our staff aren’t underpaid but think they are

A reader writes:

I work at a nonprofit with about 200 staff. Staff constantly bring up how underpaid they are and ask for bonuses, cost-of-living increases, better benefits, everything. They take up a lot of meeting time talking about it, send all-staff emails, badger the board, send nasty emails to any committee that has anything to do with money, and get angry at the person who cuts the paychecks. It’s not everybody, but might border on 50% of staff who are adamant that we are underpaid.

But our staff is very well-paid by market comparators. Our HR department commissioned a report from the most capable local compensation consultants, and they found that our staff are among the highest-paid employees in their job categories in our region (and, I should point out, these are professional jobs that are decently-paid to begin with). They literally would take a pay cut if they went and did this job at any other organization, whether private sector, government, or nonprofit. Employee response? The report was rigged.

W are given regular increases, every year there is a bump to pay scales, there are benefit improvements all the time, and our leadership has been fantastic during COVID. None of this seems to satisfy a vocal group of staff. Another factor is that because we are nonprofit, we cannot have salaries that are too high or we risk being de-incorporated by the government (the government in our region has shown that they will do this). Staff know this, but the griping continues, constant and mean. It is poisoning our entire workplace.

Because of some weird things about our structure and the overall culture of our organization (if you try to get people to stop using all-staff email, for example, there will be an outcry about quashing dissent), I think the only tool we have here is communication. I think our leaders need to convince people that we are well-paid and the regular increases are enough to keep us that way. Looking at facts and figures doesn’t seem to be doing anything. How do we convince people that they’ve got a pretty sweet deal?

I don’t know that you should spend a lot of time trying to convince them, on top of the time and effort you’ve already invested. You’ve given them the info. They don’t believe you. And they’re poisoning your culture. You’re probably better off being really clear about what will and won’t happen and encouraging people to make their employment decisions accordingly.

Before I go any further, I need to give a caveat: I’m taking you at your word that your staff are paid well. It’s not necessarily the case that they’re paid well just because they would earn less everywhere else, because there are jobs that are systemically underpaid everywhere. But for the purpose of this answer, I’m going to assume they’re earning at least a living wage and presumably above that.

Okay. So what is going on here? What you describe is so unusual — “constant and mean griping,” along with hassling people who have no power over their pay, and a set of beliefs so fully at odds with what the facts seem to be — that I’ve got to think something else is going on. There are some hints in your letter of other culture problems, and I’d bet money that your organization has some serious work to do on its culture in general.

It’s good to have a culture where people feel comfortable raising issues, but what you’re describing — the “constant and mean griping,” the nasty emails, the anger and badgering — is not a functioning, healthy organization. Dissent is good! People feeling comfortable pushing back is good! Ongoing meanness is not.

So I don’t think you can solve this without taking a bigger look at whatever’s going on with your culture. And because of that, I’m hesitant to offer advice on addressing just the pay piece of things, because I don’t think that on its own will address whatever is really going on.

That said, you can certainly lay out everything you’ve done to assess your organization’s pay and how you’ve reached the conclusions you’ve reached. You can say that if anyone wants to bring you additional research that tells a different story, you’ll be happy to take a look at it (and mean that).

And from there, you can set limits on what behavior is and isn’t okay. You can’t just say “stop talking about pay” — that’s terrible from a PR, morale, and management standpoint, and it’s also likely to violate the National Labor Relations Act (depending on the specifics of how you implement it). But you can put your foot down about spending significant meeting time on it, badgering the board, sending nasty emails, or being rude to the person who cuts the paychecks.

You also can say that you want to be really clear about what the organization can and can’t offer for salaries and what will and won’t be happening in the future, so that people can make the right decisions for themselves. And you can say that you fully support people who are unhappy with their pay in leaving for better opportunites. When you say that, it shouldn’t sound like “there’s the door” but rather a genuinely supportive, “We’ve considered this from many angles and want to be transparent that our salary structures will not change. Please give some thought to whether that will work for you, and if it doesn’t, we understand and we’ll do whatever we can to support you in finding another position at a different organization. But we can’t continue discussing it over and over. It’s become a distraction to our work, so we need you to decide if this will work for you or not.” And then you enforce that the same way you enforce any other work standard; you have to mean it and you have to be willing to follow through if the behavior continues.

But something else is going on there.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 461 comments… read them below }

  1. I'm A Little Teapot*

    OP – if they’re not willing to change the poor behavior, then you’re going to have to start firing people. But yes, look at your overall culture.

      1. HR Survivor*

        When I worked n the HR dept. of a quasi- governmental organization in the ’80s, there was a mid-level accountant/payroll supervisor who constantly complained about his pay which was slightly less than he could make in a for-profit organization. There were a number of reasons (like actively attempting to collect personal information about other managers ) why this guy’s behavior was problematic but he was kept on anyway. (I suspected he had uncovered something that was potentially a problem for the organization and could not risk unilaterally terminating him). One Monday morning he came in to the office waiving the help wanted ads from the Sunday paper, went to his supervisor, and said that the company would lose his valuable talents if he was not granted an immediate raise to a figure in one of the ads. His boss was a quick thinker, told the guy that he accepted his resignation since the company could not meet the figure he quoted, and notified my boss, the HR head, to prepare the termination, effective that day. My boss and the grandboss quickly contacted the outside counsel who helped them come up with the plan to execute: the complainer was given a prepared letter of resignation to sign which included a tight non-disclosure statement and hold harmless in exchange for stating that the termination was by mutual agreement (for unemployment purposes) and some severance. The guy was escorted out of the building in under an hour carrying his severance check.

      2. Joan Rivers*

        Yes. An entire dept. at a non-profit I was at acted superior and unhappy, and this was the “Counseling Dept.”
        Finally they all quit to start their own business. I’m sure they thought they’d do damage.
        But it failed in just months cause they couldn’t get along w/each other either.
        But in LW’s case there does sound like there could be other issues besides pay.

    1. Nicotene*

      I feel like there’s probably one ring-leader here, who provides cover to the others. That is the person to focus on firing.

      1. AskJeeves*

        That was my suspicion, too. I like Alison’s language, and in addition to using it in meetings, I would sit every complainer down and have that conversation one-on-one. Regardless of whether the ringleader is fired, don’t leave anyone in this group in doubt that you are addressing them specifically.

      2. OP*

        You are spot-on, however, we cannot fire this person. We live in a jurisdiction with good employee protection. Sorry, Americans, this solution does not work for us.

        1. Persephone Mongoose*

          Not to pick on you specifically, OP, but I really wish letter writers would include their location when writing in. I understand people want to remain anonymous (and for good reason!) but the scope of the advice can change pretty drastically depending on where you are.

          Since Alison and AAM.org are based in the US, that’s the default assumption.

          1. TurtlesAllTheWayDown*

            Since the OP said, “we cannot have salaries that are too high or we risk being de-incorporated by the government (the government in our region has shown that they will do this)” I think we can assume it’s not the US.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              I’m in Europe and I had no idea what that meant (still don’t) so I assumed it was a US thing!

        2. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

          Can you at least start some kind of paper trail of addressing this issue which could lead to discipline or eventual dismissal? Even if it doesn’t get that far, at some point it might make them stop. If there is one person continually feeding energy into a problem that is destroying your work culture and leading to uncivil behavior, it is definitely worthwhile to work out some aspect that you can address. You probably can’t tell them “stop talking about pay,” but could you tell them (along with others) to stop raising it in certain ways that create more kerfuffle, and hold them to it for insubordination? Could you focus the “this is how it is and it’s not going to change” rhetoric on them? And particularly if they are personally hassling your poor payroll clerk, you can hold them to some kind of conduct on that and discipline them for not complying.

          Obviously many of these things should be universal rules, if half your workforce is participating. But if you know who the ringleader is, you can focus on them.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Can you use the language in the post and then from there simply shut down discussion of this while people are supposed to be working? They’re welcome to discuss it on their own time, but at work they need to be focused on work.

          I’m curious too whether you do see broader culture problems in the organization. I have to think this is a symptom of something bigger.

          1. OP*

            Oh yes, there are culture problems. They are slowly shifting under a new top-level Administrator, but it’s slow progress and meanwhile, it’s hard to hear this every day and stay positive.

            1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

              A new administrator. OP, that is very interesting. Could the griping be a response to either (a) the changes the administrator is trying to make or (b) a reaction to the administrator personally? As in, is this new leaders threatening to the status quo?

            2. KHB*

              It sounds, from your comments throughout the thread, like what you’re seeing might be the legacy of past toxic leadership. It can take a long time for an organization to crawl its way out from under that sort of thing. But (at least in my experience) it does get better.

              1. OP*

                THIS. Yes, I think we are slowly recovering from some very strong personalities who used wearing everyone else down to get their way. Unfortunately, others learned that wearing everyone else down is a good strategy for getting what they want.

                1. KHB*

                  Aha. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. I don’t know that there are any quick fixes (especially not ones that you can pull off all by yourself), but if you’re looking for a way to endure, you can remind yourself that the complainers are acting in a way that would have made sense under BadOldBoss (or whoever), and they haven’t fully processed that things are different now. Good luck.

                2. Dasein9*

                  There you have it: the behavior that needs to change! Is the organization still rewarding those who use these methods in some way? (With prestige and peer approbation, perhaps?)

                  Is it possible to find ways to recognize and reward other, healthier methods of dealing with others?

                  People are unlikely to change behaviors that do get them what they want but there are ways to incentivize more desirable behaviors.

                3. Svengali*

                  “Yes, I think we are slowly recovering from some very strong personalities who used wearing everyone else down to get their way.”

                  This may be why they are griping about pay; they see themselves (not unjustifiably) as entitled to a premium for dealing with a toxic work culture.

            3. Anne Elliot*

              “Our jurisdiction is ’employees can be fired for being incompetent, stealing from the organization, or bullying/harassing someone, but not for having an opinion.'”

              But no one is talking about terminating someone for “having an opinion,” and your own use of this phrasing leads me to wonder if it might help you to reframe how YOU are considering the problem.

              No one is advocating thought-policing here. Everyone gets to have opinions on everything. The issue is not what your employees THINK but how they BEHAVE in the work place. You say this person is “badgering the board,” “sending nasty emails,” and “being mean” to the person who cuts the paycheck. Those are unacceptable BEHAVIORS and they can and should be addressed by cutting them fully loose from the underlying opinions (whatever they may be). You cannot badger board members because it distracts from their work, may lessen their opinion of the org, and may undermine their commitment to assist the org. You cannot send nasty emails because they cause disruption. You cannot be mean to coworkers because being mean to coworkers is not tolerated.

              You describe this in terms of “having an opinion” or “dissent,” and in so doing, you set yourself up for a problem you cannot solve. But if you reframe so that the problem is not what people THINK but what they DO, then you may well find that the problem not only admits of aggressive action to address it, but requires aggressive action to address it, for the good of your org.

              1. OP*

                Thank you, this is helpful! Focus on the behavior that is problematic, rather than the opinion that is being expressed.

                1. Observer*

                  Yes, this.

                  It’s worth looking at whether this issue shows up elsewhere. For instance the idea that getting people to reduce the use of All Staff emails being seen as a way to squash dissent, tells me that this may be coming up a lot. So, in general, for ANY issue, make sure that you focus in problematic BEHAVIORS and NOT opinions.

                  That includes, by the way, not letting staff side track the discussion to the “reasons” people do problematic things. And also being consistent in the behaviors that you shut down. So, don’t just shut down being rude to the payroll person. Shut down ANY rudeness from from one staff person to another. etc. “I understand that you feel very strongly about this issue, but you CANNOT do x, y, or z.”

                2. Glitsy Gus*

                  I think this is an especially good route to take when it comes to your poor payroll person. You don’t bully the payroll person because you don’t like the number on the check they cut! That is completely unacceptable, they have nothing to do with the salary itself and even if they did you must treat your coworkers with respect.

                  That could also very easily fall under the harassment/bullying clause depending on how they are going about it and how often they are harassing their coworker.

                3. HR person*

                  I would also argue that some of the behaviors they are engaging in could be considered bullying/harassment, depending on how that term is legally defined where you operate. In the US, it probably wouldn’t fly unless they are discriminating and only bullying/harassing folks based on their protected status, but we also can terminate folks for this behavior a lot easier than other countries.

        4. EPLawyer*

          Is it you absolutely CANNOT fire someone or is it “its really difficult and takes a lot of effort.” Because if its the latter, your choice is spending time doing the work to get this person fired or spending time dealing with this person in meetings, emails and being rude and nasty. Both take time and effort. It’s what do you want to spend your energy on.

          I realize that the decision might not be yours to make about whether to go to the effort to fire someone. But its worth spending a bit of capital with the person who does decide. by pointing out all the time and energy spent dealing with this person anyway.

          1. OP*

            Absolutely cannot without a lawsuit. Trust me, our jurisdiction is “employees can be fired for being incompetent, stealing from the organization, or bullying/harassing someone, but not for having an opinion.” I prefer this to the American-style wild west “I don’t like the shirt you wore today so you’re fired” but… it does have this down side.

            1. Maria the Medical Librarian*

              I prefer your style to the US one, as well. However, is the behavior directed at the person cutting the paychecks rising to the level of “bullying/harassing someone”? Maybe that could be your route to firing the instigator with some documentation.

              1. LQ*

                This is the thing that jumps out at me with giant flashing red lights. The person cutting the paychecks is being bullied. This needs to be clearly and explicitly called out and the next person to do so needs whatever the harshest penalty you can administer is. This is absolutely unacceptable behavior and no one, NO ONE is allowed to do that. Name it, make it explicit, “Payroll has no control over your rate of pay, asking for adjustments, amendments, or changes to your rate of pay from the payroll person, including any of the following behavior: list them here snide remarks about how the payroll person could change it, incentives or attempts at bribery or harassment into changing the rate, or any other behavior will result in immediate suspension and a review. This behavior will not be tolerated. Payroll person is a coworker who deserves to be treated with respect and we will not allow them to be bullied and harrassed.”

                1. pope suburban*

                  I also find this uncomfortable. I’ve been in the payroll person’s situation, and it made my working life miserable. I had no control over things that were (Justifiably, might I add) upsetting people, and feeling like I had to sit there and be a silent receptacle for everyone’s toxic emotional sludge was demoralizing (and not-infrequently angering, not that I ever got to express that). Shrugging this off as “oh well, what can we do, sometimes you’ve got to break a few eggs to make omelettes” is…really uncool. That’s putting a huge burden on the payroll person, who is just there to do their job and keep the wheels of their department turning. Writing them off as some kind of inescapable casualty of doing business is unacceptable. This is how you lose good people, mark my words.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Would you be willing to say where you are? A lot of the solutions here hinge on that. (And I don’t think there’s anything in your letter that would identify you specifically.)

                1. Sam*

                  Can you explain a bit more what you mean? You’re not going to get useful answers otherwise, I don’t think, given that you don’t have institutional power and knowing some details could provide more soft-power ways of changing the attitudes at your workplace.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  To add — I of course won’t reveal where you are since you don’t want that shared, but based on your IP address, you are very much in a country where people can be fired, and without super onerous restrictions! I would definitely google “can you fire people in (country name)” and read the legal guidance that comes up. (I’m wondering if maybe what you’ve heard about what firings are legal in the U.S. has made you veer too far into “we’re nothing like that” territory?)

            3. hbc*

              Is this person one of those bothering the person who cuts paychecks? Because I would call that bullying.

              If that’s too big a stretch, I think you need to get creative. I mean, really dig into this. Can you pay this person a generous severance as a way to basically pay them to leave? How much would the lawsuit cost versus how much time you’re spending on this nonsense? Is there something you can do now that doesn’t get rid of them today but makes it easier for you to be rid of them in a year or two?

            4. JSPA*

              If you’re in a country with strong protections…some do have a “work is for grousing” default. (Note that I’m not blaming the protections for the grousing–in at least some cases, the grousing clearly preceded the protections, and helped get them instituted.)

              OP, the grousing clearly bothers you, and it sounds like it bothers some of the board. How sure are you that it bothers the rest of the workforce? If it’s what they expect from the regional work culture–that is, if people expect to always be pushing a bit, to ensure they’re not taken advantage of–it may be water off a duck’s back, for most of them.

              As for the board, if it’s a paid board, this seems reasonably within a paid board member’s job description. If they’re not paid, is there any reason they need to respond (or in general, put in more time than whatever they’ve committed to do, out of the goodness of their hearts)?

              TL;DR changing your reaction is easier than changing the behavior of many people.

            5. Butterfly Counter*

              Is bullying/harassing what they’re doing to the person who cuts the checks?

              Creating a toxic work environment for a nonprofit to the point it’s harmful that the company will continue might be seen as incompetence, maybe? Or stealing company time? I know I’m pushing it here, but it sounds as though you should get lawyers involved who would be better at parsing the law in your area.

              This goes far beyond “having an opinion.” It sounds as though they are stopping work in its tracks.

              Honestly, it sounds as if taking on the lawsuit is the way to go if the other options are that the company goes under because of this one person leading it into the ground.

            6. irene adler*

              IS there some way to reduce the “toxic exposure” from this one person ?
              Are you allowed to reduce this person’s work hours?
              Restructure the position to part-time or work from home?

            7. I'm A Little Teapot*

              You don’t have to fire them in order to make them miserable enough to quit. And bullying the payroll clerk isn’t ok.

            8. Librarian of SHIELD*

              I feel like part of the problem is that you and your organization need to be clearer about the separation between opinions and behavior. Employees are welcome to hold whatever opinions they choose. But they are not welcome to behave in the ways you’ve described toward their fellow employees. I believe you when you say that firing is not an option. So without that on the table, you and the other leaders in your organization need to sit down and figure out where you’re going to draw the line on behavior and what sorts of progressive discipline you are able to set up for people who won’t follow your behavioral standards.

              1. Dasein9*

                This is really important. The focus on the behavior instead of the opinions is why this isn’t persecuting someone for their beliefs. Quite the contrary the contrary: if they’re bullying co-workers, then they are trying to hide egregious behavior behind a mistaken notion of freedom of opinion.

              2. AB*

                My concern here is if this is the case, how are people supposed to organize for better conditions?

                For example, I am a private school educator. We are systemically underpaid for our work. My boss would say that we are well-paid compared to others in the field. How can these things change if people do not make a fuss about it in a way that makes some people uncomfortable?

                1. Kal*

                  I think your own clarification is the key part – people can talk and complain with peers to organize themselves, and as a group or as a designated spokesperson complain to those in power and demand to make changes. But it doesn’t give them free reign to harass people who have no power to make any changes. No one could reasonably argue that continuously harassing the payroll person who is known to have no power is an action taken to improve working conditions/wages, its just people harassing someone as a way of taking their unhappiness out on someone else. Its more on the “customer yelling at a fast food cashier because the customer’s job sucks” side of the spectrum than it is to working to improve conditions.

                2. Self Employed*

                  I agree with Kal.

                  I am fairly familiar with workplace organizing, union activity, etc. and I have never heard of “badgering the payroll clerk” used as a bargaining/organizing tactic.

                  Work-to-rule, strikes, picket lines, giant inflatable rats… but not harassing a fellow employee who has no power to make changes.

            9. LCH*

              You could tell them the bullying and harassment of [paycheck person] needs to stop. To clue them in that their is behavior is wandering into dismissal territory.

            10. Caroline Bowman*

              Are they not harassing and bullying the payroll clerk? I’m not being sarcastic, but it feels that they are and that there must be documentary proof of this having happened at least once or twice.

              A formal written warning to cease that behaviour surely would be a start.

            11. Claire*

              I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector for over 20 years. I can absolutely guarantee that firing someone for complaining about poor pay will come back to haunt the organization in myriad ways- with funders, donors, volunteers, supporters, partners… It doesn’t matter if you can find technical legal grounds to fire them, the narrative will be “they asked not to be underpaid and they got fired for it.” And because a HUGE number of people in the sector ARE underpaid, people will believe this narrative. I think asking people to decide if they still want to work there knowing the pay scale is what it is would be a far smarter route to take.

