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I've worked at a company for more than 7 years and have achieved all stated goals. A bit less than 2 years ago I got promoted (higher salary and title). Now I am among the top paid engineers in the department. The promotion was partly due to acquired experience (second MSc) and, to a lesser extent, as compensation for the offer from another company that I turned down more than 4 years ago. I was told by my boss that in the future an increase in the salary is possible, if work would be well done.

In the last two months, I managed to automate a fair portion of my workload (numerical simulations): I wrote the automation script from scratch, which is not a task typically expected of me. Consequently, my productivity increased by 30-40% and can be scaled to other coworkers. This improvement appears to be the 2nd best or even the best thing I have done for the company up to date.

How should I benefit from that?

I have been thinking through several scenarios. Two options stood out:

  1. tell my bosses and hopefully get a raise
  2. don't tell anyone and use this new "additional" time to learn and work on the things that are more interesting to me.

For option 1, I was thinking of having a meeting with my superior and his boss at the same time. I would present to them the improvement in the form of increased productivity (workload reduced from 4-6 hours to 15 minutes), which would have a very positive influence on two of the most important KPIs our managers follow. I would probably ask for 20% increase in my salary at this point. The downside of this option might be that they refuse to give me a raise, but are at the same time aware of my increased capacity (and the script). They might expect higher output from me for the same salary.

If I go with this option, how should I approach this to minimize the risk of a negative (to me) outcome?

For option 2, I might keep the advantage to myself and use this "additional" time to learn new stuff and work on the things that are more interesting to me (all inside the company's scope of work). The biggest downside of this option is that I do not get paid for this "brilliant" thing that saves the company time and money.

We usually get a raise for continuous small improvements that accumulate over time. But I'm wondering what should happen when a substantial improvement is made abruptly (e.g. 40% capacity increase all at once) which will bring benefits to the company (improved KPIs) forever. Should I just wait for superiors to discover this improvement on their own?


Update (jan 2020): I decided to talk to my superior and explain the situation. I told him that it took me a lot of preparation (learning programming language for more than 1 year, finding right methods to do certain things, programming at home, ...). He was speechless. The only thing he said was: "That's it." He gave me his approval to automate the process throughout the year. I mentioned, that if everything works fine, this merits for something more than a bonus. Let's see how this ends up.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Dec 12 '19 at 12:26
  • If you tell your boss you've automated 40% of your job, a raise is the exact opposite of what is going to happen. You may be right that by innovating you've demonstrated value, but Capitalism doesn't see it that way. All that will happen is that your boss will start wondering how he can automate the other 60% of your job. – Jonathon Cowley-Thom Dec 31 '19 at 14:10
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I managed to automate a fair portion of my workload. I wrote a script [...] (workload reduced from 4-6 hours to 15 minutes), what would have a very positive influence on two of the most important KPIs our managers follow

That's great! So don't wreck it by the way you choose to use it.

I wouldn't suggest either approach in your question, personally. How would you feel, as a manager, if an employee essentially came to you with the following:

Hi Mike, I've created this script to automate my job, meaning that x task now only takes 15 minutes of my time rather than 6 hours. I now have 30% more capacity as a result, so I'd like a 20% raise.

That's not a recipe for staying somewhere long term and getting on the good side of managers. Of course they're just going to think you'll keep coming back to milk the cow, because that's exactly what you've shown. Neither is your second approach good, which is just to "hide" it - what if they find out, and show you've essentially been slacking off for the last x months (or however long)? That's (probably) goodbye to the job and any hope of a good reference, which isn't great when you've been working there that long.

Instead, show it to them and use it to start a discussion - not around pay, but around how similar workloads might be automated, and how you could work with others to do that. A 4-6 hour task down to 15 minutes is huge if it's regular enough that it results in around 30% increased capacity just for yourself, and that can be scaled to others.

If, as a result, they agree to a role change where you're working on automation full-time, then of course you can say you'll conditionally accept that role, but only with an x% raise. If you don't get it, then you can start looking elsewhere. But that's very different from just saying "I've written this script without authorisation and I'm now demanding more pay."

