOOD options but who have some flexibility leave, your reputation makes it hard to get truly good candidates to return your phone calls. Your business follows and pretty soon you can’t get much done and your competitors eat you alive.

        And it starts when you make a choice to get rid of someone for a trivial reason, which scares your best employees into heading for the door. You don’t WANT to employ the kind of people that wouldn’t be scared into a job search by a company that’s laying off and penny pinching.

  5. DivineMissL*

    I generally agree with Alison’s advice. But in her answer, she asks OP if the $1,666 per month is worth having to hire and train someone. However, I’d point out that it’s $1,666 per month for as long as that person worked there. After the new person is trained and on board, that $1,666 would have kept going on and on, possibly for years.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      Counterpoint: If they also provide benefits, a new person may have different medical needs and end up costing them more in the long run due to insurance. (Big note: This is not a reason to engage in illegal hiring practices.) The experience that earned her the amount of money she’s making may contribute to fewer errors and better quality of work, and maybe even things like being better at processing payments and getting clients to pay bills. These traits could be well worth that $20,000 that someone of less experience wouldn’t bring in. An experienced worker might be well worth this money, and it would be too late to get her back at that rate if they fire her.

      1. SomebodyElse*

        They could be, but the opposite may be just as true.

        I’ve seen situations were long tenured employees were stuck in their ways, didn’t embrace new tools, used outdated unnecessary processes, etc. and ended up being less productive than a newer more inexperienced employee.

        An example is one person in a role used to fill out little paper cards with customer information for each order she processed. The company hadn’t used these little paper cards for 30 years! She would just happily fill them out and file them away. She was explicitly told she should not do this anymore. She just started hiding the fact that she did this.

        I think this OP at the time of writing would be able to tell if their employee was worth the $20k. Most managers don’t necessarily jump to lower paid if they have a fantastic asset in an employee. (Some do, for sure, but it’s really not that common).

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          I have one right now, and I have tried every way I can think of to work with them on skills updates and giving opportunities to do training, etc., and they just will not do it. So they have a small team that relies on them for a dying niche skill that fills maybe 1/3 of their time, max, and then complain that they’re not treated like the people with full dockets of work who’ve stayed up on their training and development and consistently top revenue and performance charts. It’s exhausting to explain, yet again, that there are any number of things that would allow them to join the ranks of the high-achievers, and X, Y, and Z are ways I can help them to do that and then… nothing. It is hard not to see them as taking up a spot on the roster that could pay for two less experienced people who’d at least put forth some effort.

          1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

            I worked with someone just like this, in a previous life. Excellent at what she was doing, knew all the nuances, all the ins-and-outs, all the “what if…” scenarios.. of the specific thing she was in charge of.
            When things started to change at the company, she was at the front of the queue of people being considered as part of the “new world order”, as after all she had so much knowledge of process X that we were just going to transform a bit into process Y…

            … we once were offered an opportunity for ‘free’ (included as part of a contract the company had already paid for) training. I and my other co-worker took it. It would need flexibility of hours because of time zones. She resisted because her work-at-home setup was in the kitchen/dining room and it would go on to about 10 pm — “so when will my family get to eat?! Should I just tell them they can’t eat until 10 pm?”

            My suggestions to move her setup to a bedroom (she’d been bragging about extensions to the house a few months before…), let family eat without her etc fell on deaf ears because they were so far out of her norm. I think she just didn’t want to learn.

            Sometimes there’s nothing you can do to help people.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            In some arenas, if you don’t update you don’t get to keep your job.

            I had a terrible situation where one of my favorite people was scared to learn a new machine. I knew she had to learn how to run it. It did not help that I was kind of nervous about the thing, too. So I bit the bullet and became acquainted with this fearsome thing. I can laugh now, it turned out the thing had really good safeties on it.
            Unfortunately, to get my person to walk over to the machine meant I had to tell her the truth that the big bosses were watching and if she did not learn this machine like everyone else, she might be asked to leave. (This sucked, but there was no way other way to get her to even approach The Beast.)
            I ignored the fact that she stood directly behind me, using me as a body shield as she watched me run it and listened to my explanation. I jumped quickly to the part about how good the safety mechanisms where. I demo’ed how the safeties worked. She moved to standing beside me, instead of behind me. I ignored that, too. I went to explain how to do the task. Then she wanted to try. TG. I really did not want to have to fire her and am almost sure I would have been ordered to fire her.

            This was years ago. Now, it’s a 100 times worse, if someone does not want continuous learning, they are going to have a tough time finding a job without it.

      2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        I fully understand and agree with this ‘counterpoint’! but put this to you:

        1. insurance – Presumably the costs of ‘medical needs’ and the subsequent increase in insurance premiums is attributed to the company as a whole, rather than in the purview of this manager’s specific budget. (Although I admit I don’t fully know how that works. I understand that in general health insurance premiums increase with amount of claims (broadly speaking) – Are health insurance premiums then ‘apportioned’ across departments in this way and if so, on what basis: salary? previous usage? etc? Or are they part of a central ‘HR’ type of budget?)

        2. experience leads to better work quality – Yes, no doubt the additional experience will allow for better processing of payments, fewer errors, or whatever ‘quality’ looks like for that job. The trouble is that that isn’t easily quantifiable in a “income and costs” sort of balance sheet that a budget requires; there isn’t a good way of accounting for those ‘abstract’ sort of things, so managers tend to overlook them. (You are right though!)

        1. Dancing Otter*

          The companies where I was involved in budget preparation and allocations went to considerable lengths NOT to charge departments according to usage. The whole company insurance cost was allocated either by headcount (eligible for insurance, whether they opted in or out) or as a percentage of salary/wage expense.
          The latter approach was preferable, to my mind, because other benefit costs & payroll taxes work the same way. We could calculate one rate for combined non-wage payroll expense, and build it into the budget model.
          Specific expensing according to usage or insurability is just an incentive to discriminate, as I remember having to explain to several managers repeatedly.

        2. TL -*

          Yeah, my company is really a small, very independent department in a company the size of a very large town that’s part of a larger conglomerate that negotiates benefits.

          $20,000 might make a big difference for one of our managers working on their budget, but someone’s insurance use isn’t going to affect our rates at all.

    2. Eye roll*

      Yes, but either the new person’s salary will also increase over time, or they will leave and the training and hiring expenses will reoccur regularly.

      1. TechWorker*

        True, but if the market value of the work is genuinely 20k less it’ll be a while until cost of living raises, or even some performance based raises would end up back at that point.

        1. Birdie*

          OP doesn’t say the market rate of the work is $20k less, they just say they could get someone to do the work for $20k less, which isn’t necessarily the same thing. (If it’s the latter, there is the chance the person they hire at that rate will eventually realize they should be earning more and either push for more money or leave.)

          1. Le Sigh*

            Yeah, this is one of those questions where I’d be curious how in-depth the LW has gone with their market research, and what factors they’ve take into account [the level of work needed, the quality of work currently provided (and if that produces other kinds of savings of its own), if there’s anything specialized this employee can do that you’d have to outsource, etc.].

            A few basic searches on places like Craigslist turn up dozens of apartments in my city that are beautiful, three-bedroom, and just blocks from the subway. If you actually read the posts, they’re pretty much all scams, or they’re in the suburbs, 10 blocks from the subway, and an hour commute into the city.

            1. Georgina Fredrika*

              aha, so true. Got into a big argument on FB (I should know better!) with someone who was CONVINCED you could get an entire 2-3 bedroom apartment in X city for $400 so they didn’t understand what all the fuss was about minimum wage or something.

