should I warn job candidates that we don’t give raises?

A reader writes:

My organization recently replaced merit increases with capped bonuses. While I think this is a bad policy and I’m pushing back on it, in the meantime I’m concerned about my responsibility to new hires. I would never have thought to ask about this as a candidate. I’m hiring a new junior staff person, who will likely be a young woman, given our field. I want to be up-front about growth potential and tell them about our policy. However, I’m also really concerned that we will lose top candidates and I desperately need to fill this position. How do I balance equity and transparency with hiring top talent? Can I, given this policy?

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My coworker comments on my appearance — a lot
  • Taking unpaid vacation to “save” paid vacation for later
  • My client implied my work is so easy and fun that I shouldn’t need to unplug

{ 150 comments… read them below }

  1. Anon in Canada*

    Requiring employees to use up paid vacation days before taking unpaid vacation is reasonable, BUT you need to have a clear and predictable policy on whether you allow unpaid vacation or not.

    Christmas is at the end of the year, and is a time when people usually visit their families. For someone who lives in a different geographical area from their family, it is usually necessary to take time off from work to visit them.

    If you don’t allow unpaid vacation under any circumstances, you need to be very clear on that so that employees who need time off around Christmas can save the vacation days for then.

    If you are willing to let employees take unpaid time off, you need to let them know ASAP if a request for unpaid time off is approved or not. It’s not okay to say, “use up your vacation days and then we’ll consider requests on a case by case basis; but we won’t even have a discussion until you’ve used up the paid days”. Operating that way could result in telling an employee, after that employee has used up their vacation days, “oops, sorry, you’ll be spending Christmas alone this year”. You really don’t want to spring something like that on employees AFTER they’ve used their vacation days.

    TL;DR; allow unpaid time off or don’t, but don’t put off deciding on that until after someone already used up their paid vacation days.

    1. Green great dragon*

      Agreed. I’d argue you should allow people to take unpaid leave if at all possible (or allow people to buy extra leave, which I guess gives you more control over the price you set) as you want the benefits package to be flexible if it can be. But make it clear what the limits are and be prepared to break them in exceptional circumstances.

      1. Anon in Canada*

        I agree that unpaid time off should be allowed, up to a reasonable limit (I’ve seen that hover around 1-4 weeks unpaid in companies that allow it). I also think it should be something that employees don’t have to “ask for permission” to use.

        But if you’re going to only allow it on a case-by-case basis, then don’t make people use up their paid vacation days before you start a discussion around it and tell the employee yes or no.

        1. Quill*

          Exactly. If your policy is “unpaid leave is only allowable for family / medical emergencies that we decide on a case by case basis if a person is already out of paid leave” then state that up front. Never make people use up their resources before they can clarify a policy.

          1. Anon in Canada*

            Not just state it upfront; give a yes or no before the employee uses their paid vacation time. If the policy is “unpaid time off is allowed on a case-by-case basis but approval is not guaranteed”, and an employee approaches you during the year explaining that their family is overseas or out of province/state and they’d like to take unpaid time off to visit their family for Christmas, then give a yes or no immediately, don’t say “you need to use your vacation time before we evaluate this request”. Because if the employer does that and later says no, then the employee is stuck spending Christmas alone.

    2. A Simple Narwhal*

      This is a really great point. I could see an argument for or against allowing unpaid time off, but whatever it is you should be clear and upfront about the policy. Wishy-washiness helps no one.

    3. Lucy*

      In New York State, we are required to offer sick leave to all employees. Since we already offered PTO to our full-time employees, we had to adjust our previous PTO policy. Before the mandatory sick leave, we required PTO to be used for any days off (vacations, sick, call out, etc). Since the sick leave use is up to the employee if they want to use it, we cannot make our full time employees use their PTO. We do have a ‘use it or lose it’ rule, but technically, and unused PTO would convert to sick leave if the employee changed to part time status. The sick leave forced us to update our PTO policy (basically that we can’t make them use PTO, and that we allow them to take it in increments instead of a full day) – the alternative was to have sick time separate for PTO, but that created another headache. So bottom line, if your state doesn’t have the rules that NY does for sick leave, or you don’t have it separate for PTO, then requiring employees to use PTO when out is fine.

    4. Your Mate in Oz*

      let them know ASAP if a request for unpaid time off is approved or not

      This reminds me of a bad situation I had.

      There was an industry conference I wanted to attend so I asked for permission and said I was happy to use annual leave if they didn’t want to pay me to go. The answer was “we’ll decide the day before depending on how busy we are”. So I put in a leave request for those days. They came back with “we’re offended that you don’t trust us to pay you to go”… which was accurate. But they didn’t say yes or no to the leave. Obviously, as planned, when the time came they said “no, we’re too busy”. Then got really offended when I said “I’m taking the leave I requested”.

      Employers who do stupid stuff like that deserve what happens. I’d happily quit or let them fire me over it because it’s such blatantly unreasonable behaviour from an employer.

      Also: one way to evaluate this stuff is whether you’d be happy to tell the story in a job interview.

  2. cindylouwho*

    I think that part of the problem for the wine photographer is that they’ve included a lengthy explanation of why they didn’t respond over the weekend. Just respond during work hours and then deal with explaining why you don’t work weekends if the problem arises.

    1. Dread Pirate Roberts*

      Yes I was going to say this – I don’t think you needed to apologize at all, since a Monday response to a weekend query is actually a prompt reply. You can socialize your clients to not expect weekend responses by not responding on weekends, or if you want to make it explicit, to have your working days in your email signature.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      Agreed. The client hadn’t made any comments before the overly long explanation was given. I think the client was genuinely joking. They work in the industry. They KNOW it IS work.