              1. Observer*

                I’m also in the non-profit sector. The problem is that allowing this behavior to continue will create its own narrative – the poorly run, dysfunctional place where bullying is OK, where letting out your anger on the wrong person is acceptable, where calling your board a liar is considered normal.

                We see this here all the time. Almost every time someone posts about working in the non-profit sector we see all the comments about how terrible the working conditions in non-profits are and how they are all terribly run. That’s a PR disaster of its own. And it can be terribly damaging.

                1. Claire*

                  I can’t imagine the OP or the board members are running around town telling this story about their organization… but the people who are fired certainly will.

                2. Observer*

                  @Claire, the payroll person who is being harassed might tell the story, especially if they leave the organization. Same for people who can’t get their work done, people who are getting nasty email or the Board members as they walk away from the organization.

            12. Lance*

              Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you might be thinking of firing as an immediate thing… but it doesn’t have to be. Make sure to cover your bases re: any regulations and the like, get the paperwork and everything together, and you may still be able to start the process of putting them on a PIP (or some equivalent) and transition them out if they don’t improve.

              Obviously, I can’t say for certain if this is feasible… but it still might be. You may well still have options here.

            13. Archaeopteryx*

              Having an opinion is irrelevant, though. Disrupting work and haranguing people constantly *with* that opinion is the issue. And at a certain point that affects how competently they’re performing their job duties, one of which is “create a workable environment for those around you.”

            14. BethRA*

              But it sounds like this person isn’t “just having an opinion” – they are being actively disruptive, and they ARE bullying and harassing people and encouraging others to do the same.

            15. KRM*

              I have a hard time thinking that badgering board members, sending angry emails, and confronting the person who cuts the paychecks DOESN’T rise to the the level of “bullying/harassing”, TBH. These are unacceptable behaviors that need to be addressed 1:1 at the very least. And if there was a lawsuit–you have board members who can say they were harassed, you have the emails, you have the poor payroll person to say “I got yelled at for this person perceiving their paycheck was too low”. It’s not like they’re constantly grousing during lunch hour about pay. There is a clear pattern of active harassment, and it can’t continue.

            16. Observer*

              Absolutely cannot without a lawsuit.

              So? You CAN fire the person. And if you have cause you will win. Sure, it’s expensive, but there reaches a point where you cannot make your decisions solely based on avoiding a lawsuit. Or, you CAN run your business that way, but it’s a decision the organization is making not force majeure.

              “employees can be fired for being incompetent, stealing from the organization, or bullying/harassing someone, but not for having an opinion.”

              As someone else noted, no one is advocating that you fire someone for their OPINION. But their BEHAVIOR is out of line. In fact, in this case you have the perfect set up if you (organizational you, not personal you) are willing to take the time to document. Because multiple people are being bullied here. The worst being the payroll person. That’s just atrocious. No one should have to face the choice of being bullied or being out of a job. The Board members can just leave with little consequence to them, if it comes to that.

              Of course, that can have significant consequences to the organization, which is a good reason to stop that behavior, too.

            17. Dutch*

              In the Netherlands, with very few exceptions, all firings need to go through a judge. (Three exceptions: if you catch them in the act of doing something awful and fire them immediately, and lay-offs and permanent disability which needs approval from the government but not from a court.) That’s not necessarily a reason not to fire someone though – it just means you need to document misbehaviour, need to document you’ve told them to address it, need to document a performance improvement plan, need to document continuing misbehaviour, and then fire them.

              If you’re somewhere the firing process includes a visit to a judge, then visit a judge.

            18. Not So NewReader*

              “employees can be fired for being incompetent, stealing from the organization, or bullying/harassing someone”

              You are showing that people are being bullied and harassed. I assume the person cutting the paychecks has NO say in what the amount on the check is. Yet people are targeting this person. That is one example.

              Harassed people can print out emails to show a paper trail of on-going messages regarding a topic that has been covered and explained to people. Repeated angry emails should qualify as harassment.

              Please, please, please, look up the legal definitions of harassment and bullying in workplaces for your country.
              I googled general bullying here (US). I was surprised and HAPPY to find out that repeated eye rolls are considered bullying. Yep, that’s right, in what I have seen. I worked with a woman who could not go five minutes without rolling her eyes. I started asking her if she had seen a doctor yet about her eye problem. But she routinely used eye rolls to berate others and to let others know exactly what she thought of the person who was speaking atm.

        5. Not a Blossom*

          You might not be able to fire them right this second, but I can’t imagine you have to hang on to them forever. Sit them down and have a serious conversation about how disruptive it is using Allison’s language. Make it clear that part of the job expectations are that, although they can of course voice dissent, they not take up large chunks of meetings or bombard people with multiple e-mails. Tell them (and mean it) that you are happy to continue the conversation if they can bring you data that contradict your own, but be clear that while you will consider it, there are limitations to what can be done.

          Then start a paper trail. Document everything and if they continue to, say, delay meetings, talk and document again. You can’t quash dissent, but it is more than reasonable to say “you can’t take up large chunks of time at every meeting.”

        6. Kaiko*

          Are they unionized? Are PIPs not allowed? There is so much space between “firing” and “status quo” and we can’t fill it with “our hands are tied.”

        7. Malarkey01*

          Does your jurisdiction support workers being mean to each other and disobeying directives? I’ve worked in some very labor supportive countries, but none of them would allow abuse towards other employees or for me to flat out continue arguing with my boss. Yes, there were extra steps and formal paperwork, but I’m surprised there are places that protect abuse like this (where’s check cutters protege toon against mean and nasty behavior?)

        8. Ben Marcus Consulting*

          I disagree. I’m not aware of any jurisdiction that forebodes (let alone forbids) termination for cause. If you truly cannot demonstrate poor performance, then I would reassess how you’re measuring employee standards.

            1. Lora*

              I can think of a few countries – mostly European but there are others where firing someone for anything short of explicitly criminal behavior is just Not Done or is illegal, and you’ll STILL be asked to prove that you informed Fergus in a training that murdering your colleagues in cold blood is Not Allowed. It’s definitely very frustrating because things like harassment, bullying, generally crap behavior, all sorts of verbal and emotional abuse are allowed and you’re not really able to do anything legally to these people. It’s viewed as just part of their delightful personality and you have to deal with it, give them some task that keeps them far from other humans. There are typically initial probation periods of several weeks in those situations when you can fire people on the spot and pay out only a little severance, but unfortunately a-holes are usually able to act normal for a couple of months.

              The idea is that since the company holds so much asymmetric power, it is the company’s responsibility to thoroughly interview and vet the people coming in. However, in some of the same countries, GDPR often prohibits the networking-type of information sharing we normally do in the US to find out if someone will be a good fit or has a bad history / is a personality problem. Accumulating a-holes happens as a result, and if you get too many of them, good people will not want to work there. Jobs are essentially sinecures, and also take a long time to find and onboard for the same reason.

              In very large companies, I’ve actually seen management put as many of the Personality Problems as possible in a particular division and then sell that division or divest it due to the inability to fire such people or have layoffs.

              OP, the only thing I’ve found that worked in such situations is to smile nicely and say “thank you for sharing, I am sorry to hear that” or “that sounds terrible, what do you think you might do about that?” and change the subject – but this may also work only because I’m one of a few Americans in the room and we’re regarded as a bit inscrutable and two-faced. Eventually they stop complaining when they’re not being taken seriously or getting any reaction, but it takes a long time (two years in one guy’s case). At one point one of my American bosses got mad enough to say, “The door is unlocked” and that seemed to shut up some grousing from another department.

                1. Lora*

                  Yes! It’s also a convenient technique for dealing with toddlers who want inappropriate things…For what it is worth I’ve used this method in Germany and Switzerland where we couldn’t fire people who were being absolute a-holes and eventually, slowly but surely, they sort of got over it. But it really was two years for one especially stubborn guy. The rest eventually found that grumping about wasn’t doing them any favors, especially with how senior management was coming to see them.
                  “Oh, what a pity.”
                  “I am sorry to hear that.”
                  “Really? Hmm. Wow.”
                  “You think so?”
                  “Thank you for sharing.”
                  “How interesting.”

              1. Teatime is Goodtime*

                This! THIS THIS THIS! I have seen or experienced all of the things you are describing in the European country where I worked.

              2. Koalafied*

                “Thank you for your feedback,” is my go-to professional response when what I secretly want to say is, “I don’t recall asking you a damn thing.”

              3. Timbuktu*

                I work somewhere kind of similar culturally and this kind of behavior gets you moved to the basement to do filing, or some similar out-of-the-way place to do unfulfilling work.

                It’s not a great way to manage people but when you can’t let people go, often companies will “manage someone out.”

          1. Fried Eggs*

            I am not an HR or legal expert, but I live in Germany and think it would be difficult to fire someone for this here.

            Firing someone “for cause” has a very high bar. Things like stealing from the company, coming in very late every day, sitting around playing Solitaire instead of working. Basically, if you’re making a good-faith effort to do your job (as defined by the job description in your contract), you’re pretty safe.

            I think a court would not look favorably on firing someone fulfilling their core job responsibilities for pushing for better pay.

            1. serenity*

              This is fundamentally misunderstanding the issue as it’s been presented in the letter and I think there’s a larger cultural gulf at play here if “50% of our staff is taking up copious amounts of work time badgering and harassing other employees” is interpreted in other (presumably European countries) as “pushing for better pay”.

              And I mean this in entirely good faith, but if certain countries have a standard of proof to justify termination (as others have mentioned) that is so burdensome on the employer, I’m not sure what an American advice column is going to be able to provide to you that will be helpful. Unless I’m missing something?

              1. Fried Eggs*

                I agree this is probably not the best forum for the OP to get advice. They need to talk to a local employment lawyer. I was responding not to the letter itself but to the incredulity over the OP’s assertion (in a comment) that it’s not easy to fire someone over this in their (unspecified) country.

              2. Insert Clever Name Here*

                The question as OP originally asked it was “How do we convince people that they’ve got a pretty sweet deal?” And the answer, given the OP’s additional information provided in the comments re: workload, work-life balance, benefits, actual pay, etc is…you can’t. You can’t convince people of that. Just like at the end of Lewis’ “The Last Battle” when the dwarfs refuse to see that they are no longer in the hut, you can’t force people to see something they don’t want to see.

                I think a lot of the comments pretty quickly went “you can’t, so therefor fire the worst offenders” which of course brings up the perennial debate about American protection of workers vs employers as opposed to Everyone Else’s protection of workers vs employers.

                1. ktg*

                  I have been thinking about that sequence for months (really, all of 2020), for so many reasons. Great reference.

              3. tamarack and fireweed*

                This advice columns is useful to anyone employed in a modern workplace. That *sometimes* Alison’s American perspective isn’t perfectly applicable to to Europe (and other places) is a very minor issue!

                Alison writes: “You can’t just say “stop talking about pay” — that’s terrible from a PR, morale, and management standpoint, and it’s also likely to violate the National Labor Relations Act (depending on the specifics of how you implement it). ” This is from a US perspective, but the “terrible WRT PR, management and morale” applies everywhere. And in addition, pretty much the same could be said for using dismissal in the three European countries I worked in as an adult (Germany, France and the UK): terrible for morale, and dicey to implement legally.

                I think this discussion has been overall great and has dug up all sorts of avenues about tackling this from a cultural POV, and about making a distinction between “discussing pay” on the one hand and “badgering the payroll person” or “continuing to waste time over the same, settled issue” on the other.

                1. serenity*

                  I think my comment was more specifically addressed to the fact that OP wrote in, doesn’t feel comfortable divulging where they’re located, may have misunderstood legal workplace protections in their own country (from what Alison posted above in a comment), isn’t a manager or supervisor (and hence has little to no authority to implement any changes), and apparently believes that no one can ever be fired in their jurisdiction unless they literally commit a crime. Given this, I’m not sure what they were seeking to learn from a US workplace blog.

            2. Malarkey01*

              I find this interesting because I worked in Germany for awhile, and it would have been wildly inappropriate to send nasty emails to our Board or managers, take up work meetings with unrelated pay complaints, and to be rude to coworkers. Maybe, like the states, there is differences within industries, but my German and French experience was that offices were much more professional compared to even conservative US firms and didn’t tolerate any subversion (which I would think these behaviors-Nasty emails to the Board?!) would fall under.

              1. Julia*

                I’m German, although I have never worked in Germany (ironically). We seem to be on our way to contract work instead of permanent employement so that people can be more easily let go, maybe because it is indeed somewhat difficult to get rid of someone once they are a permanent employee. (The same is true for Japan, btw – a lot of people think Japan is utter hell for employees, which is certainly not untrue, but when it comes to legal rights, Japan is actually closer to Europe than the US. Of course enforcement is an entirely different issue…)

                I was working in Switzerland and had several coworkers who did extremely bad work (one who gave me wrong information on purpose), several who yelled at others, some who refused to do anything while at work, etc. No one ever let go while I was there for two entire years. I was on a renewable contract and had to live in fear of non-renewal, but those people had been hired permanently previously, and no one wanted to make the effort to get rid of them. It was maddening.

        9. Momma Bear*

          So there’s a ringleader – I would look at what else might be going on with that person. Do they think they were passed over for a promotion? Do they act entitled in general? Do they not get along with their team or boss? If you can get to their root cause, can you address that?

          In the meantime I would redirect meetings so this person doesn’t drag down so many all the time, via whatever your version of “we will take this offline” is.

        10. Beth*

          I assume there is a way to eventually fire someone who’s causing a lot of trouble, though? Causing this kind of trouble isn’t just annoying; when it hits a point where it’s eating up this much time, it’s a performance issue. Even with good worker protections (a blessing overall), I have to think that there’s some path to enforcing consequences–probably not starting with firing, but possibly escalating to that point eventually if the issue is persistent and clearly documented and the employee refuses to resolve it. Whatever the procedure is in your area, this sounds like a level of problem that’s worth starting that process.

        11. Artemesia*

          Then yuo need to explore ways to punish people who instigate this constant ugliness. What can you do to isolate this person or assign them work that they are less than thrilled about? What can you do to separate followers from the leader? Are there multiple sites where this work goes on, can people be transferred? Can you team people on projects differently? Can you promote or reward people who are a positive force in the organization?

          And yes — lay out the information and then indicate that raises are not happening here so if they are dissatisfied with the pay they should take one of those positions that they are talking about that pay much more. I’d be more assertive about that after ONE subtle mention — ‘you keep raising this issue that pay is better elsewhere, since there is no money available for raises here, why are you not moving to one of those organizations where the pay is so much better?’

        12. Observer*

          You are spot-on, however, we cannot fire this person. We live in a jurisdiction with good employee protection.

          What you describe is NOT “good employee protection.” Which means that either you CAN fire them, but need to go through a process, or you live in an area that is protective of employees at the expense of basic organizational viability.

          You have someone who is engaging in, and encouraging others to engage in abuse of a coworker. “Good” employee protections do NOT protect that kind of behavior! Sure, you may need to document the issues in excruciating detail, and give them multiple chances to improve, etc. And you may even have to defend your position in front of a tribunal of some sort. But if you do actually have one ring-leader that is the one leading this toxic and abusive behavior you SHOULD be able to do it.

          Just make sure that this person is not just a scapegoat for deeper and broader problems.

          1. Librarian1*

            Yes, thank you. The US system sucks, but at least here people can be, and sometimes are, fired for bullying and harassment. This is not a protection for the person being harassed.

            1. Daisy*

              I don’t think there’s anywhere you couldn’t fire someone for sending ‘nasty’ emails. OP flat-out says you CAN fire people for bullying/harassment where they live. It sounds like they just can’t be bothered with the paperwork. This is definitely going to be one of those updates, ‘Well, I did sweet f-all and nothing’s changed! Help me again!’

      3. JSPA*

        And quite possibly, that one person barely says anything themselves. The champion stirrers know how to motivate the kickers, while they sit back and watch the show.

        I am curious about the assertion that the state will step in. Commonly, the only way to run afoul of those sorts of laws is having a very highly paid top end and/or a grossly top-heavy structure. In a very atypical nonprofit where the rank-and-file are making a professional wage (as opposed to calls and door-knocking) I imagine this could be different…but all the same, it’s very common for pay dissatisfaction in nonprofits to spring from too great a gulf (or too large a multiplier) between the salaries at the top, and those doing client-facing work / carrying out the day-to-day functions of the organization.

        Obviously, if there’s also a Covid risk for the people who are paid less, and perhaps objectively less work (as far as travel for networking and conference attendance, building projects, or even several sorts of long-term strategic planning) for the top echelons, that’s a highly predictable source of dissatisfaction.

        Ditto if their workload or the time required to keep abreast of the work has increased fairly dramatically (which may be nearly invisible to the management, unless they look) while their pay has not. “We’re all in this together” is not very persuasive if Covid accommodations mean, “my better paid job actually takes only half the time it used to because all of my meetings are on Zoom, while your job now includes an extra several hours of scheduling and record-keeping on top of dealing with more, and more desperate, clients.”

        So listen with an open mind to,

        a. the details of why they think the job–in the sense of its daily process, not the job description–should pay more

        b. whether they feel that the salaries of the top brass are considered untouchable, such that only their salaries can be limited, to keep the organization within regulatory boundaries (and if so, whether they have a valid point!)

        c. Whether the organization, which likely started out being quick to promote, slow to fire, and a great place to work, has as a result actually become both top-heavy and not a place where people can reasonably expect to advance, in which case

        d. are potential new hires still being sold on it using outdated metrics or statements about how you promote from the ranks, and are thus being sold a bill of goods?

        This is absolutely a thing that happens incrementally over time. A position is created to keep and promote someone excellent…they’re credited with the success of the people below them…everything seems great…but do it too often, with people not moving out or on, and no level of “open communication” can hide that now, all the ambitious people who were hired with the expectation of moving up, won’t be doing so, there, in any foreseeable future.

        1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

          Nod. The workload could be super crazy and folks start looking at ” am I paid enough for this?”

        2. OP*

          The one thing that strikes a chord for me here is the idea of moving up. The organization is quite flat–there really is nowhere to move to. You do your mid-level job, you get regular pay increases, and you retire. There are only a few Admin jobs (we are not at all top-heavy) and those people stay a long time, so getting one of those jobs is unlikely. Perhaps people are just bored and need more opportunities to grow or learn or try something new.

          1. Glitsy Gus*

            Ah, yeah, that can totally be a thing. I’ve had that job and after a while I logically knew I wasn’t getting screwed over or anything, but my lack of stimulation and frustration with the lack of opportunity made start just feeling very negative overall after a while and I started looking for problems to complain about.

            If your whole company structure is set up this way, it takes a really special culture to keep folks from getting twitchy and discontent. Really, there isn’t much you can do there, unfortunately, unless part of the change coming with this new head is opportunities for at least growth if not significant advancement. I hope the changes can help your people feel a bit more engaged and fulfilled! But until then, yeah, I think you just need to go grey rock on this a bit. They have access to all the information they need to make their own decisions here, the time for endless complaining and debates is over.

            The one exception, I would say is your poor payroll person. You really do need to shut down the bullying of that poor person who has nothing to do with this. They have to deal with enough crap due to the very nature of their job, don’t let them take this heat as well. Get together with the board and anyone else with influence and make it clear bullying coworkers is unacceptable.

            1. Glitsy Gus*

              My kingdom for an edit button!
              I also meant to say that if you aren’t at a level where you can hold the gripers accountable for the bullying, that is one place where you can speak up in a one-on-one scenario. If you hear it, stand up for payroll! Tell the Griper to leave them alone.

      4. Lacey*

        Yeah, I thought there must be a pot stirrer who is keeping this all going, keeping people angry.

        I see that the OP has said they can’t fire the person, but that’s certainly the person to focus on reaching an understanding with.

    2. raincoaster*

      This does seem to me like it probably comes down to either one very influential person or a group of them, assuming the letter is factually correct.

      If the staff really are substantially underpaid for their nonprofit niche, they always have the option to unionize. That they haven’t yet, nor, apparently, even mentioned doing so, seems to indicate this isn’t necessarily about being actually underpaid. It may just be some people griping, and using this as their gripe of choice.

      1. ShanShan*

        OP: “If you were really underpaid, you always have the option to unionize.”
        People: “Okay, we’re unionizing.”
        OP: “Oops.”