              They supposedly googled and found an apartment and posted it as proof – so I reverse image searched and found that they hadn’t actually opened the posting, it was for *students only* and wasn’t actually for the entire apartment, it was for a single room in a 3-bedroom unit. Yeah, not going to be useful to a small family.

              1. Nephron*

                My city technically has $400 apartments with 2 bedrooms, they just don’t have any kitchen appliances, often do not have the wiring for kitchen appliances, are in places that flood regularly, or are laid out in a way that you don’t have 2 bedrooms really. I love people that think you can live in my city with low cost of living.

            2. Amaranth*

              I’m also curious as to LW’s sources. If they are just checking want ads thosewill show some salary ranges but the scope of work might not be the same. It also doesn’t indicate if quality people actually accepted those jobs at the lower salary.

              1. sunny-dee*

                It may not be a job at all. It may be that they can hire an accounting firm for substantially less or use someone part time (or entry level) for the bulk of the work and partition the rest out or that they can use a contractor.

  6. OrigCassandra*

    Re the mailing list: Check with IT to see whether the list can be set to reply-to-sender instead of reply-to-list. That’s good practice for announcement-only lists anyway.

  7. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    OP 1: wow. you are afraid you are paranoid? You think that if you lay off an employee because she is overpaid will try to slander your company because you laid off employees that make more money than you think you should pay? That’s not exactly slander.
    And you are afraid that after years of good work she will sabotage the company because the new manager lays her off because she makes too much money?
    I’m sorry but the kind of people who sabotage a company who let them go for a lame ass reason are the same people who lay people off for a lame ass reason.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      OP1 didn’t mention slander – do you infer that from the post? I guess it means that she would talk to others about “I was laid off because I was earning too much” in which case, yeah I agree it’s not slander if it is the real reason!

      In the employee’s position I’d be upset at the idea that I’d sabotage the company (especially since she deals with finances so is potentially in a position to have that opportunity.. if she felt so inclined). What a vote of no-confidence!

      I also work in a field (not finance) where high levels of trust and ethics are required (even more so than most jobs) because I get the “keys to the kingdom”, I have the highest levels of access to systems, and could if I chose, do a lot of [undetectable] damage. Would I do that? No of course, because my ethics prevent me from doing that. And even if I was inclined to behave unethically for some reason — I’d never be able to work again in my field if it was found out that I’d abused access to systems to do something I shouldn’t …

      … which as an aside is why I find it a little offensive when trusted people with high levels of access get put on “gardening leave” (i.e. paid for the rest of their notice period but required not to come into the workplace or log in in any way) when they give their notice — I can sort of understand if leaving for a competitor, but maybe not fully – but when leaving for any other job. I would take it as a slight on my integrity if I gave my notice at a company and was immediately required to no longer attend work any more because of the risk of sabotage. If you (company) thought I was capable of that, you shouldn’t have employed me at all then.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Once you’re in the situation, what can you do? My thought was that if they think so little of me then I can very happily take gardening leave, because my opinion of them just plummeted. I really don’t want to be around them. And if leaving is what protects me from false accusations then I am in favor.

        However, you’re right in why hire people that will never be trusted. We have a company here that is the cause of great laughter at Unemployment. When people say their last employer was X, the unemployment official will start laughing right out loud and say, “Let me guess. They felt you were stealing. It’s not possible to hire THIS many thieves. Something is very wrong inside that company. Not everyone is a thief, they just aren’t.”

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yeah. My boss once questioned whether I had really done all the overtime I had written down, because he didn’t want me to then take that time off, despite that having been a done deal for years.
          I could have quietly shown him the emails sent that would prove that I had done that work outside of my normal working hours, instead I got really angry and said if he didn’t trust me, I would just work my normal hours from then on so I wouldn’t have to take time off after doing overtime, and tough sh1t if I didn’t finish projects to deadline as a result.
          He backtracked, I got the days off that I’d requested, but I was truly upset, he broke my loyalty to the company that day.
          Years later, he was fired by the new boss who’d bought him out, and I was kept on, schadenfreude is one heck of a joy.

        2. Wintermute*

          Hrm… my guess is the MANAGER might have the sticky fingers “the new guy” without much institutional power is a great scapegoat if inventory goes up missing, after all. Plus people tend to generalize from themselves– a liar sees liars everywhere, a bully assumes people will exert power in petty ways because that’s just what you do, and a thief suspects everyone would do the same given a quarter of a chance.

  8. Uranus Wars*

    For #3, I always BCC when I send an email to multiple groups when it doesn’t require a multi-person chat. I picked that up from someone else in our department. Maybe if you start doing this, someone else will pick up and do it too, and while you might not stop all the madness, you may cut it back. I am sure you are not the only one annoyed by this.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      I was thinking the same thing. Instead of pushing everyone to not reply all, I’d push for the process to be that all standard updates be sent out w/recipients BCCed. People can reply all they want and if a clarification needs to be sent, it can still be done just fine. But no one needs to reply all.

  9. Captain Kirk*

    Aren’t we just needlessly attacking the OP for #1, assuming the question isn’t in good faith?

      1. Littorally*

        I’m not Captain Kirk, but reading “Can you help me decide what to do that is best for her and best for us?” and assuming the LW is a heartless capitalist who doesn’t hesitate to throw away empl0yees, for one thing.

          1. Captain Kirk*

            Exactly, some of the writers are acting like “how dare they cut someone’s wages!” I’m not saying that companies never mess with their workers, but I thought we were supposed to assume that the OP is only writing because she feels that this is completely necessary, not because she wants more money so she can buy moustache wax and a monocle.

            1. Le Sigh*

              Well, that feels a little extreme, too. Yes, some commenters are being quick to paint LW as obviously evil. But a lot of commenters are pushing back (as did Alison in her response) on the assumption that cutting the wage is the best way to go, for a host of reasons — e.g., the monthly savings aren’t that great; the OP might only assume (or have done basic research) that they could get someone for $20K cheaper; that the employee might be worth the extra $20K in other value they bring to the company; or they might find themselves spending that extra money anyway replacing and training.

              Ultimately, sometimes cutting wages is all that can be done — but the impact on the employee, the company’s goodwill with employees, the company’s reputation, etc., can be long lasting. I’ve also seen a lot of company’s default to easy or obvious cuts that seem smart in the short-term but cost in the long-term, such as slashing hours at a store so much that employees can’t keep up and shoplifting goes way up, etc. I think a lot of commenters are pointing out some common gaps in this type of thinking to make sure LW has thought that through.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      It’s a tough question. It’s hard to ask someone to take a $20K salary cut, but, with just that part of the question, I think there’d be less negative reaction. It’s the second piece of being afraid they’d sabotage the company despite there being no reason to think ill of this employee that set my teeth on edge a little.

      1. Le Sigh*

        Yeah, I agree. OP may or may not have intended for it to read that way, but the letter had a bit of an adversarial tone, assuming both cutting one person’s pay was the best solution AND this employee would do their worst in heartbeat (even though they said they had no reason to). Stuff like this is how you wind up with so many people going through rounds of layoffs and perp walked out of a building after 10 years of putting in good work — it leaves a lot of hard feelings.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I am wondering if this was one thing that was under OP’s watch and therefore something she thought of.
          For example, suppose she knows the company is wasting huge amounts of electricity. But she is not in a position where she should tell everyone to turn things off that are not in use.

          I can’t tell if OP thought on her own to do this or if the idea is being pushed by a boss type. We also have no way of knowing if OP has done 27 other things previous and the ship is still sinking. In the back of my mind I am concerned for OP, too. Reducing your subordinate’s pay can be a harbinger of other things to come…

      2. Wintermute*

        I think you hit on something important here. We only get a very brief window into a LW’s world, business, life and mind when they write in.