      I think the client was tongue-in-cheek saying that they get it, NOT that the job is easy. They probably expected a response in the same vein – ie. something like “yeah, it’s just terrible – I don’t know how I stand all the ambience. Takes all weekend to recover.”

    3. ecnaseener*

      Agreed – unless the client’s first message was clearly demanding a weekend response, LW’s first reply already seemed a bit defensive (you can say “by the way, I don’t work weekends so if you need a response before Monday email me by Friday afternoon” without getting into the weeds about “unplugging”) and it definitely wouldn’t be a good idea to send another defensive message in response to the joke.

    4. Onomatopoeia Cornucopia*

      Yeah, the explanation of “I disconnect over the weekend” is what prompted the client’s mild humor, annoying as the comment was. Of course you disconnect over the weekend, it’s a weekend. Just don’t answer until monday.

      Besides that, it’s one comment, clearly meant facetiously. Don’t respond, just proceed with the conversation as normal.

      (On the other person’s side, though, people find these kinds of comments annoying, not complimentary! Restrain that impulse.)

  3. Jane Bingley*

    You really don’t want to hire a great employee who was tricked into working for you. This is not going to work out the way so many people think it will, and the employee will not be the great team member you think they will once they realize they were duped into their job.

    Be honest, ask applicants to be honest with you, and report up the chain when people turn down jobs because they can’t get raises.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      This. Be honest with candidates. Because once they find out the truth, the trust is gone. They have one foot out the door and will have the other one follow ASAP.

      Letting the higher ups know also gets the attention the issue it needs. If they don’t this stupid policy is causing a problem, they will see no reason to change it because its not a problem for THEM.

    2. Anon in Canada*

      I agree with that, but a company that’s being this unreasonable (not giving raises at all) is likely to be unreasonable in other ways, including forbidding LW from disclosing the policy to candidates.

      There was a case discussed here a few weeks ago where a company was not allowing employees to take ANY vacation in their first year, and only one week in the second year. A LW mentioned that this was severely impeding the ability of the company to hire, because candidates kept turning down the offer. Upper management had refused for years to budge because “it’s not fair to the people who put in their years of service to get the vacation”, but faced with an inability to hire, they eventually relented.

      Something similar could happen here, where LW demonstrates to upper management that the policy is causing tons of candidates to turn down the offers; however, I wouldn’t be surprised if upper management’s response to that was to order LW to stop mentioning the no raise policy.

      1. Salsa Your Face*

        That’s an absolutely bonkers policy. My current job offers, in addition to a healthy amount of paid vacation time, a bonus day off that you can take anytime the week of your birthday. My birthday just so happened to be 3 weeks after I started, and I commented to my manager during onboarding how I would “obviously” be skipping that benefit for the first year because I didn’t want to be taking time off so soon after starting. She was appalled and said “no, you take that day off and you enjoy it!” So I did, and I did, and that small thing built up so much goodwill towards the company for me.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          Amazing how the little things make so much of a difference. Companies that have rinky dink policies wind up with people exercising their choice and going elsewhere. People who have decent policies get people willing to stay even if things are ocassionally rough.

    3. Bast*

      Agree. If I were an entry/early level employee and found out there was a no raise policy, I’d be using this place as a stepping stone for somewhere else and definitely not see it as a long term career choice. If I were established in my field, I’d already be looking. Either way, I’d be PO’ed. Most of us work for the money, so this is a pretty major dupe as far as I’m concerned.

    4. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I want to be respectful of LWs. In fact, I am not even critical of the LW. It is the insane office atmosphere that has twisted LW’s sense of fair play.
      Obviously, LW is fine working there for the same money as year one, with whatever bonus is determined. Great. People are happy waiting tables for tips. They say they make great money and it’s worth it. Same with sales people who work on commission.
      But these people are not writing to Alison asking how to recruit people into their company without telling them the bottom line on compensation.
      LW, if you are happy with the structure, use that.
      Explain the upside that you’ve experienced. If it is consistently more than the previous year, there is nothing to hide.
      And with states banning companies from asking previously salaries, no raises may not* be a huge hindrance when moving on.

      *I know not every company plays by the rules, ignorance or malice, the question will be asked.

      1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        “how to recruit people into their company without telling them the bottom line on compensation.”

        I don’t think this is a fair representation of the LW’s letter.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          I felt that LW was not trying to be a bad guy, but I couldn’t see how it could be avoided. I thought the goal was to protect the company over all. I see Stipes’ reply and understand now what LW is asking.

      2. Stipes*

        I read the LW’s perspective more like “I want to warn candidates about this, but can I justify that from a doing-my-job standpoint?”

        And I think they got what they were hoping for in Allison’s answer: An explanation of how it’s in the best interests of LW’s job to warn candidates about this.

        1. Stretchy McGillicuddy*

          This feels like the exact scenario GlassDoor was invented for. OP is awesome for looking out for candidates, but I don’t think she has to do it at the expense of her own career. OP could possibly post detailed feedback about the compensation structure and why it is unfair, anonymously, on GlassDoor and then cheerfully encourage candidates to look up the company’s reviews to get a sense of the workplace.

      3. Blue Mage*

        On a related note, I started a new job today and my boss told me at the end of the day that the cutoff for consideration for pay raises for the coming year (which happens in April) is in October, so I wouldn’t be eligible, unfortunately.

        On the other hand, he also managed to offer me a bit more than I had asked for in order to offset that.

