my company will only give me a raise if I quit first

A reader writes:

I work for a small company within a very niche field. The owner has been running it for decades and is an expert at this craft, and is in very high demand. The service the company offers is so specialized that the job takes about six months to a year of training, even with relevant prior experience. It was a perfect fit for me in a lot of ways. The only red flag I saw when I first accepted the job was seeing how high the turnover rate was. Only one coworker I saw on a 10-person team had been there for longer than a couple of years.

Well, I’ve passed the two-year mark of working here and I’ve hit my limit too. While the day-to-day work is pretty good and satisfying, the communication style and conflict resolution from management/owners are incredibly stressful. It’s hard to summarize since it’s a bunch of tiny miscommunications and friction in otherwise perfectly normal work days. Little mistakes are taken personally and, while it isn’t super frequent, you never know what will trigger a random hostile and accusatory reaction from management or the owner. It seems that it takes about two to three years for all those little moments to build up enough for employees to leave. While I’m disappointed to be at this point, I am ready to move on too as I am bordering on burnout from constantly walking on eggshells.

The problem I am having now is that the company also has a history of offering massive 20-30% raises, but only to employees who are already out the door. To almost everyone else, these desperate offers are too little too late, as previously dedicated star employees already exhausted all other options before they even considered leaving. But for me, as stressed as I am working here, there is a price where I can be bought and convinced to stay.

Unfortunately, I can’t ask for a raise outright. The owner has emphasized many times before that they only offer raises based on merit, not need. I have been working myself into the ground for the past year to try to hit that point. I have taken on the responsibilities of other positions, I have been put in charge of training people. I have anticipated needs and worked ahead on projects to meet deadlines. I often stay late, and I haven’t taken any time off for vacation all year. When I sat down for my two-year review, my boss praised all these things about my work ethic and dedication, describing me as an essential part of the team and someone they have “big plans for” … and then offered me an insultingly low pay bump to cover inflation. I had already brought up to the owner that the ratio of my workload to pay is unsustainable for me, and that I am actively looking for side gigs and part-time work to supplement my paycheck. I have asked if there is anything more I could be doing to justify a merit-based increase in base pay. All I got was some hemming and hawing and a vague suggestion about showing more initiative. (Which is a personal quality of mine that they had praised before.)

So, it is clear I am not going to be getting a raise unless I turn in my two weeks’ notice. I am the second most senior member of my team and the only one other than the owner qualified to help train new employees. I know they need me, but in my 2+ years here, quitting is the only time I’ve ever seen them offer raises to anyone. To me it feels scummy to look for other work and accept another job somewhere else, only to potentially turn them down when my current office offers me a big raise to stay with them instead. Obviously, I am looking for another job that I would be happy at and well compensated, but if I can’t, would it be wrong to accept another random job just to hear what my current company would counteroffer? Is this situation I am in more normal than I thought? Am I missing something obvious?

I really want to convince you not to stay — when you get another job, take it rather than trying to leverage it into a counteroffer!

You’re nearing burnout, constantly walking on eggshells, going above and beyond only to be told to “take more initiative,” and dealing with a manipulative owner who’s trying to convince you that what sounds like a massive amount of overwork doesn’t quality for you for anything more than a cost-of-living bump.

Until it affects them, that is. Because that’s what “you’ll be offered a huge raise but only when you’re walking out the door” is all about. They don’t care about paying you what your work is worth to them when you’re the only one who’s affected. Once it looks like it’ll affect them, they swing into action. And you know what, sometimes an otherwise decent manager falls into that trap — but this is their system. They designed it this way. They’ve had plenty of chances to realize, “Oh crap, we’re losing people because of money over and over and then we end up needing to swing big to keep them at the last minute” but they don’t care. They’re perfectly happy to wring every ounce of energy out of you that they can while underpaying you, until the literal last minute they have to do something about it.

This is not a place to stay. That kind of mindset is going to permeate all kinds of other parts of your daily life too (and indeed, it sounds like it does).

But none of that answers what you asked. You want to know if you can ethically line up another offer if you just want to use it to get a counteroffer. Some years back, I would have told you no, you can’t ethically do that. But with a greater appreciation than I used to have for how much capitalism screws over most workers and how much you’re on your own within that system, I’m less inclined to tell you that you shouldn’t play the game in a way that benefits you. You’d be wasting the time of the other company, but it’s not like companies never waste applicants’ time.

However, the ethics of the situation really only come into play if you’re dead-set against taking another job and would never seriously consider an offer somewhere else. But I don’t think that’s the case! A better way to look at it is this: You should be job-searching and you should be open to other offers. Your current company sucks! You should go into those interviews with an open mind, and you should be willing to take an offer if the job is right for you. You can balance any offer you get against any counteroffer your current company might make, and make the best decision for yourself. That’s a normal part of job-searching and it’s not unethical.

(But really, leave that place.)

{ 253 comments… read them below }

  1. King Friday XIII*

    You can and should find a workplace that isn’t full of bees, OP.

    It’s too bad employers that offer a raise when you quit wouldn’t have that reaction if you were to do that reasonable amount of work for your pay they call “quiet quitting” and then give you the raise when they realized how hard you had been working.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I agree with quiet quitting. I also wonder if OP just announced their resignation (perhaps a month out? Two months?) they might get the raise – without having to actually get the other offer. It seems like they have nothing to lose here. I realize it’s a high-risk, high-reward strategy. It seems probable to me they could walk back a resignation if it didn’t work.

      1. yetelmen*

        Wondered this myself. Although they may not be able to afford the risk in the worst case scenario if they are already needing side gigs to keep up on bills.

        1. Sloanicota*

          I wish there was a mutual aid society where we supported each other with savings cushions so that OP could go ahead and quit now, start looking for work, and pay it back when they’ve secured their next job. I have been in these circumstances and it’s so hard to job-search well once you’re tired and burned out.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            I’ve never been able to job search while also working a full-time job. I’m amazed that other people manage it.

            1. The Real Fran Fine*

              It’s hard for sure. I would job search on my lunch break by looking on company websites and sending myself links to job ads that looked interesting. I would do this every day until Saturday – that’s when I’d sit down and tweak my resume and write my cover letters, applying later that evening. I’d do the same thing on Sunday.

              It wasn’t a perfect system – sometimes, I’d go to apply to a position and notice it was no longer available and I’d kick myself for not applying sooner. But then I’d get over it and tell myself that what’s meant for me would be mine, and if the job was filled, clearly it wasn’t for me.

            2. Uhhh*

              With the last two job being exceptions, I have always looked while doing a full time job. I’ve found that you get more bites when you’re already working than when unemployed. In most cases finding a new job has taken 3+ months. Isn’t it more wise to keep making money those 3+months than living on savings and potentially falling behind on trends?

              1. Hapax Legomenon*

                Wiser, maybe, but not always possible. If your work keeps you going all day long and you have commitments after work until you get to bed, you may not really have the time or energy to manage both. I know my last job was killing me but I couldn’t stay awake long enough on weeknights to get household chores done, meaning most of my “life stuff” got left for the weekend and I was lucky if I got half an hour of job searching done on a Sunday afternoon.

      2. Siege*

        I mean, why? The job pays poorly enough that OP is saying they’re looking for other work (whether they need it to cover living expenses or it’s an attempt to see if the company will offer a raise isn’t clear) and being mistreated, overworked, emotionally abused, and insulted. I had a job like that once; they fired me when I’d had enough and stopped doing 60 hours of work for pay that was 3/5s of a rational salary for a 40-hour week where no one insulted or mistreated me.

        OP, you say it’s a niche industry and presumably one you’ve been working in and towards for a while, but you don’t say that it’s a unique industry. Please find another job where you’re at least starting with fair pay and the hope of a good workplace, and leave this one behind. It’s not worth rewarding the owner’s inability to run a business by setting yourself on fire.

      3. Worldwalker*

        The big question comes down to whether they *want* to actually stay there, and work for an employer who only gave them a raise under those circumstances. IMO, this falls under Alison’s objections to accepting counter-offers.

        And this workplace is full of cheap bees that don’t even make honey.

      4. The Person from the Resume*

        That’s my thought. If you know they will offer a massive raise to get you to stay, quit and then stay and accept the raise.

        You should leave, but might as well get a few months at a higher pay rate until you find a new job you want to take.

    2. Olivia*

      I too immediately thought “house full of bees”. For those unfamiliar, this term originally came from a comment on the Captain Awkward blog where someone likened relationships with people who keep treating you badly to horror movies where the protagonists keep wandering through a house where all kinds of creepy stuff is happening and you’re like “Get out of there!!!” The house is sending so many messages that they should get the hell out but they don’t. And sometimes it’s hard to realize that you’ve been in a relationship like this until after you’re out. The original comment was specifically talking about abusive relationships, and the part about walking on eggshells is another parallel with abusive relationships. Because the house isn’t always sending bees your way. Sometimes it seems nice…for a little bit…until something bad happens again. Get out of the house.

      Your workplace is showing you time and time again that they do not respect you. That they do not care about you. The company as a whole has made a conscious decision to manipulate people into staying. Notice how they keep moving the goalposts: they say they only give merit raises, so you work your ass off, and along the way you get praise for taking initiative. But when you ask for a raise, oh suddenly all the extra hours you’ve put in, all the time spent doing the job of multiple people, all the running yourself ragged–that’s somehow not enough taking initiative to get more money. You are right to feel insulted by the paltry cost-of-living raise because they are insulting you.

      You deserve better than this. And with all the things you’ve done at your current job, you probably could put together a pretty impressive resume. There are places that would love to have someone like you on their team and who will pay you better and who won’t treat you like s***.

      1. ferrina*

        There are several flags of abusive workplace here. The unpredictability of their rage (walking on eggshells); the gaslighting (telling you to take more initiative when you’d previously been praised for it); even a psuedo love-bomb in the form of a raise.

        Get out, don’t look back. This is beesbeesbeesbeesbees.

      2. Goldenrod*

        I agree with Olivia – get out of the house! Fear of change can make people accept situations they shouldn’t. But really, this place isn’t good enough for you.

        This line is enough reason to leave: “Little mistakes are taken personally and, while it isn’t super frequent, you never know what will trigger a random hostile and accusatory reaction from management or the owner.”

        I’ve worked at places like that. It’s the worst, and I am here to tell you: it never gets better. The fact that it isn’t super frequent is actually a negative, because in between the spurts of abuse, you naturally start convincing yourself that maybe you can tolerate the job. And then it happens again. It will always happen again, because abusive people don’t know any other way to be. They can only reign it in for so long before they lash out again.

        Get out of the house!!

      3. GingerNP*

        Just have to say, I appreciate the explanation of “house full of bees” – I’ve seen it referenced here before and definitely got the feeling it was trying to evoke but was unsure of the origin, so thanks!