        On one hand that can make it tough, you can attach too much importance to a small word choice, on the other it means when they jump from “might need to make some hard choices about compensation” to “disgruntled employees might sabotage the business!” that reveals something about their thought processes you can’t ignore.

        I think the most charitable interpretation is that they are catastrophizing severely and may be feeling a lot of anxiety around this that’s coming out in less than productive ways.

    1. I'm just here for the cats.*

      As someone who has worked in real estate licensing it is not surprising that there is a 6 page checklist. There is a huge amount of paperwork that needs to be done and the consequences can be costly. And obviously it’s helpful since the boss wants to use it more.

      1. Yvette*

        I agree. However I think ‘streamlined’ is a poor word choice. ‘Comprehensive’ or ‘Fool Proof’ sounds better.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Use ‘Fool Proof’ at your own risk; you’re basically begging Fate to send a greater fool your way.

          1. Mockingbird*

            Murphy’s Eleventh Law: It is impossible to make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious.

          2. Sled Dog Mama*

            I always told people I was trying to make coffee-proof checklists. Ones that a trained employee could follow prior to their morning coffee.

        2. Littorally*

          Eh, ‘streamlined’ can still make sense if it is laid out well in relation to the process that needs to be followed. Some processes really are just that complex!

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      Mmm, I don’t know much about real estate (other than as a buyer) but I can imagine that how this checklist “ballooned from one page to six” is probably just making ‘composite’ steps more explicit, on the whole. For example:

      (_) Ensure the llama is ready for grooming.


      (_) Ensure all mane accessories have been removed.
      (_) Ensure the llama has been offered a cup of tea before you begin.
      (_) Ensure all grooming instruments are in place and clean. (This could be expanded in itself, of course!)
      (_) Ensure all forms are completed in regard to scope of grooming with respect to:
      … (_) head,
      … (_) body,
      … (_) mane and tail.
      … etc.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      I see you’ve read The Checklist Manifesto, too… I am constantly trying to explain to people that a checklist is not a substitute for knowing how to do the steps and, when they start to balloon, something’s going sideways.

      It sounds like this one works well for the LW and their boss, though, so that’s what’s most important.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      It probably looks a bit like a 1040. If x then do a,b and c. But if y then do d, e, f, h and i. This takes up a lot of real estate on the page.

  10. MissGirl*

    OP 5 should definitely reach out to the owners of the company and ask if they want to monetize the checklist software. If they say no, he should get a signed contract releasing the technology and move forward on his own.

    The founders of my company (Beta) worked at a large company (Alpha) and developed software to help internally. They proposed monetizing the software to Alpha to be sold to other companies. Alpha refused, citing that it was not a tech business. The founders left Alpha and started Beta, with full knowledge and permission. Beta went public last year at a billion-dollar valuation. They now provide some services to Alpha.

    Alpha has learned its lesson (I used to work there as well) and is now starting companies of its own to monetize on other tech developments.

    Another fun fact, I interned at a massive car dealership that developed its own customer tracking software system with the help a software company. Because they are a car dealer and not software, they allowed the software company to monetize it in exchange for developing it. Huge mistake on their part. As one of my professors said in business school, almost all companies should consider themselves a tech company.

  11. I'm just here for the cats.*

    Checklist letter:
    Although you created it, you created it for your work at your employer. You could list that as an accomplishment on your resume.

    1. bunniferous*

      Does it make a difference if the op was an agent as opposed to admin? In real estate agents are considered self employed. The lines are a bit blurry in some types of positions.

      1. I'm just here for the cats.*

        I didn’t take it as they were a real estate agent. I thought more like an admin.
        If they are a real estate agent I think it depends on the contract with the brokerage.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I also wondered since the info on the check list is known throughout the industry, how territorial can the company really get about the list. I mean a list on a piece of paper, as opposed to a computer program.

  12. AnotherAlison*

    #1 – What will the OP tell the new employee when asked why this position is available? I’m sure they can spin it to a vague “no longer a fit” type of thing, but word may get around. Also, would the new a/r person ever see the other person’s W2 rate? Maybe not, but if she could, it would be a bummer when she finds out the last person made $20k more.

    Just seems like the OP is fixated on this one line item, and I wonder if there is more to it. This is never a good direction to go. Happened to a relative of mine back in the ’08s, and because of the timing, he stayed with the company at the reduced salary, but of course only until he found somewhere else to land.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      would the new a/r person ever see the other person’s W2 rate? Maybe not, but if she could, it would be a bummer when she finds out the last person made $20k more.

      (I think you mean a/p but) As such, there’s a very thick line between “information you technically have access to in your job” and “information you’ve actually been told”. If you see something in the course of your actual job you are to process it ‘impartially’ and without (even internal) comment. People who work in payroll and many other fields have to deal with this kind of duality, essentially there are two sides of their ‘self’ – the payroll/AP one, and the employee one.

      If manager is in charge of a relatively small team/budget and as such the $20k looms relatively large – it makes sense to at least look there.

      I suspect the real problem is a more systemic incompatibility between actual costs of doing business and revenue at this point, though.

  13. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    I’m sure the OP in #1 could find a person willing to do the work for $20,000 less but salaries should be based on the market rate for the work and the experience/expertise level of the employee, not the revenue of the business. $20,000 is a significant amount and so I wonder what factors went into determining this person’s salary. It should be noted this sort of logic is often used to illegally fire certain workers in favor of an employee that can be “cheaper” (younger/minority/illegal immigration status/etc.) and I hope that’s not the case.

    1. Batty Twerp*

      This always reminds me of the joke about a mechanic/engineer/plumber who charged $1000 to look at something going wrong. He takes out a small wrench and twists it round a pipe and the problem is fixed. The client is furious to have to pay $1000 for that when his admin/nephew/A N Other could’ve done it for $250.
      Ah, its $250 to twist the wrench and $750 to know where and which way to twist.

      Utterly mangled another example, but my point is, that $20k a year is likely paying for her years of experience and industry knowledge. Sometimes its not just industry knowledge, its *company specific* knowledge. And that’s a non-revenue asset that you can’t just replace with a new hire.

    2. Absurda*

      I was going to mention this as well. Generally speaking, the employees who make more money tend to be older while the ones willing to work for less tend to be younger. OP should check with HR/Legal to make sure this would be kosher.

      A few years ago, my company was doing RIFs on a yearly basis. Most managers would choose the highest paid individuals so they could meet their budget without laying off too many people. HR stepped in and pointed out that the RIF list was predominately older employees so it had the whiff of ageism. Even if that wasn’t the intent, the appearance was enough for management to have to redo the list.

    3. D3*

      As a worker between the ages of 50-65, this was ABSOLUTELY my first thought, and frankly, it’s a constant worry. Companies always want experience for entry level positions, but also don’t value experience enough to pay for it.

      1. cmcinnyc*

        Yeah, in these COVID times with our company revenue WAY down, I’m sure HR would love to heave-ho me and leave the much younger new hire to do my job AND hers for the foreseeable future at a fraction of the cost. But I am savvy and I would sue for age discrimination.

        OP#1, be very careful if that $20K is the result of years of small raises adding up. YOu will communicate unmistakeably that the $ is the only value you see, and you will get precisely what you pay for and not a nickel more out of any employee going forward. Really think about any way that this experienced person handles the billing, relationships, etc. that would cease when she’s gone. And figure everyone else on her team is likely to scale way back in the above-and-beyond dept as well.

        1. TardyTardis*

          Also, OP should start wondering about how long will it be before someone higher up looks at *her* job.