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    @Mike It's also important that you're not going around asking for a raise for every great thing you do. Instead you should keep consistent records of what you do, inform management in the meantime of course, so that you can use all of your achievements in your annual reviews where it's expected and use it as a basis for increase. – Jonast92 Dec 11 '19 at 13:51
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    This is a great answer. As a manager, I care about what my staff will do in the future a lot more than what they've done in the past. – Andrew Brēza Dec 11 '19 at 16:18
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    Great answer. One thing that might be worth adding: is OP sure they automated their workflow correctly in all cases? How has the automation script been tested? How much? The reasoning here is that it's often really easy to implement a really cool 80% solution really fast, and not realize that there are some nasty bugs lurking in the 20% you didn't implement, and they might not rear their ugly heads for a while. So it might be worth giving the automation script a second look in terms of quality assurance, unless it's really really simple. – bob Dec 11 '19 at 21:00
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    @AndrewBrēza That is depressing to many of us and is demoralizing. I find it frustrating that some managers are demanding that we always keep improving in the things they are interested in; simply staying level and doing your job still earns the company profits and some people don't feel the need to advance. When I do have a great idea, the "I care about what you will do, not what you have done" makes me feel like a great idea that I do have isn't worth the kudos right now because it will be forgotten next year, so I'm less likely to put in the extra effort. – Aaron Dec 11 '19 at 22:12
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    "Of course they're just going to think you'll keep coming back to milk the cow". If they are getting "30% more capacity as a result" for just "a 20% raise" (to use your figures) each time, what would be wrong with that? The business wins out each and every time. – Jim Cullen Dec 12 '19 at 0:13
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If you wrote that script during work time then your company owns it. If you don’t tell the company about software they own, that’s tricky. They paid you to write it, by paying your salary.

About the raise: If they fire you and hire someone else, that person would also be more productive, right? Do you think that person would be paid 20% more? I don’t think so.

On the positive side, you did a good job that is well worth of a bonus. And one raise in seven years doesn’t seem much. So: Careful how you approach this.

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  • I doubt, that if they hired someone else, that person would be productive equally without the script. And remember, script automates certain types of tasks, not all of them. – Mike Dec 11 '19 at 12:38
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    That person would be equally productive with the script. The script is property of the company. – gnasher729 Dec 11 '19 at 13:12
  • What if you didn't write the script during work time, to retain ownership? If you are ever in such a position, would that be a viable strategy? – ig-dev Dec 12 '19 at 3:47
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    @ig-dev might help but it's very tricky to retain full ownership if dispute arises. The problem is that you still used inside knowledge of the company and created a tool suitable for that company. This can encroach on anti-competes depending on what the problem you solved is. You would be fine with something more general, e.g., you create a widget that shows you text every 15 minutes or something as a reminder. That might be useful for your job but it's a much wider applicability. If you create a tool that automates specific payment processing and your job is to handle these, that's different. – VLAZ Dec 12 '19 at 8:51
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(1) I was thinking of having a meeting with my superior and his boss at the same time. I would present to them the improvement in the form of an increased productivity (workload reduced from 4-6 hours to 15 minutes), what would have a very positive influence on two of the most important KPIs our managers follow. I would probably ask for 20 % increase in the salary. The downside of this option might be a situation when they refuse to give me a rise, but are at the same time aware of my increased capacity (and the script). They might expect higher output from me for the same salary. How should I do/put it to lower the risk of a negative outcome as much as possible?

What you have done merits a bonus. That is what you want to push for. You went beyond what was expected and produced a thing that will save the company time. The fact it was your time doesn't matter.

It is hard to justify a raise, because that raise is forever. That 20% increase you are hoping for will make you much more expensive going forward. A bonus will also make it more likely that you will look for other opportunities to save the company money.

