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I had a mediocre performance review and as a result will be left behind others with regard to pay raises. I think the review is unfair and I have a hard time swallowing the fact that I will be paid less than colleagues who are way less experienced than me.

I think it is unfair for two reasons. First is that I feel that some of their reproach is due to their own failures in management. Second is that the other part of their criticism had never been addressed before. I don't think I should be blamed for their own mess or for things that I did that I couldn't know were wrong and didn't have any chance to correct before the review.

I stood up to my point of view (with diplomacy and arguments) but they refused to acknowledge that the review was too harsh, and basically what's done is done.

I'm not sure how to deal with it. I like what I do, but I'm not sure I can enjoy doing it in this work environment.

Should I just suck it up, try to improve myself even if it means I will enjoy my work less, I will have to make extra work that I feel is undue, and still be less valued than others (even if they are content with the change, I'll still have a whole year of pay raise behind)?
Or try to enjoy my work as much as I can, as I do now, even if it means not so happy management and no prospect of raise (firing will not happen over this though)?

In the best of all possible worlds, I'd be able to combine both... I'm not sure I can. Of course the third solution is resignation, but as I said, I like my work, I just don't like doing it for my management anymore...

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The 'pay' component of this is separate from the 'morale' issue. A lot of pay isn't fair - plain and simple. Whether other people make more or less is a distraction - people get upset about it all the time, but such things will always be.

I've been in job situations where management was making serious mistakes - as in pretty close to illegal, and definitely breaking the spirit if not the letter of the contract. Usually this was happening because the project had completely blown it's schedule and budget and the managers were trying to 'manage client communication'. My reaction to this, for the most part, was to ask 'what the hell do you think you're doing?' - and in some circumstances, quit on the spot. Looking back, there are things that I would have done differently. You may be in a situation where managers were expecting you to make them aware of things, you didn't, and therefore they thought certain bases were covered when they weren't. This would be a legitimate issue.

If the project is in trouble, and the employer has to husband whatever cash they have to finish, your pay situation may reflect a situation that isn't under their control.

There are programmers that get in the habit of 'I'm in my little world, don't bother me'. In short, they leave bigger issues to others, and don't comment or contribute. This is dangerous for the employer and dangerous for the programmer.

The instant that you understand enough about development to roughly understand the development cycle and how long things take, you should try to see whether your project is within it's budgets or timelines. If it's becoming clear that these targets are optimistic, you should make this clear to project management. Most likely they already know, but there are details that might flesh this out, details that only you understand. Similarly, if customers have changed requirements or added further demands, everyone in your project should be aware of these, and the project team can ask for more time and money as appropriate.

When a project has exceeded the skills of it's management, everyone's morale is going to tank. You co-workers may not be feeling any better than you are. One can spend time playing out various scenarios, among them:

  1. Would more advanced development tools have helped? Do I know what they are and how to use them?

  2. What should this have cost and what is the appropriate timeline? Why did the project team estimate badly? (Sometimes the schedule is applied externally, and the team leaders simply say Yes.)

  3. Would a more organized method of coding or allocating tasks within the project have improved response? If so, what are they?

Once you begin to see solutions, you can start thinking of what you can do on the next round. Understanding these things does help morale in the long run.

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