        2. Needles to say ..*

          How did you convince yourself that you could possibly win an age discrimination case when 1) the company revenue is “WAY down,” 2) the other person in your department is paid “a fraction of” what they pay you, and 3) your coworker could do both of your work “for the foreseeable future”?

          Discrimination is when you’re fired because you’re part of a protected class not when you’re fired and you’re part of a protected class.

      2. lazy intellectual*

        YES. My older years are ahead of me, but I experienced the flip side of this when I was job hunting for entry level jobs and people wanted what seemed like up to 4 years of experience for jobs that were $40-50K a year (typical entry level salary where I work.) And they requred Master’s degrees! WHERE are you going to find someone with an Master’s AND 2-3 years of experience willing to work at $40-50K?????

  14. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Cutting the amount you pay for your accounting professionals is a great way to lose even more money over time. Yeah you can pay 20k less, you get 20k less in quality work. You often get what you pay for in terms of who is going to take that job at 20K less is most likely going to be less skilled than a person who’s paid more, presumably because they have experience and background in the tasks.

    You’re going to also lose other employees because lots of people will bounce the minute they get scent of you pushing people out and bringing in cheaper workers.

    I have had plenty of people think that anyone can do A/R and billing. Bless their hearts, their books were ratchet and they lost a lot of money on the errors that are caused by someone who isn’t the correct skillset because you paid someone so much less to someone to do it.

    1. Kiki*

      Yeah, if I were the LW, I would be very cautious about replacing someone for $20k less, especially if LW doesn’t have any accounting background. There is a wide spectrum of accounting professionals and it really does make a difference what kind you hire into a position, especially at a small business where they may be the only accounting professional and wearing a lot of hats.
      You *can* pay someone $25 to make your wedding cake, but should you? https://img.buzzfeed.com/buzzfeed-static/static/2018-03/13/9/asset/buzzfeed-prod-web-08/sub-buzz-6521-1520947976-18.jpg?downsize=700%3A%2A&output-quality=auto&output-format=auto

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Thank you for this link, I chuckled and needed that.

        Yes. I once saw somewhere that had their customer service representative deal with the billing. In theory it was pretty easy, the person before was really great and did it hella good.

        That person left for greener pastures. They decided that role could be done for about 10k lower than the person who left was getting. The only people who applied were low level folks trying to get out of retail. They thought they were going to reception work but thought that the data entry side sounded like something they could handle easily. Nope. They went through at least 4 people and the customers suffered, their books were a wreck. I ended up leaving because of that.

        Then they replaced me [full accounting/operations] with someone with an AP clerk background. They were shocked that person didn’t work out…and had to call in some favors.

        1. Gumby*

          If, in the future, similar cake-related chuckles are needed, I highly recommend cakewrecks. I feel a little silly doing so, because you probably already know of it, but it is hours of fun! Or days, weeks…

        2. Anon for this one*

          This is currently happening at my company and it sucks. Used to have very experienced folks in each office doing it but most have left and so it’s been shuffled off to less experienced folks, and now we get lots of emails about incorrect amounts in invoices. It’s definitely cost us client contracts. But the higher ups just see it as a necessary evil and don’t want to hire a new person with higher pay…

    2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      ^This. I worked at a non-profit that decided to replace our entire, experienced finance department with a one person who was less experienced at grant management who was also going to be covering payroll and a temp for A/R. It was a bad time, a very, very bad time. We had invoices that we were supposed to send out that were 6 months late, grant reports and budgets that hadn’t been submitted so the funding was lost, hundreds of thousands of dollars in employee reimbursement for travel that hadn’t been paid (they owed me $5000), and two missed payrolls. Ended up that they brought the old team back and they had to work hours and hours of overtime to un-mess the accounts. Messing with A/R or anything finance needs to be done with caution.

      1. Brooks Brothers Stan*

        Part of my current position has been cleaning up at a non-profit that made this mistake. A short term monetary fix when it comes to disrupting a functioning finance department resulted in thousands of dollars of consultancy fees paid to former employees because the new team couldn’t keep up with the burdens.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I straight up refuse to work in non-profit because IM NOT TRAINED in it! I have decades of for profit experience and I’m still like “No, that’s a horse of a different color!”. Some people think I’m nuts, I just say I don’t want to be the one who brings down an entire operation [lost reimbursements and funding lost, just hearing that made me nauseous!].

        I come in and find embezzlement or massive overpayment issues often times because the person before was doing shenanigans.

        Don’t underpay people who are working with your money.

    3. Anon accountant*

      Yes. I’ve been the CPA hired to do taxes that had to correct a lot of errors. And my firm billed their company for the accounting services. Cheaper isn’t always good.

  15. anonforthis*

    Op #1 – I think how you handle this is entirely dependent on the relationship you have with the employee and their respect for you. In general, I prefer to terminate and backfill at a lower salary than ask someone to take a pay cut (especially a $20k paycut) unless all employees (including management) are taking a paycut. Especially if she is handling the money or has any salary information, she’s most likely going to question why her salary is being reduced, as opposed to cutting expenses in x, y, or z locations. If you decide to terminate, I would think carefully about whether you ask the person to stay on after you let them know the decision, or offer severance at their current salary and have them depart same day. I don’t think this has anything to do with whether or not you are paranoid, it is common in companies to have people working with financials to depart immediately just because of the risks in that department. If a company decides to allow them to stay until a certain point, I strongly recommend a NDA and making severance contingent upon the employee fulfilling their job responsibilities to the end. It is not personal to the employee. Honestly, I’ve only ever had one employee stay after sharing our separation plan, and that was truly unique. Usually we have people depart immediately with as generous a severance package as we can accommodate and as good as a reference as we feel we can offer. On a side note, several other commentators are mentioning the $20k salary difference may not be much. However, for US based employers, an employer pays more for employees in SS and medicare for higher paid employees, and many employers offer a retirement match. This means that a salary of $20k less has additional savings for employers beyond the difference the employee sees in their paycheck. Tough situation.

    1. Case of the Mondays*

      I don’t know if you are US based but employment lawyers typically advise that you offer the employer the lower pay and let them choose to leave. This is to avoid discrimination claims. If they raise age discrimination because the lower cost employee is younger and you say well we only hired her because she’s cheaper, the plaintiff’s attorney is going to say “well, if it was about the money, why didn’t you offer her that position instead?” Same thing if there is any open position in your company he or she is suited for.

      1. anonforthis*

        I’ve actually not had a legal counsel suggest this, but we always do NDAs so maybe that is why (and my management philosophy is pay cuts are so demoralizing and somewhat indefensible unless they are being enacted across the board). I can see your point if you aren’t doing a NDA and the employee in question is over 40, and this approach is also the cheapest course of action for the company, as they do not need to pay severance or unemployment if the employee chooses to leave. How do you prevent the appearance of discrimination if you cut this person’s pay but not anyone else’s on staff?

          1. SomebodyElse*

            That’s what I was wondering… NDA – Non Disclosure Agreement (in my mind sensitive company information)

            Severance Agreement maybe?

          2. anonforthis*

            I’m using the term NDA, a better term is separation agreement. As long as there is not coercion to sign such agreement, the agreement follows the guidelines set out by the EEOC, and the agreement is in compliance with state and federal laws, they usually hold up in court (at least in my region).

          3. Attack Cat*

            The implication is that the NDA would be a defense to why didn’t you allow them to keep their position with a pay cut. That your work was sensitive and you feared sabotage.

      2. TardyTardis*

        Sadly, most age discrimination suits are laughed since the Supremes ruled down the class-action suit at K-Mart (much the same for sexual discrimination since Wal-Mart went the same way). But I can wish good luck to anybody who does have sufficient to sue on.

