update: our employer wants to cut our pay — retroactively

Remember the letter-writer last year whose company was planning to cut their pay retroactively? (First update here.) Here’s the latest.

I wrote you last year about my company laying off a lot of people and then retroactively reducing pay, and then did a follow-up in late July when they laid off even more and did a complete reorg. There are so many things I could touch on in this update, but I’m going to try to keep it high-level and end on a happy note!

As I’m sure many would have predicted things never got better. Management ignored the pay issue for more than a month and it took a coworker, literally, crying to HR for them to make it a priority. For that month, we were all making what we were making prior to the reorg, regardless of your new position. When they finally looked at pay, they still didn’t adjust it based on new positions – unless, of course, it benefited them. Meaning, if you were moved to a lower position, they were quick to downgrade your pay. For everyone else, if your previous pay was $70k or less, it was fully restored. If you made more than that, you were given 10% of your pay back. And, if you were moved into a higher-level position, like myself, you were tossed an additional $4k and expected to shut up… Or, so you were told. In reality, I learned there were several people who were given their full pay back if they were deemed “valuable” enough. Apparently I wasn’t even though I had countless people tell me they would be lost without me there. To make the situation even worse, I had to do my new position AND most of my old one. The person they hired into my old position was 8 months pregnant at the time and was leaving for maternity leave in a couple of weeks. For the record, no one knew she was pregnant since we’d all been working from home since March), and I applaud her for not telling anyone and working the system! I have no doubt they would have treated her unfairly had she told them, so she kept a job and didn’t have to deal with any of the stress for the rest of the year.

I tried to remain positive, but by the end of the year, I was broken down and hating life. Senior leadership continued to ignore the problems, and instead of correcting the workload and finding ways to help (though they continuously said they were going to – yeah right!), the solution was to hire more high-level positions that did nothing more than create more work for those of us doers. To say morale was in the sewer would have been generous. No matter how loud I screamed about the pay issues or the incredible amount of work or the apathy by senior leadership, nothing changed. Though, I will give credit to my direct manager (who actually turned me on to Ask a Manager and knows I’ve written in), she was always supportive and our one-on-ones turned into mini therapy sessions for each of us. Still, the reality was, she had no control to make things better.

So, the night before we were to go back into work for the new year, (I’d taken nearly 3 weeks off work for the holidays and because I was close to a mental breakdown), I stayed up until 3am searching and applying for jobs. I took the time to tailor my cover letter and resume for each specific opening, and then I forgot about them. A month later, I was contacted by a company wanting to set up an interview. I went into the interview with the mindset that it was just going to be good interviewing experience and a nugget of hope that things were turning around. But these interviews (there were 4 of them) were so different from ones I’ve had in the past. I’m pretty sure I interviewed them more than they did me! I asked so many questions, and each person I spoke with made me feel so confident that this was the job for me. AND I MADE IT OUT!!!! I don’t think I’ve smiled bigger than when I officially put in notice.

I just finished my first week of work, and while it was mentally draining with info overload, I’m still incredibly excited about this new opportunity! Alison, they believe in work-life balance! And they don’t just say it, they live it! We get 10% of our week (EVERY WEEK), to do something we’re passionate about – even if that’s just getting a pedicure, or watching Netflix – they recognize how hard their people work and reward it! I’m making about 20% more than I was when I left my previous job, and after seeing how well people could work from home, they have adopted a “work-from-anywhere” and “work when it works for you” mentality. Meaning I get to be 100% remote (what I wanted) and I can flex my hours as needed to maintain that healthy work-life balance. They treat each other and their employees like humans and they sincerely want people to come to work as their true selves – because they recognize that happy and healthy employees are productive employees. It’s such a breath of fresh air. I recognize that I was trying really hard to remain professional in my previous letters, but now that I’m gone and no longer beholden to that job, it’s a lot clearer just how toxic of an environment it truly was.

