update: my employee asked for a 170% raise

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose employee asked for a 170% raise after four months in an entry-level position? Here’s the update.

Thank you (and everyone who commented) for your advice! Unfortunately since it was a couple weeks before the blog post was published, we had already resolved the situation. Here’s what ended up happening:

1. I did a lot more research – I went through multiple salary reporting sites, for multiple locations (we’re all remote, so I checked the numbers for all the locations), and multiple positions that reflected different aspects of the work he was doing. The data varied a bit, but the range was $15 – $30/hr, with the most common numbers being $20 or $25. (He was earning $15.) Based on this, I decided that $20 – $25 was reasonable for his experience level, location, and the work he was doing.

2. I spoke to the employee again, discussing the numbers I had found, where I had found them, why I had chosen the information I looked at, and asked him more about his research. It turns out that his research was based on a misunderstanding of his title (which I think was due to inexperience, so we cleared that up), only looking at one resource (which was not a well known resource, and sounded a little sketchy to me, so I sent him links to the resources I looked at), and some advice from an acquaintance (which, while probably good advice for him in general, didn’t actually apply to the job he was doing at this company). I told him I thought $20-$25 was what I could support as reasonable to my boss, so he decided to ask for $25.

3. I also asked if there were any non-financial changes we could make, since I had a lot more control over those. We figured out some schedule and PTO changes that worked better for him.

4. I talked to my boss, who agreed to $20. He also said $25 wasn’t out of the question, but he wanted to see more of a track record from the employee first, and that we could revisit it in a couple months.

5. The employee wasn’t thrilled by this, but accepted the $20 plus scheduling changes plus promise to look at it again in a couple months, and remained in the position.

Some context I didn’t include in my original letter: the reason the employee ended up taking other duties was that I caught covid early and badly (I only narrowly avoided hospitalization). I was out for a long time, and since it happened really abruptly, things were pretty messy until (and after) I was able to return. The tasks he took on were things I would usually have handled myself, but he was enthusiastic about them and was doing well enough at them – and I didn’t really think about it past that. That was definitely an oversight on my part – at the time I was focused on getting things running smoothly again (and dealing with post-covid symptoms), since a lot of problems had cropped up while I was out that no one else was able to handle.

I actually ended up quitting my job a little while after my letter, mainly because the long term effects of covid were so bad (and still are, 8 months later). As part of the discussions when I left, I recommended that the employee take on certain aspects of my job. At the time I left, it wasn’t clear if this was happening or not, but if it does, hopefully he can use that to ask for another raise. Maybe he’ll even get to that $40/hr he wanted!

A few things I saw come up in the comments:

Some commentators seemed to think I was outraged at my employee asking for this, but I wasn’t – I would say “surprised, confused, and unsure” was closer. This was the first salary negotiation for an employee I’ve handled, and I’ve always been extremely anxious about asking for raises for myself (and have only done that a couple times), so his approach really threw me. It wasn’t a “how dare you” reaction, but a “wait what, is this actually reasonable? This seems really off-base, but am I crazy? Do I need to recalibrate by a lot here?” reaction.

Yes, in retrospect sharing my salary with him was not the best idea – I was trying to be transparent and straightforward, but this wasn’t the way to go about it. Lesson learned. (I definitely want to avoid any Michael Scott comparisons, oof!)

Improving my relationship with my boss was a good suggestion, but it would have been difficult – he was running 3 other companies so he was always extremely busy, and even the ten minute calls always seemed too long for him. There was also a 12 hour time difference, so most communication happened over email. When I’m recovered enough to look for work again, a more available boss in a similar timezone is definitely on my list of requirements.

Thank you again!

{ 24 comments… read them below }

  1. Detective Amy Santiago*

    This is a great update in terms of resolving the issue.

    Best wishes for improved health in the new year.

  2. Crcala*

    OP, I am so sorry you are still struggling from COVID. I hope there is some improvement soon. I’ll be thinking of you.

  3. Bob*

    Thanks for the update.
    It does sound like he is $25/hr material, especially for taking on even more responsibility during your convalescence.
    I am so sorry to hear about your covid diagnosis and long term symptoms. I hope you are getting good medical care. Don’t be afraid to look farther and wider if necessary, things are still being learned and not every doctor is up to date on the rapid developments in long covid understanding.
    Also i hope you have the financial resources to survive being out of work.

    1. PT*

      A lot of hospital systems are opening post-COVID clinics, I imagine every network will have one eventually.

  4. Bookworm*

    I’m so sorry you’re still dealing with COVID but hopefully it seems like it worked out for the better (mostly).

    Good luck in your recovery!! Hope it’s swift and smooth!

  5. Quill*

    Best of luck and wow, this was a far more reasonable resolution than I thought it would be! (And glad the employee got up to a $20 minimum liveable wage, as many of us noted in the original.)

  6. I edit everything*

    Post-COVID stuff is almost worse than during-COVID symptoms, I’ve found. And I had a mild case. I hope your recovery continues! I had it a month ago, and every now and then I manage to actually catch a whiff of something, but the mental effects–blanks and sensory sensitivity–are driving me nuts.

    All sympathy to you, LW. Take care of yourself.

  7. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

    First off, may you get past all the long haul COVID issues.