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yes!! I was this great, duped (not about raises but about my role, responsibilities, the office location where I thought I had a 20-mile commute but it was in fact 65, etc), candidate at a job many years ago. Started looking after two months in the new job, after I was told that nothing would ever change. Found a job within a couple of weeks, gave notice, and left after three months. (I stayed at the next job for six years.) The leadership of the company was SHOCKED! but everybody else was congratulating me and saying things like “I don’t blame you, I would’ve done the same”. Just because they accept the offer and show up to work on their first day, doesn’t mean they will stay after they find out about the bait and switch.

    6. Quill*

      Baiting and switching prospective employees about anything (The hours, the location, the pay, the possibility of raises) is going to cost any company more money via time spent on interviews of people who bail at the offer stage, or rehiring when people start job hunting one expected raise period into the job.

    7. Overit*

      This. So much this.
      Last job, I was offered a very low salary. I was very interested in the work but took the job ONLY because I was told by manager that I was eligible for a “significant” raise in 90 days PLUS an annual increase on 120 days.

      90 day mark arrived. Crickets. I ask about the increase. Boss blinks at me and shrugs. “Oh gee. Sorry. We don’t do that.” The annual increase was less than 1 percent.
      Except of course for the (golden child) manager who lied to me. She got a huge raise. She also became infamous around the office for her lying. But boss loooooved her.

      I stayed for only 2 years. But my commitment and work level dropped off at the 90 day mark. And I also helped 3 junior members of staff get better jobs elsewhere.

      So sure. Lying worked out not so swell for that org. It did work out swell for the manager, though. She kept getting big raises and eventually got a big job with big money elsewhere largely due to Boss. So lying paid well for her.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Got to love the naive, wide-eyed “oh we don’t do that”. My one job did this too. I went to interview with them after being told by the recruiter that my pay would be $X. After the interview, recruiter called, said they’d loved me and were writing up an offer, that my pay would be 12% lower than X, “and this is non-negotiable”. Fine, I liked the job and the pay was still decent, so I took it. On my first day, my boss said “I know we were going to give you X and shortchanged you. We’ll make it up to you next year. When you get your first raise, we’ll get you up to X.” Come the time for my first raise, it was the shocked Pikachu face and a “I asked the HR and they said we only give that big of a raise for exceptional performance” dude that was supposed to be my starting pay? a year ago? I was supposed to already be getting a raise based on that amount? But no, he looked like I’d come to him out of the blue and asked for an enormous raise for no reason.

    8. The New Wanderer*

      Not just the candidates who turn down the offer, but the retention rate of those who take it (which I’m expecting would be quite high). No raises might not scare off all good candidates initially, but I would bet very few will stick around once they’ve got a year or so of experience.

    9. Quiet Quitter*

      Yep, the minute I found out there was literally nothing I could do to earn a raise, I quiet quit. Why in the WORLD would I work harder than I need to for no reward? My belief in the company and my future there was also instantly destroyed. Enjoy your Meets Expectations (formerly known as Rockstar), dummies.

      Dropping raises is SUCH a bonehead thing to do, because they could have offered me less up front and built up raises to the salary I have now over the course of a few years, and I would have worked so hard for them and felt so rewarded. It’s also really dishonest, because management knows damn well everyone’s working towards a raise.

  4. Clefairy*

    With the food/wine photographer, I feel like they could get away with a jokey “Haha! If only it were truly as simple as just eating amazing food and drinking amazing wine!”.

    1. Aquamarine*

      I think it that would work okay, but I also think it would be better to just let it go. In this case, I think “just kidding” really meant he was kidding her, and while I get that LW found it annoying, I don’t think the client thinks she’s not doing important work. He is choosing to pay her after all.

    2. Generic Name*

      Or even, “Know of any jobs that are just eating food and drinking wine?? HA HA” as a response.

    3. Umami*

      Yeah, I wouldn’t take it so seriously. I was a travel writer in my free time for a while and while it’s tougher than the average person would realize, it also was a pretty awesome job.

    4. Zombeyonce*

      I’d reserve that for clients complaining about what you charge (in case they think they shouldn’t have to pay as much for you to “just eat and drink”). They can just leave it until it’s causing a real problem.

    5. Artemesia*

      The whole thing started with too much blah blah from the LW overexplaining that they didn’t respond on the weekend. The lame joke is just that, nothing. By thinking of this as a new script you could ‘get away with’, it is taking an interaction as meaningful as ‘how are you?’ ‘fine’ to some sort of tortured drama. There is nothing to be defensive about or explain. Just ignore and proceed or at most lean in.

    6. amoeba*

      I feel like depending on the relationship, a simple “haha, if only!” or “I wish!” would be fine (and possibly even more in the line of what the client is expecting than a very serious response or ignoring the joke altogether?)
      I’d avoid anything explanatory or elaborate or long though. Because yeah, that’s what caused the whole thing to start with.

  5. Thomas*

    #1 I would be of the attitude of be honest if asked, but don’t mention it if not. On the interviewee side I don’t remember private sector employers volunteering any real information about raises after the starting salary.

    1. jellied brains*

      That’s not a great attitude to have. If I learned after I was hired that I was never going to get a raise, I’d be job searching so fast.

      1. nopetopus*

        This. I was told upfront that they don’t negotiate or give raises at my company, and I still took the job because it made sense financially at the time. Now I’m working to leave, and I’m grateful that they were upfront so I don’t go above and beyond and burnout for a raise that will never come. I firmly believe in acting my wage, and if I hadn’t been given that warning I would have left ASAP upon finding out.