{ 84 comments… read them below }

    1. OP Yea You Know Me*

      OP here, I have my doubts about their sustainability as well, but so far seem to be floating along – with three people now doing my one job…

      1. Ms. Yvonne*

        AHHAHAGGGHH. This really gets my goat. You did the work of three people at a pay cut, but they couldn’t do anything about it while you were there – it took you leaving for them to clue in that it was 3x the work? I*N*F*U*R*A*T*I*N*G

        1. OP Yea You Know Me*

          Not going to lie, it did annoy me initially. But it pushed me out of the door to a better situation. And I still adore my direct manager that is still there, so I’m thankful for her, that they have the staff needed.

        2. Ali G*

          Sadly this isn’t uncommon, especially in non-profits. When I left my first job at a non-profit after 8+ years, my job was so disparate that they had to hire 2 people and gave another current employee one of my areas. When people are piled on (or there is mission creep, or someone is just willing to jump in) it can be impossible to have a cohesive role to fill.

          1. Zephy*

            Happened to me, too. The role I left, I was a department of one plus my manager; I was part-time and paid $11.25/hour, in a role basically conceived and developed for me, specifically. I asked repeatedly about being made full-time and was told there was no budget for it. Once I left, they replaced me with two full-timers whose starting pay was close to $14/hour. (I know this because my old boss called me and basically offered me my job back after about 8 months. LMFAO, thank you but no.)

            (Side anecdote: they were so punitive about keeping part-timers part-time that if you racked up a few extra minutes too many days or weeks in a row, by clocking in a minute or two early or clocking out a minute or two late–without going over 30 hours and triggering FT benefit eligibility, mind you, just hitting 28.5 or 29 hours for the week–they’d cut your schedule back even further, to 27.5 or even 26 hours for the week. Performance metrics were to stay at the expected level, of course. I loved the actual *work* of that job, but the business part was a dumpster fire.)

          2. KaciHall*

            I worked for a large car rental company in a new role as HR/IT liason. I was bored in my job, more time in it wasn’t going to lead to a position in either department, so I took a transfer.

            They initially replaced me with two people. For months afterwards, managers came up to me in the break room asking me to return because none of their new hires were properly set up on their first day. Last I heard, they hired another person for my old department. (But they couldn’t give me the pay increase they’d promised at my review for a year! Oh well.)

      2. Artemesia*

        Such a delight to read about your escape — so glad you had the sense to recognize what a disaster this was and to take initiative at a difficult time to extricate yourself. A real accomplishment in a difficult time.

    2. Momma Bear*

      Sometimes the best move is out. I’m glad LW got out and can detox now. Congrats!

  1. Midnight Forest*

    Congrats, LW! So glad you found a better job at a better company.

    This bit gets me: “the solution was to hire more high-level positions”. So they….laid off people and cut pay in order to save money, but then kept hiring for high-level positions………. ?????

    1. restingbutchface*

      This has the vibe of a really bad consultancy recommendation and I say that as a consultant.

      “You need to get your strategy in order! You need to assign values, have I shown you the leadership model from our last meeting? I can solve this for you, where do I send my invoice?”.

      *Someone* is giving the owners bad advice. I just hope they aren’t paying for it.

      1. OP Yea You Know Me*

        From my understanding they were working with consultants and that does sound exactly as I would imagine the conversations were going haha.

        1. restingbutchface*

          Urgh, I knew it. There are so many charming people willing to take your money just for the honour of hearing their advice and tbh, the pandemic has only made it worse.

          But! I am so glad you found an amazing new place, you deserve it and they’re lucky to have you!

      2. SuperDiva*

        Haha this sounds familiar from my old job. Lots of “executives” discussing strategy, very little attention to the actual work the drones were doing or how unhappy everyone was. (Leading to most of the staff quitting.)

      3. turquoisecow*

        Oh man this was my old job. Pay millions for a consultant to come in (from across the country!) and tell them what to do but give no extra money to the drones you want to do it, and certainly don’t use those funds to pass savings on to the consumers who are complaining we’re one of the highest cost businesses out there and bailing to shop at cheaper places all the time.

