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My department has recently restructured with the initial communicated focus of defining roles to clarify the career advancement goals of the team members. All of us were very excited as we felt that there is no way this could be a bad thing and we felt that it would bring us closer to the meritocracy most of us desire.

However, when the new roles were handed out, most of us were put in a position with a job description for which we are overqualified (full disclosure: I am one of these people, but I am also concerned for my colleagues). We were told that we would not be dropping responsibilities despite the role definitions. We were also told that promotions were not an option at this time. We were understandably concerned, so we voiced our opinions.

Here was the official response (paraphrased to protect the innocent):

These are meant to be general guidelines. These will be used in public job postings, but apart from that, these should not be regarded as hard-and-fast rules or specific benchmarks that will be used to measure employee performance.

It seems we have no reasonable recourse here. Is the company drawing a line in the sand that current employees are not a priority? Is this a practical, acceptable way for an organization to act, or is this out of the norm?

(If it helps clarify the context of the question, we are a software development team in a medium sized subsidiary of a large corporation.)

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    Were these new role descriptions inherited from your parent company, or did your department make them up itself? – Monica Cellio May 15 '12 at 17:01
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    Will this be a problem when it's Performance Assessments season and they try to match your actual work to your new role/job description? – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner May 15 '12 at 17:04
  • @MonicaCellio Resource management made them up – smp7d May 15 '12 at 18:25
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    I'm a little unclear as to what exactly you want changed as well. So, the initial communicated focus was to clearly define the roles, but the response was both (a) mismatched from what you actually do, and (b) specifically says that they are "guidelines" and not rules? So, are you looking for something that can be more easily interpreted as a hard rule (for performance measurement), are you you frustrated that the team wasn't part of coming up with the descriptions? How would you envision the guidelines/rules fitting in with the meritocracy ideally? – jefflunt May 15 '12 at 19:00
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    Many companies expect you to be able to perform the job that you will be promoted to prior to being promoted to that position. So when you say, your job descriptions don't match what you do, does the one the next level up match what you do? If it mostly does then it gives some ammunition to push for a promotion. If you only do some of the things for the next level up then work on doing more of the things that you don't already do. – Dunk May 15 '12 at 19:49
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My answer is based onthis comment:

A person with 5 years gets placed in the 2 year position on restructure, a person with 10 years in the 5 year position, but new hires are to be plugged in with their actual experience level based on the decree.

In general this means, that they know they are paying you too little and they do not intend to fix that (as you were willing to accept that pay) but they no longer think they can recruit viable new candidates at that pay level with the experience you have.

This is not unusual in corporate America. I have been at my job for several years and took what was a competitive salary at the time I was hired. But the competitive salaries for new hires are going up faster than the annual percentage increase given to old employees. This is true of every job I have ever worked except the Federal Government (also the only job where I knew what other employees made). So if I were to come in new at my current level of experience I would be paid more than I currently make. They cannot afford as a company to adjust every employee's salary by the amount they need to pay to hire new ones. That's why to get more money you generally need to be promoted (or at least get a change in job title) or to move on to a new company.

I have also seen people get pay raises when they gave notice that they would not have been given otherwise and employees who left for a large salary increase and came back six months later for a large pay increase that they would not have been offered if they had stayed (funny how much more valuable you are when it turns out no one else can figure out how to do your job - we had one employee who went back to her old job 3 months later for a more than 50K pay increase over what we were paying her (which was higher than her old salary) because of her replacement mucked up the business critical database so badly she was the only person they knew who could fix it!)

I also know of a case where I left a job because I could not get a pay raise and they paid my replacement more than 15K over what I was paid (she was a friend of mine and I recommended her for the postion which is how I know what she got paid). I would have stayed for that (although I got more on the open market), but companies only think that people will leave when they actually do.

You say you want to be in a meritocracy, you need to stop that kind of wishful thinking. There are no meritocracies. All pay is based on negotiation skills and office politics. If you knew the actual salaries for some of your co-workers you would no doubt be appalled at how much some make and how little others do. Pay is not based on performance even though companies claim it is. Pay is based on politics (performance-based increases are highly based on office politics, believe me I've seen some of the worst performers get outstanding evaluations) and negotiating skill.

  • bleak....winner – smp7d Dec 20 '12 at 17:01
  • I've seen the opposite of this. We had a bunch of J2EE programmers hired at $$$$ during the last boom who are way overpaid compared to new hires. There are a bunch of statistic studies that being hired at the right period in the boom/bust cycle is the biggest effect on your lifetime earnings. All you can do is skip to a new job and come back a few years later 3 levels up the promotion ladder – NobodySpecial Jun 4 '14 at 4:39
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I think it's worth some research into the business of this decision. I don't think you have the full scope on what's up here. My thought is that a job description is mostly a peice of paper, because if you're paid a competitive salary relative to your actual work, and you have a work/life balance and work responsibilities that are right for you, and you have the appropriate level of other perks - then being overqualified for your current job description isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Things that would be bad:

  • new hires with similar experience being hired in at a higher rank

  • being denied opportunities to grow and advance

  • getting a pay cut, and/or failing to get appropriate increases in pay/compensation relative to the market

But I'm not hearing that this has actually happened.