  2. The Original K.*

    I was reading this thinking “Take another offer and run.” Follow the high turnover trend; it’s the company’s fault for treating its people this way. If it’s easier for me to get a new job than a raise, guess which one I’m going to do?

    1. Cats and Bats Rule*

      Came here to say this, but can’t put it any better. Run out of there as soon as you line up something better!

    2. Other Alice*

      “If it’s easier for me to get a new job than a raise, guess which one I’m going to do?”

      Yes! And what about your next raise? Are you going to have to do this charade every year if you want your salary to stay competitive? Get another offer — and take it!

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          Now that you’ve gotten a raise, you can pick up Tasks G-L that you weren’t already doing.
          The offer will not put OP ahead.
          Especially since s/he has been overworking already. This manipulative house of bees will suck even more out of you.
          And another thing :) 20% raise on a base salary that this low, is not a raise!

          1. Twix*

            Yes, this is a very important point. “We only give raises based on merit” translates to “We only give raises to employees when we think they deserve them.” That’s not necessarily a bad way to run a business if you have reasonable expectations for your employees, but what your employer’s behavior is saying is “…and we don’t think anyone ever deserves them.” The kind of place that manages salaries this way will view that 20-30% raise as a favor that you’re expected to go even more “above and beyond” to justify even though what it really is is overdue recognition of the value of the work you’re already doing. That disconnect between “Why are we paying more and getting the same work?” vs “Why are they expecting more work when all they did was start paying me fairly for my current job?” is why Alison strongly cautions against taking counteroffers even at healthy companies.

            1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

              That disconnect between “Why are we paying more and getting the same work?” vs “Why are they expecting more work when all they did was start paying me fairly for my current job?”

              thank you for putting that into clear words. I could not spell it out! I was feeling it. So feeling this!

            2. The OTHER Other*

              “ We only give raises based on merit” translates to “We only give raises to employees when we think they deserve them.” That’s not necessarily a bad way to run a business”

              I agree, but this clearly isn’t one of those businesses, most glaringly because the owner DOES offer large raises, but only when people are leaving. Did their productivity and ability suddenly “merit” these offers only when they gave notice?

              This employer is just cheap, he would rather suffer high turnover and lose quality people in order to save money. In the long run, you get what you pay for, and owners that make this decision deserve what they get.

              1. Twix*

                “I agree, but this clearly isn’t one of those businesses”

                I mean… yeah. That’s why my comment went on to say exactly that.

            3. Rosie*

              Exactly. LW – I notice that you say it’s been made clear to you they ‘only give raises on merit’ not need; and then you describe the ways that you have explained to them about your need – not your merit. I’m concerned that this toxic workplace is getting you down and skewing your idea of your own value; making you believe that you don’t already display sufficient merit.

              Everyone merits the market rate for their work!!! But I imagine you merit an *actual* raise too. If they gave raises based on merit, they would have given you one already. Please look for somewhere better before your sense of your own value, worth and dignity is harmed more seriously.

              1. Rosie*

                Don’t take yourself at your employer’s low valuation, is what I’m saying. That only serves their interests, not yours.

      1. Artemesia*

        This and don’t take a counter even if it is higher than the new job offers. And don’t agree to stay longer to train new people or help them after you leave — they made this bed, let them life in it.

      1. whingedrinking*

        This here’s a story about a letter writer who
        Been at her company about a year or two
        That high turnover rate shoulda been a clue
        And here’s what happened when she decided to cut loose
        Go on, take the offer and run…

    3. Anonys*

      to be honest, if OP is completely, 100% that the current employer would want them to stay and make a counteroffer they can also bluff and just pretend like they have another offer? Might be the fastest way to get more money

      1. PJ*

        And then take another job anyway when the right one comes along. Because they don’t value you. You need to do that for yourself.

    4. kiki*

      Yes! Unless there’s something incredibly compelling keeping you there, organizations like this do not just suddenly start listening to reason and start paying folks appropriately. They will continue to suck you dry until you’re out the door.

    5. TeapotNinja*

      This calls for getting another offer, finagling a counteroffer based on it and then telling the owner to shove it.

  3. Sloanicota*

    Wow: “But with a greater appreciation than I used to have for how much capitalism screws over most workers and how much you’re on your own within that system, I’m less inclined to tell you that you shouldn’t play the game in a way that benefits you. ” – this is fascinating to me on the most pro-work site I follow. I wonder if anything has truly changed since our parent’s generation (considering that many people, particularly marginalized people, were presumably *always* mistreated and taken advantage of) or if it’s more of a personal evolution of thought.

    1. The Original K.*

      I’ve been reading AAM for at least ten years (Alison answered a question of mine in 2012) and I’ve definitely noticed Alison getting more “stick it to The Man” in her responses, particularly since 2020.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I agree, which is fascinating since Alison is a freelancer (as am I). I guess if you get all these letters all day every day from people being taken advantage of, your attitude starts to change. It’s like Dear Prudence jumping straight to “break up with that jerk” every time.

        1. Stay-at-Homesteader*

          Ironically, Alison has also talked about how she’s a lot slower to tell people to quit than she used to be, because she has a better understanding of how that’s so often a “good” answer but not necessarily a workable one.

      2. Weary cigarette drag*

        AAM posted somewhere that she used to be part of and benefitted from the system in a lot of ways, and she’s slowly come to realize that’s not how it is for everyone.

      3. MissElizaTudor*

        I appreciate that she’s been willing to update her understanding rather than doubling down. There’s times I read old responses on this website and am like “whew, she’d give a different answer now!”

        I see it in the comments, too. The overall tone has shifted in a lot of ways, and there’s more frequent one-off anti-capitalist and extremely pro-worker and anti-employer comments, even if that’s not the consensus.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Agreed. The mindset of the workforce is shifting, and while there’s obviously bias and skew in the people who will come to a workplace advice site and actively engage, it shows a real evolution of general thought.

        2. Filosofickle*

          This week I read an old one about someone “storming off” and leaving work for being paid wrong multiple times (presumably less)…and the writer got busted down by AAM and the commenters for being unreasonable. I was thinking that the responses would be different now. Obviously, being visibly angry and walking out is not a good solution, but no one, including Alison, acknowledged that paychecks are pretty big f-ing deal and many people would be quite upset at that!

          1. Justin*

            Now we get letters from the employers screwing up payroll and acting like it isn’t a big deal amd getting dressed down!

    2. sam_i_am*

      I think it’s a mix. Capitalism has been getting worse for even the privileged (excluding the VERY socioeconomically privileged), I think. It’s also more visible to those who weren’t able to see it before. Plus, Allison has probably grown, as I hope we all have!

      1. Sloanicota*

        I think this may be part of it. Even people who feel they have done everything “right” are finding fewer and fewer places to run, perhaps … then again, I am sure ad men in the 60s, say, were also overworked and pressured in lots of inappropriate ways too. The boomers and silent generation had some pretty grim and unrelenting approaches to work even in cushy white collar fields, right? I suppose one difference is they presumably had homemaker wives at home taking care of everything else.

        1. Siege*

          When you look at how much lower the quality of life is for (American for sure, other countries with different markers) people who did “everything right” – I’m specifically identifying that group because they’re the group that least benefits from structural change, not saying that there’s only one way to do things and everyone has equal access to it – it’s incredibly obvious that capitalism is worse. It’s worse in my lifetime. It’s worse in the last five years!

          You pay more and get less for health insurance and health care. You are very likely priced out of the housing market in every major city in the country because capitalism means selling housing stock to corporations to keep us all renters. You have a higher default cost of living because I dare you to function in America without access to a mobile, probably smart, phone. You’ve been convinced that paying less for worse-quality goods is reasonable because six crap wal-mart shirts are numerically more than one non-crap shirt. And the non-crap shirts are getting harder to find. You don’t have the right to repair half the durable goods you own, and if you did want to, good luck finding someone who can fix it because disposable culture is more important. Getting an education (let alone a good one) is more expensive and less a guarantee of success on the other side, but choosing an affordable education path means you’ll be fighting an uphill battle for a while, assuming it was a good one because we’ve adjunctified higher ed and there’s no guarantee of quality in your instructors. I can go on.

          Capitalism has gone from tolerable and even fine in my lifetime to just blatantly figuring out how to separate you from your labor, either in the form of your labor or in the form of your money. And there’s no reward for playing the game anymore.

          1. Student*

            I think you’re right in your observations and wrong on the diagnosis. “Capitalism is to blame!” is the refrain of the day, but it’s not necessarily correct. As you yourself said, it was pretty OK just a few years ago.

            I think the problems are, in no particular order, a rise in monopolies (which are anti-capitalist), a rise in white-collar, business-level lawbreaking brought on by loosening regulations and reduced enforcement (cuts to our gov enforcement of a fair playing field for capitalism), increased rent-seeking laws (barriers to keep capitalism out of marketplaces with good lobbyists – health care industry is a major player here), and sometimes applying capitalism to places it doesn’t ever belong – principally health care (it’s obvious many people will pay all their money to not die; the capitalist system does not fit the problem well at all).

            1. Siege*

              I don’t think large companies agree with you about what is and is not capitalist. They would all be monopolies if they could since the goal of capitalism currently is to get all your money, not to get all your money by giving you good service and informed choice-making. But of course we can discuss whether Amazon and Wal-Mart like competition, or if they ruthlessly flatten it by any means necessary.

              I don’t think the increase in unethical behavior is somehow magically anti-capitalist either. I think unethical behavior is highly lucrative. If it weren’t, Nissan wouldn’t be fighting a recall that directly impacts me because they built cars with bad transmissions: ethically they would replace the transmissions.

              You’ve confused late-stage capitalism with regular capitalism. And we’re in late-stage, and most of us are suffering for it.

              1. Twix*

                Yeah, the key point here is that capitalism is a system that by its very nature puts the most power and resources into the people most willing to subvert it. If you want to argue that the billionaire corporate raider who hires legions of lobbyists to build a gameable system isn’t a capitalist in a classical sense I’d 100% agree, but him being in the position to do that is 100% a consequence of capitalism.

                I’d also argue that things really weren’t “pretty okay” just a few years ago. Things have continued to decline, but a huge amount of the change in public perception has been driven the explosion of mass and social media and the fact that there’s way more and way more immediate visibility into the struggles of the lower class and other historically disenfranchised groups. The middle class has continued to feel the squeeze of stagnating wages and underinvestment in infrastructure and social programs, but COVID and its impact on inflation notwithstanding, this is just the continuation of a long-standing trend for everyone else.

            2. Twix*

              This is a common argument I see that I think falls somewhere between academic and semantic. Monopolies are not anti-capitalist, they’re a fundamental form of market failure under capitalism. The argument for capitalism is always that the invisible hand of supply and demand will cause markets to self-regulate, but outside of idealized models where there is zero market friction, that doesn’t guarantee markets will never fail. When they do, what you get doesn’t stop being a capitalist system any more than saying “Burnt food is anti-cooking”. No, burnt food is the result of cooking and it not going well.