    2. Uldi*

      “I don’t remember private sector employers volunteering any real information about raises after the starting salary.”

      Isn’t that because for the vast majority of employers raises are a given? It’s not like they can exempt their employees from inflation, after all.

      1. mlem*

        I agree that it should be a given. I also would love to see more candidates really pressing for details, though. My company never gives COLA increases, and its annual-or-so “merit” increases A) don’t keep up with inflation and B) aren’t, it turns out, based on our merit reviews. They’re dictated by unclear parties for opaque reasons, which is … the opposite of awesome. (Job-searching isn’t feasible for me currently, and I’m not involved in hiring.)

        1. Umami*

          That was my thought. As a hiring manager, I’m looking for the candidate who is the best fit for the job. It’s not my job to determine which of our policies or benefits suit the candidate, so I expect then to bring up questions that concern them. Having said that, I could see being very clear that starting salary is X, and advancement is Y so they know what questions to ask. People’s needs vary, as do policies.

      2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I think it’s a given. If I was not told “there are no raises,” I would believe there are raises. I would wonder if it is an annual review thing or one of those Dagwood Bumstead situations where you have ask, but then you get it.
        I know I would not accept a job thinking, well, guess since they didn’t mention it, I will be making the same money five years from now.

      3. doreen*

        I’m actually wondering if the reason the LW specified that the company was eliminating merit raises is because there will still be the across- the-board raises that are meant to partially account for increase in the cost of living.

      4. Reluctant Mezzo*

        Foolish mortal! Companies do that *all the time*. Yes, it’s dumb and they lose people. But it’s pretty clear they would rather complain about ‘those ungrateful people’ than fix it.

    3. Fluffy Fish*

      If you are hiding something because you know it might negatively in influence someone’s decision to accept a position then that’s pretty unethical.

    4. Ginger Cat Lady*

      That’s because raises are the norm. The vast majority of employers does them.
      When companies do something completely out of the norm, I do think they should be up front about it and not springing it on people after they are hired.
      I interviewed with a company once who listed in their job ads that they had “competitive benefits” but in the interview they explained that their benefit program was “different than most” in that they didn’t offer health insurance, but would reimburse you for the cost of adding yourself (just you, no kids) to your partner’s health plan.
      Since I was single at the time, I asked how that worked for single employees. They said they were not sure, that so far all their employees were married and they all LOVED this way of doing things. They were sure I could make it work as well.
      I was really glad they clarified that at the first interview, but I never would have asked for the details that early in the process and it was a complete dealbreaker for me.
      This is a similar thing. “Get hired here and you will never, ever get a raise” is something they should disclose early so as to not waste people’s time.
      And if they’re worried it will cost them good candidates if they do….they are right. It will. Because it’s INSANE.

      1. Evan Þ*

        “They were sure I could make it work as well.”

        As a single guy, this would make me wonder if the interviewer was going to try to set me up with someone!

        1. ScruffyInternHerder*

          I’d probably have printed out a plan from the Marketplace with “here’s how much it’ll cost me to add myself to my Uncle Sam’s plan….”

      2. Umami*

        Yes, that makes sense. When I was lady hired, I didn’t learn until after the fact that my employer did not participate in social security. I never thought about asking about that! So I mentioned how that can be a big deal for candidates, even though I probably still would have taken the job. Guess what, now they inform all candidates of this before they interview :)

            1. Artemesia*

              It used to be a real think. Ladies got paid less because they only work for pin money doncha know.

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Snorted at “competitive benefits”. Competitive how? How can NO BENEFITS be competitive, I want to know what the competition was offering that “no benefits” beat that.

        Even when I was married, my spouse was a contractor, did not get any benefits through their work, and had to be on mine. I’m glad the 3.5 married people that worked for them all LOVED it, but for most of us, it wouldn’t work.

    5. I should really pick a name*

      I’d look at it this way:

      1. You’re up front about the information. Knowing this, the person takes the job. They might only hang around for a few years, but they know what they’re getting into and are willing to put up with it.

      2. You hide the information. The person who you hire is going to find out eventually, and there’s a much higher chance that they’re going to start job searching immediately because this was outside their expectations.

      1. Anon in Canada*

        Upper management may very well make that decision for LW, and tell LW that they aren’t allowed to tell candidates about the policy. Unreasonable employers tend to be unreasonable in more than one way.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          The benefit (“benefit”, if you will) to LW if upper management says “just don’t tell people!” is that in 15 months when they’re asking LW why they’re losing so many people, she can shrug and say “when they found out they’d never get a raise and the bonuses are capped, that really put them off”.

    6. The Riddlee*

      While it may be true that most employers give raises, it’s also true that many employers don’t give existing employees raises big enough to keep up with market rates. Market rates up go up for inflation, the employee’s increasing experience level, and also market forces. Every employer I’ve ever had has given “merit increases” that ignore two out of three of those components, and thus often fall short.

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        I’m here wondering if its just my industry or my generation – but I can’t say that I’ve had a history of working for companies giving raises. I recall explaining to older-than-me family at Thanksgiving one year that I’m not job hopping, its just that at about the 3-5 year mark, the lack of raises = a pay cut. They were all flabbergasted that we’re not getting raises like they were my age.

        They’re also a touch flabbergasted that I have zero pension.

        1. Umami*

          Yes to all of this! I worked private sector the first half of my career and could never ‘expect’ a raise. My first year working in higher ed, we got a 2.5% increase. I was elated but also heard people complain about the ‘crappy’ raise, so … ymmv.