Given this scenario - and my relative comfort level speaking with management - I'd be on the doorstep of both my manager, and my HR rep saying "what gives". Here's some specific questions I'd be asking:

  • Why is this less qualifications role appropriate to my work while this more-appropriate role is not?
  • if there is no more appropriate role - why not? Are you seen as overqualified? OR - are some of your qualifications seen as not a value to the business?
  • what IS the promotion process? What is it that you or your colleagues must do in order to get a promotion?
  • what are our needs and goals for hiring? How does the current role defintion support those role? Are we looking for people with these (lower) set of qualifications because we have too many senior people already?

I'd be doing all this with a particular eye to the business. is the company growing or shrinking? What is their business model for employee compensation and promotion? Do they see retaining skilled staff as a business need?

I'd talk to both your management and your HR representatives, because they tend to have very different perspectives. Both are valid, both are useful.

No promotion structure is perfect. There's always several things that are irreconcilable - the needs of the business, the skills of the people, and the tradeoff between employee growth and the options of recruiting from the marketplace. For every company, this is a juggling act - how to get their needs met in both the short term and the long term is never a perfect fit, or a truly "fair" solution. But a healthy company at least has a somewhat consistent strategy and some process that at least tries to be impartial.

  • I'm not sure if most businesses do it this way but everyone I have worked at does, so here's my take on why your level most certainly matters. When an employee is at a certain level then there is a salary range for that level. There is also a median salary level that is (for lack of a better term) called the 100% level. So if you make the 100% level and you got an average review and for the year average gets a 3% raise then you get a 3% raise. However, if your salary is at the 110% level then your raise will be pro-rated to a lower level, maybe 2.1% instead of 3. IOW, you get smaller.. – Dunk May 17 '12 at 20:25
  • raises if you are classified at a level lower than you should be. Additionally, there is usually a cap at specific levels, so if your salary hits the cap then you can't even get a raise any longer. So it is important that you are classified at your proper level purely from a monetary standpoint at many companies. – Dunk May 17 '12 at 20:27
  • Absolutely, but I skipped alot of this, because first it helps to know the business -- can they afford to pay a higher level? Will paying everyone a higher salary mean laying someone off? Is there a reason not to - for example, being able to hire cheaper/less experienced people to do the same job? I don't know that the math of salaries is the issue until I ask the big picture questions of how one fits into the organization. – bethlakshmi May 18 '12 at 13:11
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So, they understand that their existing policies are not competitive for attracting new talent, but don't want to change the system for existing employees? It sounds like the company is betting that its current employees are essentially "locked in" at their current employer, either because they have developed skills particular to this employer or simple inertia.

It's possible they may be right, and if they can get away with it, it may enable them to attract new employees without redoing their salary / job title structure.

It may be that the only way to break this is for some key employees to call their bluff and move on to another position. Otherwise, it seems that the company is willing to accept the decreased morale (which it seems to be anticipating) in order to only implement the change just for new hires.

  • This was my fear. Can this be expected in the industry, or should I assume that the company is in some sort of financial trouble? – smp7d May 16 '12 at 13:16
  • This practice is aligned with any company's (short-term) interests, regardless of its financial health. Unless it's an organization that genuinely takes pride in its people or is in a hyper-competitive market for talent, I think things like this will tend to be the norm. – JohnMcG May 16 '12 at 16:33
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    @smp:I think this is true of most any company, other than perhaps the very small ones, which I have no experience with. Most technical people find that in order to get really good raises they have to change companies, unless they choose to take the management route. OTOH, most companies also recognize their top talent and pro-actively make accomodations for them. If they consider you a top talent then you already know and don't really care about this level stuff, but if they think you are replaceable then they will risk your leaving because they know dozens of others won't leave. – Dunk May 17 '12 at 20:34
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However, when the new roles were handed out, most of us were put in a position with a job description for which we are overqualified (full disclosure: I am one of these people, but I am also concerned for my colleagues). We were told that we would not be dropping responsibilities despite the role definitions. We were also told that promotions were not an option at this time. We were understandably concerned, so we voiced our opinions.

If you feel this way I would talk to your supervisor about having a role assigned to you that better fits your skillset.

It seems we have no reasonable recourse here. Is the company drawing a line in the sand that current employees are not a priority? Is this a practical, acceptable way for an organization to act, or is this out of the norm?

The statement you posted doesn't seem to indicate this. I would begin to worry if a brand new hire, with the exact same role, came onto the job being paid exactly what you are being paid.

(If it helps clarify the context of the question, we are a software development team in a medium sized subsidiary of a large corporation.)

What other changes have taken place? It sounds to be the large coperation placed pressure on the subsidiary to look at how they define roles and job duties and this was simply the outcome.

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    I discussed this with them, they agreed but said that they are not giving out promotions at this time. Others have had same experience. This is why they followed up with the quote from the question I think. – smp7d May 16 '12 at 13:14
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The problem is that the new information was "handed out", as you put it. That phrase was a big red flag to me.

If people have not been part of the process and are not happy with the results and the intent was really supposed to be to help folks with their career paths then it was done poorly.

However to change things you will need to take a very deep breath and actually explain that to those in charge.

At the end of the day having one job description for hiring and another one for internal use is another red flag. I would ask specifically "why do we have a different description for external vs. internal? I understand that I'm not being held to this new description, but that is not my concern. My concern is that the external and internal descriptions are different and I do not understand the reason why, please help me by explaining this in more detail.
They've explained what it does not imply but not what it does imply.

At the end of the day, you should also be prepared for b.s. or 'no good answer'. This may give you an indication that this workplace is not ideal for you and you may wish to consider other alternatives.

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