              You could make a much more reasonable case for rampant corruption not being a part of capitalism; it’s certainly not an explicit one. But unfortunately capitalism is a system that inherently rewards unethical behavior. In an idealized model, the argument is “Consumers will choose not to patronize a business they know operates unethically and will buy that product elsewhere”, but in the real world where we’re not assuming an infinite number of fungible suppliers of products, studies have shown that in most cases ethics has an almost negligible impact on consumer decisions compared to things like price and convenience and that it is exponentially less meaningful as economic scale increases. Attempts by capitalists to turn their economic power into political power in order to subvert the system to serve their economic interests are essentially part and parcel to capitalism on just about any scale. The United States has done a particularly bad job of pushing back against that, but it’s important to recognize that what we’ve failed to do is keep capitalism from corrupting our system, not keep our system from corrupting capitalism.

              You may have concluded by this point that I’m an anti-capitalist, but I’m not. Capitalism is an incredibly powerful tool for turning one of the worst aspects of humanity – greed – into something productive and potentially beneficial. My problem is that a lot of the western world and the United States in particular has become so invested in it as an ideological issue that a lot of important discussions hit this exact roadblock of “Well yeah, there’s a problem, but it’s not capitalism. It’s .” For example yes, you could argue that many rental laws are inherently anticompetitive and we need better protections against anticompetitive legislation pushed by special interests. But the reason we need that is because under a capitalist system, the capitalist class will inevitably attempt to abuse legislation in that manner unless they’re not allowed to.

              1. LyraB*

                This is such a fantastic articulation of the problem – thank you! I am saving it for future reference

              2. Nomic*

                What do you mean the US has particularly bad in allowing capitalists to turn their economic power into political power in order to subvert the system to serve their economic interests.

                What? What’s that you say? Corporations are people, too?


              3. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

                Thanks SO MUCH for this!

                Economics has never been my strong suit, and I’m always looking to fill in some of the holes in my knowledge base. This is very helpful!

            3. Here for the Insurance*

              Except it wasn’t pretty OK a few years ago. It’s a rigged system that has always given rewards to the select few and exploited the hell out of everyone else.

            4. mreasy*

              This is the inevitable outcome of the capitalist system, though. It just wasn’t as bad for most people before we progressed to this stage.

        2. Warrior Princess Xena*

          I suspect a lot of our current unhappiness is due to a lack of other worldwide miseries to compare to. The boomers grew up in the shadow of the Great Depression & WWII, with parents who lived through it and grandparents who may have lived through WWI as well. I’ve noticed that my grandparents (who emigrated through WWII Germany) are significantly more tolerant of a whole heck of a lot of things, because they have extra terrible experiences to compare to.

          And to be perfectly clear – I’m not trying to discount the problems we’re facing now. There are many, many things in the workplace that could be better if just a tiny amount of effort was made, and it’s stupid that those problems still exist. Trying to play ‘who had it worse’ is a lose lose game. But I think there is some society-wide recalibration of the scale of some of the worst tragedies of humankind slip out of our collective consciousnesses.

          1. WS*

            But also, the wealth gap has become considerably larger since the 1970s – the middle class is becoming unstable in a way that it hasn’t been since the Great Depression. And that constant precariousness has an effect, too.

    3. As Per Elaine*

      I think that the way mainstream office workers relate to their employer has changed. My mom stayed at the first job she got out of college for… twenty years? My longest tenure was six and a half, and arguably I should’ve left sooner.

      I’m thirty-five and have been through four rounds of layoffs in my working career. I have multiple friends (good workers! valuable employees!) who are about my age or younger, and have been laid off more than once.

      My (decently well-paying) job doesn’t support me in a manner to be hitting “life achievement” milestones at the same rate my parents did. Many of my friends still have student debt. My generation can’t have the same relationship to work, or the same kind of company loyalty, that many of our parents did.

      I think the shift is not so much that some people are mistreated and taken advantage of (because you’re right, plenty of people used to be, too), but that it’s not possible to rely on an employer in the same way many people could thirty or forty years ago — so most of us don’t.

      1. Sloanicota*

        This is definitely how it *feels* (to me too) – I’m just not sure if it’s statistically true? Part of it is that so many of us now have the *expectation* of a nice cushy white collar office life … many of us would have been maids or farm laborers or wives/mothers, right? Now every single person who went to college is expecting what may have been a top-ten-percent lifestyle, understandably, since this is what they went to school for. Or maybe not. We’ve got college debt and health insurance burdens that didn’t exist before.

        1. DyneinWalking*

          Now every single person who went to college is expecting what may have been a top-ten-percent lifestyle, understandably, since this is what they went to school for.

          Nope. Wages haven’t kept up with the inflation and the divide between the poor and the rich has markedly increased. Housing prices are way up.

          Me and my boyfriend are privileged enough to own or house, a larger-than average but decidedly middle-class home, in a middle-class neighborhood. We lead a middle-class lifestyle; setting aside a retirement fund and a monetary cushion for unexpected repairs and such, we have enough left over for a moderate but comfortable life style. We both grew up middle-class and we still feel middle-class all over.

          We aren’t. Each of our incomes alone puts us in the top single-percentage of our country. Even mine – and there’s no way I could afford any of this by myself!
          The problem is not that everyone expects to have a top-percent lifestyle – the problem is that people need a top-percent income (preferably two of those) for middle-class goals such as being able to raise kids in your self-owned home (be that house or apartment) and going on a nice vacation once in a while and having savings and building a retirement fund. Our parents and grandparents could do all that on one medium income. These days, those achievements are freaking luxuries.

          1. As Per Elaine*

            Very much this.

            My grandfather paid for his college education with a summer job. My mother paid for her college education by working summers and during the year. It wasn’t until five or six years after I graduated that my annual salary was equivalent to the tuition+room+board cost of one year of my college.

            (To be clear, I didn’t shoulder all that myself… but no one even suggested I should pay for college by working during. My earning capacity was total chump change compared to that bill.)

            1. merida*

              Yes, this! I’m a millennial, and my *dad* paid for his college working a minimum wage summer job. It’s alarming how quickly things have changed. My dad was pretty out touch with that reality, and all through school he asked me while I didn’t just save my summer paychecks and pay for school like he did? It took YEARS (long after I graduated) for him to realize that I was telling the truth that I *was* saving as much as I could and paying tuition (and eating the ‘ole college diet of Aldi-brand easy mac and rice) … and my cash tuition payments each year averaged around 10-15% of my tuition total.

              I’m not sure if this is still true, but back in 2015 I heard a stat that said that between 2015-2030, the average tuition cost at public 4 year colleges was projected to double (if the tuition inflation continued at the rate it had been). I really hope that has changed now, but I doubt it. It’s nuts.

              But nah, I guess the real problem is avocado toast and quiet quitting…

          2. Mark The Herald*

            Amen. You get a lot of people harping on how the kids are spoiled because they have smart phones, or saying poor people aren’t poor because they can refrigerate their food… but it’s the economic security stuff, not the stuff-stuff, that got stripped away from the working and middle class. The ability to have some wealth and stability and even some leisure is what we lost.

            No, Uncle Gus, you didn’t have a mobile phone. But you did drop out of high-school but still earn enough to buy the home where Aunt Sonia stayed home raising your three kids. You went up to the lake for a couple of weeks every summer. And you retired at 65 with savings, social security, AND a pension.

            If anyone asks, yeah, I’ll gladly turn in my cell phone for that.

          3. Bumblebee*

            My husband and I have a very similar situation – really, it’s like your in my head – and we talk about this all the time. We are simultaneously so lucky and privileged and it’s incredible that the people who built our neighborhood were actual middle-class people on one income.

        2. Student*

          Pensions, the statistic you are looking for is pensions. Lifetime payments based on how long you’ve worked somewhere, to provide for a future retirement. I’m mid-30s and have held one job in my career that offered a pension. I had to look up what that meant. For my parents and grandparents, pensions were a normal thing. Now we use 401(k) programs instead.

      2. Anon for this*

        This. My current salary is sufficient to put me solidly in the middle class income bracket for my area, but it’s a pittance compared to what I could be making anywhere else. Under the old head of HR here, I would’ve been forced to leave to seek a higher salary. I’m only sticking around because I like my coworkers, and the old head of HR was recently given the boot. It’s possible the new head of HR will fix things once they’ve worked through the backlog of all the other terrible processes the old head introduced and gotten rid of the people who weren’t very good at their jobs but were good at flattering the old head of HR.

      3. Not teenage but still ninja turtle*

        Very well said. Devotion to one employer gets you, on average, a salary that barely keeps up with inflation, with maybe one or two four-digit jumps. Plus I think a growing number of us have been laid off more than once (I’m also 35 and have been laid off twice, with a third that I narrowly avoided by jumping ship first). You cannot be loyal to a company, because as we have learned the hard way, they will not be loyal to you.

        1. The Original K.*

          Yep, two layoffs for me too. And I once replied to someone who asked about company loyalty (like “how come nobody’s loyal anymore?”) that loyalty has gone the way of pensions. It was a mic drop moment.

          1. CommanderBanana*

            My current boss was loyal to his previous org for almost 40 years. Got laid off during COVID (and not a nice, cushy, offer-you-can’t-refuse-layoff, just laid off).

            Company loyalty to employees is extinct.

            1. The Original K.*

              Yeah, my friend’s mom worked at a place for 30 years and was laid off in her early 60s, and it was a similar “email no longer works, packed her stuff in a banker’s box and then escorted her out” situation. It forced her into retirement because no one would hire a 62-year-old.

        2. Brooklyn*

          Software engineer here. Watching my industry go through massive layoffs not because the company is losing money, but because the only way they could figure out to get their 10% growth this year was to cut costs. Watching friends who uprooted their lives, moved across the country, and try to form a new life get thrown on the street because a alt-right billionaire decided to throw a temper tantrum. Seeing anyone attempting to organize get pushed out immediately. And I’m in possibly the most privileged job market imaginable.

          Watching Alison get class-conscious is the result of what happens when you’re plugged in to the working world of the 2020s. No one likes changing jobs. People do it because it’s the only leverage we have in the workplace, and employers use that to their advantage more and more often.

      4. Smithy*

        Very well said.

        For the most part, both of my parents spent their entire professional lives working for the same employer in the same city. My father submitted his retirement papers the week he entered hospice care in his 70’s. This isn’t to say my parents working life has never involved maltreatment or being taken advantage of – but their careers allowed them to buy a home, cars, take vacations, etc. Not all bosses were great, but overall, they believed things would work out.

        The longest I’ve been at any job was 3.5 years and all significant raises I’ve had came when I got news jobs. Which is why I sought them. I will say, I have one friend who’s worked for the same company since graduation and her attitude to work is far closer to my parents. She does believe the company will take care of her and thus that she owes “loyalty”. She’s also received regular raises and promotions, had leadership champion her growth, all sorts of things that make this type of relationship make complete sense.