    2. lazy intellectual*

      PSA to employees being laid off or even just leaving their employer – don’t sign an NDA on your way out! You don’t owe them anything at that point.

      1. Needles to say ..*

        This is good advice and I agree you don’t owe them anything–especially if they’re asking you not to talk about working conditions or similar–but an NDA is typically signed in exchange for a severance package, which many employees need to accept to avoid eviction while they’re looking for the next job.

        (Also note how anonforthis makes the point above that the company can save money by totally shafting the employee on severance if the employee refuses the pay cut because then the employee is forced to “choose” to be laid off. So gross.)

  16. SillyLittlePittyPat!*

    I am curious why the one admin. person is the only one who takes the hit. Why not find your $20k from across the board and let everyone take a small hit? That would be almost inconsequential and would let you keep a faithful employee. Also, no bad blood, plus, if revenues rise again; reinstate her previous salary!

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      To be fair, if this person is the only one being “overpaid,” it doesn’t make sense to cut everyone’s salary. You’d end up with an entire business full of unhappy employees instead of just one.

      1. D3*

        Ah, but “I bet I could find someone $20K cheaper” is NOT the same as “overpaid”. Not by a long shot. And that’s the only reason the OP thinks this ONE person on their staff is “overpaid”

        I am highly skeptical of the “overpaid” part.

        1. Just Another Zebra*


          It does give me pause that OP wants to cut 1 person’s wages by $20k/year. That’s not insignificant! $1,600 to a business’ bottom line is much different than an employee’s budget. That’s a mortgage payment for most people. There’s always someone cheaper – that usually doesn’t equate to better, though.

        2. Insert Clever Name Here*

          Maybe, but we’re supposed to take OPs at their word here. If OP says this person is overpaid, the person is overpaid. Like someone in a thread further up said, if what is needed in this position is a bookkeeper and the person is performing bookkeeping functions but getting paid as a CPA yeah…that’s overpaid.

  17. OtterB*

    Re Reply all: For those announcements, could you use Slack with channels for process updates, etc., instead of email? If so, that would finesse the Reply All.

  18. Nea*

    OP 5 – Your company owns the checklist you created and can do as it pleases with it – BUT you can and should list it as a major accomplishment on your resume, especially if you can add any kind of metrics to it like “compliance issues dropped by X%”.

    I’ve done something similar; created a process that made things much easier and while I did not own the process, I certainly marketed myself to prospective employers as someone who can streamline work while boosting success rates. It’s one of the strongest points on my resume.

    1. TardyTardis*

      I did the same with expense reports (till we all threw them in the hellscape we laughingly call Concur).

      1. Luke G*

        If your assessment is that it’s a terrible system for expense reports, then I totally… uh… gee, there must be a word that means “agree with your opinion in a businesslike way” but I can’t think what it is :D

  19. lou who*

    BCC’ing to avoid reply-alls is a bad idea, in my mind. In that case, message recipients do not have any context for who else received the message. In my experience with work emails, it is much more likely that folks will need to understand the scope of the conversation and their coworkers’ level of involvement/awareness than it is that someone will improperly reply to all. There’s a legitimate work-related reason to let people see who else is receiving the message, whereas the reason to BCC everyone is basically to avoid a personal annoyance.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      These sound like company-wide communications, in which case I’d assume that everyone in the company received it.

    2. TechWorker*

      I think it depends just how many people are on the mailing lists. I have had the problem where you send something to a bunch of mail lists with bcc and someone decides to forward it ‘FYI’ to a mail list who were actually already included. I’d rather get around that by adding a line at the top saying who it’s been bcc-ed to rather than risk the reply all storm though :p

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I have seen people say, “Reply to just me, don’t hit reply to all.” That can help somewhat.

  20. AvonLady Barksdale*

    OP #4: This situation is SO frustrating and even more so these days. I’m in the middle of it myself. It’s hard, but it’s important to remember that every interaction counts. Your response to, “We’re so sorry, our process is on hold” can’t necessarily make you, but it can for sure break you.

    I was recently told that I was doing really well in a company’s process but they decided to delay the position for a few months, and all I could say was, “Thank you for letting me know, I understand, I appreciate your candor, etc.” What I really wanted to say was, “But… but… why not hire me NOW?” Nope.

    Deep breaths and good luck.

    1. SomebodyElse*

      If it makes you feel any better, I’m sure the hiring manager was just as disappointed and frustrated!

  21. Dumpster Fire*

    OP1: are there any additional/new responsibilities that you can ask your “overpaid” employee to take on? If she’s being paid $20K more than you think she’s worth, she might very well be able to streamline some of her existing tasks and add to her value, rather than reduce her pay.

  22. Exhausted Trope*

    OP4, Alison’s advice is spot on. As you continue your job search, (I am assuming that you are) should you be offered a position at another company, you may want to contact the first company and let them know. But only if the new offer is official and comparable to the one on hold.
    (Apologies to the others who may have already posted this idea. I’ve not read any comments.)

  23. Waiting to be Future Endeavored*

    For OP1, it might be worth doing a formal review of salaries and job descriptions, especially if you only know what the one employee is making. Is this something the company can do? A few years ago, my org did this — some people received raises, some people stayed the same. I’m not sure that anyone was moved to a lower salary. But it’s at least an evidence based way to evaluate it and not personal opinion.

    1. TechWorker*

      Probably worth giving the LW a *little* bit of credit – this is their employee, they know the job and may well have already done a bunch of research, so it seems bizarre to claim their view of the right salary for the role as ‘personal opinion’.

  24. Paris Geller*

    I know some small businesses operate on thin margins and this is an old letter, but I feel like if you’re at the point you need to slash the salary of an employee $20K and that will help, there’s probably more issues than just that employee’s salary. Plus, training and retaining employees is costly. Doesn’t seem worth it to save $20k when you have no idea what kind of replacement you’ll get.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      if you’re at the point you need to slash the salary of an employee $20K and that will help, there’s probably more issues than just that employee’s salary

      Depending on the level the OP is at… $20k may be a significant amount of their budget.

      Remember, what goes on in a company is really just the sum of what goes on in all the individual units.

    2. cncx*

      I agree with you, every company i have ever worked at that fired someone to cut cost wound up having to double the headcount for that role because the people who could work for less didn’t have the higher salaried person’s skill set. The replacement may certain be cheaper but whether or not you’ll get the same returns is not guaranteed.

  25. KoiFeeder*

    Reading the comments on the original letter for OP1, I’m a little horrified by how many people have stories of billings and accounts folks “shoving complicated invoices into a desk drawer and ignoring them” and “signing off on fax scams” and the like. Something tells me that hiring for cheap over competent would cost OP1 way more than $1667 a month.

    (Also, for those worried about the pandemic- Alison published OP1’s letter on 11/2/2016 originally. No virus there!)

  26. Bridget*

    What is your opinion on whether you can take things you created at one employer for your own personal use at another? For example, I’ve created a couple of spreadsheets that are very useful for my day to day job (which doesn’t change significantly when I move from one employer to another). They are resources I’ve shared with people at jobs just to help them do their jobs better, but not something that would ever be used in a public-facing or direct revenue-generating way so it’s not like I’m sharing trade secrets. I’m not committing some like, cardinal workplace sin, am I?

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      Those (in general) become your employer’s intellectual property at the point you create them (as described) so no you couldn’t just take them to another employer.

      1. Needles to say ..*

        Hard disagree depending on the specifics. If it’s not a unique type of document or unique to the company and you can recreate it without much effort at the next company, go ahead. (Example: a spreadsheet for calculating cost/benefit or a budget; a sales script that works particularly well, etc.)

    2. SomebodyElse*

      I think you’re fine with what you described. It sounds like a generic job aid.