        2. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          I agree totally. We see people here complaining all the time about not getting raises! Raises *should* be standard but in my (Gen X / private sector) experience they are not. Until my current job, I’ve never gotten a significant raise. Having had the great fortune to work through 3 recessions, I have gone years without anything, and 1-2-3% was the best I could do the other years.

          It would not be a “bait and switch” as commenters have said, but it is a terrible policy and the LW should mention it.

      2. The Real Fran Fine*

        All of this. I never worked at a company that gave raises that kept up with market rate unless it was a promotion raise. Otherwise, 3% was the highest you could expect (my current company is slightly less than this for excellent performance – it’s sad).

    7. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      On the interviewee sides, I have always asked what the company’s policy was for performance reviews and merit increases, and got some interesting answers in the past.

      A company whose product is a library app that you readers and commenters have probably heard of, answered my question with a “uhh we… don’t do that. If your performance is really exceptional, I guess you may… get a bonus?” This was their HR rep/corporate recruiter talking. Funny thing, I didn’t turn them down, they turned me down! Said I wasn’t a good fit. Well, duh. I like to be paid => not a good fit.

    8. rollyex*

      “I don’t remember private sector employers volunteering any real information about raises after the starting salary.”

      That’s because people assume there will be raises.

    9. Ellie*

      There’s an implicit assumption that all medium to large companies will have an annual salary review that will at least offer a small cost of living increase. If this was a tin-pot startup then I can see your point, but otherwise, the candidates are going to feel lied to if it’s not brought up.

      I’m currently trying to fill a position that is frankly underpaid by roughly 10%, with no ability to work from home. I always bring up working from home in the first 5 minutes of the interview, because I don’t want someone who is going to stay for 6 months to a year and then move on. The salary is in the ad. Its hard to hire but not impossible – we get a lot of junior candidates who are eager to break into the industry.

  6. Uldi*

    That first one with the ‘no raises’ policy made me blink in disbelief. Are the top brass deliberately trying to tank their business or something?

    To address the questions asked: Yes you should tell them, and yes this will cost you top talent. They won’t bother with your company when they can get positions that give raises elsewhere. I’d also disagree with that this company will be able to get even decent candidates. Who will show up are the desperate, and they’ll only stick around long enough to stabilize and get some experience in the position before they find another job that isn’t literally a job of diminishing returns.

    I’ll also point out that this policy is going to cost you current staff because they won’t be able to justify working there for more than a year or two more. Have your bosses ever been introduced to the concept of inflation?

    1. Sara without an H*

      Why, oh why, do I have the feeling that the LW’s “organization” (their term) is a non-profit with an expectation of “passionate” commitment to a cause?

      1. Hermione Danger*

        My org doesn’t give merit increases. That only happens with promotions. And they give bonuses, but that’s at the whim of org leadership. And they expect us to work well above 40 hours per week to justify our value to the organization. We currently have a great team, but that great team is all looking for other things because we are now all far below market rate for the work we do. It’s such a short-sighted policy.

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          And then they are surprised when people leave, right? Since only moving gets people a real raise these days.

      2. Dulcinea47*

        they give bonuses, so almost certainly not. Bonuses are something you don’t get in “passionate commitment” jobs.

    2. mlem*

      I think it’s possible they could still get decent or even very good hires … as long as they accept that they won’t be able to *keep* those hires more than 1-3 years. Some good candidates would have reasons to take a job for that kind of period with plans to move on past it. “No raises” is the perfect recipe if you want churn.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Yeah, I can see that if I wanted to move across the country in two years, and the salary/bonus on offer was acceptable to me for that time frame, no problem! But I’d have zero intentions of staying more than 2 years, because that’ll shoot me in the foot if I do.

    3. amoeba*

      I mean, I’d say it could depend a little on the career path system. In my field, in a lot of places, you typically get “promoted” every few years, even while doing the same job – from X to senior X to principal X and so on. We do still get an annual (small) merit raise in addition to that, but it would probably be alright for most people if you only got a (larger) raise with the title change, because that tends to happen every 3-5 years. Although at some point you max out, so that’s where problems would probably set in – but for the first 20 years or so, you’d be OK.

      Now, I guess that’s not the LW’s situation or they would have mentioned it. But how promotions are done is definitely not independent of the raise question and can make it better or worse.

  7. BellyButton*

    #1 is a good reminder that when you are interviewing and get an offer, ask about these things. They offer you X amount of money, you then ask about how raises and promotions work, bonuses, etc. It has been my experience that most lay it out with the offer, but that may be a level thing/experience thing. They expect Directors+ to ask, but may not expect someone with less experience to know to ask.

    1. Your Mate in Oz*

      Have a list of things you expect answers too. A lot of the time they’ll be covered but having the list means you pick up on the ones that aren’t. If someone genuinely forgets that’s fine, but occasionally you’ll get “we can’t discuss hours of work before you’re hired”.

      I commonly reject jobs because I ride a bicycle to work and many employers just don’t allow that (or “you can but you have to park it on the street”). But I’ve also used my little list to reject “no pay rises, just promotions from tech into management” and similar things that won’t work for me. Working contract jobs for a decade-ish gave me a lot of experience with interviewing employers.

  8. Ms. Murchison*

    #1 – The audacity to believe you should still be able to hire top candidates with a policy like this… smh. Top candidates with other options will bolt as soon as they discover this policy. And other candidates. At my second job, I busted my ass the first year, hoping for a raise at my first performance review because I’d taken a low salary during the recession. As soon as my supervisor disclosed that the organization didn’t do raises, meaning the only way I’d get a raise was to switch positions (i.e. go into management or leave town), I started job hunting.