        1. pope suburban*

          Ha, mine too! We didn’t make it to the level of “millions,” but we were definitely in the tens of thousands as a small business…where I was having to play shell games with checks and force the boss to pay our one guy who worked as a contractor. We didn’t have that kind of money to piss away! Then the boss ignored what the consultant told him to do anyway, because the boss was a trust-fund kid who’d bought the business on a whim with his golden parachute (from a company that 100% should have let him go; he was senior IT something and didn’t know what a damn static IP address was), and was accustomed to being coddled. We made it through that period, but that was due entirely to me and our business manager. If we’d spent the consultant money on paying some damn bills, I don’t think we’d have been any worse off, but of course the boss didn’t bother asking any of us peons who were keeping his sinking ship afloat. Man, I do not miss that place one bit.

        2. lailaaaaah*

          A coworker used to work for a college that decided to lay off their entire departmental IT staff in favour of a £300-a-day consultant, who promptly broke the entire email system for two months. Coworker is still cackling about it to this day.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Oh yeah, evil happy memories of the time I and my entire team were laid off (tech support) because the firm could just ‘call someone in as and when they needed it’.

            A month after we left I got an email from them asking if I could come back because the contractor they’d hired had managed to completely knacker their PGP encryption system. Ha ha ha no. I already had a new job by then.

      4. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        And “consultants to management” generally tell management what they want to hear. “We can save you money!”

        … one thing to stress = the “Office Space” movie was NOT a management tutorial….

        1. restingbutchface*

          Ohhh it’s more sly than that. You can’t go in and say, you need to save money, because then they might realise that paying a consultant $$ a day isn’t a good use of funds. It’s about “realising value”. That’s how they can justify getting rid of low level workers at the expense of a more expensive, high level strategic position. Value over cost saving, every time.

          I really hate that I see this every day in my industry. As a consultant I feel as if I have a moral and ethical duty to deliver something that a) a client can see and hold (not just my opinions) and b) something that makes a difference. I can’t always make a difference, mainly due to clients who aren’t onboard with my way of working, but I always try.

    2. BRR*

      One of my previous employers had this mind set (this letter brings up some unpleasant memories). There was already an issue with hiring too many senior people and everybody feeling like they were too high up to do the work. After a 20% staff layoff that mostly cut low and mid-level employees, myself included, most of the positions they’ve hired for are directors or senior directors. Pretty sure it’s 95% senior leadership at this point. 3 managers for every non-manager

      1. 2 Cents*

        Sounds like my old marketing agency. They had 7 VPs for a staff of 40. Some of those VPs did work, but for the most part, foisted the day to day on the underlings.

    3. Super Doctor Astronaut Peter Corbeau*

      Ugh, my company did this last year — furloughed most employees at 50% (some were 75%) for 4-ish months, only to announce the hiring of three or four Senior VPs as soon as we were all back to work full time. Shocking no one, those SVPs were also mostly yt men with a passion for golf….

      1. restingbutchface*

        Those men hire consultants who look like them, act like them, think like them and then wonder why nothing changes. I’d like to think this way of thinking is dying out but the pandemic has only reinforced their position and damaged the progress of others.

    4. lailaaaaah*

      My old workplace LOVED this. They gave me the job of three admin staff (who had all quit… wonder why) and then, when they were unhappy with my performance in the role, they brought in *another* manager above me (I already reported to two people), which basically negated any savings they’d made from cutting the two admin roles that would have actually got the work done.

  2. restingbutchface*

    This is like a fairy tale. What a wonderful outcome and wow, your new company sound amazing. Are they hiring?? :)

    I’ve thought of the OP often since reading the letter and I am so happy this ended well for them. All the best OP, good luck and well done!

    1. OP Yea You Know Me*

      Op here! Actually, yes, they are hiring haha. Ive been here about 2 months now and they’ve been amazing! It really is a breath of fresh air!