        I don’t know why you think they would mention it to OP if they were planning to unionize. I would be shocked if they hadn’t kicked it around as a possibility, considering how firmly they believe they are underpaid.

        Source: I work in an industry that chronically underpays everyone, and uses “industry standards” (that is, “we underpay everyone, and so does everyone else in this field!”) as a justification for underpaying each individual employee.

        We talk about unionizing a lot. But not to our managers.

  2. Petrichor of Hades*

    Oh, this “if I don’t like it, it must be fake or rigged”… I have the funniest feeling I’ve heard that somewhere before…

    1. mcfizzle*

      That’s what I was thinking. And taking LW at her word, the facts just don’t seem to matter to this group. Though I do agree it sounds like there are other issues also contributing.

      1. Threeve*

        This. I work at a nonprofit. We are underpaid. And there might be some grumbling, but this level of discontent and toxicity is baffling to me.

        1. DarnTheMan*

          Not to dispute OP’s opinion of their own workplace but the last time I worked someplace with this much of a toxic attitude, the pay (or lack thereof) was certainly a significant part of it but a lot of the toxicity came from morale issues and how the senior leadership ran the organization.

          1. OP*

            I think you’re on to something. The pay is absolutely not low. Please believe me on this. Our jurisdiction is an expensive place to live but I save over 30% of my salary every year. I think the other culture issues are affecting people and they end up perpetuating the negative part of our culture.

            1. JSPA*

              Don’t answer it here, but as a thought experiment…

              Are you living entirely on your own salary, and also, with no prior pad of savings from family, past work, etc?
              Do you have dependents?
              Does anyone there make even 20% less than you do?

              Unless the answers are, in order,
              Yes, Yes, No,

              Chances are that some of your workforce is struggling to break even, let alone save. Poverty is expensive; making 5% more than minimum needs devolves extremely quickly to making 5% less than minimum needs, and there’s a ton of needless stress as people hang in near that zone.

              1. OP*

                I think our lowest-paid entry-level employee is at about 150% of the “living wage” calculated for our jurisdiction.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  So in my area a living wage would be $15.31 for an adult with no children. Minimum wage is $11.80.
                  In my area 150% of the *living* wage would be $22.97. Most people I know would be quite happy to be getting that kind of money in a paycheck.

                  OP, if people are complaining about their rates of pay there is one good strong reason why this is happening. And that reason could be that upper management is corrupt. Perhaps in the context of embezzling money from the organization. This would explain why their choice is to complain about their pay, to make someone ask “Who is cooking the books? Where IS the money going?”
                  If this starts to make sense a good move would be to bring in auditors- government auditors who check on NPO status. An anonymous phone call should do it.

                  If upper management is wandering around with expensive jewelry/watches, driving expensive cars and wearing expensive clothes this could be adding fuel to the fires of the belief that embezzlement is going on.

                  It’s either that or you have some very abusive people at or near the top. People who lie to their underlyings, routinely humiliate/berate them and do other things that are the
                  hallmarks of toxic bosses. If this is the case the rest of the sentence goes like this: “I am not paid enough… to put up with the inhumane treatment I am receiving here.”

                  You have already indicated there are problems in this regard. Until those problems are resolved, I suspect these complaints will continue. In as much as you would like the complaints to stop today, they TOO would like the abuse to stop today. So there is that.

                  Honestly, OP, if you had not said you were in the not in the US, I would have thought you worked for my former company. I suspect the pay complaints are the tip of the iceberg. I suspect the problems are severe enough to justify dusting off your resume. At my former company people were facing jail time for what went on there. Be careful that you do not end up on the wrong side of this argument and find yourself facing charges also. Do not cover for anyone, ever.

              2. tungsten*

                You are referencing systemic issues with the industry that neither OP nor OP’s employer can solve. They already pay their employees more than the median; they can’t pay them more than the grant funding they get or the endowment they have. If some employees cannot support themselves on above-average pay for their industry, they need to leave the industry. I have done this myself, I understand perfectly how painful it is, I agree that it’s unfair that some industries aren’t accessible to people who don’t have a financial cushion or have a lot of necessary expenses, but griping about a systemic issue wouldn’t have helped me pay my bills.

                1. JSPA*

                  The question isn’t, “can I fix the system,” but, “is there messaging that’ll change mindsets.” If people are between a rock and a hard place, or more generally feel taken advantage of in ways specific to the culture or structure, there’s no messaging that will change their minds.

                  So far, OP has addressed everything we’ve thought to bring up. So, unless there are aspects of the organization that some coworkers are picking up on that OP’s not seeing, this does seem more like a “complaint culture” thing than a “more desperate than we look” thing.

                  With one more proviso, however.

                  If local employment has cratered during Covid (which can even be true in the few places not directly affected–I’m pretty sure tourism-dependent communities in NZ are hurting!) then each employee may be subsidizing an extended family of relatives. That doesn’t mean they “deserve” more. But it does mean that the econimic stress they’re feeling is not open to adjustment by morale-lifting pep talks.

                  It might make sense to chill out–let blowhards blow, hard–for the next three or four months, then take stock as economies start to re-emerge. Could be that the loudest voices will take themselves off to what they presume are greener pastures, and save everyone the bother of modifying process to go around them.

            2. QuinleyThorne*

              You mentioned that you’re not an admin, so the amount of power you specifically have is limited, but would it be possible to talk to your supervisor, or a trusted mentor figure in your org about the broader culture issues that might be contributing to the problem? It could very well be that higher-ups have spent so much time trying to placate these people on this one issue that they may not recognize the broader culture issues that caused this state of affairs to begin with.

              It’s clearly not about the pay for these people, so even if their demands were met on that end they’d probably just refocus this toxicity to another topic.

            3. Cathie from Canada*

              I wonder if anyone has tried responding to complaints by Fogging — which is a Transactional Analysis approach where you refuse to get drawn into arguments, by giving the same response over and over and NOT GETTING BAITED INTO SAYING ANYTHING ELSE.
              In this case, each and every complaint would be greeted with “well, its too bad you feel you are underpaid, and if you must resign because of it, we would totally understand.”
              Then when they say, “oh no, I don’t want to resign!” you say “Oh, it sounded like you did. Its too bad you feel that way and if you must resign because of it, we would totally understand.”
              And then when they say “I just want to get paid more”, you say “That isn’t going to be possible. So its too bad you feel you are underpaid and if you must resign because of it, we would totally understand.” etc etc.
              If everyone from the members of the Board to the payroll clerk responds to all complaints with the “its too bad you feel…” sentence, it leaves the complainers with no place to argue and no discussion of their complaints.

          2. Sparrow*

            Agreed. I was also wondering how much senior leadership is paid. If people are unhappy with leadership anyway and the leaders are also getting paid disproportionately large salaries, I could definitely see that sparking extra resentment among the staff. Or if there’s a perception that leadership is way overpaid for what they contribute, it’s possible the complainers feel the people actually doing the work should receive some of that money instead. This is speculation, obviously, but since the vitriol seems so specific to the issue of compensation, I wondered if this could play a role.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I worked at a medical non-profit were a professional company ran a salary study and our nurses were classed as “coordinators” because it was in their title. Their salary was being compared to Marketing Coordinators and Administrative Coordinators at non-profits, and so the Nurse’s pay was reduced to be in line with other “coordinators.”
      If the study is valid, then the whole thing should be shared with the staff so they can analyze it themselves. And if the study isn’t detailed enough to scrutinize, then HR should be asking for more details from the survey company.

      1. Anonym*

        This is a great point – it’s worth examining that study very closely, and worth sharing it so you’re not asking people to trust you on the conclusions. (Apparent cultural issues aside.)

      2. boop the first*

        This is a good point! So the study was done, what happened with the study? Although perhaps they DID see the study, since they used the word “rigged” rather than “fake”

      3. OP*

        The salaries were compared apples-to-apples, but the entire study cannot be shared due to proprietory information contained in it about our “competitors” (for-profit organization that do the same thing we do, but for a profit). They only agreed to be included if the details were kept confidential. I have not seen the whole study because I am not a senior administrator, but I have seen a very long and detailed summary, and I am satisfied that the study was correctly carried out.

        1. WendyRoo*

          Just curious, what’s your role in the company? Does their complaining impact your day-to-day responsibilities, or is it just annoying?

          1. OP*

            My role is mid-level, as are 75% of the jobs here, but everyone gets to hear from the gripers no matter how much you try to avoid them.

            1. Insert Clever Name Here*

              If you aren’t at a level that you can actually make decisions about communicating or sharing information, you may be pretty limited in what you can do. Certainly counter it when you hear it, shut down conversations about it in meetings you’re leading, and create a reusable bingo board for when you’re stuck hearing the complaints otherwise (maybe with a rule that you get to buy yourself a prize once you get a bingo? dealer’s choice). As Alison has said before, sometimes when you can’t change what’s happening it can help to choose to be amused by it.

            2. Natalie*

              I mean, what advice are you expecting to get besides “ignore them”? Apparently management’s options are limited, and you’re not management anyway.

                1. NotJane*

                  I’d wager good money that the gripers keep griping and the problem has gotten so out of hand because the gripers are essentially being rewarded for their behavior. I mean, it sounds like your organization has bent over backwards to work with the gripers and take their concerns seriously (to the extent that’s possible), to the point of commissioning a report to show they’re not being underpaid (and we know how that worked out). And what, exactly, have the gripers done in response? Nothing, as far as I can tell, except gripe louder and more often, to the point that they feel empowered to dismiss the above mentioned report as “fake news”!

                  But why should the gripers do anything differently or make the effort to find a middle ground (or, you know, another job with a higher salary if they’re so unhappy)? It seems like their current strategy is working quite well for them. From the sounds of it, they’ve got the people in charge walking on eggshells, are regularly hijacking meetings, abusing your email system, bullying the payroll person, and harassing the board (!). All with zero consequences. And they know it.

                  This sounds like a classic case of the tail wagging the dog. So yeah, if you (and ideally others at your level) start ignoring the gripers when they’re griping and stop allowing them to hold court, that behavior will become a lot less satisfying for them. Similarly, if people stick to an agenda in meetings and quash the discussion of money and salary before it takes over, or if leadership would empower the payroll person to standup for herself (and ideally step in and have her back when/if needed), and enforce rules about all-staff emails (they can’t live in fear of “dissent” forever), that might solve a good chunk of the problem, especially if the griping is mostly due to one person’s influence.

                  Out of 100 gripers, I’d bet at least 30% (maybe more) are also sick of it but feel like they have to keep griping for fear of crossing the ringleader (and to be fair to that 30%, your org has given that one individual a lot of power, so that fear may be well founded). In others words, I’d bet that there’s more people than you’d guess who are tired of marinating in that kind of negativity day in and day out and would be much happier just doing their jobs without the constant, daily griping.

                  But regardless of what your colleagues do, YOU can and should ignore them. From what you’ve said, it doesn’t sound like you have any authority to initiate necessary changes, so why are you stressing about a situation over which you have no control? To the extent that the griping is negatively impacting your work environment and dragging you down, then yes, “ignore them” is a totally valid, and probably necessary, option.

            3. EventPlannerGal*

              Can I ask what prompted you to write in? Have you been tasked with changing the culture of the org, has somebody asked you to figure out how to shut this stuff down and is likely to back you up? Or is this a personal frustration that has built up? (It’s entirely valid if it is, btw, this sounds like a really unpleasant atmosphere.)

              I just ask because it sounds like you have very limited abilities to enforce any formal consequences on the complainers. Without that it’s going to be hard to effectively make changes unless you have been tasked to do that or can get buy-in from more senior people. If there is anyone more senior who can back you up on things like shutting down the mass emails then you should call on them, but beyond that then as a mid-level employee you may be best off grey-rocking the complainers (and advising anyone else annoyed by them to do the same) and making it as boring as possible for them to complain to you. Keeping meetings that you/your department are leading on track with the sort of language Alison suggested may also encourage others to do the same, so you can also lead by example there.

              1. OP*

                I’m just exhausted from listening to them! But I’m getting good ideas for phrasing I can use to shut it down, for example in a meeting or an email thread. This alone might help me feel more empowered and not so much at their mercy.

                1. Amaranth*

                  If they are using work email to gripe then my response would be ‘I have a deadline to meet/work to do/a full inbox, please remove me from this email conversation. I think the suggestions Alison made about pushing to get them to stop interrupting work might be the most useful fo you. Its like any other kind of gossip or non-work conversation that disrupts your work day, turn to those folks and ask to keep it down as you’re trying to get things done/make phone calls/concentrate.

        2. Smithy*

          Given everything that you’ve done – and both genuinely believing what you say about the study, and empathizing with the whining staff – I think a better move at this time would be some opportunity to flag the discussion on salaries closed until X date when compensation, equity, etc. would be reviewed again.

          Any way to communication that the organization has completed the review and other than individual PME processes, there will be no further sectoral review until the next strategy refresh/for three years/etc. Something to communicate that the organization takes the issue seriously and understands staff concerns, therefore while it’s done for now it will be part of regular reviews.

        3. MollyG*

          Did the employees who are unhappy see the same summary that you did? If not then I don’t blame them for not believing it. I one had a university claim to commission a study on an ADA issue and say that the study said they are fine, but they refused to share any part of the study, even the summary.

            1. KRSone*

              So I also work for a nonprofit where people gripe about pay. We have competitors in both the for profit and nonprofit space and we pay less compared to a for profit peer but higher than peer nonprofits. We’ve done so many salary studies but it doesn’t quell the folks who think we should pay more. Which is all to say, you can’t do much. I have stopped engaging. Or I’ll say something like “hmmm the salary survey we did said we are average – what leads you to think differently?” And then I try to listen. Usually there is something underlying their assumptions that may be able to be actually addressed. And then there are the pot stirrers who rile everyone up and then leave anyway for better pay at a nonprofit. Which like, I wish they had just made that decision earlier. I feel like we are all adults, we pay competitively, we are super transparent on our pay bands, and at some level we need to make our choices about what we want to do.

        4. AndersonDarling*

          Our study ran the same way, and in our case, there were a few orgs that paid way below market for certain positions. And so the results were used by other orgs to reduce pay, which then brought the pay rate down when the next study was done two years later.
          I’d consider getting some public sector comparables. Non-profits can become incredibly siloed, and they tend to have long term executives that become separated from current pay standards. When I left, my salary increased x2.5. For real, I had no idea I was underpaid by that much! But I was constantly told that “the Survey” said I should only be making $xx. Every recruiter I talked to was horrified at the pay at my non-profit. But since our non-profit was only compared to other non-profits in the same industry, everyone on the inside thought it was normal.
          Please, call an HR director at a for-profit and ask for their pay scales so you can see if your salaries are in alignment.

          1. AndersonDarling*

            And this sounds very, very familiar. So if you are being compared to 57 (used to be 58) other orgs, then I can guarantee that your data is seriously skewed.

            1. EventPlannerGal*

              The only thing I can think of is that perhaps the complainers – who I think you said elsewhere are top earners within your org, which itself pays highly for the industry? – have realised that they’ve hit the ceiling of what they can ever expect to earn regardless of where they go within the industry, and are taking out their resentment about this on your org. (Perhaps it’s some petty personal thing, like the ringleader has friends working in silly-money industries and they’re mad that they are just never going to be making that much money.)

              But like everyone is saying, it needs to be made clear to them that your salaries are in line and indeed higher than anything they can expect within the sector and let them make their minds up from there. It sounds like your org has gone to some effort to back this up – the ball is now in their court.

        5. Anonym*

          You should be able to strip out the names of the competitors and any identifying details! We’ve done something similar in our highly niche realm of a larger industry, and it was with even more sensitive business information than salaries. It should be anonymizable.

          1. OP*

            The nature of our niche industry means it is not really anonymizable. We would be able to easily identify different organizations.

        6. Nonprofit Lifer*

          This is a bit of a problem. Putting it from their perspective, the employees are being told “trust us, you’re not being underpaid,” but it sounds like trust is already lacking, so that won’t go over well. You may need a different study, this time one you can really share with them.

          Perhaps what you should do is ask them about *their* sources for why they think they’re being underpaid. If they don’t have one that might make them think twice. But if they do, that gives you an opportunity to fairly look at their sources and see if they’re more or less accurate than the ones your study looked at.

          1. KRSone*

            We tried this once… the employee told us the comp she looked at was Google. We are…. not Google. Or even in tech. I almost told her she should just apply there. PS she was not qualified to work at Google either.

      4. Coenobita*

        Yikes! This doesn’t seem to the be the case in OP’s situation, but if it helps someone else – make sure your salary comparisons look across all levels/roles and don’t just average out whether compensation is good overall. I work for a big nonprofit that underpays its junior/admin staff and overpays its senior/management staff. Overall, the org’s salaries get talked about as competitive, and for some of us they really are, but it’s mostly the whiter, male-r roles who benefit and that is NOT good for morale.

      5. Artemesia*

        LOL. The college I worked at for a while hired a management consultant to make recommendations about structure. They found all sorts of roles that seemed unnecessary and superfluous and would allow massive savings if eliminated. Those roles were the people who dealt with students — e.g. counseling, dean of students, registrar’s offices. It was a frigging college, the primary mission of which was educating students but they wanted to eliminate the support roles for that mission because apparently other organizations that made widgets or sold office supplies didn’t have roles like that. It was mind boggling. Just as the idea that nurses are just like ‘AAs’ in another department is mind boggling.

    3. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

      Honestly, my first thought reading that line was “for the love of god, OP, don’t have bake-offs or chili contests in your workplace.”
      It took me a few more responses to realize that there’s a world outside of AAM where things like this happen!

    4. Roscoe*

      I mean, I get that. In fairness though, lets assume you don’t trust your organization already and feel they are nickel and diming you. Will you trust a study that they funded to say “actually, no, you aren’t paying your staff that well?”

      I’ve worked at some shady companies, and I don’t know that a study they funded would really put my mind at ease.

      1. OP*

        Old-timers tell me there was a time when they were truly underpaid, but stayed because the non-profit was more appealing than the for-profit competitors. However, it has not been the case as long as I’ve been here.

        1. Sylvan*

          Is it possible that those employees are still having some resentments and sharing them with the rest of the crew? If I were a newer employee and a senior employee claimed we were underpaid, I might think that was credible. I also might notice an us-versus-them vibe when other employees interact with managers.

    5. JokeyJules*

      i wonder if it would be productive to have the employees produce their own data showing that they are underpaid, since they dont trust the information that OPs management team has provided. i can see a few interesting outcomes there. Maybe the employees are mis-titled and underpaid, or mis-titled and not realizing they are being paid appropriately for the work they do, maybe its just a few really strong ringleaders who thrive in dissent and negativity and bring the entire group down with them. whats tricky about saying, “ok, then find a reputable source that is telling you we are underpaying you” is that the internet is vast and there’s always I’mRight.com.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Is there a way for the Admin group to tell the complaining group that until they produce concrete data that proves they are underpaid and/or mislabeled that the organization is unwilling to spend any more working time on this topic? And then to shut it down during work hours when it comes up?

        2. JokeyJules*

          “Bob, it is clear how passionate you are about this issue. Let’s consider this a project, please complete thorough research on this topic by X.”

        3. Chilipepper*

          I think those of you who don’t like the griping have to say,
          “we have shown you the data, we are happy to see your data, until you do, I need to focus on my job/work.” And then stop listening.

          Rinse and repeat. Make it really boring for them to complain.

    6. Smithy*

      While I completely get the larger reference….sadly in the nonprofit world – this response does not surprise me. Mostly because I know I’ve been guilty of it.

      The reality of the larger nonprofit sector when it comes to salaries is that it’s very easy to feel that there are organizations you shouldn’t be compared to as it will skew how the results are viewed. There’s always that organization that everyone knows underpays by 30%, or disagreement how COLA is compared. I know when I was working in NYC, it never felt fair in how NYC nonprofit salaries were compared to DC ones.

      And I say all of this entirely aware that whatever “the scales are being weighted” claims I have thought, may actually not be backed up by evidence. And then it does become that impossible task of trying to convince someone that the facts don’t correlate with what they deeply believe.