    #4 – Part of the client’s intended joke might be at his own expense for not knowing the full details of what the work entails and only having a surface understanding of the surface aspects. It’s tactless, but I could see it happening and Alison’s advice would be spot on for that.

  9. metronomic_13*

    I had a similar experience at my current job related to PTO and PTO rollover. For 20+ years prior I had worked at orgs that required you to accrue time off before you could use it, and would let you roll over 2 weeks of vacation into the next fiscal year, with a cap at how much time you could accrue. I do understand vacation time is a financial obligation/liability for many orgs when they are required to pay it when employees leave.

    It didn’t occur to me to ask about the specifics of vacation/PTO policies when I interviewed, and then once I was onboard I found out a) you couldn’t roll over ANY vacation time into the next fiscal year and b) you could use vacation before you accrued it. I would have given a lot of thought to the rollover policy before accepting and it might have been a deal breaker if I knew.

    Apparently it was the first year of a new policy, and they were overcorrecting for previously not having a cap on rollovers. It was psychologically uncomfortable for me to take a week or two off in August for vacation because then I owed all but two of those days and was in the red. It also meant everyone panicked and took lots of time off in June each year.

    As I approached my second year at the job they reversed course and now allow one week of rollover – I wish it were two weeks but one week is reasonable and now that I earn 20 vacation days/year I don’t mind owing a couple of days after a two-week vacation in August each year.

  10. I should really pick a name*

    I’d want to know why they want to save their paid vacation time.
    Are they planning to take more than their allotment?
    It just seems like an odd request to me, and it could be useful to understand their motivation.

    1. Dulcinea47*

      their motivation is almost certainly that they only get five days paid vacation a year, or something along those lines. When you don’t get much leave time its easy to use it all well before the end of the year.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        But why couldn’t they take the unpaid days after the paid days instead of before?

        And I’m really not sure where you got five days from.

        1. ecnaseener*

          Maybe they were anticipating their finances getting tighter later and wanted to take the paycheck cut now instead of later? I agree it’s weird, same amount of money in the end but with the chance of getting fired/laid off before using the paid leave.

    2. WorkerDrone*

      Personally, my finances look different at different times of the year. It would be easy for me to accommodate a few unpaid days off in say, July because my expense are low in the summer – but if I want time off around Christmas, when my expenses go up, it would not be so easy. And, I might not know in July that I will want that time off around Christmas, so it’s not necessarily something I would be budgeting for long-term.

    3. Helewise*

      I can tell you why I do. Our PTO and sick time are in the same bucket, and I like to take some time off around Christmas when all of my family is at home. I also had an experience in the past where I had both a week-plus-long illness and an unexpected surgery in the first year of a new job. I’d want to know if I could take any time off at all with the assurance that I’d still be able to take that very important time with my family.

      1. Reluctant Mezzo*

        I once used up all my PTO bucket on a family emergency, had three days left–then a house guest. Didn’t care get sick myself.

    4. Erin*

      Maybe they have the time earmarked for a vacation later in the year, but they’re wanting/needing to take time off now. So, they figure asking for unpaid time off is a legit workaround to not having enough paid leave to cover all of the days they want to take off.

  11. Cj*

    while the letter writer with the employer who doesn’t give raises should certainly let job candidates know this, I’m curious about their bonus structure. they say they are capped bonuses, but what is the cap based on?

    are they capped at the same level forever? are they capped at different levels based on your performance of years of service? and perhaps most of all, are they guaranteed bonuses?

      1. bamcheeks*

        I did in fact have a male colleague who wore low v-neck jumpers with no shirt underneath (mid-twenties, very fit, visible pecs and chest hair), and honestly, very divided on whether it was or wasn’t acceptable.

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          I knew a male co-worker who had a little chest hair come up over the collar a la Macron. (damn, he was pretty, but married. But a girl can look).

      2. BellyButton*

        I was on a Zoom meeting the other day and a man had on a very deep V neck tshirt. I haven’t seen one of those since the early 2000s. It was very plunging! I, however, know better than to say something.

  12. A Simple Narwhal*

    Re #1, how can interviewees screen for this? Is there a way to ask about how they handle raises without seeming weird or difficult?

    1. BellyButton*

      I posted above, candidates should ask. At whatever time salary is brought up- “The range is acceptable. What are the policies for performance reviews, raises, promotions, and bonuses?’ I want to know if they don’t give raises, if bonuses are 100% based on company performance, and if they only do one annual review or if they do them quarterly.

      1. BellyButton*

        PS. companies that know the importance of these things and have good structures in place usually use it as part of their benefits and recruitment pitch. If a company doesn’t do them well, they will not bring them up, they will be vague, etc.

      2. A Simple Narwhal*

        Oh that’s great, thanks! Salary discussion is a pretty logical point in the conversation to bring up how that might work.

    2. Emmie*

      Of course. What does your raise and bonus structure look like? How often does the company evaluate for merit increases? How does the company address internal inequities in bonuses and compensation? When does the company complete its performance reviews? What are bonuses based on? If bonuses are based on company performance, ask what historical bonuses look like. It’s a really common question. It’s odd if people don’t ask those questions. Hiring managers can usually answer it better than recruiters IME.

      1. ecnaseener*

        I would add a question about cost of living increases in the mix too! Are we talking 5% COL but no merit raises? 0-3% merit with no COL?

    3. Pizza Rat*

      I’d probably say, “I understand different organizations manage raises and bonuses in different ways. How do they work here?”