      1. SparkleConsultant*

        Yes! This is so inspiring! I was so frustrated for you when this letter first came out. I’m glad you found a place where the org is really built on trust.

  3. Jj*

    This is an amazing update! I am curious – to what degree is giving you 10% of your time for whatever different than cutting your hours from 60 to 54 or 40 to 36 or whatever. Like, if what you “want” To do is just …go home and take a nap, could you? Minor issue, but just was confused by that! (I’ve heard of stuff like this, in terms of, banking hours to work on projects that are related to the content of the org but different than official work duties, but I’ve never heard of it in the context of could go watch netflix, but it’s work hours, vs, just being less hours of work)

    1. OP Yea You Know Me*

      In theory, if you wanted to just cut out 4 hours early one day and do nothing you certainly could. The industry I work in (marketing) can have some pretty long hours some weeks – so even if you’re working 55 hours, having 4 hours that you can take a break, walk away and do something you enjoy, really is a nice thing to have. Last week, I used my 4 hours to fly home from my parent’s house without having to take PTO. But over all, I think it’s just a nice gesture to say, “we see you, we see how hard you work, here’s another perk”. They also re-evaluate work if your hours consistently are high due to work volume. My last company, technically, our hours were only 37.5/week – but you never only worked that, and if you tried to take time off for something else, some managers would make you take PTO by the hour. Just a different mindset I suppose.

      1. Jj*

        okay, I think I get it, cuz it’s like 4 hours off free, flex PTO. different than a shorter work week because you can take it during regular working hours which wouldn’t be the case if you just had a 36 hour standard schedule. that’s pretty nice – a floating free 4 hours to handle whatever is needed would make *a lot* of people’s lives insanely easier! I would probably just use mine to sleep in once or twice a week :)

        1. PeterM*

          It does sound like a neat and useful idea, but the curmudgeon inside of me – who gets closer to the surface every year – can’t help but think it sounds like what Sheriff Buford T. Justice would refer to as “nothin’ but pure old-fashioned Commonism.”

          1. TardyTardis*

            Well, that’s because we’ve been told that anything that’s good for workers is Evil Communism and must be avoided at all costs. Sadly, so many workers have actually fallen for it.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I’ve often heard of this in terms of giving time to employees to volunteer or to work on so-called passion projects that typically don’t get much time if not fully vetted and/or approved as part of the normal work. For example, it could mean classes or training time, free design time, research or writing time, or going to a conference or something for one’s own personal improvement or enrichment. But it’s still usually career related, not straight up leisure.

      1. OP Yea You Know Me*

        That’s what I love so much about this structure. It can be career related, but also personal, or as JJ said, just to sleep in :). And, the PTO is generous, and we get a volunteer day on top of it. Seriously, great work life balance here!

        1. jj*

          what kind of industry do you work in? is this perk unique in your industry, or have you heard of other places that have it?

          1. OP Yea You Know Me*

            JJ, I’ve heard over other industries, but I’m in Marketing. Though my company is a different sector – I just work in marketing departments.

      2. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        My company does something like this. In general, it has to be something that will potentially benefit the company in the long run. So, fixing those little bugs that never seem to become high priority but remain annoying, prototyping something that looks cool, continuing education – things like that are all pretty common uses of our time.

  4. ampersand*

    This is an amazing update! Congrats OP!

    I’m so curious who these companies are that treat employees this well—I don’t expect OP (or anyone here, really) to share that info for obvious reasons, but whenever I read updates like this I so want to know who these magical, unicorn employers are! I…don’t work for one.

    1. LTL*

      There are some really good ones! I was talking to one woman who works at Confluent and the work life balance sounded absolutely wonderful. They have unlimited PTO and the average amount people take annually is 5 weeks. Networking is a great way to stay appraised of things.

      1. ampersand*

        Networking, good point—and thanks for that reminder! I think one of the problems is most people I know work in education, higher education, and for non-profits…so I’m often networking with people in my same situation. I need to figure out how to broaden my network.