Some companies have a formal process of approving bonuses. Some don't have an organized process. Sometimes bonuses are kept quiet and other times they are announced. There is an art to an effective bonus program, they need to be small enough that it doesn't take a big bureaucracy to approve, but large enough to be an incentive.

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    "It is hard to justify a raise" not really... When phrased as "I wrote 1 script so I deserve 20% more, forever" then obviously not, but approached more in the manner of "I believe I am a valuable asset to the company. I believe I am worth more than what you are paying me. This script is a prime example of the kind of things I do to save this company money which no one else at my pay grade does/has done/is capable of doing" then that is reasonable justification for wanting more – Michael Dec 11 '19 at 19:46
  • "What you have done merits a bonus. That is what you want to push for." These are sound words. Unfortunately, our bonus rules have changed not so far ago, and thus, the reward I would get for such a big improvement would be too low. 40 % increase in productivity that lasts forever would be remunerated once at a level of max. 5% of the yearly salary and taxed afterwards. – Mike Dec 12 '19 at 7:12
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You've reached the great conundrum of working for a company. Even though you've introduced a process that will increase the companies efficiency by X, you won't see much direct benefit from it.

As a non-commissioned employee, you aren't paid based on your results, but based on the number you negotiated with the employer at the beginning. All the work you did in creating this software was done on the companies dime, so you were made whole for the work you've done as an employee. You now have an obligation to tell them that this software exists, and they have no obligation to pay you more.

However, any good company would look at the fact that you managed to create this and reward you for it. If they don't, then I would recommend beginning looking to another job, whether it be problem-solving on your own, or with another company.

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    It's a bit of a wall-of-text, though a small one. Could you break it up into 2 or 3 paragraphs? It's good though, got my +1. – Aaron Dec 11 '19 at 22:27
  • One thing, if he created it on company time without having the budget (in time especially) for it he may even end up getting reprimanded for not spending his time on the job he was given to do... And at the same time get complimented for making that script (if it indeed works as advertised and isn't full of errors and missed scenarios). – jwenting Dec 12 '19 at 7:12
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Yes

You should do both 1 and 2. First, tell your boss that you just delivered a step change in productivity for your whole team, and with their permission, you will roll it out to all your coworkers for a dramatic improvement in throughput. Note that this effort required significant initiative on your part, using skills which are not normally employed in your position, and that you are hoping for some increased compensation in the form of a bonus or raise, and ask your boss if you can discuss it further after they have seen the results for a few weeks. However, it is ill-advised to name any specific numbers, because if you shoot high, then your manager can only disappoint you, which is bad for both of you. But it's also possible that your request shoots low. Then you leave money on the table. Much better to see what your manager thinks of the new results after seeing them in action.

Autonomy

In addition to compensation, tell your boss that you are interested in other kinds of work being done in the company, and that you would like 10-20% of your workload to be assigned to these "side projects". You have basically bought this time yourself with the productivity increase, and you just need to sell the idea that these side projects could even result in further productivity gains. In general, giving you more freedom to decide what you work on can only result in Good Things(TM) for the company.

However, you need to spell out exactly what these side projects are, what value you can deliver by working on them, and how much more fulfilling your job would be with this extra freedom. You should have earned considerable credibility already with your automation, so don't bring this up until your boss has already seen the improvement in action. If the manager has two brain cells to rub together, they will see that you are a potential cash cow that just needs to be fed a bit of premium grass and milked on the regular. That should also translate to good press for said manager and your team.

Your boss will likely try to offer you increased compensation as a combination of cash + freedom, and you will need to decide how hard you push for one or the other. Just don't get greedy, which is the point many other people are trying to make.

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Increased productivity used to be rewarded with higher pay in USA. But this trend stopped in 1979.

Now, the benefits of increased productivity go almost exclusively to the owners and the executives of companies.

You can check out a chart that shows this change at the link below: https://www.epi.org/productivity-pay-gap/

A common explanation for this change in compensation is that labor unions used to be strong, and they were the ones who successfully demanded higher pay for higher productivity. But now labor unions are either weak or non-existent. And individuals like you don't have much bargaining power.