  13. Hiring Mgr*

    As a candidate, I’d appreciate knowing about #1. The key in my opinion is knowing how that bonus is set up. If the same work that would earn a raise instead earns a good size bonus, it could more than make up for the no-raise policy

    1. AngryOctopus*

      My bonus is a percentage of my salary, and my salary goes up when I get raises or earn promotions. There are also company multipliers which can increase (or theoretically decrease) my bonus. If you take away the “percentage of salary” or you never give a salary raise, your bonus is unlikely to fluctuate in any meaningful way. If you get 100K in year 1 and your bonus is 10%, you get 10K. If in 5 years I earn 115K, my base bonus is 11.5K. If I don’t get raises and get a 10% multiplier in year 5, my “extra” bonus is 500 less than if I just got raises and the same bonus. And 10% would be a really high multipier!
      It’s ALWAYS better to have raises to your salary (and FWIW, OP says their bonuses are capped. So here you’ll NEVER make more than salary + capped bonus, no matter what), and have your bonuses based on your salary and performance factors (the multipliers).

        1. Pescadero*

          No, they are not.

          Taxes are WITHHELD at a higher rate – but they are taxed the exact same as the rest of your income.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        “If you take away the “percentage of salary” or you never give a salary raise, your bonus is unlikely to fluctuate in any meaningful way.”

        It’ll just be an arbitrary number, I suppose? My current job was giving out bonuses when I started there, but I never figured out the reasoning behind those. Mine was $60 my first year, $120 the next, $180 the next, and on my fourth year we each got two fortune cookies on bonus day. That was how we found out that the company had canceled the bonuses. Imagine working for LW1’s employer for ten years and suddenly they decide that bonuses are now canceled and you’re left holding your jelly of the month club subscription and the same paycheck that you had ten years ago.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          My first two years at OldJob we got somewhat random holiday bonuses based on how long you’d been at the company (it was very young, so you either got $1K or $2K). Then then made it a percentage of salary and based on performance and it was much better. And yes, if bonuses are not guaranteed at some $$ level (not that the company can’t yank them away anyway), you may just end up with a random number and an admonishment to ‘be grateful’.

      2. Hiring Mgr*

        That would be true in your case, but not all bonuses are a pct of salary. This letter said the bonuses would be *instead* of the raise, so I was assuming there was no other bonus.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          Yes, but I assumed they based the bonus on *something*, although it could be completely arbitrary (or at least seem so to the employee). My point is that even if your bonus is a percentage of your salary or has multipliers, if your salary never changes, your bonus isn’t going to make up for not getting raises.

    2. Bast*

      While this could be true, unless the bonuses are exceedingly generous (and being capped, it doesn’t seem like it) eventually they will fail to keep up with what someone should be making. Employers that are this cheap are likely to throw something like $1,000 to someone and expect them to be “grateful” whereas getting even just a dollar per hour more is equal to slightly over double. Even if they are slightly more generous, the raise isn’t going to make up for getting screwed as year 2, 3, 4 hit and the employee is potentially now tens of thousands of dollars behind what they should be making elsewhere, even with the raise.

      1. amoeba*

        Yeah, I mean, with raises, the salary basically grows exponentially. Like, with a very small exponent, but still. If I get a 2% raise every year, the second 2% are already more money than the first 2%. Inflation works the same way. Bonuses do not. So to keep up, they’d need to significantly increase the bonus every year, at which point… they could just do raises instead?

  14. metadata minion*

    #4 — The librarians of the world share your annoyance. (No, we don’t read books all day. Except for children’s librarians doing storytimes, we generally don’t read books at work at all.)

    1. Generic Name*

      Ha, yeah. I worked as a library page in high school, and the only reading I did was on my breaks. Unless you count reading titles/call numbers to sort and shelve as “reading”.

    2. Texan In Exile*

      And sadly, serving on a library board does not mean you talk about books at every meeting.

      You don’t.

      You review invoices and approve payments and update – at an excruciatingly detailed level – policies.

    3. Feotakahari*

      I think every job is harder than people assume it is. Sewing is harder than people think, making spreadsheets is harder than people think, fixing cars is harder than people think . . .

    4. Cheshire Cat*

      Haha, yes, we hear this all the time! Although I will occasionally read a work-related book at the reference desk if it’s slow.

  15. CSRoadWarrior*

    #1 – As soon as I hear about this, then it’s bye-bye. No company will attract top candidates this way as soon as word gets out about this. I wouldn’t. No sane company would think anyone would put up with never getting a raise. Especially if you are a top performer or know you will be one.

    On top of that, just look at inflation over the past couple years. IMHO, there should at least be a cost of living adjustment once ever two years AT MOST. What you make today will not have the same purchasing power years from now. In an extreme example, if you NEVER got a raise in 30 years, your salary will be at or near poverty levels by then. It’s just sad some companies don’t see this.

    Of course, no employee will stay that long and put up with this. I was just making a point.

    1. Bast*

      Inflation these last 3/4 years alone has been insane, and many employers refuse to acknowledge this. I had this discussion with the big boss at a company I left earlier this year, as she could not understand why we couldn’t attract decent candidates for our openings. In her opinion, everyone was being paid fairly. I agree that in 2015 what she was offering would have been a decent salary, but with the rising cost of EVERYTHING, in 2023 it was below market average and was also poverty level. I know that she is not the only employer stuck thinking like this and refusing to see how crazy inflation really is, particularly considering that the employees are making a quarter, a fifth, or even less of what she was making, so it didn’t effect her quite as much. What was a minor inconvenience to her money wise was devastating to others. Of course, it’s *baffled Pikachu face* whenever employees turn around and leave after their year or two of fifty cent raises on a salary already below market value.