      From a less emotional and professional place – taking the step back to realize that no matter what you feel, your employer won’t change and therefore it’s time to think about changing your life. For example leaving a specific nonprofit world for a more profitable profession, or leaving a high COLA environment for a lower one.

      1. OP*

        Mindset is hard to change! Maybe I should look at them with more sympathy, people who are caught up in the past. That may help me respond to them better.

        1. Smithy*

          Again, as someone who’s been stuck in that place – I do think a version of tough love is more important than facts and reason.

          Someone stuck on “you’re not paying me enough” – who’s not backing it up with either a competing offer from another organization or any rough industry research – is stuck in a tunnel vision spot where all focus is on making their employer change using methods that become less and less effective. In those moments, I think the best that can happen is letting people know the boundaries on when that information can be reviewed – such as during their own annual evaluations or around certain larger strategy calendars, and then offering support if they want to seek external opportunities.

          I’ve worked in nonprofits my whole life – and at times, I’ve seen my salary raise by around 50-90% with subsequent jobs. Often for those leaps aren’t easily comparable, but I think they do represent a level of flux that has often made it very difficult to assess what I’m worth and what is the “reasonable” industry standard. As such feelings of “I should be paid more” far more often represent “I have greater issues of unhappiness but this is what I’m focusing on.”

  3. Binky*

    OP have you noticed one or two ringleaders on the pay issue? Just wondering if you deal with them/manage them out, whether the griping will take a substantial nose dive.

    Also, can you touch base with former employees and see if they’ll share their current salary information with you, as a double check on the report HR commissioned?

    1. Threeve*

      That was where my head went, too. A single strong, outspoken personality can do a LOT to sway workplace culture, especially with an early-career group.

      100 people is a LOT, though.

    2. A Poster Has No Name*

      I was thinking the same thing. This sounds much like one or two agitators getting everyone else on board.

    3. JohannaCabal*

      I was wondering about this too. My first job out of college had problems with a handful of disgruntled staff riling people up. I’ve heard that since these individuals have now retired and left the company things are calmer.

      From what I saw, none of the staff wanted to get on the bad side of these ringleaders or be seen as supporting management so no one spoke up. I suspect that is happening here.

      1. A_person_snarkly*

        Well..what do they do?

        I’m wondering if this issue has to do with payscale transparency as well as job responsibilities vs. actual assigned tasks.

        We had this crop up where Director-Level salaries in our US office were above market rate. Given our budget and size, it made no sense. Additionally, many of the director-level responsibilities were dumped on non-executive staff (ex. Budgeting, grant management, overall programatic and political strategy) . However, because of the lack of criteria and transparency over pay, everyone that wasn’t a director, based on time spent and actual functions were grossly underpaid. Plus, not all directors were earning “directors level salaries”, even those executing regional functions (as in, continental) so it was a completely arbitrary judgement call that had less to do with budgeting and more to do with…politics?

    4. PT*

      I worked somewhere where we had a Drama Llama amplifying all of the bad things into Really Big Deals. I eventually had an opportunity to raise it with management.

      Now, she was 100% right, these were problems. They shouldn’t have happened, and they needed to be addressed. I agreed. But there’s a limit to the amount of emotional energy one can expend ruminating on workplace problems before it gets unhealthy, and she definitely crossed it. Being around her was exhausting.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Right, at a certain point it veers from stating a problem to non-stop complaints that just drag the whole group down because all the complainers do is gripe.

    5. Seal*

      That was my thought as well. Dealing with the ringleaders and putting a stop to the bad behavior should help. But keep an eye on the ringleaders if they don’t wind up leaving. Chances are they’ll find another hill to die on and the cycle of complaining will start all over again.

    6. OP*

      Yes, I do agree. We will need to deal with the ringleaders and due to the culture of the organization, this may be a case of all of us pitching in to “manage” this person… eg. shutting down their complaining on all-staff email chains. I think I can actually step-up to do this, although I have no managerial responsibilities for any of the gripers.

      1. JSPA*

        Can you set up slack or some other chat or messaging channel, and give everyone has access, in lieu of all-staff emails for issues of personal opinion and feelings and blowing off steam? Nobody can argue that their rights to communicate are infringed upon, so long as everyone has full access to the channel, but it frees up the work inboxes for, y’know….work.

      2. MCMonkeybean*

        I think you definitely need to push back on the idea that telling people not to use all-staff email chains is “squashing dissent.” There are much better ways to bring up issues than blasting emails to the entire company. It’s annoying to staff members to receive mass emails all willy-nillly like that, especially when you add in all the inevitable “reply-all” responses!

        So assuming you have literally any other available option for voicing complaints (like an HR department, or just a designated chain like “tell your manager if you have an issue and they will raise it up the chain”) then you really need to nip the all-staff emails in the bud.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Ringleaders are using COMPANY EMAIL to coordinate this campaign????

        That’s improper use of company email, I would say. You can’t use company resources to destroy the company.

    7. Safely Retired*

      What a mess. My first thought was that there were a few instigators. One problem is that it might not be obvious who they are. I have known individuals who are all sweetness and light to management but totally otherwise with everyone else. I shared an office with one such, and she came close to destroying me. I will always treasure the shock on her face when I received a promotion that put us at the same grade level. In any case, don’t assume that just because someone doesn’t seem to be part of the problem that they might not BE the problem.

  4. Charlotte Lucas*

    I wonder if this is a case where posting salaries might be a good idea? At the very least, it will show transparency, but I agree that it sounds like a symptom of dysfunction.

    1. Nicotene*

      Oh, this might be a good idea. If you’re scrupulously transparent with pay bands it’s harder for folks to feel like you’re up to something nefarious, I would say.

    2. OP*

      Our salary bands are open within the organization. They are posted on the Intranet. You don’t know where individuals are located on it because of privacy laws (again, we’re in a jurisdiction where there is such a thing), but you know “a person doing job X would fall between $80-$100,000” or something like that. (That number is not made up… I think our lowest, entry-level, no-degree-needed job starts around $52,000, but most are well above that.)

          1. Xenia*

            Assuming those are US dollars, that is well into the ‘skilled professionals’ band where I am, and I’m west coast US which is not low COL.

      1. Djuna*

        That level of transparency is impressive. I’ve seen complaints like that where I work (not a non-profit) and it’s generally from one or two people who have long tenure, have not progressed, and are therefore bumping the top of their salary band which they believe should then expand to meet their expectations. It does, kind of, for COL raises, but you’re still in the same band as long as you are doing the same role (and if your job family hasn’t seen a general upward adjustment, which can happen too).
        They, too, are being paid above market, well above market if they’re at the ceiling for their band, but don’t get the concept of a salary band being role-based at all. I feel for you, OP, this kind of thing is very tough to deal with. I don’t even manage those people at my job, I just see the endless questions every chance they get and it wears me down!

      2. KRSone*

        Same, my nonprofit raised everyone to min $50k several years ago in response to feedback about salaries being too low for major American cities.

    3. Abogado Avocado*

      Having worked for a non-profit, I think it’s important that non-profit staff understand the organization’s finances. Invite them to Board meetings and send them the non-confidential parts of the Board packet with them, including the balance sheets.

      Then have a separate staff meeting and explain the balance sheets. Tell them you want them to know where the money comes from and where it goes because this determines, like it or not, the scope of the organization’s mission. Help them understand the income sources (usually: grants, donations, and sometimes services provided at reduced cost) and accounts receivable (salaries, payroll taxes, benefits, and other overhead).

      Please do not link this knowledge to fundraising — as in, now you know this, you can help us fundraise. Rather, you want them to have the knowledge because they are committed to the organization’s mission (because if they weren’t, they wouldn’t be there, right?). Understanding the organization’s finances also helps them understand that these are inextricably linked to organizational reach. More money, more reach; less money. . .

      Now, will this stop all complaining? Maybe not. But it is important for non-profit managers to be open about finances with their employees because non-profits are fundamentally different from for-profit operations.

    4. Mayflower*

      At our company, we have fully transparent compensation. Everyone makes the same amount of money, compensation is unusually high (the job is commission based, low performers make twice more than comparable jobs, highest performers make C-level pay), the job itself is unusually flexible, virtually unlimited vacation and sick time, etc. With all that, some people STILL constantly complain and grab for more. Human nature is human nature…

  5. Not So Super-visor*

    I understand where OP is coming from. We did a payroll overhaul about 2 years ago. All of our hourly employees were already above a living wage, but we wanted to make sure that we were paying above what our competitors were paying in order to attract talent. All of the hourly employees got a large raise (salary did not) and have gotten COL increases since then. The complaints about wages stopped for about a year, and now, it is taken up at every opportunity. It gets incredibly frustrating to have a performance discussion with someone and then have their pay brought up as a reason for the issues when you know that they’re making more than they would elsewhere.

    1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

      Well, it worked before…
      I’m not criticizing what you did or the actions you did as a result.
      I’m trying to point out that even though you showed them, very few people CARED how the sausage was made.
      1) speak up about pay
      2) ??
      3) Salary increase.
      And this is NOT because you personally or your company did not lay out the process, it’s that people read bold print and bullet points.

      1. Timbuktu*

        Yes, from the employee’s perspective it’s always better to push for more money, regardless of how you feel or what you could make elsewhere… why would you not?

        And most employees are not in those little conversations where they hear when/why money is spent in other ways. All they hear is “we didn’t meet our yearly target that we set ambitiously, also we’re opening a new location in [country where labor is cheaper]. Oh, sorry there’s no money for bonuses.”

    2. Cj*

      When will people learn that low pay (even if true) is not a reason for them to perform poorly in their job? Not going above and beyond maybe, but not actual poor performance. Or if the pay is actually low, than not being able to hire quality employees that would perform better.

      But if this is their actual reason that they are performing poorly, than they are performing poorly *on purpose*. Who needs an employee like that?

      1. CouldntPickAUsername*

        in general terms low pay can very much impact performance. Not making enough to make ends meet can cause a lot of stress and that can have a lot of domino effects. Further low pay, low investment in the job.

        1. Observer*

          There is a significant limit to that. And @Not So Super-visor specifically noted that they started from above living wage to start with, and have done COLAs since. So that really does not apply here.

      2. Green Tea for Me*

        I dunno, if you’re so poorly paid you’re going into work hungry because you can only stretch a $10/week grocery budget so far, and you’re trying to figure out what you can do to pay your electric bill next month, I’m pretty sure that’s going to affect every aspect of your life, including work performance.

        Google “higher pay, better performance” and you’ll find a number of studies that show higher salaries result in higher performers and higher employee investment and the inverse is true that lower pay results in lower employee performance.

        1. boo bot*

          Yep. It’s a cycle – the more stressed I am about whether I’m going to be able to pay the rent, the harder it is to focus on the work that pays the rent.

          One thing that occurs to me in the situation described above is that the wages were raised two years ago. The US SSA has set the cost of living increase for 2021 to 1.3% (ssa dot gov/cola) and for 2020 it was 1.6%. On top of that, extra costs have gone up for a lot of people during the pandemic: masks and hand sanitizer; paying for childcare while in-person school is closed (or a parent giving up their job to care for children); medical bills; sending money to family or friends who are out of work, etc.

          It’s possible that what they’re asking isn’t reasonable, but it’s also possible that, having gotten a raise two years ago, they need another one to keep up with the cost of being alive.

      3. Vermonter*

        When I was barely scraping by (fixed expenses >70% of pre-tax pay), I didn’t do great at my job. I wasn’t underperforming on purpose but I had to figure out how to feed myself on barely any money, wasn’t getting enough nutrition or sleep, and so I wasn’t bringing my A-game. I don’t think it’s necessarily malicious but people are going to perform better if they’re not worried about what’s for dinner.

        1. OceanDiva*

          So true. When I was working a second job to have anything to put away for emergencies, there were days I was a zombie coming in to work after being at my second job till almost midnight. There are ripple effects physically and mentally.

      4. Karak*

        It’s absolutely a reason. People work for money, not morals. If you do the bare legal minimum for me, I’ll do the barely required minimum for you. Why should I bust my ass for someone who either doesn’t think about or doesn’t care about if I have enough to feed and shelter myself?

        The idea that humans should give to soulless corporations more than they get is laughable.

    3. TootsNYC*

      It’s almost as if by raising pay and making a point that you want to pay well, you’ve triggered this.

  6. Jessica*

    If it’s not on the meeting agenda, the facilitator needs to move forward. “Salary scales are not on the meeting agenda. We will stick to the agenda to honor our time and commitment to the company.” And then move on. Repeat as needed. “Salary is not up for discussion in this meeting.” Be straightforward and to the point.

    1. EngineerMom*


      Meetings should always have an agenda, and the person leading the meeting has a responsibility to keep discussions on track and on topic.

      If the salary conversation is not part of the meeting, STOP THE DISCUSSION. If people want to get pissy or pushy about it, end the meeting, since it’s not like you’re getting anything productive done anyway!

    2. TechWorker*

      Yes! Saying ‘you cannot discuss salary’ is draconian but saying ‘you cannot discuss salary in this particular meeting about unrelated topic’ is… totally normal to the point it’s bizarre to me if people don’t get that…

  7. Nonprofit worker*

    Are they being paid fairly for their titles on paper but routinely doing work beyond the scope of those roles in reality?

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      This is a good question.

      Also, are they being asked to do nearly impossible things? Are there ridiculously tight turn around times? Escalated deadlines? 60 hours of work being crammed into 40 hours?

      1. AndersonDarling*

        And are they being required to vounlenteer many hours outside of their work schedule? Or donate a percentage of their pay back to the non-profit?

          1. PT*

            Both of those things are very common at nonprofits.

            You can be expected to volunteer outside your normal job duties (this is legal). So if you’re a llama wrangler, they can make you volunteer on the fundraising team. They can also make you donate money back to the fundraising campaign, both the nonprofit’s annual campaign and the United Way one because United Way mandates it as a term of providing their funding to your organization.

            1. pleaset cheap rolls*

              ” Or donate a percentage of their pay back to the non-profit?”

              This is very common? I find hat hard to believe.

              “They can also make you donate money back to the fundraising campaign, both the nonprofit’s annual campaign and the United Way one because United Way mandates it as a term of providing their funding to your organization.” It’s common to push for participation, but no way is getting people to donate beyond a nominal amount very common.

              1. neef*

                The nonprofit I worked at encouraged us to donate because it “looked good to the funders” if staff were contributing back. It’s definitely a data point they talk up in grant language.

                1. pugsnbourbon*

                  Yep, the nonprofit I used to work at was VERY insistent that all staff, even part-time hourly staff (who are objectively underpaid) donate. The amount wasn’t important – it could be a single $1 donation – but it was still super problematic.

          2. California Typewriter*

            I can speak to the second one, at a university (non-profit) I worked at some people did have an ongoing donation taken from their paychecks, fully voluntary. Not illegal, as far as I know, but I personally did find it tacky. For the record, that place paid well below market for the area; it was a running joke.

            1. cat lady*

              At some colleges the donations can be allocated straight to a cause you choose– I used to manage the food pantry at one, and staff/faculty paycheck donations (like $5/paycheck) paid for A LOT of peanut butter and tampons. Other funds you can contribute to include student emergency grants to help with situations that would otherwise mean the student would have to drop out– transmission died, can’t get to campus, can’t afford to get it fixed, need to drop out to get a job to pay for repairs-> $500 emergency grant-> transmission fixed-> doesn’t drop out.

              1. cat lady*

                (of course, it would be ideal for the school/state system to fund food pantries, or for the economic system to be magically fixed so college kids don’t need to choose between eating and going to school, but…)

                1. California Typewriter*

                  I suppose I should mention that this was a private school. I found it tacky for other reasons, if there had been an option for an emergency fund or something like that I may have contributed. They just wanted general fund donations and had a big event where they solicited them, thinking back there may have been some limited options as to where the money would go but I don’t recall.

          3. AndersonDarling*

            The NP I was at would require vounlenteer hours to get your raise at the end of the year. No one is required to give you a raise, so they aren’t doing anything illegal. And the % donation is just that, a donation…but it is tracked and brought up at your review. Not enough donation? It must mean you aren’t dedicated enough to the mission. No raise for you.

          4. Ask a Manager* Post author

            1. A nonprofit can’t require you to volunteer for your job duties, but they can require you to do volunteer work outside of your normal work duties. (A for-profit can’t require you to volunteer at all.) Healthy organizations don’t do this at all.

            2. An org in any sector can require charitable deductions from your paycheck as long as it doesn’t put your pay below minimum wage. Again, healthy orgs don’t do this.

            1. OP*

              Neither of those things apply in our case. We don’t require people to volunteer (some do, some do not and there are zero repercussions–nobody even keeps track) and we can’t require charitable deductions in our jurisdiction. Interesting to hear how things operate in other places. I think Americans might need to organize for better workplace laws…

              1. cara*

                True that Americans need better workplace laws, but I also find it weird that you’re so fixated on that but won’t even say vaguely where you are so that people can provide more specific information. This is an American blog after all – for example I don’t think that NLRB appplies directly to you, although I assume there’s a similar law and org.

                1. GarlicMicrowaver*

                  THANK YOU. Am I the only other one to pick up on this? This has become a common theme in many of these posts. And Allison even pointed it out herself out one day in the context of another post– she said to please keep comments about how much corporate America basically sucks out of the threads, as it is exhausting for us. This is, like, the third hint from OP that she does not like our working culture. POINT TAKEN. But we live here, this is our reality, so please.

                  Huge pet peeve and I really wish we could address this in a larger post or add it to the rules. I am sick and tired of hearing that our maternity leave policies suck, and that we are doing every other policy wrong… when I have to personally live them every single freaking day.

                  Rant over but I’m sure you can understand my point, Allison. Sorry to have hijacked this further.

                2. Lils*

                  I hear y’all…but I like knowing how much it sucks in the US. I grew up thinking we had it good. Now, thanks to this blog and other sources, I realize how pathetic our protections and benefits are. Other countries have nice things, why can’t we? If I don’t understand the problems, how can I envision a better future and fight for it?

                3. Insert Clever Name Here*

                  @Lils there’s discussion where you’re able to learn of/understand the problems and then there’s “but better here than in America amiright,” and some of the OP’s comments have felt very much the latter.

                4. TechWorker*

                  Bear in mind OP is spending this whole thread with people being like ‘well MAYBE your company is mistreating people in this specific way that makes their complaints reasonable’ – and trying to explain that’s not the case. Including in that that behaving that way would also be illegal is additional info, not an attack. (Plus also, an attack on who? The entire American population?)

                5. serenity*

                  I’d also say that American labor laws can certainly be made stronger but I don’t understand either the impulse to write in to an American blog asking for advice, not being willing to divulge what country you’re in (which would presumably impact what advice you were to get, which is moot in this case anyway since OP is not management), present your workplace as a constantly seething and toxic environment where people with no control over salary-setting are getting bullied repeatedly, and sit back and act smug about it.

                6. twocents*

                  @Serenity — Agreed. American work culture is far from perfect, but at least my manager wouldn’t let get relentlessly bullied either.

              2. SentientAmoeba*

                America could use some improvements, but employment law seems so draconian where you live that you are afraid to even mention what country you live and work in. And based on your letter and comments, a full half of your company is causing significant issues and you legally have no way to address it. So…… you’re not really selling where you live.

                1. Locke*

                  Yes, the US has it’s problems, but I don’t think I’d want to work in whatever country OP works in.

                2. Kitry*

                  Yes! I could certainly wish for more generous paid-leave policies in my state, but OP’s situation sounds nightmarish in its own way.

                3. serenity*

                  It also seems, from a comment Alison made above, that OP may not have as firm a grasp on the employment laws in their country as they may think they do so I think the OP should take a moment to be less glib about the situation and perhaps learn more.

              3. Maggie*

                Im actually OK working somewhere that can fire people for constantly complaining, bullying people and generally being a huge distraction and annoyance to the team to the detriment of others work.

                1. Amy*

                  Agreed. I’ve worked for a large (American) company for a long time. I’ve never know known any of my colleagues to be capriciously fired.

                  On the other hand, I have known a few toxic jerks who’ve been fired. I was glad of it. It would be hard on morale if there were no/ extremely limited options.