In present economic environment, you can only get higher pay for higher productivity if you start your own business and work for yourself. Perhaps you should explore this possibility.

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  • What you say is true for certain working class in US. I am not from US. Besides, times are changing, and fair redistribution of remuneration should be on the menu. If we (employees) take your words for granted and always leave others to reward us for our good work, we will never come close to the upper line. – Mike Dec 12 '19 at 7:05
  • While the problem may very well exist, the solution you mention is certainly not unions. Unions inevitably devolve into bureaucratic and corrupt mess. It's a small scope socialist system, and as such protects the worse workers and burdens the good ones along with the entire businesses they affect. Employees are also forced to join them. Good employees won't be able to negotiate with their bosses for raises and instead have to have union bureaucrats do it for you. It's a collectivist takeover of individual relationships. – Battle Dec 12 '19 at 7:49
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    I'm not a big fan of labor unions either. But there is a fundamental inequality of bargaining power, when your employer is a big organization and you are only an individual, who can be replaced by another individual. This inequality of bargaining power enables employers to take advantage of their employees. That's why there are all kinds of rules and laws from the government that regulate what employers can do. Perhaps such rules need to be extended to prevent unfair compensation. Because this isn't a problem that most individuals can solve on their own. – user112704 Dec 12 '19 at 8:27
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Congratulations on doing something that sounds very beneficial to your company. You should absolutely tell your boss. You've done something they would certainly want to know about, and if you don't tell them, you definitely won't receive the credit you're due.

That said, it sounds like you are motivated by money, and your priority here is the 20% raise. Mentioning this explicitly is unlikely to come across nicely to your boss, because it makes you sound like a mercenary. From their perspective you're already supposed to do your best for the company (I suspect there's such a clause in your contract too), but now it sounds like you'll only do your best if they pay you more, which even if justified is not a palatable conclusion.

You can get the credit you're due, impress your boss, leave a good impression if you ever decide to move elsewhere, and build good vibes by not pressing for the money at once:

  • Tell your boss. Then point out that since you have a lot more free time now, you have spare capacity that you can use on something else.
  • Assuming your boss doesn't just give you more of the same work, then you probably get new responsibilities, which is something you probably want since it helps you grow.
  • New responsibilities also means a promotion/raise when those come around. A 40% increase in productivity is massive, especially if it's in a core task, and the odds are extremely good this will happen.
  • Assuming the increased productivity means you crush the KPIs for this year, you'll likely also be entitled to a bonus next year (for crushing the KPIs).

Patience will probably help you more than outright asking for the money at once; you'll probably get the money eventually anyway.

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I read your question and wasn't clear on what is the actual question here, that is until you've said in the comments:

What I am wondering about is that we usually get a raise for continuous small improvements that accumulated over time. But what happens when an abrupt improvement is made (e.g. 40 % capacity increase) which will bring benefits to the company (improved KPIs) for ever? Should we just wait for superiors to see? As I mentioned, I see this as a big step ahead.

So in the course of doing the job you were hired to do, you've found a way to greatly improve the way it is done, and now you think that you deserve to be specially compensated for it. Except that this is thinking the wrong way around.

You were hired to do a job, let us say moving values from column A to column B in excel program. On day 2 you've wrote a python script that does the entire moving for the day in 30 minutes. Does that mean you now have rest of the day off, after firing the script?

That certainly would be the case if you are a contractor hired to do a specific task of moving those values. But if you are a salaried employee then you are expected to move to other tasks after you've done the current workload that benefits the business otherwise. If you have no other tasks to handle, you should report that to your manager and then together figure out more stuff for you to do.

As for receiving special remuneration for your breakthrough, it's a no. You've created this solution with the business in mind, solving their specific business problem (relying on this-business-specific knowledge) so even when done "out of hours" (which is a complex thing in case of a salaried employee) this script belongs to the company, and extent of the compensation you are owed is already included in your salary.