      1. Alternative Person*

        My job has been doing this as well. It just got reported that along with no COLA this year, the pay review has also been pushed back.

        This is on the back of a big restructuring to a contracted work force rather than a salaried one. When I joined I knew the strict pay bands would be a limitation but working for an industry leader looks good on a resume, the training options were decent and then getting a promotion in a few years looked possible. Now, a lot of people are looking for their out.

  16. RedinSC*

    My previous job was fundraising and part of that was hosting and attending events. Other folks in the office would “joke” about how my job is 1 big party.

    Maybe, but it was 1 big party that was exhausting and if I didn’t reach my numbers one of you all might lose your job….SO maybe don’t mock the fundraiser who puts in 14 hours some days to attend or host an event and make sure that the relationships for funding continue?

    1. rollyex*

      “Other folks in the office would “joke” about how my job is 1 big party.”

      It’s not even funny. “Oh you’re a waiter? Must be great to eat out all the time. LOL.”


  17. Insert Pun Here*

    The no raise thing is surprisingly not as uncommon as it should be! A friend worked for a company whose official policy was “if you want to make more money, get promoted.” Unsurprisingly, many people got promoted… to jobs at other companies. I also worked at a company that didn’t give raises, though my suspicion is that, if pushed, they would. I didn’t feel like pushing and left after a couple years.

    I guess if your goal is to have a lot of employee turnover, it’s a good policy. You could sell it as, idk, an investment in new perspectives and ideas? (Meanwhile there are no remaining staff who know how to process expense reports or whatever, but I’m sure that’ll get sorted out.)

  18. kiki*

    On the no raises policy– I think it’s important to be as up-front with this information as possible. Filling the position with somebody who will renew their job hunt as soon as they find out about the no-raise policy won’t actually pay off in the long run.

    I think for an entry-level person, I would try to make sure the candidate knows that this is their one shot to really negotiate. A lot of entry-level folks come into a job and don’t negotiate much under the assumption that they will be able to “prove themselves” and negotiate that base pay in six months or a year. Since that will be off the table, make it clear that they can and should push for more pay now since it will impact them for years to come.

  19. Spiders Everywhere*

    Ugh, #4. I’ve worked in video game QA, which people see as “playing games all day” but is actually a pretty miserable job – low pay, crazy hours, mind-numbingly repetitive work and no respect from anyone inside or outside of the industry. The perception of an occupation beng “fun” like that isn’t just annoying, it’s actually what allows them to keep pay low and conditions poor, since it’s so easy to find eager new recruits to replace people when they inevitably burn out or realize they’re never going to make enough to live on.

  20. PDB*

    I was in a business even more “fun” than the wine and food photog-music recording. What a lot of fun that must be! You listen to music all day.
    Books have been written about just how unfun music recording is but here’s the short version: Unlike real life you don’t get to pick the music.

  21. I don't mean to be rude, I'm just good at it*

    We have a food truck business in which we participate in many of the areas biggest and best festivals. People always comment on how much fun I must be having without understanding that we usually provide between 4 to 5 servings PER MINUTE for 4 to 6 hours and sometimes as long as 10 hours.

    Yes, participants are having fun, but we are hard at work. (I am a hands on boss and only take a bathroom break)

  22. Zee*

    #1 – My last job didn’t do raises, which I found out from a coworker after I started. It absolutely was a factor in me leaving in less than a year. I’d be effectively earning less and less money each year because of inflation? Nope, I’m good at what I do and had other options. So, if they had disclosed it, yes they would have lost out on top talent, but they also wouldn’t have had to hire for the same position twice in one year.

    (Now I’ve learned to ask when interviewing, but I had never encountered an employer that didn’t do *any* raises before!)

  23. Johannes Bols*

    I would deffo warn candidates you don’t give raises. Although could you modify it and just tell somebody you’ve chosen to hire? I worked for a company in 2000 and I found out after I was hired (my fault for not doing due diligence by asking in the interview process) that the company had no dental, and only one week of vacation after a year. I booked after two months.
    There was one guy, evidently otherwise totally normal, that got off wearing a J. Crew shirt but instead of the name J. Crew is was something like Jesus Crew. It was that kind of company.

  24. Define "Fun"*

    Re: fun job – the client’s comment should of course be filed away as an attempt at levity, and this was certainly a lesson in not oversharing details. Anyone who has ever done a food photo shoot knows it is NO. FUN. AT. ALL. Hot, loud, long, high pressure of getting the shot before the food “fails,” chefs and stylists at odds due to timing, recipe issues and tight schedules. And no, because of the way food needs to be styled, there is nothing to eat – unless the product is a baked good, where they had to make 24 so they could choose and photograph the best one. At my company, the beverages aren’t even actual beverages. Just a thought – if it’s a good client, who would stay out of the way and not try to art direct, invite them to watch a little bit of the next one. They will be impressed.

  25. Andrea*

    I can tell you why I used to ask for unpaid time when I had vacation time left. We did not get paid for holidays if we took an unpaid day before or after the holiday. So when I started that job and only had 5 days of vacation for 14 months, it made more sense to take unpaid time in August, where I was only taking the hit for the time I missed, then in November or December when I’d be giving up holiday pay for 2-4 additional days.

    We had a very clear bereavement policy and one guy asked for unpaid time to go a funeral that wasn’t covered (I don’t remember who it was, but it was someone he was close to but not related to) so that he’d be able to get his holiday pay at the end of the year. They told him no.

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