      I’m trying to think of an example… to see if I’m tracking with what you have.

      You are an admin/EA, 5 years ago you started compiling a list of restaurants, caterers, and venues that includes notes as to what they are good at, what kind of events you like to use them for, and general price information. You’ve changed jobs twice since starting it, and have brought it with you to each new job and shared it with other EAs and admins.

      If it’s something like this you are fine. Even if it’s something like a checklist of daily/monthly/quarterly tasks that are typical for your role but without details is fine.

      I guess if you are ever in doubt you could ask when you leave for the next company if they have any issues with you taking a copy and/or sharing it. But I can’t imagine that anyone would say no as long as it wasn’t proprietary or sensitive.

  27. Mockingbird*

    Checklist letter: Alison’s advice is correct for employees, but it’s not clear from the letter if OP was an employee (like admin staff) or a real estate agent, in which case they were probably an independent contractor, as most real estate agents are (my husband is one). If the latter, OP probably owns the rights to the checklist. Independent contractors own their work product unless there’s a written agreement to the contrary, at least under US law.

    I’m an IP attorney and deal with this issue pretty frequently.

    1. Dagny*

      I was wondering the same thing. This is definitely a question that is highly dependent upon exactly how her employment is structured.

  28. Jamboree*

    Re #5, who owns the checklist … Allison would the answer be the same is this was a 1099 contractor situation? For example, what if LW created it for their own benefit, on their own time? Or possibly sometimes on billable time and sometimes not?

  29. Kella*

    For OP1, I felt like one piece of information was missing: Do they know *why* she is paid $20,000 above market rate or whatever they are using to come up with this number? Because there might be a good reason her wages are so much higher that OP wouldn’t know having come in to the business more recently.

    Pre-pandemic, I rented a venue on a weekly basis to host a dance. We had a much lower rate of rent than someone walking in off the street because a. we had been renting same time, every week, for 10 years and b. we were very well behaved, easy to work with tenants. In comes a new office manager, and he starts grumbling about how we’re not paying them nearly enough money and starts treating us like we’re the *bad* tenants because we pay so little. He didn’t understand that we had *earned* that privilege through valuable loyalty and reliability. Thankfully, he was fired before he could raise the rent on us too much (I think he may have been stealing money from the venue!!) but we were treated to several tirades about how we didn’t deserve such a low rate, before that happened.

    I’m not saying OP1 is rising to that level of terrible. But given their stated tendency toward assuming the worst of an employee, maybe it would behoove them to find out if there is an actual good reason this employee is paid so much more.

    1. Karia*

      Ding ding ding. I’ve spoken about my boss from hell before. She did not value what I did, and bullied me out. Her original plan was to have my duties added to a current employee. Then an intern. Then my job was re-advertised. And then again for £5k more than I earned. *shrug*.

  30. Firecat*

    #2 Love Alison’s answer here. It’s great that the employee is given a chance to say why.

    It could be something as benign as: both of my PT employers were upset about any time I was not available for them, but neither was willing to make me FT or schedule out time further in advance.

    While I’ve never personally experienced that, I’ve seen many coworkers saddled with that. Their managers would put things like “unreliable” in their performance reviews because they found out that they had a second full time job to make ends meet. They didn’t want to increase the salary to make it uneccasary for them to work 2 FT positions, but they liked to harras them about being “tired” and “not at their best” for their shifts with them. I can honestly say they were often perkier then I was yet I never got this feedback so I chalked it up to an unhealthy sense of ownership and entitlement from the managers.

    1. Rebecca*

      Yes. I had a manager once who wanted be to be available on the days when the other employee called in sick, which happened frequently enough to be annoying for my manager but not frequently enough to be reliable salary for me. He wasn’t willing to give me her shifts, he just wanted me at home to be ready to solve the problem when she called in, and that definitely made me unreliable/unwilling/not going the extra mile.

  31. Barbara Eyiuche*

    Be careful about the option of keeping her on at a significantly lower salary. I was an intern at an office where almost everyone was moved one pay grade lower to save money. Some people quit, but the people who stayed were angry and bitter. Morale in the office was bad, and people just stopped trying. So little work got done that it was a joke.

    1. WellRed*

      We reduced the hours of a few people from 40 to 20 to preserve their jobs (pandemic) instead of laying off one person. They are still doing their jobs and are pleasant enough but I don’t think management has a clue how angry they are (and it’s been seven months).

      1. Not A Manager*

        I believe you that they are angry but it’s a bit baffling. Presumably any of them would be a lot more upset if they were the one person laid off in order to preserve full employment for everyone else.

        If they were that one laid off person, they’d have to job hunt now. So why don’t the angry part-time people use that extra time to job hunt if they’re so unhappy to be part-time?

        It really seems like the employer is damned no matter what they do. Employers didn’t create COVID and they didn’t create this economy. There are a lot that are being unreasonable and taking advantage, but cutting hours in order to avoid layoffs seems humane to me.

        1. Karia*

          This comment highlights why it’s problematic to have managers and employees with hugely disparate salaries / lifestyles.

          If my salary is halved, that’s *worse* than being laid off. Because I don’t qualify for any benefits, I don’t have real time to job hunt and I don’t have enough money to live on. It’s the worst of all possible worlds.

        2. Karia*

          I get where you’re coming from to an extent, because in my thirties, I like my job fine and my partner can support us both. Ten years ago, I’d have been better off psychologically and financially if I’d just been laid off. Part time wages would have been less than unemployment, and wouldn’t have covered my (very frugal) essential expenses.

        3. SomebodyElse*

          I think it depends how many people are affected. I’m not sure I’d go with this strategy myself. Because of the workload, resentment and fear factor.

          Are they now overworked in those hours?
          Are they looking around and now asking the question “Jane is such a slacker I’m making less money just so someone like her could keep their job”
          If we’ve gotten along this long at reduced hours are we ever going back to normal?

          I feel like altruistic feelings are in short supply when it comes to giving up part of your paycheck for someone else and I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

        4. Just Another Zebra*

          It’s definitely a catch-22 type situation. My employer really suffered at the beginning of COVID, and we were given the choice to have our hours cut or be laid off. Some people took the layoff. We slowly got more hours, and we’re now back at full time. The owner didn’t take a paycheck for months. Yes, people weren’t “happy” with losing hours, but we were all just so grateful to keep our jobs in the midst of so many people not having work that it sort of overshadowed the grumpiness.

          1. Karia*

            Again, I feel like characterising this as ‘grumpiness’ is a problematic reflection of AAM demographics.

            I’m sure my old boss thought I was ‘grumpy’ and ‘ungrateful’ when I left. But he literally wasn’t paying me enough to live on. It actually broke my heart to leave; I was very loyal to him. But; I was also trying and failing to support two people on not enough money, and us having food was actually more important that falsely perceived ‘disloyalty’.

            I sometimes wonder if some AAM readers realise that their employees leave not because of a choice between a Porsche and an Accura but because of a choice between eating and not.

            1. SomebodyElse*

              Just about everybody who has direct control over employment status and pay for an employee understands this and feels the weight of it.

              Most of us also know and fully support that employees have to do what is best for them.

              1. pancakes*

                You can’t credibly claim to speak for a large and disparate group, particularly with regard to their feelings.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I don’t think SomebodyElse is claiming to be presenting a peer-reviewed study, just noting their experience of how people approach this (which aligns with my own as well).

                2. pancakes*

                  “Most of us” seems to me quite clearly trying to speak for a group of people, and it doesn’t align with what I see in the US labor market.