    2. Camellia*

      Hey, Alison, you know how you do the salary survey? Maybe you can have readers send in the names of companies that they work for, and what makes them great. Then you can create a list and post it on your site. That keeps it anonymous, no connecting the commenter to the company. Any downsides to that?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I have no way to vet those submissions — they could be from a company’s PR dept, the delusional owner of a business, or just someone with terrible judgment (and one person’s idea of what makes a company great can be very different from other people’s). I also do not want to give the sense that any particular company somehow has an Ask a Manager seal of approval (which is partly why I don’t do “best boss of the year,” as sometimes gets suggested). Mostly, though, it’s just not what I do — feels like mission creep!

    3. Overit*

      Me too. And I never have. And honestly, I do not know anyone IRL who has.

      At this point, I expect the worst because my expectations are thus always met.

      These updates where the person finds (1) a new job, (2) a new job with great pay/benefits and (3) a new job with great pay/benefits and respectful treatment of employees sounds like a fairytale to me every time.

      1. another_scientist*

        This is what I like about the Friday good news, and also this update. It shows that these jobs are out there that don’t suck your soul. I have one, too! I think part of the culture shift long-game is for employees to realize they can expect better and therefore toxic workplaces won’t get away with terrible shenanigans if they want people to work for them.

      2. RR*

        Seriously, right?

        I will never ever again put myself out for a job like I always have before. I’m a people pleaser, and it will be tough, but I just don’t have the capacity to withstand the constant disappointment.

        I’m just going to take the attitude that hey, they are going to do what is best for them and I’m going to do what is best for me. If they happen to do something that is good for me, I’ll know the reason isn’t because I’m such a valued employee, despite what they might say, but because it is a business decision that is best for them. So, hey, I’m going to make all my decisions based on what is best for me too and no longer worry about causing problems for anybody else.

        Honestly, at this point, except for health insurance, I’d rather just temp. That way maybe there would be less of this attitude that you should invest yourself in a company like you own part of it. I want a job where I do my job, other people do theirs, and that is the beginning and end of it. Nobody owes anybody anything more than an equal exchange: labor for paycheck.

        If nothing else this past year has mostly shown what companies are really like: let you work at home, business decision. Make you come in, business decision. I’m not talking about truly essential workers, but other places/people.

  5. MissDisplaced*

    This one hit me: “The solution was to hire more high-level positions that did nothing more than create more work for those of us doers.” Oh boy, did I work for THAT corporate mindset at one place. The high level directors and VP’s they brought in found out pretty quickly there was zero bandwidth (or money) to implement any of their ideas because it was spent hiring them! LOL! but :-( Who does this? What school of management is that mindset from?

    I’m really happy to hear you found something and got out. It often happens that when you go into an interview with nothing to lose, thinking it’s good for practice or something, that you get the job! IDK why that is? I guess maybe it makes one more confident or less desperate sounding?

  6. OP Yea You Know Me*

    In theory, if you wanted to just cut out 4 hours early one day and do nothing you certainly could. The industry I work in (marketing) can have some pretty long hours some weeks – so even if you’re working 55 hours, having 4 hours that you can take a break, walk away and do something you enjoy, really is a nice thing to have. Last week, I used my 4 hours to fly home from my parent’s house without having to take PTO. But over all, I think it’s just a nice gesture to say, “we see you, we see how hard you work, here’s another perk”. They also re-evaluate work if your hours consistently are high due to work volume. My last company, technically, our hours were only 37.5/week – but you never only worked that, and if you tried to take time off for something else, some managers would make you take PTO by the hour. Just a different mindset I suppose.

  7. WellRed*

    Interesting to see the first update where OP was grateful for her job and trying to stay positive but in retrospect of course it was a bad sign of things to come. Congratulations for getting out!

    1. Unkempt Flatware*

      Isn’t it funny how we recognize that after the fact? Like saying, “He is kinda mean but I’m lucky to have such a hard working spouse”.