                2. Insert Clever Name Here*

                  @Amy, ditto. Reading the OP other European’s comments about “you can’t fire someone because they’re a jerk” really makes me wonder if part of that whole 6 weeks+ of vacation time is because you’ve gotta give people a way to take breaks from the office jacka** since you can’t fire him for being a jacka** because otherwise people would implode.

                3. Observer*


                  @Insert Clever Name Here, I once actually said that to someone who was going on about how in his (former) country you had to be given 6 weeks of leave. I told him that if I had to work in that country I would NEED all 6 weeks just to maintain basic sanity.

                  They had GREAT worker protections, if all you care about is vacation time and not being able to fire people. On the other hand, it was fine for an employer to literally lock people into the building! And to forbid people from leaving during the day / requiring a note from their supervisor for the security guard to allow staff to leave. This all just made my hair stand on end.

                4. EventPlannerGal*

                  The system described by the OP isn’t even universal across Europe – there are European countries where you certainly could be fired for a lot of that, even if the process is slower than “put your shit in a box and get out”. Based on Alison’s comment above I’m not even sure this IS the system in OP’s country so the entire America/Europe thing here may be something of a red herring.

    2. Gaia*

      I wonder if that might be the case. I am paid fairly for my title. I am underpaid for the actual work that I do (we’re working on fixing that currently).

    3. Jane*

      This is definitely where my mind went. My supervisor thinks I am well paid – because within the pay band I am classified in I am.

      The problem is that I am classified as having a lower level of experience than I do. In my case the perception that feeds into that is partially due to a industry sector change which means there are some basic things I don’t know – plus a lack of mentorship opportunities to learn the small details I don’t have. So I have stalled out in people’s perception of me.

      She recently called me “entry level”, and expressed surprise at the quality of a report I wrote. I have nine years of progressive experience, and am solidly mid-level in my skills – they’re just not exactly distributed the way that’s expected (but are all relevant to the job – I just have a different spread of the skills they need, that they would usually get from multiple people.)

      So yes, I resent it, and resent my pay.

      I also just gave notice and am moving to a different company next week :)

      1. Jane*

        I should say: I think that report is the first piece of my writing she had seen. Most of my work does not pass through her, she has not been my supervisor long, and even after three years many people still failed to realize that I’m a skilled technical writer because I was pigionholed elsewhere.

      1. Nonprofit worker*

        Huh, well that is great to hear but all the more puzzling for your situation, then. Best of luck!

    4. YetAnotherAnalyst*

      Also, does their pay on paper differ significantly from their effective pay, either per hour or annually? I’ve seen this at some nonprofits – where employees were expected to provide tools and supplies on their own, or where time spent traveling from the office to the work site or filing end-of-day paperwork counted for half (resulting in 10-hour workdays paid as 8-hour workdays, if it included a 4-hour round trip, etc).

    5. sally*

      As a fellow nonprofit employee, great question. My duties spread so far beyond what my title would suggest, and I work at a pretty healthy organization. It’s just…kind of the way things go at nonprofits.

    6. PolarVortex*

      They bring up benefits too – how are your benefits in comparison to competitors? Do you pay more but have little PTO? Terrible sick leave? Is their frustration with compensation perhaps due in part that maybe they’re paid more but their lack of benefits negates that extra pay in comparison with competitors? Do you black out a lot of time they could take vacation and they’re frustrated with not being able to use it?

      Also are the complainers of one particular gender more than another? I know a lot of frustration with my pay at one point in time was because men were making more than me when I had more experience. (Because they negotiated! according to HR, yes I know that’s not an excuse).

      Look at the make up of those who are complaining. I work for a younger company, our benefits for people with children were absolutely crap for awhile because it was a lot of non-parents in charge of things who never bothered to think about it. Young people here mostly rent but the rent where I live is outrageous because we have terrible laws and not a lot of rental property, which means most my paycheck went to rent for a long while, which frustrated me when my work said that they paid fairly for cost of living. (Maybe if you were not single and you owned a home, but not for single people who had rent to pay.) What is the pay band most of the complainers are in? What are your upper level management paid in comparison with your core workforce? (The disparity of what the CEO gets off to do and gets paid can be extra painful if you’re worried about making rent.) Salaried or Hourly? Are you expecting Hourly people to not put in overtime but assigning them more work than they can feasibly complete in 40 hours? Are your salaried people expected to be on call and feel like they’ve sacrificed their entire free time for little extra pay/benefit?

      I am in no way saying how they’re doing things is Okay. It just may be worth looking at things through another lens, and perhaps sitting down with an assortment of the complainers to workshop vs just announce everything is hunky dory. (Again, my company has done this announcement, I too rolled my eyes at them because it sometimes feels like a cop out over listening to my concerns.)

      1. OP*

        Benefits are great, very generous. There were some missing but they have been added in the last few years (e.g. parental leave, that is, above the government-mandated leave because, again, we’re in a jurisdiction that has good employment laws). Most of the complainers are in the higher pay bands and the study showed them in the 80-100th percentile of earners compared to our competitors. We are all well-paid but they are the highest paid. (For comparison, most companies expect to pay between 50-60th percentile.)

        1. TootsNYC*

          is this a case of “give them an inch, they’ll ask for a mile”? Or, “give them a mile, they’ll demand two”?

        2. Happy*

          I think this is an important detail. If the complainers are among the highest paid, they may also have a good deal more capital than other employees.

          (And I bet makes it all the more annoying that they keep complaining about being underpaid!)

          1. KRSone*

            I agree, an important detail. A ceo or c-suite person at a nonprofit will never make what they could in that same role at a for profit. The higher the level is, the bigger the gap between the sectors. That’s when it becomes Not Your Problem. Our cfo left to go back to the private sector. He never complained about his pay when he was here because he understood our economic model. He just finally realized he wanted to make more and That Is OK! I don’t fault him at all. What I hate is the people that complain and don’t either leave OR do anything constructive to change it. And complaining alone is just not constructive.

        3. Amaranth*

          If they are higher level then you might be limited on pushing back, it would need to come from the most senior folks in most cases. You might need to concentrate on how to minimize personal impact, such as asking if there can be a separate slack or email list for those who want to talk informally about staff issues so it doesn’t jam up your inbox, and using the scripts to cut off or at least minimize chatter in your workspace. Maybe noise cancelling earphones?

        4. Not So NewReader*

          Investigate these complainers. They have done something and have been allowed to get away with it. There is a reason why respect is gone. Children need to be told to stop taking cookies from the cookie jar. If that is overlooked, then they graduate to taking bills out of parents’ wallets, or maybe take the car for a spin and total it. People of all ages can need to have boundaries reinforced.
          When people are not told to stop what they are doing they just do more.

        5. PolarVortex*

          Oooh, the fact they’re in the higher pay bands does change things. That is going to be an entirely different thing to try to manage than your general workforce. You might have to have a come to Jesus talk with them, politely, like Alison said about some of their more egregious behaviors. Or manage them out, particularly if your higher salaries will attract a wide talented pool of candidates to replace them who aren’t making that much money.

  8. New Jack Karyn*

    So, if their jobs are so underpaid, why don’t they apply to other places? Tell ’em to bring in three ads for similar jobs that all have higher pay.

    If they’re being jerks to the payroll clerk who cuts the checks, they’re not being reasonable people.

    1. Hyacinth Bucket (Pronounced BOUQUET)*

      I agree that being rude to the payroll employee is absolutely unreasonable. OP needs to nip that in the bud, and enforce consequences for people who are being mean to a party who is just doing their jobs. This is especially true if whoever cuts the checks isn’t also in charge of salary decisions. They shouldn’t have to deal with anger and ire from coworkers just for doing their job.

          1. Secretary*

            I work in admin and at my job that is absolutely the culture too. Everybody here is paid well above market rate, but there’s just a culture of the employees griping about how they’re underpaid. When my coworker say that, I just shrug and say “so see if someone else will pay you better.” A lot of times all they wanted to do was complain, they don’t actually want to go anywhere else.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              I would look into “muting” the email complaint threads if nothing else. I have one thread at my job that I don’t need to be on, but I can get off of (it formerly was a part of my responsibilities but no longer is), and it very quickly after the first email of the day turns into a complaint fest – so every morning I mute replies (my email program will not mute any reply marked with a higher priority setting). Makes my email box less stressful.

          2. Phony Genius*

            I guess the essential question here is what can a content employee do to function well in a workplace surrounded by a sea of negativity and dissent?

    2. Threeve*

      Something is keeping people there. Quite possibly it’s way too much freedom from consequences. If they can get away with hijacking meetings and sending nasty emails to coworkers and board members, what else are they not getting written up or fired for?

    3. Generic Name*

      Exactly. I work with a guy who has all kinds of complaints about our boss and for a while complained endlessly about being underpaid (and got himself a massive raise), and how unhappy he is. He mentioned to me recently that he’s been super unhappy for the last 3 years, and all I could think was, “well, why are you still here?” I’m guessing he either gets something out of feeling disgruntled and talking about it all the time and isn’t actually looking for other jobs, or he has been looking for other jobs and isn’t getting hired elsewhere at his current rate of pay. Over the years I’ve learned that some people just like complaining.

  9. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    Is your HR keeping on top of company review websites? Because it could be that there are consistent bad postings online (Glassdoor) fueling this. At one point I realized an upset employee was literally writing anonymous, hateful posts online and using them as “evidence” that others were upset, when it was just him.

    1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

      I’m feeling too that their is a force behind this. One (maybe two) disgruntled and unappeasable person who is fueling this.

      1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        Ahh it’s the person with the best username ever again! And one that will probably come to mind when I am elderly and find myself chuckling at the years I spent with my anonymous buddies in this commentariat. I hope you are well, safe, and happy my friend!

  10. pleaset cheap rolls*

    “And you can say that you fully support people who are unhappy with their pay in leaving for better opportunites.”


    I was talking recently with someone at my job who is a star or future staff, and is underpaid given her capacity and abilities. This person does not report to me but was asking for advice after advocating for a raise, and I was frank – “You should look around for another job because i don’t think this place will pay you what you’re worth.” Other than pay, this person is happy, and didn’t want to hear that, but it’s true.

    1. HotSauce*

      I had a report who constantly complained about her salary. She brought it up at least once a week. Her performance was mediocre at best and her attendance was abysmal, but still earned a competitive wage. I told her that I would support her if she wanted to pursue more lucrative opportunities. She handed in her resignation a couple of weeks later. She reapplied with my company within six months and was hired by another department. Sometimes people think they should be paid more than what’s reasonable and no matter what you do you’ll never change their minds, they need to learn it on their own.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I think you should start clipping or printing out job listings and loudly dropping them off on people’s desks. Especially if you can find ones that list the pay!!

          Reply to every email complaining about it with info about new jobs they can apply for, including what you can find out about the salary or benefits there.

          The other way to shut people down sometimes is to respond with exactly the same “shutting it down” phrase over and over–and never deviate from that. Don’t get sucked into any conversation about their point, or about why you aren’t addressing their point.

      1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        AND I think Alison’s point about transparency with how OP gathered this data is important. It’s almost as if the employee doesn’t realize there is a difference between private and non-profit pay grades

    2. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

      Yes. I left several jobs in my 20s because I knew I could earn more and was worthy of earning more. Waiting for the boss’s boss’s boss or HR to realize this will only result in disappointment.

      For some, the stability of where they are is worth the lower pay, based on their current life circumstances. But always keep your eyes open for that right opportunity.

  11. Keymaster of Gozer*

    I’m wondering if this is a kind of ‘habitual complaining’ that has got way out of hand.

    Let me give an example: Joan, Jake and Freddy love complaining non stop about the weather. As in they’re genuinely happier in themselves when they’ve got something to pick at and complain about because…hey they’re cynical and being totally okay with the world isn’t their mindset.

    So they find a way to work into every conversation that the weather is bad, it’s affecting their lives, their work, their mood etc. As it goes on, more people in the office, to fit in, to agree..whatever, start to complain about the weather, constantly. More people do it. It becomes a ‘norm’. It starts to get nastier, more pervasive, meetings interrupted by it because heck, everyone else does it.

    Now I’m not a student of human behaviour. I’m an autistic disabled IT geek so I’m likely way off base. I have had though direct experience of having to rein in a large group of habitual complaints that were starting to cause severe productivity concerns (if you’re spending all day complaining you’re not working). I just asked them, outright, if they had an issue that the company COULD fix then they needed to come up with a proposal, with background data, of what should be done.

    If they don’t trust data provided by the firm, surely they can provide their own?

    1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

      Well, whatever your background or experience, you have clearly articulated exactly what I have been thinking and attempting to reply to a number of comments here on the board. Allow me to give you mad props and say, THIS. EXACTLY THIS.
      Someone started this song that never ends, and it became a self-sustaining entity.
      It is Ray Bradbury’s “The Crowd.”

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        The hive mind is a real thing. I’ve complained about the weather every day of my working life (in my defence, I’m British. That’s the national hivemind thing)

    2. TootsNYC*

      I also wonder if the success of the previous years, of improving benefits, etc., has made them feel they have power now, and maybe they can just keep getting more and more if they agitate for it.

    3. meyer lemon*

      To me, the details suggest a trust issue. At this point, whatever the leadership claims about salaries and fairness, these employees refuse to believe on principle. That’s a pretty tough position to manoeuvre around. If the leadership really wants to address this, they probably won’t get much traction unless they’re able to get to the root of the disconnect in trust. Since the LW sounds like they aren’t in a position to make any changes on that level, it probably wouldn’t hurt to at least act as a voice of reason when these employees are spreading misinformation.

  12. HoHumDrum*

    I’ve worked in non-profits for a bit, and absolutely was underpaid but still making more than I would doing the same job somewhere else. Certain fields, like education, cleaning services, and child care are just deeply undervalued in our society and that results in them being generally underpaid across the board. It’s frustrating to be struggling to pay bills and also be working your butt off, giving long hours (which is also common in non-profits) and still struggling to get by. It can truly turn you enraged and bitter, and hearing “Hey, at least we pay you more than the rest of this undervalued field would” doesn’t always help.

    Maybe what your angry employees need to do is direct that rage towards the industry as a whole. At my last non-profit the wages were obviously low but also the best the organization could do. Since the issue was more systemic than just our org, what ended up happening is folks formed an Emerging Professionals group of people in the same industry all across the state. The goal was to work together to try to push bigger changes on a larger scale. More of us together = more power and resources to advocate change with. We’re…still working on that goal, but it still feels more fruitful than either a) complaining constantly at work about something they can’t change or b) giving up and accepting to be underpaid for the rest of my life or c) giving up on a mission I believe in and moving to a more profit driven industry.

    I don’t know how you the LW can get them to direct their anger better. I think Alison’s script is what is needed to make things less heated at work, which is needed. But if there are any advocacy groups or emerging professionals groups in your area for your industry maybe the complainers can be directed there.

    1. GB*

      “there are jobs that are systemically underpaid everywhere…. I’m going to assume they’re earning at least a living wage and presumably above that.”

      Exactly this. Unfortunately, there are a number of vital occupations (you mention child care) for which the market wage is substantially below the federal (US) poverty level and doesn’t provide anything close to a living income.

    2. Boof*

      It’s worth noting in the us at least, when you factor in debt for schools and hours worked, teachers have the same lifetime earnings as doctors
      (I don’t think us public school teachers are overpaid at all but given the thread is about not griping about being underpaid when pay is probably adequate- y’know)

  13. Rayray*

    One thing I wonder, is the pay at market rate but cost of living exploding in your area? Where I’m at, wages have been stagnant the last few years but housing costs have skyrocketed. This is really hard on people, especially those who weren’t able to buy property a few years ago. Rent and mortgages are incredibly expensive now. This is causing many people financial difficulties. I moved back with my parents after my longtime roommate moved out of state because I can barely afford my own apartment with how expensive things have gotten.

    1. NeonFireworks*

      I worked at a place where this was exactly the problem, and leadership could have written a letter exactly like this one. Average rents had gone up $500 per month in two years, and those who owned houses didn’t know.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        But it has been said on this site you are generally not paid based on your expenses, but rather what the market rate for the position is worth. While it might be true that employers general give COL increases that is tied to general inflation rates, not specific housing rates in local markets.

        1. Le Sigh*

          It’s the market rate for the position, which generally takes into account the COL (including housing), for where the position is located. E.g., $40,000 USD/year goes much further in some cities than a place like DC or NYC or SF, and you have to take that into account when setting salaries or else you won’t be competitive. And if housing is skyrocketing and your salaries aren’t keeping up with the COL in your area, you’re no longer competitive because people take that into account when applying to jobs.

          At my org, COL increases are tied to the office you’re located in — people working in DC don’t get the same as SF or NY, nor is it the same in Minnesota or Texas. So housing would absolutely come into play, because it’s part of COL.

          1. Le Sigh*

            I think the distinction is that no, you’re *not* paid based on individual expenses (e.g., Tom needing daycare, Mary having a trust fund, Janice having high car insurance due to accidents, Serena paying child support due to divorce) — but you *are* paid based on overall trends. If housing is skyrocketing overall in an area, or other COL is trending upward, that is part of setting the market rate for salaries. Sure, some people bought 5 years ago and it isn’t an issue for them individually, but the trend is that it’s skyrocketing overall and that will probably affect more people than not.

          2. CmdrShepard4ever*

            But then the issue really is that the job position/field is not “competitive,” if OP’s company is paying teapot makers $50k, and the average is $45k even when taking into account the private sector, then OP’s company is still competitive. I live in a fairly large city and housing costs certainly vary wildly based on where you are located within the city. So yes someone might see a $500 increase in average rents in a certain trendy neighborhood, but the overall average cost of housing in that city might stay steady or only increase a little bit.

            You are right salaries are adjusted for different COL areas. But in many places I don’t think it is fair to expect employers that are already paying above average for the field/position to raise pay just because certain housing costs are increasing.

            I have friend in the same city that pay more for a smaller space, but live in a more desirable/trendy neighborhood. Their housing costs/rent has gone up at a higher rate than mine has.

      2. LadyMoonTea*

        Yes this! My area has had insane growth that housing is crazy expensive and rentals are hard to come by. However, wages haven’t gone up at the rate of housing. On paper I am paid well compared to what others in a similar role are paid, but rent for a 1 bedroom apartment is half my take home pay, just rent.

    2. Sidonie*

      This is a fantastic point! I work at a place with similar exploding housing costs (especially in the past two years), and yet because it’s “cheaper” than some other places employees are located, like L.A., it’s used as the base and employees in our location do not receive COLA’s. This might have made sense in the past, but it definitely doesn’t in a city where the median cost to buy a house jumped 15% in a year!

      I would also add, as some other commenters have pointed out, that especially in a nonprofits parity with your competitors in the sector does not necessarily mean you are paying your employees well. My job is in a very similar situation, right down to a review management conducted that concluded no significant adjustments are needed, and staff (including myself, to be completely transparent) are having a very hard time accepting that answer. A salary can be “fair” (on a level with other comparable jobs at comparable orgs) without being just.

  14. The Cosmic Avenger*

    This is what stood out to me:

    Because of some weird things about our structure and the overall culture of our organization (if you try to get people to stop using all-staff email, for example, there will be an outcry about quashing dissent), I think the only tool we have here is communication.

    I can’t imagine a workplace where it’s acceptable to send an all-staff email about anything but a company-wide event or change. I can imagine that it could be a good thing, but if it’s toxic, I feel like that part needs to be addressed, at the very least by letting people opt out! I think part of the problem is that when people have a platform, a captive audience, and they hear little to no pushback or negative feedback, they assume everyone’s on their side rather than rolling their eyes.
    I don’t know what the solution is, but I’ll bet that people who have verified the OP’s research and would be on their side are sick of the “nasty” emails and other fallout. I feel bad for them, and I wonder if any of them are considering leaving or have already been driven away by what sounds like constant conflict.

    1. Shenandoah*

      Yeah – I cannot imagine sending a griping all-staff email to 200ish people!! I cannot imagine receiving such an email! But if I really put my back into imagining a workplace where this was a regular occurrence, I feel like I would be keeping my head down as much as possible and wouldn’t be loudly pushing back.