  32. Sharon*

    I wouldn’t cut her salary, but consider whether reducing her hours with a commensurate drop in pay might make sense and be a win-win. I would be delighted to work 4 days a week for 80% pay. (However, you’d have to make sure she wasn’t simply being asked to cram 5 days worth of work into 4 for less pay, and ideally you would offer this as an option rather than as a done deal).

  33. employment lawyah*

    1) First make sure you are making a wise choice. As AAM notes, $20k is both a lot and not THAT much, and it’s a hell of a lot LESS than the cost of a new, bad, employee. WHo is to say your replacement will be competent? Really good talent is hard to find and it’s worth trying to keep it, if she’s in that category.

    That said, if you’re positive that you need the $20k: IMO Most people respond poorly to a drop in pay, so I am more skeptical about keeping her. This is irrational (what if she would prefer to stay?) but still true, in my opinion, so I don’t think that risk should be discounted.

    Finally, consider your liability if you choose to fire her–ageism or other protected-class status can make that hard to do.

    2) yes, be suspicious.

    1. Just Another Zebra*

      I think given the world we currently live in, and how tight the job market is, giving this employee the choice is the appropriate thing to do. She can certainly leave, but as Alison always says, she could also quit tomorrow with no notice. You can’t make decisions based around whether an employee will stay or go.

      I commented below, but my husband’s ex-employer let him go because of COVID-related constraints, then posted his job at a lower market raid (my husband was, to an extent, overpaid for the position). Instead of offering him the position at a lower salary, they let go of a loyal employee in favor of training someone else. It’s a national company, so whenever people bring them up, I tell them this story to show how they treat their staff.

      1. Karia*

        On the other hand, if my manager told me they were considering replacing me for monetary reasons and thought it was acceptable to halve my salary… I’d be gone the second someone offered me more than 20k, *especially* because 9/10 new salaries are based on past ones.

        1. TechWorker*

          I obviously don’t know for sure but given there’s normally quite a big difference in roles that pay 20k and 40k, I would think the suggested paycut is more likely to be like 70k to 50k than 40 to 20. Would I accept that? Hell no, I’d be job hunting. But not quite the same as halving someone’s pay.

      2. employment lawyah*

        “She can certainly leave, but as Alison always says, she could also quit tomorrow with no notice. You can’t make decisions based around whether an employee will stay or go. ”

        Huh? You can and absolutely should consider that! It’s just that you don’t normally have a lot t go on.

        Someone who is working now and how takes a $20k pay cut is much more likely to “give notice and leave” than someone who believes they are fairly paid.

  34. Uranus Wars*

    Without more input from the OP, I am torn on the salary. In old job we had someone hired in at a significantly higher rate than the market called for because the manager paid them based on old salary (that was for a much higher position/greater responsibility than the one hired in for).

    I am not a fan of slashing salary, but if something like that happened in this case I think a conversation needs to be had. At a very minimum research, weighing out cost, etc. Even in “thin” times $20,000 isn’t always that much money to a company, where it is to an individual.

  35. Just Another Zebra*

    When COVID hit, my husband was temporarily laid off, then lost his job 2 months later (he did get some severance). Not 3 days later, he saw his position listed on several job search websites. Because he was still happy to do the work, he applied. His old manager called him and asked if he realized it was the same position, of course he did, blah blah blah. The manager then told him, “Well, we’re offering about $15k less than you were making.” Given the fact we have a toddler, a mortgage, car payments, etc, my husband was 100% fine with the pay cut, knowing he could look for a job in the meanwhile if money was really that tight for us.

    He never even got an interview.

    Give your employee the choice. These are weird times for everyone, and no one wants to be jobless right now.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Would hiring him back have screwed up the severance? That’s the only reason I can think of…

      1. Language Lover*

        Maybe. My guess is that it’d be a question of retention. They likely have better odds that a new hire would stick around for a while after accepting the job over an employee they already fired to save 15K/year. Even if the new employee is also effectively taking a pay cut, it’s not their new company imposing a pay cut like it would be for the husband.

        1. TechWorker*

          Yeah – they probably assumed (rightly from the sounds of it) that if he came back he’d be immediately job hunting.

  36. Karia*

    The question to ask yourself is; could you survive on half your salary? Would you want to? Would you be insulted if some manager decided they could replace you with some green graduate willing to accept half of what your worth?

    1. PeteyKat*

      You keep saying the OP is cutting half of the employees salary – but he doesn’t state that. He states $20,000. Where are you getting half of the employee salary from? Did I miss OP posting in comments?

  37. Autumnheart*

    How much money would the company save if they replaced OP and hired someone cheaper? Then you don’t lose a valuable admin. Something to consider for the best interests of both employer and employee!


    1. Karia*

      They could get someone who recognises that most humans would be unable to sustain their living expenses on a 50% pay-cut, and that most companies don’t randomly pay employees twice what they’re worth.

      1. Autumnheart*

        Yeah. I’m super not a fan of the framing, “We’re not making nearly as much money, therefore you are overpaid.” That makes it sound like the employee is at fault and a detriment to the company. I bet OP doesn’t think she’s overpaid by $20K now that revenues are down.

  38. HailRobonia*

    For #1, what percentage of the salary is the $20k? If I am making $50k/year and you knock that down to $30k, I wouldn’t be able to pay my mortgage, etc.

    If I am making $120k and you reduce that to $100k, hopefully I will survive.

  39. learnedthehardway*

    OP#1 – It sounds like you have a high-performing employee, who has been loyal to your company. That’s worth $20K or more, right there. Factor in the cost of hiring (because there is a cost – in time, dollars, etc.), the risk that a new hire might not work out or might not perform as well as your current employee, and the morale issues you’ll get when the rest of your staff realize you let someone go because you felt they were overpaid, and I really don’t think you’re going to achieve the $20K in savings you expect to get.

    Instead, I would look at ways this employee can contribute more to the business, as another poster had suggested.

    If you absolutely have got to reduce costs in your department, perhaps look at doing a TEMPORARY pay reduction for all employees, with some appropriate measure to compensate them in other ways. Eg. a 10% pay cut but everyone gets to take every second Friday off (you can stagger things so half your staff takes Friday A and the other half takes Friday B, that way you have coverage in the business). Or look for other ways the business can cut costs (get staff involved in looking for cost improvements). I worked for a business that did something similar during one recession – the company ended the pay cut just as soon as business came back to normal, and gave everyone bonuses to make up for it. People were really loyal to that company, as a result – they felt like they all pulled together. (Incidentally, managers took a bigger pay cut than line-level and admin staff).

  40. RJ*

    This particular letter triggered a nerve as it falls into my profession and likely reasons for my being laid off earlier this year (prior to COVID). Could they find someone for less who could do the same job? Possibly. It doesn’t mean, however, that the future employee will be able to do so.

    Billing and accounts receivable, two components of the much larger scope that is project accounting isn’t something that is easily transferable. It’s a nuanced and balanced workflow that depends on outside elements (clients/client requirements) as well as inside influences (project teams/project managers/administrators/CFOs). Depending on the person who is hired, they may be stronger on one side than the other. Finding a person strong on both is hard. Keeping that person saves times, money and confusion.

    In my situation, they decided to hire someone with fifteen years less experience than I have, but with a master’s degree and give him a new title. COVID complicated several projects and many errors were committed on his end, from what I understand from my previous associates. Due to budget cuts and another restructuring of roles, he either left or was let go. It did not end well and they lost a client due to the bad transition.

  41. pcake*

    Years ago, I was an editor, copywriter and writer for a site that decided they wanted to pay less – they found a guy who would do my work for 50% of the money unless I was willing to take the same cut. I was very gracious and wished them well, and found a great position that paid me more.