    2. MissGirl*

      I think it’s a great example that you can be 100% grateful for something but still work to improve a situation. I think people sometimes think being grateful means you have to take your life as-is and not want to change.

      For instance, I am so thankful I have a house of my own after years of renting crap apartments, but I’m also remodeling my bathroom this weekend because it’s ugly.

  8. Michelle Smith*

    Thank goodness. I was very hopeful you’d jump ship.

    Really happy for you and wish I could work for a company like your current one! Alas, they seem to be a rare breed.

  9. HereKittyKitty*

    I love this update but I also really love the 8 months pregnant woman who gamed the company into keeping her job and likely her insurance for giving birth. Whew what I ride.

    1. OP Yea You Know Me*

      Hahaha, it was very smart of her, as they say – don’t hate the player, hate the game. She played it very well!

    2. boo bot*

      Yes, although I think it’s important to note that she didn’t game the system: she realized that the company was likely to illegally discriminate against her if they knew she was pregnant, and managed to avoid that outcome.

      I’m definitely glad she was able to do that, but she didn’t get away with something. She prevented *them* from getting away with something.

    3. pieces_of_flair*

      How was this gaming the system? Not disclosing private health information that may have biased the hiring committee against her was common sense, not some underhanded trick. Maybe she wouldn’t have been hired if she’d disclosed the pregnancy, but the interviewers would have been in the wrong there. She was not obligated to give them the opportunity to discriminate against her.

      1. OP Yea You Know Me*

        When I say gaming the system, I simply mean she was smart in the way she handled it and didn’t let her be discriminated against.

  10. lyonite*

    A minor point, but I have to wonder if there were some, shall we say, demographic similarities among the people who were deemed to be valuable enough to actually be paid for their jobs.

    1. OP Yea You Know Me*

      Based on those I learned that were deemed worthy, I didn’t notice anything nefarious going on there. It was based more on role – such as the one and only Email Marketing Manager when a lot of the marketing does was via email. My line of work has always been one that many companies feel they can do without, until they do, and then is one of the first to be rehired.

      1. Old Admin*

        “Email Marketing Manager ”
        …aka the Spam Coordinator…
        *sorry could not resist!*

  11. JuniperGlass*

    Congrats OP! Working in a supportive, highly functional work environment after being in a dysfunctional organization is SUCH a breath of fresh air. I’m glad it worked out for you and that your new place is so fantastic!

  12. Trixie, the Great and Pedantic*

    Congrats, OP. I am down with you getting out of that toxic dump.

  13. DiscoCat*

    Congratulations! That sounds like a dream! 10% of my weekly hours would be the half day chunk I need to pursue a hobby that I love but can’ do bit for bit here and there.

  14. Elizabeth West*


    I want to work for a company like this one, that really lives work-life balance.

  15. PJ*

    Congrats on the new job!

    Minor quibble with some wording though…your pregnant coworker did not “work the system” – she got a job offer based on her skills and qualifications without the disadvantage of being discriminated against (consciously or unconsciously).

    1. Former Employee*

      The only problem is that when a company unwittingly hires someone who is in an advanced stage of pregnancy, it just means that the rest of the department gets overworked when that person goes on mat leave 5 minutes after they were hired.

      Even a good company may not be able to pull a rabbit out of a hat and magically find a qualified person to fill the role of the one who is out on leave. They may have no choice but to have the remaining staff take on extra work for the duration.

      That’s what I don’t like about this sort of thing: It isn’t working the system or even “sticking it to the man”. It’s burdening your coworkers.

    2. J.B.*

      And she may not have FMLA as you need to have a certain amount of time in first. Now if a company offers additional leave that would still be available.

  16. Former Employee*

    I am so happy for this OP.

    Someone else said this reads like a fairytale. Truly, it’s like the work version of Cinderella.

    And to think there is a company that doesn’t just talk the talk.

    Maybe it’s Karma. After all the OP put up with, the Universe had rewarded her with a dream job.


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