        I’m at a point in my career where I know that full onboarding at a new job takes 12 months, and the first 6 can be an erratic experience of having too much to do and then not enough or tasks that suddenly make no sense. So the idea of getting to two years and thinking – shoot – I’m gonna make a move to get the biggest raise I can, so I can justify another 2 years before leaving. I get it.

    4. Warrant Officer Georgiana Breakspear-Goldfinch*

      I have definitely noticed that Alison’s perspective on unionizing and organized labor has shifted over the past ten years.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I wish unions felt like a real answer to me. We’ve seen so much difficulty getting even coffee shops and warehouse jobs unionized, with brutal backlash from the powerful – and there’s a lot of free-forming anti-union sentiment within my generation (millennials) – I struggle to see them taking off in white-collar fields. I know there’s a publisher’s union strike right now ($35K salary for jobs that require you to live in NYC). Good luck guys.

        1. Qwerty*

          Maybe this would be a good discussion for a Friday thread (to avoid derailing here). I’ve only heard good union experiences on this blog – the ones I’ve seen had a lot of power so it was basically two powerful orgs arguing and employees getting screwed by both parties. It would be interesting to know how they function in various countries.

        2. Siege*

          It’s worth considering that you’re seeing a specific piece of the narrative. Starbucks and Amazon and WarriorMet are outliers, and the PRO Act would be a help, as would funding the NLRB fully. But there are a LOT of successful Unionizing activities. My tiny union has, THIS YEAR, unionized four new locals, including two in industries that have literally never been unionized before, and we’re working on three more new locals. I really recommend talking to your county or state labor council before preemptively giving up, and bear in mind that consolidation of media into conglomerates means anti-union ownership who want a narrative pushed.

        3. Three Cats in a Trenchcoat*

          I think it depends entirely on the field – for example, nurses unions are very strong in the healthcare field, and there is definitely an increasing number of physicians unions. I know that a lot of people picture unions as a purely “blue collar” phenomena, and were quite surprised to learn that I was part of a residents’ union during residency, at a hospital where there were also strong physician unions.

        4. Boof*

          I think unions are just another organization, so they can be helpful or they can be hurtful depending on how they are executed, who runs them, and how much choice people have on whether to participate – my sense is the mandatory unions are the ones that can get bloated to the point of collapsing the industry and/or protecting some people who are really behaving badly in ways that is hurtful to other workers etc

    5. FrivYeti*

      This is probably too philosophical for this site, but I think it’s a mixture of four things, each of which contributes to varying degrees.

      The first is that capitalism is predicated on endless growth, and we’re in a period in which endless growth is no longer possible. As a result, corporations are increasingly trying to reduce costs and benefits because they *need* their profits to be higher each year than the year before, or they’ll be carved into pieces by vulture capitalists.

      This feeds into the second point, which is that traditionally the ‘First World’ has managed to maintain wealth for the ultra-wealthy and also provide benefits to the middle class by taking huge amounts from poorer countries. As those countries industrialize, this is slowly getting harder to do, and more costs are being lumped onto the poor and middle classes here.

      The third point is that cost of production is going up due to climate change messing up supply chains, food supplies, infrastructure, and just about every other aspect of life. As life gets more expensive, the costs have to come from somewhere, and the ultra-rich are determined to have that somewhere not be them.

      And the fourth point is that the last fifty years have undone a lot of the regulations and protections put in place in the hundred years before that, eroding labour protections and social security nets that were set up for a reason. This is particularly true in the USA, but it’s echoed elsewhere. You’ll notice that a lot of European countries don’t have the same degree of labour problems we see in the US, Canada, or UK.

      1. Worldwalker*

        Regarding “endless growth”:

        The US had, prior to the 20th century, a frontier to expand into and/or new states to develop. There were a few industrialized countries, and a whole lot who were supplying cheap raw materials and markets for finished goods. Then came WW2, and the resulting devastation of most of those industrialized countries’ infrastructure. Massive bombing campaigns by all participants will do that! So during the later 1940s and 1950s, the US had the advantage of essentially the only intact industrial economy, at maximum production levels after the changeover from war production, and a huge market from teh rest of the world rebuilding after the devastation of a global war.

        That’s gone and it isn’t coming back.

        The rest of the world doesn’t need most of the things we can build — they can build their own now, or buy them from our many competitors. And they’re not going to sell us raw materials dirt-cheap — they can use them themselves, or sell them to many other buyers. The world is a different place, just as it was in, say, 1066. The dynamics are different. Barring another global war — which won’t leave us untouched with our ocean moats, not in the age of ICBMs — it’s staying that way, or changing differently.

        So the policies that some are proposing — mostly involving further weakening the power of workers, destroying unions, doing everything they can to cut wages (I’ve even seen proposals to reduce or eliminate Social Security to force retired people back into the workforce to depress wages), keeping health insurance dependent on a specific job and that employer’s whim, and so on (I’ve seen a billionaire saying that workers are going to have to learn to accept third-world wages … somehow, while paying first-world expenses) aren’t going to make it come back, no matter what politicians promise.

        Interestingly, in the post-WW2 boom years, unions were strong, the marginal income tax rate on the rich was high, income disparity in companies was a fraction of what it is today, and per-worker productivity, due to less automation, was considerably lower. Also, political candidates were selected in smoke-filled rooms to be electable in the general election, instead of chosen by extremists in primaries where, in the general election, most people only vote for them because the other party’s extremist-chosen candidate seems even worse. (To US readers: VOTE IN YOUR PRIMARY!)

      2. Amy Farrah Fowler*

        The spirit of your comment reminds me of when I read the Communist Manifesto in college. My (personal) take-away was that the US would never have a communist revolution because we had outsourced most of the “proletariat” to countries that were less developed/industrialized. The proletariat can’t overthrow the government of another country. Not sure if that makes sense or not, but I double-majored in political science and philosophy, so your comment and thoughts brought me back.

        1. Boof*

          I don’t think marxist communism / aka the proletariat will overthrow and seize the means of production has proven to be a very palatable form of government except for [again] those privileged few who manage to rise to power. It just ends up being another repressive totalitarian system as far as I can tell.

    6. Parakeet*

      For various reasons, some of which are being discussed by others, the Overton Window (an overused concept, but relevant here) in the US regarding capitalism and its downsides has shifted a LOT over the last several years. I’ve been a leftist (as opposed to liberal) activist for about 11 years and I’ve seen the shift (and my own views have shifted since then as well; it’s not as though all leftists agree on everything and you stop changing your mind once you become one). Even the US left itself has shifted in a lot of ways.

      The late-’00s Great Recession/Occupy and resulting influx of people into economic justice movements, the Fight for $15 campaign, high-profile educators’ strikes, the Ferguson and subsequent protests and the way they affected a lot of people’s views about race and institutions, high-profile electoral campaigns by people openly identifying as socialists, and the pandemic – and a lot more; this is by no means meant to be a comprehensive list – have all played roles in shifting it IMO.

    7. Tom*

      The other thing is that there isn’t any other system to compare it to. When it comes to making worker’s lives miserable, most of the things people cite are not unique to capitalism, but are the result of working within a bureaucracy. Forex, you want a great example of toxic positivity in the workplace, go look up the tale of Grigory Stakhanov.
      However, because pretty much everywhere is capitalist now, we have less opportunity to see that it doesn’t matter if the company is owned privately or by the government–management’s incentives don’t really change. Except that in the latter, there’s less incentive to get rid of bad managers.

      1. Boof*

        Thank you! My hackles rise when I see people railing against “capitalism” in general because as far as I know capitalism is just allowing private ownership of property; what else is there? Feudalism? Totalitarianism? I suppose it all comes down to definitions but I usually think “capitalism” still allows for regulation, social welfare policies, etc. We can decide we want to allow capitalism + a guaranteed minimum standard of living; though of course how to actually provide that is easily a source of endless debate and will depend a lot on resources, priorities, etc.

  4. NewJobNewGal*

    What happens if the current company doesn’t counter offer? Would the OP begrudgingly go to another job they had no intention of doing? This sounds like a bad idea.
    Start a real job search and find a company that pays well and treats you better.

  5. RJ*

    There’s all kinds of toxic, OP, and you’ve just hit on one type. Run. Don’t fight for a counteroffer. Search for a new job because this owner sucks and isn’t going to change.

  6. Cmdrshpard*

    As Allison said I think the money might only seem to make the conditions tolerable for a little bit longer, but eventually you will hit a breaking point again, you will likely be better off at a new better company.

    At worst if you get an offer at another company that is x+30% (x=current pay), you should not stay if the current company agrees to match it, the only way you should even consider staying is if the current company offers you x+50/60%. If they only match it you already know you could make the same at another company. You already know your current company is not great, so for the same pay I think you are better off going to a new company that could likely be better.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I know you’re correct, but having been where OP is, it’s so hard to have *already* done the work you felt you should have earned the extra money for, and walk away without it.

      1. ecnaseener*

        But they’re not getting back pay for that work. That’s a sunk cost. Like Cmdrshpard said, if it’s MORE money at old toxic job then consider staying, but if it’s the same $X at old toxic job vs new job, it doesn’t make sense to prefer toxic job’s money.

      2. Hannah Lee*

        But as @ecnaseener says, they aren’t getting back pay for that work.

        So there’s no upside to staying simply because they did that work for the current employer with no increase in pay or credit for having done it.

        The way to keep all that work from having been a waste is to view it as *experience*:
        – doing XYZ work at a more senior level than they had been, and
        – demonstrating ABC skills and results for a year+ in current position.

        And then take that experience, those enhanced skills and demonstrated results and market them as part of the amazing package that is OP … to OTHER employers who will value them and pay OP what they are actually worth and hopefully not run their shop on a combination of false promises, burnout and employee tears.

        There’s a whole new world out there OP – one without a manipulative boss, eggshell walking and random explosive conflicts. With the added bonuses of likely much higher pay and the prospect of not having to give excessive time or energy to your job so you’ll have more left for stuff in your life that really matters.

      3. Worldwalker*

        But they’re not going to get paid for the work they’ve done, not now, not ever. They might get paid better for the work they do in the future (probably coupled with demands to work even harder because hey, they got a raise) but even that’s not guaranteed.

        So they don’t get paid for what they did whether they stay or go, and at least if they go, they don’t need to take an EpiPen to work because of all the bees.

    2. Wilbur*

      The only problem with this is that they’ll have to do the same thing in a few years if they stay. The boss is quiet firing, they need to quiet quit and focus on a job hunt. Expand out of the industry, I’m sure they have skills that transfer to something else.