      1. Nicotene*

        I can’t imagine griping to the person who cuts the checks, who obviously has nothing to do with who is paid what! Clearly there is a culture issue.

    2. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

      Our distribution lists are locked down.
      I can use the one for my department (~20 people). I can use the one for my team (~8).
      I cannot send an email to my division (~189 people). I can send a message to the division head’s admin and she can share it, if needed (it was, once.)
      But an all staff email about anything?

      1. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

        But you could reply all if you were sent an email using that division email list, if it wasn’t put in the BCC?

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        Same – the “All” lists (“All Company”, “All Board Members”, “All Principals”, etc.) groups only accept emails from the higher-ups who are allowed to use them. (I’m a department head and am allowed to email my whole department or any whole team within it.) I’m sure there is a workaround for it, but any “All” message has to go through an approval chain or through the head of that department – both processes are quick but required.

        The restriction actually came from more benign misuse (announcement of kids’ fundraisers, “inspirational” messages, reply-all abusers), though there was one particular memorable mid-drop from a fired employee.

    3. HotSauce*

      My company disabled the All Company list years ago when an employee sent out an email telling everyone that his wife, who worked in another department, was having an affair with her boss. He included pictures! All three were let go and the All Company dist list was disabled for everyone except executives.

        1. HotSauce*

          Yeah, it was pretty embarrassing for everyone. Honestly I’m surprised it took them that long to disable it, since people were sending out goofy stuff to everyone all the time prior to that. If it were a smaller company maybe that’s normal, but this is an international corporation with over 20,000 employees, so it’s unlikely that anyone in the Poland office would want to buy Girl Scout cookies from Marge’s daughter in Oklahoma City.

            1. KoiFeeder*

              Completely off-topic question from someone who isn’t a lawyer to the rest of commentariat: could the wife in this situation have sued the company for something like emotional damages, in this case? I mean, irregardless of what one might think of her actions here, I feel like having that sort of photo distributed to 20k people qualifies as emotionally damaging.

              1. Eliza*

                As I understand it, there’s an extremely high bar to suing for emotional distress in most jurisdictions; at an absolute bare minimum, you need to prove that you needed some form of professional treatment as a direct result of the distressing event (which means you also need to be willing to open up the records of every mental health treatment you’ve ever received in your life in court, to prove that the treatment was connected to the event and not related to some pre-existing issue). It’s not something to be done lightly.

      1. Generic Name*

        This reminds me of a now legendary tale of a friend’s coworker who was known to be a bit of a weirdo (his cube was decorated with dioramas that he painted himself- folks brought their families to his cube on family day to see the sight). The company had recently instituted a no-smoking on company property rule, and leading up to it had all kinds of support to help folks quit smoking. Apparently that was the last straw for the guy, because he sent a division-wide email address a ranting screed about the policy. He was immediately fired and walked out by security.

      2. Double A*

        This begs for an open thread: Most egregious/embarrassing/awkward use of all-company email and Reply All.

        I mean, you’ve already won that thread, but still would be fun.

    4. Sandman*

      Yeah, I feel like that outcry is pain that needs to happen. If I found myself in a workplace where I was getting all-staff complaints delivered to my inbox… well, there’d have to be other compelling reasons to keep me from looking for the door. My brain does a really good job of creating negativity already; I don’t need it delivered to me. Pushing past that takes energy I wouldn’t want to spend.

    5. Burnout Phoenix*

      This sounds a lot like higher ed. Back in the early 2000’s at the institution where I worked, the all-staff and all-faculty email lists were moved from free-for-all to moderated lists only used for official announcements. The faculty had Strong Feelings about this and the same charges of “squashing dissent” were brought.

      The institution then created message boards (behind a login, so they weren’t public but were available to all employees) where faculty and staff could talk about the types of things they would have used the all-faculty or all-staff list for.

      The boards got a decent amount of use for a couple years but then that dried up except for the occasional Big Controversial Deal.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Good point. In a corporate environment, this is the kind of thing that I might expect to find on Slack, where people can control what they see or get alerts for, so opt-out is built in. In case you haven’t seen it, it’s more instant messenger than bulletin board, but it has channels, so a bit of the bulletin board organization.

    6. turquoisecow*

      My previous company of about 300 had the all staff email locked down and only HR could use it for important announcements. Apparently before my time someone replied all back to the all staff account complaining that we could more easily follow the dress code if we were paid better or something, and this was a huge scandal.

      My current office has about 70 people and pretty much anyone can and does regularly send all staff emails. Especially now that we are working remotely with only a few in the office, there are emails asking if anyone is in the office and can reboot a computer, for example. Some of that has moved to Teams where people can just message their immediate department, but use of the all staff list is much more open, probably because it’s not going to hundreds of people.

    7. OP*

      There are some legendary all-staff email chains at our organization… Some of them go on for 17 replies, some of them include 10,000 word essays. Many people hate them but there is a core group of people who love telling us what they think over and over again.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        I mean, I’m strongly in favor of freedom of expression, but no one should be forced to listen to you or provide a platform for you (except for public accommodations). I hope your mail client allows you to mute a conversation! (Gmail does, and I love it!)

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            If you don’t have that feature in your mail client, you should be able to create a filter based on the first email when it starts, and set it to archive or send that subject line to a folder, so you don’t have to keep getting alerts, but you can go back and read it if someone actually says something worth reading!

          2. Not So NewReader*

            And send out an all staff email with instructions on how to use it. (Sounds humorous but I actually mean that.)

      2. Silly Janet*

        If you can, I would strongly recommend to suggest to a manager whose ear you have to put the kabosh on that. There is absolutely no reason for staff to be need to do that. Provide a twice a year satisfaction survey or something else instead. My old job (US, non profit, 400 employees) stopped allowing all staff emails and it was a good move.

  15. Shenandoah*

    I’m genuinely curious if any of them have looked for other jobs. I had some of these feelings in my job a couple of years ago. I started a job hunt, found out what the landscape was like out there for other companies, and promptly ended my job hunt.

    1. Anonym*

      Good point. It’s labor intensive for sure, but also the best way to determine your personal salary comps, especially for those of us in uncommon or nebulously defined roles (ahem).

      I’m starting to get the opposite reality check – looks like I could be making significantly more. Thus I must keep searching, much as I would prefer my company to follow through on promotion so I don’t have to leave.

  16. vampire physicist*

    I’m wondering – is this something where you can ask the people bringing it up to provide some of the salaries they’ve found? I’m in a field that does a few pretty broad surveys of salary across the industry and it’s helped me greatly to be able to do my own research, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect someone pushing for a raise to show the market rate. (Which like Alison doesn’t mean compensation is fair in an absolute sense, just that it’s commensurate with the rate within the industry, but it does put it in perspective).

    1. Ashley*

      This could feed into them spending company time justifying their cause so it can be a bit of a slippery slope. Plus as a non-profit it isn’t unreasonable that there is more or a take it or leave it then in business where if you earn the company more money you should be able to make more money.

      1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

        It definitely is. But I also think it would be a valuable tool to find out who is the most vested in this.
        Either OP will learn
        1) the people responsible for keeping this issue at the forefront who are spending all their work time on this (one issue); or
        2) all those people who shout about unfair wages at meetings have no interest in being proactive and just want to complain.

    2. mediamaven*

      I just had an employee complain about her pay rate after I hired her less than six months ago. She is being paid market value but I said I was open to real world examples of likeminded companies. I haven’t heard back. I personally think it can be a good strategy.

  17. Fern*

    How is their workload? I believe your staff are paid fairly by position, but is there any chance their workload is very high, perhaps untenably high? I think probably not, since you seem conscientious enough to have mentioned that in your letter, but I’m curious.

    And, you don’t need to convince them of anything to tell them it’s inappropriate and unacceptable to be “angry at the person who cuts the paychecks.” Has anyone told them to cut it out immediately and followed up with real consequences if they don’t?

    1. OP*

      Since COVID, workload has been very high. Everyone is feeling it, top to bottom of the organization. We got a thank-you bonus at the end of the 2020 because of that. I know people with small kids were really stretched at one point, but everyone tried to accommodate them. This is really a great organization to work for, aside from the complainers!

      1. Just Another Zebra*

        OP, did the complaints about salary start after the pandemic? It’s not an excuse for this behavior, but there may very well be a correlation between heavy workload and a demand for more money.

  18. Bear Shark*

    Your organization can and should limit use of the all-staff email, whether that’s by limiting the allowed uses or limiting the people who have permission to send to the distribution list. It’s not quashing dissent to not allow people to spew complaints to everyone in the company.

    You have to decide what your real goal is. I don’t think you need to convince people that they have a “pretty sweet deal” but you do need to make it clear to people who are complaining that the harassing behavior needs to stop.

    1. Sandman*

      This. Feelings are feelings, but treating other people poorly and creating a negative culture is off-limits.

  19. Person from the Resume*

    It sounds like this is a constant ongoing topic of conversation at your business. The constant griping makes it true in people’s minds because it is all they talk about, it is what they bond about with their coworkers.

    I’m not sure how to make them stop. Facts would convince me, but I don’t run around screaming “fake news” or “rigged report” whereas some people do.

    I do think the best tact is: “Our research indicates that our employees are well-paid by market comparators and there will be no overall pay increases in order to reach market rate in the next several years.” In one on one meetings you can tell people as Alison suggested that if they want a large pay bump then they should look elsewhere because it is not in the work at your organization.

    1. Greg*

      The best thing to do is be as transparent as possible. If you are a nonprofit, tax form 990 will be publicly available. Let your people know to review the 990. It will show income for the nonprofit and costs. Also ask people for their input on how to generate more income.

  20. Cat Tree*

    This is really…weird? I don’t even know how to describe it. I’ve been in a position of disagreement with management about working conditions (not specific to pay). We went back and forth and reached an impasse, and since they wouldn’t or couldn’t budge I went somewhere else that could and did. But I always handled it through private conversations with the relevant people. I didn’t take my complaint to a bunch of people who couldn’t fix it. I was never mean to anyone. And when it was made clear that nothing would change, I moved on to a different company.

    The way these employees are handling it is just bizarre. It really makes me agree with Alison that something else is going on here.

    1. Emily*

      Yup. I’ve been at a company where a lot of us really were making less than we could have made elsewhere. We talked about it privately, compared strategies for getting pay raises, and then those of us who couldn’t get them just left. And high attrition rates, as people left to make more money elsewhere, were one of the ways it was confirmed for us that this was indeed a thing. I don’t understand either this culture where people are talking this openly about it, or where there isn’t some self-correcting mechanism as far as people thinking they’re underpaid, as people job search and then either find higher-paying work or don’t.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I think they know they wouldn’t get more money elsewhere, but they DID get better benefits a couple of years ago, and they’ve decided that if they complain, they might be able to pressure the company into giving them even more salary.
        They saw that success with the benefits as an indicator that they can keep pushing and get results.

        And the company has validated their power by going out of the way to try to prove to them that they are right. And instead of shutting them up, it only served to confirm that it bothers the company when they gripe, so they are keeping with it, in hopes of the tactic coming to fruition.

          1. I edit everything*

            Like dealing with toddlers. “No, little Georgie. No matter how much you scream, we are not getting a pet giraffe.” Then when they keep screaming, walk away.

  21. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

    I work someplace that had a pay freeze in place for years. (Government) Lots of griping went on. Some legit, some not. Then pay was unfroze and several pay step automatic raises and merit raises hit over the next few years. Some of the biggest ringleaders still kept on complaining and trying to get everyone else riled up too. Direct quote from one of them was that the raises being so late and the size was a “slap in the face”. Then they were mad that other newer people made the same amount of $ as they did. (Same positions, same workloads, same expected output) They were also mad about what I made too. Even though I was a lower position and paygrade then them. It wasn’t fair that I made only X amount below them. It wasn’t fair that they did a higher level of work for only Y amount more. ( I had qualified for all the merit based raises and had a promotion in title as I had accepted more duties) Some people will be disgruntled no matter what. Companies are better off warning these employees and then weeding them out before they pollute the work culture. Thank goodness that WFH means they aren’t standing around the water cooler where I have to listen to them complain anymore.

  22. XF1013*

    “If you try to get people to stop using all-staff email, for example, there will be an outcry about quashing dissent.”

    OP, this detail encapsulates what Alison is saying about the culture being the real problem here. Email is a tool provided by your organization for official use. It is perfectly reasonable for any employer to dictate that employees not send all-staff email without an official purpose. Companies do this all the time.

    Entitlement is the common problem here. Your staff feel entitled to better salaries and benefits without evidence, just as they feel entitled to gripe at colleagues who have no say in the matter, and just as they feel entitled to send all-staff emails whenever they want.

    You won’t solve any of these individual problems until you get to the root of why the staff’s overall sense of entitlement is so out of touch with reality. Given that half of the staff doesn’t act this way, I’d bet money on a few influential people in your company loudly setting a tone that others are imitating. It’s going to be hard to identify the sources and implement effective cultural change, but it’s necessary. Good luck.

  23. Data maven*

    Has OP considered that the salary bit is actually more about feeling supported in career growth than it is about the salary itself? (i.e. they may be griping about being underpaid because they don’t know how to communicate that they feel the culture lends itself to inequity in career trajectory).

    Have you evaluated that all staff are not being expected to perform above their pay grade, that there aren’t multiple junior level employees who are really mid-level? Do staff feel like there’s transparency about the promotion process? If you haven’t looked into that, addressing those concerns may go a long way towards shifting the culture.

    1. OP*

      Yes, this thread is helping me see that, thank you! I do think the lack of job advancement and interesting work opportunities is a bigger problem.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Some people derive energy from drama, if there is no drama they doze right off to sleep. The only way they can get through their work day is to have some huge drama going on. And anything will do.

  24. Aglaia761*

    I don’t think they are in the US. The OP said something about the government in their region will de-incorporate them if the overhead costs get too high. That’s not a thing here in the US.

    1. Gene Parmesan*

      That detail stood out to me too because I’ve never heard of this and don’t understand how it works. I wonder if this is the source of the employees’ dissatisfaction with the market analysis–the analysis was comparing pay for nonprofit employees in the region, and they feel that a fairer comparison would be based on job function, not type of organization.

  25. Ace in the Hole*

    In the spirit of Allison’s response, I’m taking your statement that they’re not underpaid at face value – because of course it changes the picture if “well paid for the job title” still doesn’t equal “a respectable living wage for your location.”

    Can you see anything else that might cause a morale issue? In my experience, there’s two kinds of complaints about wages:
    1. I’m not being paid enough
    2. I’m not being paid enough FOR THIS (where “this” could be long hours, dangerous or physically demanding tasks, humiliating treatment, or any other unpleasant aspect of the job).

    So if they’re objectively being paid enough for the job in general, what makes them think they’re not being paid enough for this? The complaints about salary might really be misdirected complaints about work-life balance, burnout, poor treatment by clients/customers/managers, lack of support for getting their job done, extremely restrictive policies, or any other serious morale issue. Things that might mean their job is not actually comparable to others that might look similar on paper.

    If this were a small cohort I’d say maybe it’s just some people with unrealistic expectations. But for 50% of your employees to ignore a compensation study and say they’re still underpaid… there’s something else going on. People who like their jobs don’t send angry tirades about salaries on an all-staff email. So find out why they don’t like their jobs and work on addressing that.

    1. Retro*

      Going off of #2 in your comment, I think it’s very possible that not being paid enough FOR THIS also means the employees are under-positioned(unsure if that word is the best to describe the situation). Employee Jane might be an analyst but her duties are that of a senior analyst. She may have been hired in as an analyst, compensated fairly, received COL adjustments, but still be underpaid because she was deserved to be promoted to senior analyst last year with the associated raise. I think this kind of underpaying can be subtle because managers do not always realize when an employee has grown into a higher position than what they currently hold.

      1. Just Another Zebra*

        My company recently had everyone submit detailed lists of every duty we perform, how often we do it, and how long it takes. It was eye-opening across the board. On paper, we were all paid well for our positions, but our responsibilities had changed, for some people, quite significantly. Most employees received pay and title bumps. I think the “I’m not paid enough FOR THIS” is something to really consider.

    2. cncx*

      point number 2 is exactly what i’m dealing with. on paper my salary is fine and looks good in any reports, but the reality is i’m being paid smack in the middle of the market rate for a 9 to 5 but it is expected of me to be on call 12-16 hours a day with no backup, and i’m surely not getting paid for that (no overtime pay etc).

  26. AndersonDarling*

    Is there a perception that the executives are raking it in while the front-line staff are suffering?
    When I was at a non-profit, the execs were requested to stop talking about their exotic vacations in front of staff and to park luxury cars farther from the building so the staff didn’t see them every day.

    1. OP*

      No, we have a very flat structure. Realistically, the top Admin are making a small amount more top non-Admin employees. There are no luxury cars. However, this reality may not be the perception.

      1. TechWorker*

        I don’t know what country you’re from OP, but I’m assuming what you’re calling ‘Admin’ is what most people would refer to as ‘management’(?) idk if admin gets used in the US, never heard it used that way before tbh :)

  27. KHB*

    We’ve got something similar going on with my employer these days: Last year, our HR department carried out a detailed salary comparison and concluded that many of us are overpaid (and thus are ineligible for raises until further notice). The thing is, they compared jobs with the same title (say, Senior Rice Sculpture Consultant), without considering that the rice sculptures we work with are of very specialized subject matter that require more skills and education to work with than most.

    This has been part of a pattern of HR and management not listening to employees, or seeming to quite understand that they people they manage are actually people. They badger us about how we’re not using enough of our PTO, without listening to (or even asking about) the reasons why we’re not using it. They’re now making noises about converting all of our private offices into hot desks (there is no logistical need to do this, and it makes no sense for the space we have and the work we do) and doing the shocked-pikachu-face thing when people naturally expressed worry about that.

    All of which is to say, I agree with Alison that something else is going on. Your employees are convinced that your salary report was rigged, which means that they don’t trust you to give them accurate information. Is there anything else they don’t trust you about? And – more to the point, but a harder question to answer – has anyone in your leadership been giving them reason not to trust you?

    1. InsufficientlySubordinate*

      Long ago, the company I was working for decided to try out an “open desk” set-up instead of cubicles. They started deconstructing one set of cubicles to form a pod of four desks with no barriers. My manager at the time went ballistic. He stormed down the hall to a meeting room where his boss and various others were meeting and gestured to his boss to come out. He brought her back to the desks and said, “If this happens, I will quit immediately, no notice.” Since he was the only one that understood a very important client financial model (because our mgt wouldn’t budget for someone to back him up or for him to take time to document) and the client only trusted him to deal with the model, the “open office” didn’t happen. The ONLY reason that place ever listened to any of the low-level people.

      1. KHB*

        Wow, good for your manager! Not a lot of people have the power to play that kind of game of chicken, and it’s always nice to see it used for good rather than evil.

        In our case, they’re not making any such changes now, but they’re reserving the right to make them in the “long term.” Which has left a lot of us baffled as to why they would even bring it up now (this was in the context of our post-COVID-reopening plan).

  28. Grits McGee*

    I hope this doesn’t run afoul of Alison’s note up top but: are you sure that 50% of your staff feel underpaid, or is it more that 50% of the feedback being given is that staff are underpaid? I ask because I worked on a team of about 60 staff, and 90% of the feedback given on workplace culture came from 4-5 very disaffected individuals while the other 50+ people were quiet because they were fine with the status quo.

    I do think Alison’s suggestion to look more into the culture of your organization. In our case, staff were upset because our leadership was becoming increasingly authoritarian and staff were being stripped of any decision-making power over their own work. However, that manifested in complaints about not being allowed to do cross-trainings and lack of public recognition. Are complaints at your org concentrated in certain areas, or are they coming in from all levels and components?

    1. Grits McGee*

      Argh, that should say “I do think Alison’s suggestion to look more into the culture of your organization is really important.”

    2. Grits McGee*

      And, all that said- it’s pointless to try to reason with unreasonable people. I think trying to mount a PR campaign to convince people they’re being paid fairly is going to backfire if trust has already broken down to the point that staff are accusing the org of falsifying data for a report. It sounds like a lot of time and energy has already been spent on this- what is the worst that could happen if you just said “This is the salary we’re paying, take it or leave it”?