That doesn't mean you cannot be paid more though, just that company doesn't need to offer you anything more than a pat on the back in exchange for complete ownership of the script, as they already own it. But this also makes it a lot easier to negotiate a salary increase. But when doing so focus on how you will continue to make changes like that, not about the single script you've already created and they own. In the end if I have an employee who can save me a boatload of money, I will be happy to offer them a substantial raise to keep them as long as they can keep saving me money. Because if they can keep doing it, and I won't pay them more, then they will go to my competitor, and that's my loss.

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  • thanks for reading the comments and posting an ample answer. :) A slight correction, I was hired to perform engineering tasks that require certain engineering knowledge on a software that can be automated, if you know how to do it. Yes, I am employed full time and I am not a contractor. – Mike Dec 11 '19 at 13:22
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    @Mike Doesn't really matter what you were hired to do, the reasoning stands that result of your work, and the improvement we're done as your salaried employment. Was it above and beyond your duty, mayhaps, but still the results belong to the company. Also instead of posting thanks, it's best to upvote good answers. – Tymoteusz Paul Dec 11 '19 at 13:25
  • If your only reason for compensating such an achievement is simply because otherwise "they will go to my competitor" then many of us would call that an unethical employer. As an employee, you won't keep me happy by bribing me to stay, you'll keep me happy (and cause me to stay) by recognizing the good work and compensating appropriately. In OP's case, that would be providing a bonus or raise, and not as a bribe to stay. This is not legally required, but it is the moral, responsible, and professional thing to do. – Aaron Dec 11 '19 at 22:21
  • @Aaron I think you need to checkup what "bribe", "salary", "compensation" means. And I will sell you a pro tip - what you are paid is strictly correlated to as hard it is to replace you. Thus if you do great work, it is hard to replace you, and you get paid more. – Tymoteusz Paul Dec 11 '19 at 22:34
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I agree with the sentiment of many other answers: Tell your boss, but frame it as a "general good thing" rather than "give me more money and I'll let you in on it".

However... There are other considerations you may want to think about before you start saying how awesome you are. Automation is absolutely a good thing, and is one that both you and your employer should be investing in. Sadly though, there are lots of companies that simply don't understand automation enough to invest in it. For those companies, being clever and automating some stuff may well be worse for them than leaving them as they are. If they're incapable of maintaining and managing the automation solution going forwards, then it may cause more problems than it solves in the longer term.

I've lost count of the number of places I've found a "clever spreadsheet" (for example) that does "all the accounts work automatically". I'm told that all you need to do is put X, Y and Z into the right boxes and it magically works out the all of the next quarters numbers for you. It's great - right up until it isn't. If it's putting out incorrect numbers we'd never know, and if it just flat-out fails to put out numbers there's no one in the world who can look at it, work out what's wrong and fix it for you.

My point is - have automation, but have testing, have QA and have it in some maintainable form that means you can hire people from outside the company to work on it (ie. you can hire skills that would readily transfer into the task of automating your work). There's no point writing an awesome Python program if your company is a C# house, and there's no point automating using a string of Bash scripts, some Perl and a bit of C# either - because no one will be able to pick it up and work with it.

Instead, use your new-found spare time to make sure you have ways to test each stage of your automation so that you can prove each stage of it outputs the right things. Similarly, you can show that if you put in incorrect inputs, that these are caught and don't output real-looking, but woefully wrong outputs. Then show that putting these steps together also works, and that again, wrong inputs don't cause malfunctions, uncaught errors or real-looking-but-wrong outputs.

You don't need everything 100% perfect, but if you're no where near then all you have is a proof of concept. You can't sell the "productivity improvement" as a benefit if you need a team of developers to develop your ideas into a workable "product" for the next three months. All your boss will see there is problems and won't believe the benefits to be worth the hassle. Instead, "productise" your solution so that it's super-easy for your co-workers to pick up, safe enough that they can't use it incorrectly and ideally easy enough to work with that one of them could make some changes to it if needed.

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