  7. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

    If I’m reading this right, that big raise isn’t going to be followed up with anything in future years. You’ll be guilted into doing more and more to “justify” that big raise! Until you crack and quit again. At that point, will they offer another raise? They could offer you the Hope diamond at that point and you’d probably walk. So walk now before you’re hammered to dust.

    1. cottagechick73*

      +1, they are showing you the cycle – under payment, quitting, counteroffer, guilt trip and overworked with no additional raise in sight until you repeat

    2. Lizzo*

      ^^This. OP, it’s great if you can get the raise, but…then what? Money isn’t going to fix the other problems this place has. They’re still going to be demanding more and grinding your soul down to nothing. Preserve yourself and GTFO ASAP.

  8. Lacey*

    OP, if you find another job you will likely get a pay bump AND a better work enviroment.
    And let me tell you, a better work environment is going to make you feel even better than the money.

    1. Middle of HR*

      Please try to leave.
      One note as well: 30% raise when you have another offer in hand and only then is not a merit based raise, that’s a desperate attempt to keep you from leaving. Asking for a raise or promotion because your responsibilities are much higher level than your pay is not a “need based” raise.

  9. Phony Genius*

    What if the offer you get from another company is effectively the same as the massive raise that you seek? Wouldn’t it be easier to just take that job? It’s not like you can repeat this each time you want a raise; you’ll burn too many bridges if you’re in a niche field.

  10. Dust Bunny*

    they only offer raises based on merit

    No, they don’t, or you’d have gotten one by now.

    They really only offer raises based on desperation for you not to leave.

    This place sounds like the monkey house. Start looking. Even if the next job isn’t as almost-perfect it will be worth it if you’re paid better and your boss isn’t a manipulative weirdo.

    1. Weekender*

      Agree. You would have gotten it by now.
      I left this situation earlier this year. I was tired of jumping through hoops for years and getting top-tier reviews only to have the line for promotion moved again. Companies like this will never give you a promotion and the longer you stay the longer they can string you along.
      My old company knew the people that were set in their ways and comfortable in their job and knew they could mistreat them in this way and not have to pay for the work they were doing because they knew these people were not a flight risk.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      They’re jerking you around. Right now they’re getting a ton of extra work out of you and telling you that you haven’t earned that raise yet, which is flash-fried baloney. You’ve earned it, they just have no intention of giving it to you until they have no choice.

    3. Kes*

      Yeah, it’s pretty clear that’s just an excuse/carrot to dangle to compel workers – ‘oh if I just work harder I could get that raise’ is what they want you to think, with the added bonus of blaming you for not getting raises. You’re performing to the point of burning yourself out, and they can’t even give you an answer on what you need to do to improve – how much more evidence do you need to acknowledge what you really already know, that no matter how hard you try, you’re not going to get a raise unless you leave. And you know that even if they do give you the raise, nothing is going to change except the money – all of the problems that are making work miserable and stressing you out will still be there.

      Why not actually look a job somewhere else that will pay and treat you right from the get-go?

      1. Worldwalker*

        “If I was just a better wife, my husband wouldn’t beat me.”

        Also not true.

        Abusers are abusers, whether they’re spouses or bosses. Nothing you do will change their abuse, because it’s not about you at all. It’s about them. The only thing you can do is get out.

    4. ferrina*


      This is why you “need to take initiative” while you are also great at taking initiative. This is gaslighting in a business setting. Run.

    5. Observer*

      They really only offer raises based on desperation for you not to leave.


      They don’t offer merit raises. So, stop going so far above and beyond.

  11. Radish Queen*

    Apply for other jobs and stop going above and beyond! They clearly don’t value your extra work. Don’t stay late. Don’t work unpaid overtime. A COL increase is the bare minimum!! This isn’t “quiet quitting” – it’s recognizing that your effort should parallel what they believe you are worth. You’ve been working really hard expecting a big raise. That isn’t happening. It’s time to move on, and use the extra time away from your job to beef up your resume and interview. And please, TAKE A VACATION!!!

    1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      All of this with whipped cream on top. LW has been going the extra mile in order to get paid more. Since that’s not going to happen, she should stop, and work commensurate with her pay. I bet the company has “big plans” for her, big plans to squeeze every bit of effort from her for minimal reward.

      1. Sloanicota*

        My new personal rule is that I will go “above and beyond” for ONE MONTH in the spirit of “doing the job before you get the job” or whatever – but no more. This aligns with Alison’s rule that you should expect to see improvement on a PIP within 30 days, not six months.

        1. Radish Queen*

          Additionally, I think going above and beyond is sometimes expected is Something Bad happens and it’s a short sprint (ex: the ceiling fell down in a section of the manufacturing facility so 50% of machines are down for the next 6 weeks and we need to make it work to meet deadlines), or you’re covering for a coworker who had an unexpected accident while the company hires a temp. I don’t think it should be the default because company communication and management is poor.

          1. Sloanicota*

            Yeah, soooo often it’s “this coworker left and we need you to do two or three times your role while until we replace them” but then that … never quite happens – the position doesn’t get replaced at all, or (as in my case currently) there’s a rotating cast of people who come for a short stay and then leave the role, meaning all the training and then the task itself keeps falling back on you. And it’s unsustainable, but it’s hard to push it back to the higher-ups because they just see that the sky hasn’t fallen yet.

            1. Radish Queen*

              yeah that sucks. When you have poor management, going above and beyond rarely benefits the employee.

    2. Hannah Lee*

      I ran into this at a prior job, when the pay wasn’t keeping up with the work I was doing. And when they finally got around to giving me the “big promotion” which meant lots more responsibility, higher expectations, operating at a whole ‘nother level of skill than my current job (and which I’d been already pretty much doing to prove to them and me I could) they low-balled the raise … paying me multiple tens of thousands less than everyone else at that level.

      That was the end of my hard-worker, prove myself, “good girl” attitude. I figured if they were going to only value my work at 60-70% of what they valued my “peers” – to my face! manager told me about the pay discrepancies in his “Congratulations! You’re getting promoted” meeting, with a really lame non-explanation explanation, there was no way I was going to give them the 100%-120% I had been giving in exchange for that. I still did the job and did it well, but stopped doing long hours, going over an above or asking my team to or stressing out if a project was simply successful instead of Wins-giant-accolades-from-Senior -Management successful (as my prior projects had been)

      I simply gave them what they were paying for.

      And then took my skills, experience and work ethic down the road for better pay and a much better work environment where I’m valued.

  12. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

    LW, the thing is you are going to have to do this every time you want a raise because apparently “merit” is something that isn’t recognized until someone tries to leave. In 2 years do you want to have to go through the hassle of applying for jobs until you get an offer and then having to get another counter offer? Wouldn’t be better to just find a new job where merit increases are the norm?

  13. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    Why would you want to stay here for any amount of pay? Seriously. It sounds horrible. Would being overworked, gaslit, and never taking time off REALLY be worth it for slightly higher pay? Even DOUBLE pay? (Which, of course, this company would never offer you.) I think the f**k not. Get out now while the job market is still somewhat favorable to seekers.

  14. RunShaker*

    Why stay OP? You’ll have to go through all this crap again in couple of years to fight for another raise. Do serious job hunt to find a company that will value your time and skills that will pay you, give you raises and promote you. Reading your letter about your employer made me exhausted.

  15. Enn Pee*

    It’s not a raise – it’s just a small bonus offsetting the savings from not having to train someone else for another year or two!

  16. JN*

    You haven’t taken any vacation in an entire year? So many people fought and fought and FOUGHT for you to have that right, and you’re acting as though it’s nothing, almost an inconvenience. No, it’s not. It’s a fundamental right of any worker and you are a fool for ignoring it.

    Take. Some. Freaking. Time. Off. You earned it.

    1. jane's nemesis*

      While I agree with you that LW needs to take time off, I completely disagree that they’re acting as thought vacation time is an “nothing, almost an inconvenience.” Where do you see that in the letter? All I see is the LW saying “I haven’t taken any time off for vacation all year,” there’s no opinions in that statement.

    2. LizB*

      I think you’re trying to give the LW some tough love, which I get, but calling them a fool is over the line.

  17. Safely Retired*

    My thoughts are simple. First, quit and then take whatever they offer you. Second, after that stop taking their crap. Call them out on it. If (when) they don’t straighten up, leave anyway.

  18. BRR*

    Don’t put this much effort into getting a counter offer. This is definitely about more than just money. As much as you say you can be bought, I have a hunch that you would still hate this job if you were earing 20-30% more and would still want out. But I do think you can press the owner more about getting a raise. Prepare and practice some responses for when he hems and haws.

    And if you do want a counter offer (or want to at least consider a counter offer), I think it’s more ethical to ask for time to think about the new offer and then take it to your current boss versus accepting the offer and then deciding you’ll take a counter offer.

  19. Gigi*

    A psychiatrist at my organization (that’s right, I work for people that need to employ psychiatrists for the organization, so go ahead and feel better about your own situation) called this “death by 1,000 papercuts” and I’ve used that ever since. It’s the little irritations and conflicts that you could tolerate or dismiss on their own or in onesies or twosies, but over time morph together into a giant stress monster that oppresses you.

    OP, please don’t bleed to death from papercuts. Don’t sell yourself short or think that you’re unnecessarily whining about constant skin irritations to the soul. I don’t know you, but I’m confident you deserve better.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I use that phrase a lot. Leadership sometimes takes a victory that there are no “big” issues and ignore how the small and medium sized issues add up.

    2. cncx*

      This is exactly what was going on at the job I just quit. There were a thousand little annoying things that were ok and tolerable by themselves, but literally everything was annoyingly oppressive. The last straw was when my boss scolded me for something that was his decision which again, wouldn’t have been a quitting on the spot dealbreaker in a job that didn’t have all these bees. Had to hit the bricks and, I hope op does too.

  20. Higher Ed*

    I get the feeling that if you get that raise, they’re going to pile on more work, to “justify” your higher pay. This is not a healthy environment.

  21. I should really pick a name*

    Don’t just quit after you get any random job offer. What if they don’t make you a counter-offer?

    Also, if you stay, how far will this pay bump take you? How many years until you have to threaten to quite again?

  22. Sunshine*

    If you’re looking for another side job, I’m guessing this job doesn’t pay enough to cover your expenses. So when you talk about a big raise, are you talking about a raise from “not enough money” to “adequate money”? If you have to go above and beyond just to get paid enough to live on, a “big raise” is not as much of an incentive as it sounds like. I hope you do look for another job, for real, and I hope you find one where you get adequate pay for adequate work, or really good pay for really good work.

  23. MCMonkeyBean*

    Alison has it covered but OP there is one thing in your letter I want to note!

    “Unfortunately, I can’t ask for a raise outright. The owner has emphasized many times before that they only offer raises based on merit, not need.”