  29. RH*

    Is it possible a few employees may be underpaid (or think they are) and are the ones instigating all the mean complaining from others? The company I work for did a similar audit from a consulting firm about pay and job titles, however they never released the full results but insisted people are paid fairly. The problem with that is most of us know that is not true and we can get paid much more at other organizations. It is in fact the main reason talented people leave. The company is otherwise a good place to work with good benefits so the complaining about pay is minimal. I agree there may be more at play here than just the issue about pay.

  30. Sleepy*

    I wonder if there’s any way your company’s work culture, balance, or mission could change to help staff to feel better about their pay level.

    I work at a nonprofit and my salary is fairly low. Generally I am in the mindset of “Yes, my salary is not high, but that’s a fair tradeoff for meaningful work and a good work-life balance”. However, I can easily flip to anger and resentment if my work stops feeling meaningful or my work-life balance gets out of whack, because that’s specifically what I am trading my low salary for.

  31. Not playing your game anymore*

    I’d definitely work to confine the beefing. Can they have a slack channel or something like that to discuss compensation, benefits, perks etc. Then be directed to move those conversations there rather than derailing meetings and sending all staff emails. Be as transparent as possible about funding in your agency and in your field… “Yes the tea pot painting part of the industry is low paid across the board, to see higher wages you may need to consider switching to a different specialty. Have you considered gilding?”

    Our pay is much (33%) lower than the public library 6 blocks away. It’s a real problem, and yet, we not infrequently see public library staff applying for and accepting jobs at our place because its a better fit for some people. It’s not always about the money. Some of your people are clearly dissatisfied and if might be that they “just” don’t make enough money, but as AAM points out there’s a good chance it’s something else. Offer the loudest voices the chance to find greener pastures, if they can.

  32. Bob*

    Have they banded together and think this is some kind of pseudo-union they are creating?
    You mention government deincorporating you, how do they decide what incomes are too high?

  33. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    This workplace has issues. I feel for the OP.

    At my job, we are very well paid, well over market rate. But I have a coworker who whines about her deductions (one of which is for her pension!) because it eats into her net. And I’m like, we’re SO well paid, that deduction is your retirement that I know you’re not saving for otherwise, and you’re whining about “let’s work a longer day so we can earn more?!”

    It wasn’t the income. It was how she was spending and it wasn’t wise spending.

    1. J.B.*

      I am justifiably frustrated that I am doing much higher level work than I was hired for and the raise/benefits question is iffy. I have raised it once in a setting where I thought it would have the most impact. Raising issues selectively is sometimes worth it. Continuing to pursue is usually not.

  34. Pretzelgirl*

    I am not sure what the position is, if they have a union or some kind of professional society. Often there are power in numbers. If the employers truly believe they are under paid, maybe they should start a union or professional society for the position. Often times these things can be change makers, especially if they can collaborate with others in the same field at different companies.

  35. I Want to Break Free*

    This seems like a place where having a representative chosen by the gripers to participate in the review of the wages might have been a good idea. I think there are many situations where even having one or two people sit in on decision processes can make a huge impact on employee satisfaction.

    I was hoping for (and suggested!) it as part of our COVID return plan at my company, but that is not who we are…

  36. BRR*

    I wonder if it’s everyone is paid well for their field but their field just don’t pay well compared to the cost of living. “I’m underpaid for making teapots” is different than “I’m paid 20% more than other teapot makers but can’t afford a house in this city.” But echoing others that if you can be transparent with your compensation study, ask the employees to show their data, and I have a strong hunch it’s probably just a toxic environment (but I admit that I’m heavily factoring in my own experience of when anybody could email all staff).

    One other solution is can you offer other benefits: flexible schedules, work from home, more PTO. But just from your letter, I’m going to make a guess that nothing you can realistically offer will satisfy these people.

  37. Rebecca*

    Are the people complaining from one or two specific departments? I’ve done nonprofit work and people in my department/line of work were always very underpaid. A study of similar nonprofits in our market would also have shown us as being “well-paid” because the going rate for my job in this area is abysmal. So maybe their anger has to do with the perception that THEY are being underpaid while others in different departments are being well compensated. Or that working at a for-profit company would mean they made more? (In which case of course they’re free to go elsewhere…but I’m guessing these people don’t have many successful job interviews. Just hazarding a guess based on experience.)

    None of this justifies the behavior of course. But my stint in the nonprofit world exposed me to some of the most toxic work cultures I’ve ever experienced, and I’m actually not surprised at the nastiness and inappropriate acting out.

  38. Clydesdales and Coconuts*

    Are they paid fairly for their region or is it possible the area in which they are located is paying less than other areas for the same position? In my area it is not unheard of for positions to pay $30k a year less than the same position in another area, yet the col is much higher here than other areas. This makes it difficult to determine accurate payscale when comparing with similar positions.

    1. Hemingway*

      this may be true, but at some point, they’ve raised the issue, they don’t want to leave, and they are being really nasty about it. They have to decide if they are willing to stay here or not knowing they won’t get paid what they think they should be.

  39. AKchic*

    There is entirely too much leeway given on a few items.

    Nasty to the payroll person cutting checks? Uh, last I checked, this person has absolutely no say in salaries and is just running checks and handing them out. How come this person is getting their ire? That is the epitome of shooting the messenger. It needs to stop immediately. With a written write-up, final warning. The payroll person(s) will no longer bear *any* brunt of anyone’s ire at not getting a raise (warranted, merited, or otherwise).

    There is a chain of command in the business world. Continually hijacking meetings, boards, committees, and wasting their precious time, energy, and billable time on things that weren’t on the agenda is both frivolous and wasteful, but also shows that these people don’t actually understand that their continual harassments are wasting the very money they think they deserve.
    Harassing board members and people outside the chain of command (especially after getting an answer) puts them in a precarious employment position, and I think it’s time to remind them of that. This is now harassment. They are no longer allowed to send nastygrams or reach out to board members about this stuff unless it is through the proper channels, and the board member(s) are allowed to flat out tell them it’s not on the agenda at this time (and maybe to quit harassing them).

    It may be worth checking to see if all of this stuff is being done on company time. Depending on what’s going on, this could be taking some coordination (time).

  40. Not trying to be rude, just good at it*

    I wonder how many have encountered those who complain they are overpaid. I have met very few who have not felt they deserved more money, but also very few who actually deserved it.

  41. The HR Lady*

    When employees complain about their pay its because they are unhappy. Not necessarily unhappy about their pay. Just unhappy. Reading into this my guess is you have a serious moral issues. I’d do employee feedback surveys, stay interviews, etc to find out what is really making people unhappy. A negative person is like pouring gasoline on a fire. You’ve got to get rid of the ring leader of the negativity. Most of the time you don’t have to get rid of all the negative people. Just the ring leader.

    1. Kaiko*

      Yeah, I’d love to see the data about how loud these voices are – if 70% of the company feels like they’re underpaid, that’s one thing, but if it’s a 7% that FEELS like 70%, that’s very much another. Things like employee surveys (especially if you’ve skipped that step and gone straight to external consultants that end up saying “you’re wrong”) can be helpful!

    2. Just Another Zebra*

      I’m normally not a fan of employee surveys, but in this case I think it’s necessary. One-on-ones, too. Sometimes underpaid is code for undervalued. OP has already said morale is an issue, and said upthread that workload has increased with COVID. OP, did the complaints start before the pandemic? If yes, then there might be something there. If not, then I’d bet it’s a reaction to stress. Increased workload, maybe increased hours, definitely increased stress outside of work as well… If this is relatively new (within the last year), a show of appreciation might go farther than you think. My gut is telling me this is about more than the bottom line.

  42. Jean*

    Can the report you commissioned, and the other supporting info you gathered, be made public knowledge to the whole company? Maybe call an all-hands type of meeting where this information is presented, along with a statement from management about a moratorium on any more complaints. I know you’re not in the US, but are these people under any sort of contract? If not, they should be free to leave and seek other opportunities if your company isn’t paying them what they want. The constant back and forth and complaining aren’t productive, and I have to wonder about the judgment of people who keep beating what’s pretty clearly a dead horse.

  43. Aquawoman*

    For some of these, it’s not really relevant what the issue is and even whether their complaint is valid or not. E.g. all emails should be civil. Nasty emails should not be allowed. Double this when they’re sent to people with no power to resolve the situation. The person cutting the paychecks is being bullied, that should be addressed. Whoever sends nasty emails should be spoken to/written up (for any emails that are identifiably rude). Repeatedly hijacking meetings, likewise. At my org, you’re supposed to have a manager’s agreement to use all-staff email; I don’t know the OP’s culture but maybe there should be some constraints on that.

    I don’t see this as a pay problem, I see this as a bullying problem. And the fact that this bullying is centered around a sensitive/protected area of discussion makes me think this is a particularly talented bully who’s ring-leading this. I’d address the bullying and the meeting highjacks as issues without regard to the content.

  44. Hemingway*

    Odd that they….just don’t go elsewhere where they can be paid…more? If they think that is the case. That has happened at my company….people take jobs places that are giving them more money and as managers we moan and complain but top management won’t do anything about it and raise salaries, but people are actually leaving for more money.

    Obviously there are plenty of reasons to stay at a place for less money and it’s fine to bring up occassionally, but if they are so upset, they should move on. And of course, if they aren’t actually being underpaid, this isn’t even a thing.

    At this point they have to accept the pay here or move along.

  45. Introvert girl*

    I can only see two reasons why this is happening:
    1. due to covid the cost of living has gone up in that particular area, especially rent.
    2. you actually have a small number of people who love to whine (had one like that in my office, it’s drags you in) which has a snowball effect on the rest of the team.

    I myself earn very well for my position but I must say when after a year of covid and working from home, changes in the company’s structure, a massive profit for the company (thx to covid) and a huge inflation in my country I didn’t receive any raise, not even to cover the inflation, it did hurt. I still do my job and make sure it’s excellent, but I just do my job, no more.

  46. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    There’s definitely a big cultural issue here.

    One the one hand, the large number of people who complain, the “don’t quash dissent” thing, etc. makes it sound like everyone considers themselves to be partners, not employees. They have a sense of ownership.

    On the other hand, none of these ‘partners’ is willing to do what real partners do: raise capital, bring in business, put their personal assets and time on the line to support the organization.

  47. KehSquared*

    My first thought is to ask them to provide the data they are using to determine that they are underpaid. This may help determine if they are using underpaid to mean “underpaid relative to what others in comparable roles in our field and location make” or “underpaid relative to what they think they deserve/want to make”.

  48. I edit everything*

    Is the pot-stirrer someone who’s been around for a while and has a long memory? Is it possible that some time ago, they *were* underpaid, and this idea has gotten into the pot-stirrers head?
    I was once appointed to a committee–definitely a newcomer to the organization–and the first half hour of every meeting was spent rehashing the same past thing that happened that no one liked. It only happened once, it had been years since it happened, there were good reasons it happened, and there were systems in place to keep it from happening again. But Every. Single. Meeting. it came up again. It’s very hard to get rid of that sense of being wronged, especially in a groupthink situation or where one person has outsize influence.

    1. ArtK*

      Good point about *a* pot-stirrer. It’s very likely that there is one, or possibly two, people who are instigating this. The rest are following along. I’d keep an eye out for who those instigators are.

      1. Allypopx*

        OP mentioned elsewhere there’s definitely one main instigator. Seems like one with a lot of influence too, based on the details.

  49. Allypopx*

    OP you’ve made it very clear you can’t fire anyone, but I’m curious if there are other punitive actions management can take to reign in the main source of the problem?

    1. OP*

      Honestly, I do not know! I will definitely use peer-pressure using some of the language and ideas Alison and others have brought up. And I’m going to talk to Admin about providing career progression for people because that may be an underlying issue.

  50. NewYork*

    I cannot tell what the problem is, but I would –

    1. Have an agenda for every meeting. If people try to discuss salary, say that is not on the agenda. If they continue, they get written up for insubordination. Consequences if it continues.

    2. People are told NO all office/firm emails (unless office on fire, etc). They must get approval from (head of HR)? Again, warn them, any violations, they get written up for insubordination if it continues.

    3. Email goes out, no rudeness will be tolerated to payroll clerk (or whatever his/her name is). Anyone who violates that will lose direct deposit privileges’ and will have to pick up paycheck at HR

    I get it that the pandemic may be causing problems for many people (although I doubt many NFPs are doing better because of it). It is certainly adding to the stress. I would note that, and if you have an employee help line, would mention it.

    1. Batgirl*

      These are such simple, standard measures that I have to wonder why OPs workplace haven’t done this. Either they’re hopelessly incompetent or too amused to wrap up the show?

      1. OP*

        The organization has really struggled with basic professional norms like sticking to an agenda. I don’t know where this comes from, but I know it’s skewed my own perception of how a meeting should go. So when I do go to a well-run meeting, I’m astonished by how much we get done.

        1. Observer*

          It strikes me that getting your management on board with simply getting reasonable behavioral norms in place would go a long way towards dealing with this, as well as other problems.

  51. Governmint Condition*

    We cannot have salaries that are too high or we risk being de-incorporated by the government

    I would not be surprised if this is part of the problem. These employees may be resentful of the government for essentially establishing a “salary cap.” And by extension, they see an employer complying with “unjust” rules as “complicit.”

    Working in government, I have seen this numerous times. And with unionized employees who believe that the the union is actually an arm of the government, acting against the interests of employees. I have heard some say things along the lines of “if management agreed to the CBA, it means we didn’t get enough.” That said, they never abused the payroll person.

  52. Kaiko*

    I’m curious about where these complaining sessions happen. Are they at company-wide town halls? Department meetings? Team check-ins? 1:1s? Because in none of those situations do you have sit there while someone complains—you can ask them to take up offline, put it in writing, put it on the agenda for a separate meeting, whatever. You do have authority (or someone does) to turn down the volume on this.

    The other thing I’d be asking is, what unites the complainers? AKA, are there other issues here? Maybe they’re mostly renters, or parents paying for childcare, or long-term employees who have topped their salary bands. Maybe they’re experiencing a health crisis in the family with no way to pay for it, or commuting long distances so that 8 hours of work is 11 hours away from home. Maybe it’s just the thing they’ve landed on, and even if you gave everyone raises, they’d be moaning about the bathrooms or the parking set-up or the state of the office coffee station.

  53. Accountant's Best Friend*

    Yelling at the accountant about your pay is usually considered “unprofessional” in most circles and usually gets you a meeting with HR, a performance improvement plan, or fired if this is an ongoing issue. Is this a unionized environment? Then go to the union managers and work together on a solution that doesn’t involve constant company wide emails.

    I’m curious if there are other issues in the organization regarding advancement, job shadowing, mentorship, or other related perks.

    I work in a field where I a make 20%-50% more than the average person in my role and in my region but I have capped my ability to get more out of the organization. In order to make more money, I have to advance my career. However in order to advance you need 3-5 years of supervision experience. Experience you can’t get unless you are willing to have worse hours for less pay in another company or are lucky to fill in for maternity leave. This leaves many people feeling stuck as they can’t get payed more unless they take a long term pay cut elsewhere. So these ongoing complaints might be related to a bigger issue on advancement that is articulated as the need for higher wages.

    Additionally, they might also be complaining about wages if they are constantly working 50-60 hours regularly, have the bare minimum of vacation time, bare minimum of sick days and benefits, inflexibility in scheduling, as well as many organizational issues. So yes their compensation is higher than local averages, but their workload and stress might be significantly higher.

  54. Fizzyfuzzy*

    I have two separate theories based on two situations at two different jobs where something similarish happened:
    1) The salary structure looks fine on paper and when it’s compared industry wise by title, but it doesn’t accurately reflect the work people are actually doing. In my case when people accepted the salary it seemed “fine”, but the workplace was not upfront about the amount of work and the hours needed to complete it. When you started breaking it down hourly it would have made more sense to get an hourly lower paid position, and when it was brought up the powers that be kept focusing on the salary itself and not that when you started breaking it down, people were working for minimum wage some weeks.
    2) There is a rumor mill that is stirring this up and people are making assumptions based on bad intel. In my experience it was the Board was not up front enough about the actual finances of the organization, and because of that people didn’t understand decisions that were made, which allowed a bunch of rumors to fester about financial situations that didn’t actually exist. Can there be a “this is the reality, anything else you hear has no basis in fact” meeting where everything is laid out. I

  55. Parenthesis Dude*

    If your company can’t fire people, then ideally they would offer people a generous severance if these unhappy people were to agree to leave.

  56. Similar issue*

    I have a similar, but less related issue, that I’m curious what y’all think. I have one early career individual who is convinced that our non-profit underpays people. We don’t, I’ve shared salary comps, and we’re in the top of the market for these roles in our expensive US city. But the problem is, I think, that she’s early career and is spending a lot of time with people who are in finance, fortune 500s, or tech. I don’t want to be patronizing or overstep in explaining this to her, but I also know that 1) this is the reality of our non-profit sector and we already have donors raising eyebrows at our salaries and 2) a large percentage of our staff is very happy with how well we pay.

    I think this is a mix of problems with non-profit pay as a sector and a social circle that comes from the highest paying employers in our region, but I’m not sure what else to do here. At the end of the day, she’s a strong performer and I don’t want to lose her, but this is the reality of the market for our field and I can’t singlehandedly make the sector value non-profit work more. We’re already pushing the envelop on salaries as it is and I could easily hire for her role at 20% below what she’s making (and many orgs do).

    If you’ve ever felt this way, was there a way someone got through to you?

    1. OP*

      This is interesting! I wonder if something like that is at play with us. There are definitely industries that pay higher than ours, and people may think because they have the same qualifications, they should get the same as that industry. Regarding your employee, I think she will leave eventually. I think you can talk to her about what you CAN do, given she is a strong performer: give her interesting assignments, set her up for success in her next workplace. Help her see the benefit of being there beyond what she’s earning today. She can see it as a great learning opportunity and a first step in her career.

      1. Similar issue*

        Thank you! I expect she will leave someday and that’s absolutely ok. I think I’m frustrated because we’re already fighting battles with our donors about whether we can put downward pressure on salaries (and resisting!) and this just feels so out of touch. I know someday, if she stays in our field, she’ll learn, and I’m trying to walk the line between giving her information about the field and throwing my hands up in the air and saying ‘your friends chose better paying fields. That’s why they’re making more and I can’t do anything about that.’

    2. Batgirl*

      I worked as a regional print reporter and we were told going in that it was as a field with low pay for people with degrees and not to compare ourselves to fellow graduates. It was still pushed back against and complained about. To further cut costs we started hiring people without post grad training with the aim to do that inhouse. Those people complained the most, even though the post grad costs a lot to get yourself. It was because they hadn’t heard the constant repetition and warnings from outside the organization that we’d heard. The newspapers with the lowest complaints had a kind of system worked out by middle managers. They said they wanted us to tell them about more competitive roles if we heard about them so they could make a case to the head office. There were none. They also spoke with unions regularly about pay scales across the field.

      1. Similar issue*

        Thank you! I’ve encouraged her to do her own salary research and then it becomes a conversation about structural issues in the non-profit sector (she’s not wrong, but she’s severely overestimating one organization’s ability to do something about that). This is helpful though. Journalism is way, way worse than our field on these issues.

    3. AngryOwl*

      +1 to OP, I like the idea of pointing out what you can do, what your space offers. I also generally see nonprofits offering better benefits and such to balance out the salary needs—if yours is similar, I’d emphasize that.

      We all make tradeoffs depending on industry/role/etc and this is a good time (early in her career) to learn that.

  57. Juniantara*

    Ok, this may come off as cynical, but i sincerely doubt there is any “convincing” that can reasonably be done here. Since you can’t address people’s behavior meaningfully, I think you are left with limiting the damage to everyone else. Going forward, have one “compensation issues” email group that all compensation issues get sent to, and allow people to opt out of the group (at least they will be able to filter it out). Then, the head of HR or compensation holds monthly or quarterly compensation discussion meetings that are open to everyone but are optional for everyone so only one hour a month is wasted on this, and shut down this conversation in all other forums. Individual employees can still have individual discussions with their managers about their personal compensation package, but all discussion of the organization’s compensation structure goes to one of the places (email group/meeting) set up to manage it. The complainers have a place to go and everyone else is insulated.