    Second, you handled this beautifully. You pulled the research, showed your employee, asked how he got his number, and helped him with resources to deal with this in the future, AND he got a raise (albeit not what he wanted). You are whatever the opposite of Michael Scott is

  8. Seashells*

    I sympathize with the post-COVID effects. My husband, my sister and my nephew all had it. My husband had a mild case in March and he says he gets tired more easily than before and occasionally feels as though his heart is beating too fast. He had diabetes and sees his doctor regularly and the doctor is monitoring him.

    My sister had a more severe case and she has lost her sense of taste, continues to have nausea and also says she tires easily and finds that she sleeps longer than before. My nephew (her son) hasn’t mentioned anything. He’s a teenager so he sleeps a lot anyway.

  9. KZ*

    He should have gotten $25/hour. Without you there to advocate for him, it may be a long time before he achieves that amount.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      She did advocate for him all she could. You have no idea if he really should have gotten $10,000+ more or not.

      1. Mookie*

        We do because both the LW concluded that that would be reasonable and her boss agreed it was possible with one condition (down the line a few months and with more data supporting the employee’s performance.) It’s in the range they found acceptable and nothing the LW has written suggests the employee, particularly after her own departure, is not worth the top end. That a four month-old employee negotiated a better rate than their starting one and with a promise to consider a second raise in a matter of months (so, below the full year) is proof of competence, promise, and that he was, indeed, being undercompensated.

    2. Anonymous At a University*

      So the LW should have made her life revolve around getting this employee the higher number? I’m sorry, that’s ridiculous.

  10. Sled dog mama*

    I love reading the opening line of an update and thinking “No, I don’t remember that one. HOW do I not remember that one!!!”

    1. Quill*

      We all have reduced memory due to ongoing stress this year and this was not anything like as bonkers as some of the other updates have been. :)

  11. The Rural Juror*

    I remember some years ago when I used to work for a toxic company (and I was managing people without having the title or compensation of a manager), that we hired a part-time employee who had been unemployed for a bit. He had moved to our city from a nearby city with a higher cost of living. He had worked for many years in our industry in the previous city, but it was 2011 and things were still rebounding from the recession.

    After working for our company for a bit (and to be honest…being kind of a pain in the butt to everyone), he went to our boss and asked if he could go to full-time. Our boss said yes, but then the employee asked for a considerable raise. I remember thinking the number he asked for was more than 10K over what I was making, and I was the employee with the most seniority. None of us that had been there for years were making even close to that. Plus, he hadn’t been there long enough to really have a good track record and he was starting to have a reputation of being a a bit of a complainer. The boss swiftly said no, and honestly I didn’t blame him.

    Of course, the real moral of the story is that all of us were severely underpaid and our expectations were out of whack. A lot of us were just glad to have a job in our industry at that point because the recession had wiped out a lot of jobs for us. The salary that man had asked for was NOT outrageous, especially when you consider our company only offered a bit of PTO and no health benefits. But at the time, based on what I was making, it seemed like a lot of money and totally unachievable.

    So I can understand where the OP was initially questioning their reacation.

  12. Anononon*

    I find it strange that you offered him a range instead of just a number. Who would ever choose the lower number? And it must have been double-y frustrating for him to take you up on your offer and then for your boss to backtrack.

    1. Uranus Wars*

      I read it as her trying to help him by providing research and what she thought an equivalent range was. Seems weird because she is his boss…except in the decision about the raise where she is more like a mentor and go-between. I based that on “$20-$25 is what I can support” so could also be totally wrong.

      1. TechWorker*

        IMO the difference between ‘management’ and ‘employee’ can be more fluid than it often appears in Alison’s answers. Some managers (or maybe you’d call them ‘supervisors’?) have day to day responsibility for managing work and some personnel stuff but do not hire, set raises or bonuses (they might input but not make the final decision) or have the power to unilaterally fire someone.

        (I don’t actually think this is a bad thing – that stuff is super important so it going through a second line manager rather than just the first line manager who could be quite new – OP said this was their first salary negotiation – doesn’t seem terrible.)

      2. MCMonkeybean*

        I think it’s extremely common that your direct supervisor doesn’t get the final say (or sometimes even much say in all) in your raises. It sounds like they were trying to be very transparent which is a good thing to me. My assumption was that by saying “$20-$25 would be a more reasonable ask” the idea is the employee will likely ask for the $25, but they should expect it is possible the big boss only goes for $20. Which it sounds like is exactly what happened.

    2. Miss Demeanor*

      FWIW, I read it as setting his expectations on what the company could feasibly pay. My HR has many degrees of bureaucracy (which I shan’t get into here), but when we are presented with raises by our supervisors, it’s never a hard number- always a scale. It’s on HR and the powers that be to determine where on that scale we fall. HR will sometimes come out even higher than the range based on internal equity reviews. So the OP could’ve said “we can reasonably ask between 20%-25%” and the employee wanted her to push for the top of that range. I think the order of operations of how raises and promotions work is different per org. I don’t know if it’s a good system or not but I understand why it happens and it feels pretty transparent. Though, I also see why it would be frustrating to see a range and then told you’re actually at the low end without being provided further context.

  13. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    Well done and all my sympathy for the rotten deal Covid has thrown at you, I hope you get well soon!

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