    Only offering raises for merit and not need is actually the one normal thing about your company, BUT that does not at all mean you can’t ask for a raise outright! People ask for merit raises all the time! I’m not saying it would work here, I just want to note for the future that it is definitely a normal thing for an employee to make a case for a merit raise.

    I’m also not sure how you are viewing “need” though. Like, “I need a raise because my car broke down” is not going to be a winning argument most places. But “I need a raise because my workload and responsibilities have increased significantly and I would need to be earning more money than I currently am for this job to be worth my time/energy/stress” is a totally valid reason to ask for a raise.

    1. Purely Allegorical*

      Really good catch. OP absolutely CAN ask for a merit raise outright, citing all the work they have absorbed and the quality to which they are doing it. And can heavily imply that if a raise is not possible, that they will have to scale back/drop much of the work they had previously absorbed. Could even heavily imply that if a raise is not possible, you’ll have to ‘weigh your options and the current job market so that I can continue to pay my bills’ or something equally implicit that you will leave. That could scare them into a little more action.

      But again, as everyone else is saying: just turn that fake job hunt into a real job hunt and leave.

    2. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      Yes! I have asked for, and received, merit raises. This idea that you must silently toil until your worth is recognized must go. Asking does not erase the merit.

  24. Pocket Mouse*

    Small, but important: the time to bring this to your current employer for a counteroffer is not after accepting a new job, it’s after receiving an offer and *before* getting back to them with your decision. Accepting an offer and then reneging for a counteroffer will burn bridges unnecessarily, and bridges you really want to keep intact.

    That said, my actual advice is the same as Alison’s: don’t bother with the counteroffer, just accept a new job elsewhere!

    1. Observer*

      The OP seems to see merit as doing an excellent job above and beyond the actual job description while the boss sees it as “Oh, someone else wants to hire them”.

  25. Bird Lady*

    I agree with Alison – just leave.

    A few months ago, I was looking for another job and thought that if I had an offer, I could try to use it as leverage to make things better for myself at my current employer. I didn’t even want a pay raise! I just wanted my job right-sized and to hire the staff that had been constantly promised to me. What I found in interviewing with several places with more than a few offers was that I didn’t really want to stay in a toxic and harmful environment. I was tired of vomiting from stress on the way to work. I didn’t want to deal with doing four full time jobs. I didn’t want to do two full time jobs! I wanted to be able to take a week off from work. I didn’t think that was unreasonable considering I typically worked 50+ hours a week. I did what Alison is proposing – just leave. You’ll be happier.

  26. Azars*

    You should bail, that sounds like a terrible workplace. “Only giving raises based on merit, not need” is comical stuff. What would demonstrate merit more than desperately needing a worker to stay to have the organization function?

    As usual, management is full of it. They want to drain their workers for everything they’ve got and then discard them. It’s exploitative and ultimately short-sided. Take a better job, you deserve to be treated better.

  27. Unkempt Flatware*

    Can you leave and start your own competing business? It kinda sounds like you may have a super duper opportunity to do so successfully unless you signed some non-compete thing.

  28. Dinwar*

    “It’s hard to summarize since it’s a bunch of tiny miscommunications and friction in otherwise perfectly normal work days.”

    It may be worth recording these for a week. Take a notebook and jot down all of them. This sentence sounds a lot like justification to me–it has very strong “He only beats me when I deserve it” vibes. This is how abusive people work: they distort your perceptions of what’s normal, until things that are egregiously wrong seem perfectly fine to you. Note that you say you’re disappointed–IN YOURSELF, for reaching this point.

    “The problem I am having now is that the company also has a history of offering massive 20-30% raises, but only to employees who are already out the door.”

    Of course they do. It’s called love-bombing. When someone is about to take decisive action the abuser will act contrite and make grand gestures. It’s not real, though. It’s merely a way to maintain control over you and continue the cycle of abuse. Note when they make these grand gestures: when they are on the verge of losing control, and only as a way to maintain control. As long as they have control over you they don’t need to take any action.

    “When I sat down for my two-year review, my boss praised all these things about my work ethic and dedication, describing me as an essential part of the team and someone they have “big plans for”…”

    Of course they do. It’s called gaslighting. It’s all vague, in the future–and just enough to keep you second-guessing your decision to leave. If they actually provide this they won’t have the carrot to dangle in front of you anymore, so these “big plans” will never materialize. They don’t have “big plans”. What they have is a method to make you doubt your own reasoning.

    That’s the important part to them: Making you doubt your own reasoning. Then they exploit that doubt to continue abusing you.

    “Is this situation I am in more normal than I thought? Am I missing something obvious?”

    No, these are not normal behaviors. They are only normal in the context of an abusive relationship. What you are missing is that these are clearly abusive behaviors. If this were a romantic relationship it would be classic, textbook psychological abuse.

    “…would it be wrong to accept another random job just to hear what my current company would counteroffer?”

    Even if you weren’t being psychologically abused–AND YOU ABSOLUTELY ARE–it would be perfectly fine. In a free market (and to be clear, I strongly disagree with the notion that anything your company is doing is inherent to capitalism) you have an absolute right to seek the best value for your product. As an employee your product is your labor. Unless you’ve signed a contract (and I can’t imagine a company like yours putting anything in writing) there is nothing–NOTHING–wrong with shopping around.

    In the context you provided, I would say it’s ethically wrong to even consider the counter-offer your company would provide. It’s a form of self-mutilation. To be clear, it’s a totally understandable one–you’re going through trauma, and this is a common trauma response–but I want to emphasize just how messed up this situation is. Your question shouldn’t be “Can I get them to pay me more?” It should be “How can I get out?” It wouldn’t be wrong to ask “How can I make sure this never happens again?”

    1. Zaeobi*

      Yes, the ‘common trauma response’ is like a trauma bond in a relationship – it keeps you unwittingly bound to that job with a level of loyalty they aren’t showing you.

  29. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    Wanted to add to all of the above that a 20-30% raise is only “massive” if the base pay is good. And the fact that OP is looking for side gigs and part-time jobs tells me that it is NOT good. E.g., my first raise at my first software dev job in the US was 20%. Not bad, right? Yeah no, the start pay they gave me was 20K/year (in the late 90s) and the raise brought it up to 24.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I think this is an important thing to consider. I got over a 50% raise last time I switched jobs. It barely put me in the average pay bracket for my job. Context matters.

  30. Bunny Watson*

    I’m reading your question as whether you should get a job offer, ANY job offer, just so that you can use that to leverage a pay increase in the short term. I get why you might try that as an interim solution until you can find a real job that you are truly interested in and would take. My only word of caution is that you need to be prepared that they don’t come back with a counter offer at all and just wish you well. I know you’ve seen others at your org get the big counteroffer, but you really do need to at least be prepared that they won’t. So, I urge you to start job searching so you can get out of this situation, but proceed with a bit of caution in terms what job you use as the way to try to shake the money tree loose.

    1. Worldwalker*

      Frankly, I think any job offer that pays equal to what the LW is getting now would be worth leaving for if they don’t counter-offer — and probably even if they do.

      This workplace is somewhere you need to get out of!!!!

  31. Anon for now*

    The California state government civil service operates with a “we’ll give you a raise to match a competing offer when you’re on your way out the door” approach and its maddening. Like if the strategy is to tell you to go get a job offer, turns out you might actually get a great offer and just go. That’s what I did. That’s what you should so, OP. The only way to win is to opt out of the game.

  32. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

    More money is nice but don’t fall into the trap of thinking it will solve burnout.
    It won’t.

    Once the glow fades you will be where you are now but worse, more burnt out and driving yourself crazy worrying about leaving for a pay cut.

  33. Observer*

    To me it feels scummy to look for other work and accept another job somewhere else, only to potentially turn them down when my current office offers me a big raise to stay with them instead. Obviously, I am looking for another job that I would be happy at and well compensated, but if I can’t, would it be wrong to accept another random job just to hear what my current company would counteroffer?

    I’m going to echo everyone else. You are asking the wrong question. Do not factor a counter offer into your thinking. Because you still won’t get what you are worth, and you are still not going to get respects or any path to growth.

    Even in a softening job market, if you are as good as you say, you should be able to get a good job. If you can’t find a job that’s a REALLY good match for you, but just “OK”, take that, stay for a couple of years then start looking again. You don’t need to find your “forever” job to get out of there.

  34. Sunflower*

    Run. Find another job that respect you. People criticize big companies but at least you know what you’re getting. I don’t get much in yearly raises, but at least I don’t have to play games to get one. I also get to take vacation days and I’m not walking on eggshells.

    Think about it. How long until another raise after this one? Want to bet they’ll hold a raise over your head and wring more work out of you?

  35. anxiousGrad*

    If it takes 6 months to a year to train people and most people stay for only two to three years, how is this company even functional?

    I’m not sure I agree with the idea that it’s ethically ok to apply to a job with absolutely no intention of taking it. Not because I care about the companies, but because it just makes the job search that much harder and longer for other applicants who actually want the job.

    1. Worldwalker*

      The obvious solution in the LW’s case is to apply to a job with the intention of taking it. As Observer said, even if it’s a “meh” job, it’ll pay the bills until you can get a good one, and meanwhile give you time to recover from the burnout.

  36. Kacey*

    Knowing how niche the field is and how much time and effort would go into getting a replacement up to speed, could you just lay it out with your manager? Sample script (don’t beat me up over semantics, I’m not going to spend hours making this perfect for everyone): “Can I level with you on this? You and I both know I’m not getting paid fairly for my work. We both know I show plenty initiative. We both know the company has a history of offering large counters when someone gives notice. And we both know replacing me would put you in a significant bind. Given all that, can you please reconsider a merit increase? I’m telling you right now that this is no longer sustainable for me, so if your answer is no, I will be looking for new jobs. It would be really great if we could skip all the B.S. in the middle and just get straight to reasonable compensation.”

    1. Khatul Madame*

      I disagree. This script is not telling employer anything they don’t know, except “I will look for another job” – never a good idea. This conversation may end in showing LW the door.

  37. Ellis Bell*

    This company definitely likes to keep people busy by constantly raising the bar of the high jump, and OP sounds a little bit like they’re in the thrall of the sunk cost fallacy, and trying to win the unwinnable game. It’s funny how often manipulations work on us when it’s our livelihood. It always reminds me of gambling psychology in companies like this; you always feel on the brink of winning. Just because you’ve spent nearly all evening, and nearly all your pocket money on the arcade game claw machine, and you neeeeaaarly got it that last time.. you don’t have to put everything you have into mastering it! You can just get one for a reasonable cost elsewhere.

  38. Alex*

    I’ve had some (limited) success with doing this. I was in pretty much the same position and I went out and got another offer. I did do as Alison says–I applied to a job I thought I would be willing to take. During the course of interviewing, though, it was clear that that job was a poor move for its own reasons, but I did use it as leverage to get a raise.