  58. OP*

    Thank you to everyone for your comments! There is a lot to digest here. I think there are some culture issues we can address in the long term (like providing career advancement) and some strategies we can deploy in the meantime (stop arguing with people who are unreasonable; shut down the griping when you have the power to do so). I will say I am truly shocked how quickly almost everyone went to “fire these people.” That was a bit of culture shock for me. I would absolutely be on board for firing a harasser or someone not doing their job; this is just basic unceasing self-righteousness. Do y’all really fire people over this? I agree that the comments to the payroll clerk have to stop, and I’ll talk to that person’s boss to see if I can assist in any way. Meanwhile, I think keeping myself positive is the best thing I can do for the organization and my own mental health!

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Do people in America really get fired for repeatedly hijacking meetings to discuss their own agenda and prevent actual work from getting done to the point that a full half of an organization is complaining about a fake problem? Yes.

    2. Sam*

      If it’s disrupting your meetings, then sure, why not fire them? It’s about what they’re doing in the workplace, not some nebulous “self-righteousness”.

      Where do you live? Because I don’t know of any countries where this is a universal experience across all companies, or even across most non-profits.

      One other thing I haven’t seen is these comments is… are you sure you’re not taking on more responsibility for this than you should be? If you’re a mid-level employee without the ability to hire, fire, or set pay levels, I think you can opt out of those discussions for yourself or redirect them to someone with those powers. What I don’t think is going to happen – and I think it’s something that you’re hoping for in some of your comments – is that your positivity will have much of an effect on the culture. I wouldn’t make this a campaign that you go on.

    3. Batgirl*

      I’m kind of concerned that it’s your organization as opposed to your country which has got you thinking people only get fired for certain specific things. I’m in the UK where firing is not at will and people’s employment is very safe on contract. That’s good. But if we tell people to not do x and they are disruptive and insurbordinate, then yeah.. they will get fired. They’ll have union help and a bunch of written and verbal warnings but they will get fired for persistently nose thumbing the boss’s orders. Your bosses haven’t even issued instructions on good behavior to nose thumb! Even if they can’t fire people they could have serious talks about their progression and standing. It’s not even being shut down in emails! I would get out before it warps your sense of professional norms.

      1. TechWorker*

        I feel like this is slightly harsh on the OP – can people be fired for constant griping – yes absolutely and in many workplaces they would be. But in many workplaces (in the U.K. and I’d be willing to bet in the US too) if they were particularly valued in some way, and/or had a manager who viewed it as not a huge deal, they would not be.

        1. Batgirl*

          I actually thought it was harsh just after posting it. OP is clearly a pretty wonderful employee and has a wide focus on other’s happiness at work which could translate well into management. The only problem with great employees who want to make everyone happy is that sometimes jerks are jerks. You can’t persuade some people to be happy and you’re quite vulnerable to the temptation to keep trying if you’re a reasonable person who would respond better. Don’t ask me how I know! But, yeah I only went in on the one negative.

    4. Observer*

      this is just basic unceasing self-righteousness

      No, it’s not.

      You say:
      They take up a lot of meeting time talking about it, send all-staff emails, badger the board, send nasty emails to any committee that has anything to do with money, and get angry at the person who cuts the paychecks.

      Getting angry at the payroll person is simply abuse. The nastygrams and badgering of the board is ugly behavior that goes well beyond “self righteousness”. And the wasted time is meetings is a significant burden on the organization as a whole and to individuals who need to get work done.

      To me, the culture shock is that you say “I would absolutely be on board for firing a harasser or someone not doing their job” while expressing shock that people shock that people here are actually recommending that – because you don’t see the behavior you are describing for what it is. I’m trying to figure out how you have such a disconnect.

      1. SentientAmoeba*

        OP seems pretty fixated on “how easy it is to fire people in the US”. I think OP has read too many listicles about low wage, low skill workplaces where employees are fired for petty reasons. If you read AAM which tends to skew more towards more professional workplaces, lots of bosses write in asking how to get rid of problem employees that they can’t get rid of.
        It’s like OP is in a loop of “This is bad, but it’s better than America so it’s not really that bad, is it?”

    5. PspspspspspsKitty*

      This isn’t an American thing and I’m not sure why you are overly focus on America’s policies. Your work place sounds toxic. It’s not acceptable for a staff to bully and harass others and stop work from happening. I find it alarming that you are asking if others fire over these issues as if it wasn’t a big deal. Yes, they do and you should ask why nothing has been done about it.

      In fact, I would say you probably should leave if this doesn’t improve. You’re not an admin and going to management and telling them how to manage may not do anything at all. The culture is very accepting to what is going on and you may not be able to change it. Others gave you great advice to cope with it, so can you live with it if it stays the same? Best of luck!

  59. Tangentwoman*

    My nonprofit experience is in the U.S., so this may not apply here, but a big (and I think fair) criticism is the huge salary gap between executives and others on staff. We regularly do salary surveys and comparisons to ensure that we’re on the higher end of salary and benefits compared to our peers, but I totally get why folks are frustrated that, even if they’re earning more than their counterparts at XYZ nonprofit, the CEO is making six times what they are. And I think that’s especially hard to swallow in the context of a culture problem, and/or when staff feel like management isn’t all that great.

    1. CR*

      Totally agree with your last point. My career is in nonprofits. I have been chronically underpaid the whole time. I don’t mind as much when I like the culture and my bosses. An imcompetent boss just makes me bitter and feel undervalued.

  60. Observer*

    OP, I haven’t had a chance to read the comments yet, but I want to say one thing.

    You do not need to convince your staff that they are well paid. That is NOT the issue. To an extent, I’m going to disagree with Alison that her advice rests on the assumption that you are providing decent pay. Because it fundamentally does not matter the core of your problem.

    Ask yourself this: In what universe does it make sense to get angry at a mere clerk for your rate of pay? That’s all the person who cuts the payroll checks is. It’s a critical job, but one with ZERO authority.

    There is a definite culture issue in your workplace, and I don’t know where it’s coming from. But I think that one thing you mention might give you some clues if someone digs in to this. Why on earth is the response to the report that was commissioned “It was rigged”? That’s a really adversarial response and indicates a toxic level of distrust. Does no one in management see this as a red flag? If not, then that’s a problem, too.

    You don’t have a pay problem. You have a culture problem. I don’t know where it’s coming from. But you need to figure that out or you are never going to figure out the rest of this.

    1. OP*

      YES. Thank you, it’s great to see this mirrored back to me. I didn’t understand it that way, but now I see it is completely based in the culture of the organization. That’s where we need to put our energy.

      1. Observer*

        By the way, as I noted, I wrote my reply before reading the comments, so I did not realize how little power you personally have.

        This is what I would tell management. For yourself, I think the suggestions to grey rock, ignore and shut conversations down when you can are an excellent idea.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      It seems like the animals run the farm:

      There is very little structure at meetings
      Emails are out of control
      People are allowed to speak disrespectfully to each other

      Management is not role-playing or requiring professional decorum. And it shows.

  61. Engineer*

    OH man….if you wanna get some positivity into your culture. Hire some people that have been working in the US workforce for like 10 years to come work at your company. When I came to my current company, and still today, I often had to remind myself how awful and toxic old company was to me and others. Having some ex-Pats on your workforce would to wonders! Paid parental leave? Paid medical? Generous vacation package? Generous salary? What IS ALL THIS?

  62. Not Me*

    Based on OPs responses in the comments…why did you write in to Ask a Manager? Seems like you’re not in a position to take any action, you’re not willing to give enough info. to make this helpful for others even, but you definitely know America needs better employee protections, what were you hoping Ask a Manager would be able to tell you?

    1. OP*

      Actually, this has been very helpful. I’ve gotten some really good ideas for phrasing to shut people down in my own interactions with them. I’ve also gotten some re-framing and some useful thoughts about where this might be arising from in the culture of the organization. Not what I thought I was asking for, but it turns out it’s much more interesting.

    2. TechWorker*

      Wow, a little aggressive. Lots of people a) don’t want to provide identifying info and b) write in about things they don’t have full control over.

      1. Not Me*

        I was asking a question, wasn’t intended to be aggressive. And the OP answered it, which was helpful. Also, Alison made a similar comment above, so I’m not really sure what the issue is. I was merely asking what OP was hoping would help given the constraints, seems like perhaps you’ve read something into my comment that wasn’t there.

  63. Aphrodite*

    I’m late so I admit I haven’t read the comments before posting this–though I will go back and read them–but I wanted to suggest that the organization get transparent with its pay scales and with what each person there earns. Bear in mind that I work in higher education and as a public employee I have my salary and benefits public as well. (See the website “Transparent California” if you are interested in seeing how it works.) It may sound shocking to people who are not in public service but I like it. There can be no hidden agendas since everyone can see it..

    If your company does pay that well, why not gather a list of of the titles and the pay ranges for each title. It might look something like this: HR Payroll Clerk: $25,000-$40,000. The second part, if it is not unpalatable, could be within that. In other words, if you have two payroll clerks, it could also list Jane Smith at $36,000 and Fergus Warble at $27,000. This could be a document that is updated and available to everyone within the company, and possibly the first part also to outsiders. The range could also be used when listing new jobs.

    1. Observer*

      but I wanted to suggest that the organization get transparent with its pay scales and with what each person there earns

      It sounds like the OP is in the EU, so this would be illegal. They reference the GDPR – if they are bound by that, then definitely illegal.

  64. Rhonda*

    It looks like you are not in the USA, so you may live in a jurisdiction with legal instruments which dictate pay rates based upon job role, industry, etc. I would triple check all of these, and then perhaps you could have private, confidential meetings with each staff member to discuss.

    Run through the workplace pay legislation or Award or whatever the legal instrument that sets the minimum pay rates is called in your jurisdiction with each worker. Explain to them why this particular instrument applies to them, and which classification and pay rate applies to their role. Show them that you are looking after them properly and that you are being open and honest with them.

  65. Susana*

    I think it’s good that Allison raised the question of the culture, but I also wouldn’t be so quick to assume it’s management’s fault. Ive worked in places where there’s a sort of ringleader complainer, for whom *nothing* is ever enough, and maybe who thinks it’s sort of normal and expected to complain about management (like “the old ball and chain” remarks about a spouse). And then people join in because it’s weirdly binding to complain about stuff like that. But this has gone too far when they say mgt. “rigged” the salary survey results (is one of them named Giuliani?) or when – my God! – they complain to the person who issues the checks even though that person has zero to do with it.
    I agree that what you have to say is, look, we’ve come up with this salary structure after a thorough process, we increase yearly, etc. It’s the best we can do. If it’s making out so miserable, this might to be the place for you – and we don’t begrudge you.

  66. twocents*

    I’m confused why, as just a “lowly employee” OP has made this their problem. If you’re finding it stressful and feel bullied by it, that’s one thing but you probably would have gotten different advice if you’d asked about how to approach your manager about it. But if it’s just that you feel so loyal and lucky and why don’t they see it!! Then it’s really not for place to manage other people’s feelings for them or to “convince” them of anything.

  67. Pretty much over it*

    I think a few people above advised management sit down with each worker, privately and quietly, and talk with them about the laws and regulations that govern salaries and other benefits. I’d advise this approach, too. Explain why that particular pay rate applies to them. As in, the industry is governed by Pay Regulation XYZ and their job (and job level) falls under Classificiation ABC in Pay Regulation XYZ. Therefore, their pay has to be a minimum of $XX,XXX. This reassures them that the company cares about workers’ rights, and that the company is meeting all its legal requirements.

    As to why some of your team are behaving like this. Have the employees who are complaining of being underpaid been previously treated badly by previous employers, especially in terms of wages? Are the upper management perceived as being overpaid, or both overpaid and incompetent? Also, any report prepared for and paid for by management is likely going to be seen as subjective at best, even by employees who are happy at work.

    While I freely admit that I tend to believe workers’ complaints about underpayments or being underpaid – not in the least because all my own previous employers (bar one) were perfectly happy to pull this stunt if they thought they could get away with it – I also know there are many employers that do the right thing and that any mistakes made are entirely genuine (and are rectified immediately upon detection). By the sounds of it, your company falls into that latter category, which is awesome!

    1. cncx*

      Para 2 is kinda similar at what is going on where i work- there’s a big divide in what grunts like me are getting paid and expected to take in terms of corona related pay cuts, and what executives are getting paid and it is causing morale issues. That was my first guess when i read it- is maybe some people are getting PAID PAID, or there is the perception of such and some people aren’t. It sounds like OP’s company has really tried, so not coming down on OP, just saying that the perception of disparity may be an angle to find a solution.

  68. Nonprofit Lifer*

    So, I haven’t seen a lot of linking to outside sources in these comments, so forgive me if I’m breaking a rule or taboo, but it strikes me that what the OP is describing could fit very neatly in what Vu Le wrote about on his blog, Nonprofit AF, when he talked about The Wheel of Disillusionment ( https://nonprofitaf.com/2018/11/the-wheel-of-disillusionment-what-it-is-and-how-it-destroys-relationships/ ). The whole post is really worth a read, but the short version is it describes how disillusioned individuals can form cliques, create a shared narrative about a problem, look for evidence that reinforces the narrative, coordinate disruptive actions, and stonewall against feedback and relationship building. And it can become a cycle where the stonewalling leads to actions that reinforce the cliques or the narrative and so on.

    The post has some excellent suggestions for how to break out of the cycle both if you’re the party being criticized or the one doing the criticizing.

  69. Individual Contro*

    Be careful fighting battles that aren’t yours to fight. It might come across wrong, but it might also just take up energy you don’t need to spend. If you aren’t a manager and they aren’t hijacking your meetings, don’t feel like you need to manage the whole situation, just manage it when it’s affecting getting your own work done.

    Also, does your employer have an annual or regular review schedule where people can make factual arguments as to why they deserve pay increases? I work for a non-profit in the apparently terrible US of A who encourages us to bring up potentially discriminatory pay practices whenever they come to light- They try their best to mitigate them and pay everyone fairly, however, if we find out this isn’t the case they actually want to know. Other than that, we have reviews on the fiscal year basis that allow us to give evidence based performance measurements to argue for a pay increase. Has it been laid out for employees about how pay raises are managed and the schedule for them? Do they have a clear course of action if they feel they’re being paid unfairly? If not, I’d encourage HR to put a transparent process in place.

    At the end of the day. we’re working on a budget, and can’t pay people so much that it causes a deficit, it’s just business. However, in our field, we’re generally paid at least market value and have excellent benefits.

    I feel free to talk to my immediate manager openly about any pay related concerns, and she’s honest about what is and isn’t realistic, but I know that at the end of the day if nothing can be done, nothing can be done and I’m free to look elsewhere if I feel the need. However, if I replied all to company-wide emails, gave the payroll people a hard time, or hijacked meetings, I’d quickly be put on a PIP and then let go if my behavior didn’t change.

    If they just don’t like what they hear, I wouldn’t make it your problem to solve. I think that’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned- I’m not an Admin or manager and not every problem is my battle. Is there an issue with just saying, I’m sorry you feel that way, but this meeting is about X, so let’s focus on that?

  70. Dreep*

    Someone at the non profit coop I worked for was complaining so much about their salary back in 2013, that I took a pay cut where I pretended to be part time instead of full time, and was paid in meals from the small restaurant we ran as part of the centre daily to cover the rest. If it’s someone you can’t lose, people who care about the work being done are often the ones who bear the load :(

    1. Dreep*

      *** sorry, in case wasn’t clear, we did that so we could give the person their raise. And it was a choice I made because of how important what we were doing felt at the time.

  71. RP80*

    Alison’s advice is spot on. This letter could have been written about my organisation 3 years ago. Staff were constantly disgruntled and unhappy and salary was a one of the constant grumbles. Morale was low. Then we were absolutely rocked by a whistleblowing allegation and several people jumped on the bandwagon, leaked confidential information to national newspapers and for 18 months we were constantly under attack from the papers and twitter rants. After an independent investigation nothing was upheld and it was clear that some of the allegations were malicious. However, the total failure of senior management was what led us to that place and allowed those individuals to essentially hold the company hostage. While many staff took sides, many of us felt that both sides were wrong. In particular, senior leadership turned a blind eye to a significant amount of wrong doing, including bullying and exploiting partners, and then when faced the with the consequences of their actions staff tried to deflect the blame back onto senior leadership and distance themselves from their own misconduct. It has taken a lot of work and a significant culling of certain senior leadership to move on. I would encourage OP to push for a review of their culture.

  72. L U*

    Past toxic leadership is a problem for any new leader. I am 5 weeks into a center manager role where staff was not empowered, micromanaging ran rampant, and staff were toxically discouraged from going over her head. Im slowly listening making tweaks and empowering staff, but it will take easily at least 6 months to get things back to 50% of where they should be.

  73. Varthema*

    This sounds so much like my workplace (up until it essentially closed in March 2020) except for the fact that my company isn’t a non-profit (though it’s in an industry where there are nonprofits), and we absolutely do not make anywhere close to 150% of living wage, though unfortunately a wage that is competitive for our industry. In our case it was largely 1-2 ringleaders with 3-4 supporters but also kinda the majority of the rest of the staff mooooore or less on their side because the underpaying issue was so bad, though a lot of us really disliked the way the ringleaders went about it. I’m also not based in the US, though I am American (and so was the ringleader, interestingly). Unionization was involved though our employer did not recognize our union (to this day I’m still not even sure what that means beyond the fact that at no point would they ever formally negotiate with our representative). A few things come to mind:
    – When it comes to firing the ringleader, absolutely true that it’s dangerous territory. When it comes to an individual who is pushing for better pay and conditions, even if s/he’s being really terrible about it, firing them may well create a martyr, kill morale, AND potentially create a lawsuit if the right to unionize is protected. Our ringleader saw every move at discipline as retaliation or targeting him because of his unionization efforts. I’m not saying it’s impossible or even the wrong thing to do, just that it’s tricky tricky tricky.
    – One-on-one meetings are also tricky. Several of my coworkers definitely saw them as efforts to intimidate and divide and conquer. If you want to do one-on-one meetings on the issue, maybe wait until the one-on-one meeting happens organically instead of calling them suddenly. They worsened the situation.
    – The most effective strategy my manager employed was definitely what someone else here called “fogging”. Don’t give them anything to work with, agree with them where and when you do agree (“it’s absolutely true that costs of living are rising higher than wages, and that’s something I’d like to see change, but at the moment the reality is…”) Our ringleader never really knew what to do with that when the manager was agreeing with him at meetings.

    And I am also living in a country of a size and culture where revealing it may ut you more than you know! :-D So much so that I wonder if it’s the same one,

  74. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Agreed, and I’ll tone it back.

    – Yes, distractions can come about with the complaining. But – is there high turnover in this enterprise? If so, what are people saying in their exit interviews / giving for reasons they’re departing? Those can be important – the problem is, people don’t always come forward with actual reasons.


    – As was acknowledged, it only takes one, or two, or a very limited number of people to become pot stirrers. In many sites / companies, there often are people who just love pot stirring – but, there also can be a limited number who, because of a variety of factors, find themselves grossly underpaid in comparison to their colleagues. If every Senior Teapot Maker were making $70K, but one person who is doing the same function (forget title for the moment) is making $35k, well – there’s an issue that needs addressing. Not saying that this is the case but it can lead to a “pot stir”.

    And such a discrepancy might not easily be revealed in a company-wide study. because it’s an outlier.

    So hoping this stays within the rules.

  75. Hank Stevens*

    It may seem exhausting, but I think you and whoever is in leadership have to “divide and conquer” for lack of a better term. Separate individuals who are engaging in inappropriate behaviors, give each of them clear expectations going forward, and hold them accountable with consequences. Take an obvious example of poor behavior and work your way back….tell them each individually that it’s never ok to hassle the person cutting the checks. It needs to stop immediately. Be prepared to discipline if it happens again. Maybe stopping one poor behavior sends a message and you get some traction on the issue? If your company does not allow discipline, then I’m at a loss.

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