    The new guy is someone I had managed before. His writing wasn’t too good, his marketing in the writing was heavy-handed and obvious, and he was given to not meeting deadlines. But at least they could pay him less.

    1. londonedit*

      I find editing/proofreading/writing is often the first thing to go! People just don’t seem to be able to see the value in using experienced professionals. When I was freelancing I lost a couple of contracts because the companies I was working for decided they wanted to ‘streamline costs’ by having the intern write their copy, or ‘just getting someone in-house to look over’ things before they were published. Sure, you can save money doing that, but you’re not going to get the quality! I reckon the same thing has happened with a couple of fashion brands whose emails I’m subscribed to – the copy is frequently appalling (sometimes it barely even makes sense) and you can tell they think they can just get whoever has a free five minutes to cobble something together. It makes me sad to see professional editors and writers being so undervalued!

  42. Bob*

    LW1: Do this and you will likely find the learning curve and errors and time spent waiting for the new employee to get up to speed, then the long timeframe to get to where the current employee is will not look so awesome once you tally it up.
    Opportunity costs, stress, errors, delays, disgruntled employees and maybe customers depending on the employee’s role and more headaches you cannot even foresee will make 20K look like a bargain.

    But if you truly make your employee pay the price in lost employment for your education then i suggest looking at the salaries of the higher ups and forcing the same percentage cut on all their salaries so that you can save far more than 20K and learn your lesson well.

    You will then have a very flush budget and learn why this was a bad idea.

  43. Donkey Hotey*

    Am I the only one who wonders what the before/after salaries are? 20K off of a 40K salary is significantly more than 20k off of a 100k salary. In both cases, it would still hurt like hell and I I still object to the idea of the new boss deciding that the employee (specifically a woman) is overpaid and trying to cut their losses, but most of that has been addressed upstream.

      1. Donkey Hotey*

        You are very kind.

        Your user name reminds of the day I had to rush to class wearing my partner’s sweatshirt which read “Si hoc legere scis nimium eruditiones habes.” My professor stopped his lecture mid-sentence and said, “And that’s why I teach” and continued.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          If I ever see that garment for sale, I can only pray there’s one in my size!

  44. agnes*

    All I have to say to LW #1 is to be absolutely sure of what you speak. Make sure you know the full scope of this employee’s duties. Especially if this person is responsible for collections you might find that you lose 20K in revenue because the new person isn’t on top of billings and receivables and can’t do collections at all. Finding good a/r/billing people is harder than finding good a/p people. It’s not the same skill set at all.

  45. Leela*

    OP #1 pay a LOT of attention to the last thing AAM said: the cost to morale.

    If you let her go, you’re risking every other good employee wondering if you’re going to cut them and just find someone more junior and cheaper and you’re looking at your best and brightest jumping ship somewhere they feel that is less likely to happen to them. Also, it’s going to look like budget cuts (and position cuts, with them) are coming whether that’s true or not and you’re going to have quality staff bailing. That doesn’t mean don’t do it but…you might be looking at a much higher cost than you think you are, it’s very expensive and disruptive to hire multiple staff and get them performing at the same level the people you’re replacing were performing

  46. Hiring Mgr*

    I think Alison’s last paragraph of her answer is spot on.. .Is this really going to make that big of a difference in total savings that it’s worth the potential morale hit to the rest of the group in addition to the costs of hiring, ramping etc.. What else would you do with the $20K?

    Also, if you do this…the precedent has now been set for higher ups to do the same

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Also, if you do this…the precedent has now been set for higher ups to do the same

      This. Way to make everyone at your company (yourself included) terrified of getting raises, OP.

  47. Fluff*

    For Reply all – If you Blind Copy (one of my favorite prevention tools for this effect) consider

    1. Use your greeting to clarify the group like “Team A Teapot coloring – Greetings all.”
    2. Make a comment “This is a blind copy email to prevent reply all bunnies. Please email X or myself for questions.”

    Otherwise folks may get paranoid about the bcc. When done openly – and never use bcc to surreptitiously send to a boss – bcc can really prevent those multipliers without freaking the teams out. Because the person(s) who tends to be the reply all replicator despite instruction to not do that will always reply all. Even to their own reply all “Yeah!” email. (It was funny despite the annoyance).

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I have seen male employees laid off or forced into early retirement for this reason. The ones I saw this being done to were older employees with long tenure at the company (30+ years in one case) who one day were told that, after 30 years of annual raises, the worldwide corporation we worked at could not afford them anymore. At least some of them were offered an early retirement (hopefully including benefits like pension and such, which that employer did have). It is sad and ridiculous how disposable we are to our employers in the corporate world.

  48. HRAwry*

    I’m of the mind that pay doesn’t need to be fair it needs to be equitable. If you have two employees doing the same job and one is making $20k and the other $45k that is a hard justification. People should be around the same level for doing the same type of work.

    1. TardyTardis*

      But is the $45K person really doing the same job, or is she checking for things that the cheaper person is not?

  49. Professor Ronny*

    Your employees can only reply all if all of their names are in the to or cc field of the email. Put all the names in the bcc field (blind carbon copy) and no one can reply all because each email gets sent out with only one email address in it. This may or may not work if you use a single group email address to blast these out but with only 15 employees, you can easily just type their individual addresses in the bcc field.

  50. Workfromhome*

    #1 There is often a lot more than meets the eye in these situations. I will say I don’t favour simply letting someone go because they make too much money. If they are productively doing the job they are in and that head count is going to stay in the company then for many reasons I think its “owed” to them to give them the choice to continue to do the same good work but at a different pay scale if the work done now has a different value. Jobs change. If someone gets more duties or responsibility the normal expectation is that they will be paid more. If the duties they do become less or are not worth the same (think maybe someone got hired because they were the only one at the time that was trained to use xyz software and you paid a premium to hire them. Now 5 years later everyone knows how to use xyz software and yu could bring in any one of 100 people that could do that job)

    People talk about how it might impact moral but there is another side to the coin and one that not all companies can afford especially in this climate. A number of years ago we acquired another company and with it an employee. This employee was an Llama trainer and paid 70 K a year. We don’t have Llama trainers only groomers that made 60 k a year. But since a trainer could also groom we kept all the employees and put him to work as a groomer. at his current salary. Over the years as raises were made etc people started to become aware that there was a 10K plus gap between employees that performed the same and had same seniority. Fortunately we are a big company and through giving some employees bigger raises or other adjustments over a number of years the gap was narrowed. BUT for a small company with declining revenues that’s not an option.
    Having someone who is 20K overpaid for a role makes for a very difficult situation if you need to transfer someone into a similar role or hire for another body in that role. You either end up with multiple overpaid people or with a large pay gap that you cant explain away or fix. that’s very bad for morale.

    My preferred course of action would be to look at the job as it stands today and determine the market rate for that job. If the job is truly a 30 K and not a 50K job in todays market (equal kills and years experience ) then you need to reclassify the job and set an appropriate rate. Tell the current employee this job is now classified 2b instead of 1a. The pay range for this job is 20-30K based on the market. If you wish to accept this new position as a 2b we know you are very capable and would pay you at the top of the pay scale. If you need to continue to make a 1a salary then you’ll need to move to a different job if there is one available in the company or outside if there is nothing.

    1. TardyTardis*

      I had this happen to me (except I was paid far less and then paid even lesser), but I needed the benefits. Needless to say I was not a happy person, and took early retirement as soon as I could.

  51. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    OP5: the actual list may be the property of your employer since you did it while being paid, however the knowledge needed to create it is yours. You can very well use that knowledge to create something else. I’m pretty sure you could repackage your knowledge in a way that would prevent your employer from being able to sue you for theft.
    Sounds like a great project!

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