    Did it fix all the problems at my current workplace? Of course not. Am I still looking for a better job? Yes. Taking a counteroffer doesn’t mean you have to stay there forever! I would love to move on still but at least I did get my raise.

  39. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    This is a bad work environment, so why stay? OP, they won’t change, so you need to move on. It is clearly in your best interests to get a new job.

    We see this theme over and over – employee in bad work environment/situation stays, sticks it out, and tries to figure out a way to make it work or tolerate it. But why? Why stay in a bad work situation with multiple aggravating factors that are not usually under your control? Some employers/jobs actually seem to create (or at least foster) insecurity, fear and self-doubt in employees. But it is beyond that, right? I think workers in the US have a history of disempowerment. We are supposed to buy in to the idea that employers have all the power in the relationship, and employers control the terms of the employment relationship.

    I am guilty of the same thing. I have always called it inertia, jokingly, and I do find big life change (like changing jobs) to be stressful. Finding a new job always seems like some big barrier- a really difficult thing- but in reality, I have not had trouble finding a new job. Yet I am still resistant to leaving a bad work situation! Maybe we all need a little therapy. LOL.

  40. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

    If this employer has not realized by now that the cost of turnover (when it takes 6 months to a year to fully ramp up a new hire) is substantially greater than raising employees’ salaries, they are never going to!

    OP, get out as soon as you possibly can!

  41. Khatul Madame*

    LW, it’s not clear from your letter whether any company refugees accepted the counter-offers. My guess is most didn’t: leaving for a less toxic environment for higher pay is a win-win proposition. Take their example. Get a new job, leave and don’t look back.

    1. Letter Writer*

      The only coworker who has been on my team longer then me is someone who took the massive counter offer. She is incredibly easy going and unflappable, so the giant pay bump was enough to keep her for at least a few more years. Though, it seems both her and my other coworker who has been here for more then a year might be on their way out the doors in the next month or two too. The office might for the first time only have few month old trainees making up the entire team

      1. Zaeobi*

        All the more reason to actually quit/ seriously consider another job then – in a few months, no one from your team will even be around to vouch for your hard work anymore!

        I can see your higher ups gaslighting you about it if you try to bring it up for a merit based raise in the future (have you questioning whether you really did do that well)!

  42. learnedthehardway*

    I worked for a company that acted like this one – the only people who were promoted were the ones ready to walk out the door. It’s not all that uncommon in small businesses, I think. The problem was that while you could get promoted and a raise by doing this, you were very much left on your own to sink or swim as they didn’t have much professional development or training.

    Everyone was stunned when I turned in my notice and actually LEFT!

    In the end, I noticed that all the people who had taken counter-offers were let go during the next economic downturn. So, not only could you not progress without threatening to quit, but you were seen as disloyal if you did so.

    My advice, OP, is to do a real job search and really leave. Make sure you’re making a move that will progress your career, into a company that is growing and stable, that has a good culture, and that is committed to its employees’ growth and development. Take your time, let up a bit on what you’re doing now so you don’t burn out, and make a move that will set you up for a great future.

  43. ThursdaysGeek*

    Look for another job, and if they offer a massive pay raise then and you want to take it, go ahead. But keep looking! If you do take the counteroffer, don’t stop looking for a new job. You might find an even better one in a few months, and don’t feel guilty for taking the counteroffer and then bailing soon after. At this point, you do need to get out, but if you end up leveraging for more money in the meantime, that’s fine too.

  44. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    Listen to Alison! Get out get out get out! And find someplace where your initiative and drive are rewarded properly.

  45. Zorak*

    That overwork, increased duties, etc IS what merit raises are designed to reward. You’ve discovered that they’re not square dealing with you- no matter how perfect you are when you ask for a merit increase, they will pull some cotton candy out of the air to justify “holding out” on a raise that will never come.

    Don’t think you can work their system to your advantage. The ground will turn to quicksand every time.

  46. Twisted Lion*

    OP, what would you tell a friend who told you this: “I often stay late, and I haven’t taken any time off for vacation all year.”

    You need to leave for your own health.

  47. Zeep Zorp*

    Honestly, I had started applying for jobs to get a counteroffer. I genuinely had liked my old job and team. During the interviewing process, I realized I was being treated poorly and that I didn’t even want the counteroffer anymore – I just wanted the offer!

  48. Anon for this*

    If it hadn’t been for the turnover, you could be describing my BIL’s workplace.

    He’s been there for 30 years and he makes less than he would if he’d been at McDonald’s for that length of time — less than $20 an hour. And this is a highly-skilled (think engineering-adjacent) job. His co-workers are glassbowls; they have destroyed his stuff for “fun” in the past. His boss (the owner) is a jerk and a terrible manager. The workplace as a whole is incredibly toxic, and always has been. But he’s one of those people (the whole family is) who won’t look for another/better job when they already have one, because that’s how he was raised; his father had one job (and it was a good one) from the time he got out of the army after WW2 until he retired, and none of them recognize how the world has changed.

    And he’s in his 60s now, so he can’t jump ship even if he wanted to. Which is just one more reason why, if you’re in a beehive like that, GET OUT WHILE YOU CAN. It isn’t going to get better; it’s only going to get worse.

    1. 40 Years In the Hole*

      Please take care of yourself, and your needs (not just your wants) OP – and update us when you can. And “GlassDoor” their @ss on your way out.

  49. Weary cigarette drag*

    “I know they need me” – No, they don’t, LW. They’re expecting that when you finally get fed up with being exploited, and they’ve wrung every bit of usefulness out of you, you’ll leave and they’ll put a new underpaid, overworked, over-responsible person in your place.

    Please understand that this is the actual business model of companies like yours. They are not stupid. They are not shocked to discovery that, wow, yet another employee has left after two years. They have made a decision that it is more profitable and rewarding to churn and burn, and that the cost of turnover and training new employees is preferable to the cost of giving existing employees reasonable pay and working conditions.

    Please understand, also, that companies like yours deliberately select people like you, who have a strong work ethic and a sense of loyalty and responsibility, because they know they can exploit that. You are assuming that they share your values (responsibility, wanting the business to make the best decisions, loyalty). They do not.

    1. TootsNYC*

      and even if they don’t deliberately select overly loyal people, they end up with them. And they praise loyalty (but not with money) in order to maximize this.
      They may not sit down and consciously say “this is our business model,” but they see the world happen in front of them, and they instinctively pick the pathway that gives them what they want. Over and over. Because it works the way they like it to.

    2. Ragged and Rusty*

      LW, you sound like some of my coworkers at my previous job. Please, I’m begging you, take care of yourself, go on that vacation, get a better job.
      If it’s like my old company, there are plenty of other alternatives that don’t use that business model.

  50. Choggy*

    I haven’t read all the comments but I’m sure others have posted say:

    Stop going above and beyond
    TAKE your vacation time

    Both will provide you the time way to look at the situation clearly and start looking for another job.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I’d probably do this, honestly. It doesn’t feel like there’s much to lose.

      But I say that while acknowledging that burning bridges can come from a place of privilege.

  51. Ragged and Rusty*

    …wow that sounds like somewhere I used to work. Tiny pitiful “cost of living” raises while you bust your hump trying to do miracles for them and then the “We will re-evaluate your pay in X months if you stay” when you have the offer for a substantial raise now…

    Please leave. You deserve better. There are companies that acknowledge your work with money and work life balance.

  52. ABCYaBYE*

    OP – To answer your question bluntly: No, it wouldn’t be unethical. Even if you wouldn’t take the job, there’s no harm in using that as leverage to get the pay increase you deserve.

    That said, I wouldn’t stop looking, even if you accept a counter offer. This workplace is not healthy, even if you’re being paid more. And as others have said, it is very likely that you’re going to find yourself in this same spot in the future, too. They’re not recognizing the work you’re doing and have done with appropriate pay increases. And if you’re getting a significant bump in pay now, it seems as though you’re going to have to do this dance again to get any sort of increase. So while getting the increase now is helpful, for your own health (physical and mental) you need to find somewhere else to work. Somewhere that recognizes your worth, somewhere that recognizes that vacation time is important for you and your productivity, somewhere that doesn’t communicate in the ways this one is communicating. You deserve better!

  53. Nick*

    If the field is in such high demand, and you are as expert as the owner (or near enough since you are a qualified trainer), then why not open your own firm? I realize not everyone wants the stress or responsibility of that, but it seems like this could be a real possibility in this case. Either way, it sounds like you need to get outta there. Good Luck OP!

    1. Letter Writer*

      This is something I actually have considered in the long run! Unfortunately, in the short term, not only have I signed a contract about not sharing or profiting off the company’s trade secrets for at least a year after I no longer work there, the initial investments in supplies and space required is a big steep for my current budget. But maybe in a few years freelancing on the side would be really fun!

  54. southernfried*

    I would give my two week notice and wait tables, drive Uber, and clean houses if I had to. It is so insulting to be treated like this. I hope you leave and find something much better where you are respected and paid for the value you bring.

  55. TotesMaGoats*

    You shouted into the void asking for help. This is the void shouting back at you saying run away. You are already burned out. Skip quiet quitting and just quit. Even better if there is another offer. And when you quit encourage your direct reports to do so as well and give glowing recommendations provided it’s deserved.

  56. Delta Delta*

    Leave, and don’t look back. What really stands out to me is that the training takes 6-12 months. I don’t know the industry here, so it’s hard to know what’s going on with this. But it seems like this company may be so controlling that it unnecessarily makes attaining the ability to do the job very difficult. Then once that’s attained, perhaps the employee feels they need to stay – or the company makes a big deal about how long it takes to train. No idea if this is the case, or if it’s necessary but it feels all like part of the control. Run run run run.

  57. Observer*

    You are assuming that they share your values (responsibility, wanting the business to make the best decisions, loyalty). They do not.

    This is completely true. Which is a good reason to get out of there.

    However, I don’t think that the rest is necessarily true. People can be really stupid about stuff like this. It’s like the saying that “Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome.” It’s a tired old saying because it happens SOOO often. People keep on doing the same stupid thing and just don’t understand why they are not getting better results.

    The main thing for the OP to realize is that IT DOES NOT MATTER. There comes a point where the motivation of the boss is not relevant. It’s the whole “get off my foot” thing, in the reverse. The OP should realize that whatever the reason their boss is mistreating them is, it doesn’t matter. The employer still needs to “get of their foot” and treat them better. And if the boss won’t do that, the OP gets to walk away with a perfectly clear conscience.

  58. Ann Lister’s Wife*

    OP, I’m here to tell you: if you don’t take Alison’s advice to leave, and you somehow get the money you want, you will still be angry and burnt out, just with more money.

    Yes it’s easier to cry in a Mercedes etc etc, but you’ll still hate your job. Don’t do it.

  59. Red Wheelbarrow*

    (I apologize if other people have said this already–I’ve only read partway through the comments.)

    If at all possible, make sure you use your vacation before you give notice!

  60. Live Oak*

    there is a price where I can be bought and convinced to stay.

    Ask for a retention raise, which is different from a counter offer. The idea behind retention is that they would want you not to job search in the first place. If they won’t give it to you, then look for another job and skip trying to get a counter offer.

  61. Parenthesis Dude*

    I’d urge the LW to try and get that 20-30% raise elsewhere. I’d think that if the LW gets an offer equal to any counter offer that they receive that they’d leave. It sounds like the LW is asking if it’s acceptable to take a counter offer if it offers significantly more which is reasonable. After all, the LW doesn’t know for sure that they’ll get a counter or told to get out.

  62. El+l*

    I imagine you’re thinking of this counteroffer strategy as the path of least resistance to get the money you need…and perhaps the recognition you deserve.

    But it isn’t. The easiest way to get both is to get another job where they pay you 20+% more and have a functional culture. (Not to mention far less risky than relying on a counteroffer to bail you out of taking a job you wouldn’t otherwise take) Don’t overthink this.

    They have shown you who they are. Act accordingly. If they truly needed someone like you, they would manage so that they don’t have to spend 12 months training a person only for them to leave 12 months after. Having that happen once is bad luck but they’ve shown that it’s pattern and no functional work culture anywhere does this as standard operating procedure.

    Get out.

  63. Knope Knope Knope*

    You should never make a play for a counteroffer unless you’re willing to walk out the door. So while I agree with Alison that you should leave, don’t accept a random job just to get the counteroffer. It is far too risky. First off, forget what you have seen your company do in the past and look at the present–the economy is terrible. Layoffs abound. You may not get the counteroffer. Also, even in good times, you may not get the counteroffer. I had an employee “quit” to me in an effort to get a counter (with a list of truly delusional demands from my perspective as manager). I told her I couldn’t meet her requests (I really couldn’t) and that I wished her well at the new job. She then tried to walk back the notice and said she never wanted to quit, she just wanted a (raise, a promotion we couldn’t fund, a team to manage that I knew she wasn’t suited for, etc etc etc). It was awkward and ultimately she left. So if you give notice, you better be ready to quit.

  64. PamPoovey*

    Dear OP,

    I was in your position not too long ago… I wrote a letter earlier this year about being overworked, underpaid, and feeling very taken advantage of after giving my all to the company for years, only to have them treat me like garbage when I got covid (on a work trip, no less!). I wasn’t ready to move on yet, and not sure I could even find anything better. Trust me – you can! I was able to find a new job with less work, more perks, and a 50% pay increase… I know it can feel overwhelming to even think about finding a new job when you are in this position, but please do yourself a favor and believe that you deserve better and can do better. These employers have gotten away with this garbage for far too long and they deserve to lose their best people.

  65. HugeTractsofLand*

    OP, this place sounds terrible. They’ve run you into the ground while underpaying you; imagine what they’ll feel entitled to if they give you a pay bump. I can already hear the petty guilt tripping. Get out to somewhere that appreciates you!

  66. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    This is not a realistic idea but in my power fantasy, OP, you will act as unreasonably as your employer and accept an offer with a start date like a month out and also accept a counteroffer. Get at least one pay period in with your counteroffer salary and then never be seen again.

    It’s not realistic, but boy do I like to think about it.

  67. Robin Ellacott*

    Poor OP. That sounds totally soul destroying.

    I wondered reading this what the pluses of working there are – you said you’re willing to stay with a big raise but it doesn’t sound like there’s much to like about the workplace.

    Since it’s so clear they will suck any amount of labour and effort and caring out of you while never feeling like it deserves recognition, I do hope you leave. I suspect the whole thing will seem very different from the other side, though of course I know that’s always an intimidating prospect.

    1. irene adler*

      You make a good point. I think sometimes these situations are a “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” sort of thing. The job search can be just as soul destroying as a crummy job.

  68. Wool Princess*

    I agree with all the comments about finding a better job elsewhere, but in the *meantime* stop working so hard. You were told you’d get more money if you worked harder, and that’s not the case. Take a vacation, stop taking on extra work, and care less about the outcome of a company who doesn’t seem to care about you.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Yes! This week I took a step back from training the new people at least and I’ve informed my boss that I am not going to be staying late anymore if it can be helped. I really wish I could take a vacation, but honestly, asking for days off is one of the most stressful parts of my job. It has to be done in person with the owner, and I personally am essential enough to my team that half the time I submit a request for time off, even a month in advance, it’s a whole song and dance. I have to sit in my boss’s office as they look ahead on the calender to see if they can spare me or not that day and try to ask if I can do a half day or some future day instead. A few weeks back I strained my wrist bad enough that it couldn’t bend, and when I tried to call off, my boss asked if it was my right or left hand (implying that if it wasn’t my dominant hand that I use to work, then it’s fine).

  69. Letter Writer*

    Sorry I should have made it clearer in my email, but I am actively searching for new jobs! The two year review honestly was just very eye opening for me and I’ve been searching ever since. The problem is that no other businesses in my city that do what I do are hiring at the moment, and I’m worried that if I jump to a related parallel industry that has some crossover with mine, I’ll be stuck with entry level pay. I’m technically not underpaid where i am now, I’m on the slightly lower end of average for my industry but certainly higher then what “starting fresh” might look like somewhere else.

    As for what there is to even like about my workplace, honestly, the work. I’m very very good at what I do and it is ethically and artistically satisfying. If I could do exactly what I am doing now with even 10% less hassle from management I feel like I could stay here for a while

    1. Khatul Madame*

      You are worried that you will get lowball offers in a parallel industry, but have you even tried?

    2. Looper*

      In your letter you describe yourself as doing multiple peoples’ jobs. Are you sure you’re being paid fairly? You also have taken no vacation time, thus rendering any vacation “benefits” moot and thus not part of your compensation package. Reread your comment here: you are defending this crappy company, why? They treat you poorly, have dumped what seems like their entire operational workload on you, and lied to your face about future opportunities. I don’t even know you and I will guarantee you are worth more than this company is telling you you’re worth.

    3. Weary cigarette drag*

      I’m technically not underpaid where i am now

      You’re underpaid. There’s no “technically” about it. You’re working late, you can’t take vacation time, you’re doing far beyond the appropriate duties of your role, and if you are not getting raises, your pay is DROPPING because of inflation. Don’t try to talk yourself out of a clear-eyed view of how bad your job is.

    4. Tom*

      Is there a reason that you need to stay in your city?

      Because if there isn’t an exceedingly compelling one, the game ain’t worth the candle.

  70. Nomic*

    Also, stop going “over and above” immediately. Stop taking extra initiative immediately. You did that for a year, and look what it got you.

    And take a vacation! They don’t value you, they just value what they can squeeze out of you before you quit due to burnout.

  71. acl-ny*

    If the work LW describes doesn’t merit a merit increase, then I don’t know what does.

    On top of everything else, they’ve gaslighted her to think that she hasn’t earned a decent raise while working her tail off.

    Find another job, let them figure out how to train the next victim, I mean – employee.

  72. Looper*

    Pull WAAAAAAY back on what you’re doing for this disaster company and make it your #1 priority to find another job and quit. This will never get better and in 2 years you will still be underpaid and stuck in the exact same position. This job is eroding your sense of self-worth, professionalism, and workplace norms. Get out, get out, get out!

  73. bopper*

    Start dressing up at work and take mysterious time off for a couple of hours in the afternoon.

    In other words, look like you are looking for a job.

  74. Sharpie*

    You remind me of the Monty Python’s Search For the Holy Grail when they come across the Killer Rabbit. The monster isn’t hiding behind the cute rabbit, it IS the cute rabbit.

    “Run away, run away!” – words to live by in this situation because it isn’t going to change. Right now, you’re the donkey pulling a really heavy cart while straining to reach the carrot that is forever going to be out of reach. It’s not a bug that you’re overworked and under paid. That’s the feature because your bosses have no intention of ever paying you fairly for the value you bring in. There are companies out there who will pay you a living wage and then some. It might take work to find them but you will thank yourself for doing it.

    If you carry on the way you have been going, future you will have many regrets. Don’t do that to future you, give future you a real living wage and proper work/life balance. Future you will thank you for jumping ship to somewhere where future you is treated like an actual human being.

  75. Dhaskoi*

    In Freakonomics one of the examples Steven Levitt uses is a daycare center that had to deal with parents who kept arriving late to pick up their children – forcing staff into unpaid overtime. Their solution was to institute a fine system for late pickups.

    Late pickups subsequently increased in both frequency and duration.

    The reason was that parents perceived the fines as payment for service – arriving late wasn’t an error, it was something they were entitled to so long as they paid for it.

    The same issue applies to accepting a counteroffer when you’re about to quit – it tells your employer that your tolerance for their bad behavior has a price tag, and if they pay it they’re entitled to be as awful as they like.

  76. rosie in london*

    I worked at a place like this for two years – owner had set it up as a solo operation and very reluctantly hired additional people once it became obvious he was in over his head. Niche, in-demand service made him think he was the Supreme Lord of our industry. Raises were promised but never arrived and burnout became my constant state of being. Companies like this do. not. change. no matter the turnover – OP, get out.

  77. Bubbles*

    Hi LW,
    Believe me, I’ve been where you are now! Working extra hard and no appreciation. After finally seeing the light, I’m never ever doing that again.
    I’m going to be a bit less subtle than Alison:
    – You’re dealing with an unpleasant atmosphere where your bosses feel that they can be unpleasant when they feel like it.
    -You go the extra mile but get no subtatial reward in the form of a decent pay rise
    – You spend most of your time there, working evenings, hardly taling time off
    – You haven’t had a decent holiday on ages

    Why are you condsidering staying there?
    And also: please take care of your own needs more and go on holiday as you can’t expect to deal with stress well if you never fully relax!!

    Good luck, I wish you all the best

  78. Luna*

    Just reading the title I’d say, “Quit. And even if they come back on their knees and beg for you to return with a higher salary promise, you do not go back to them.” That is such a manipulative way to get an employee to basically be the one begging for monetary compensation/acknowledgement of their hard work… it’s like a bad relationship. Get out as fast as you can.

  79. Sneaky Squirrel*

    Never accept a counteroffer from your current employer. If you get a job offer from another company and the compensation works for you, take it.

    People almost never leave their jobs because of salary. I know I’m going to get a ton of pushback on it – but hear me out – people who really like their jobs are often more forgiving about salary, even when they know they could make more elsewhere.

    In your case, you’ve pointed out a communication style that you don’t like, that you’re working a lot of extra time, and that the environment can be hostile. Those problems won’t go away with a counteroffer and you’ll grow used to that new salary much quicker than you think.

  80. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    You’re walking on eggshells, that’s reason enough to get out asap. That’s ongoing stress, the worst kind of stress, that wears you down to a shadow of yourself. You don’t want to know how I learned that.

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