I have been in my current position for nearly six years. During which time, I have received a default 2-2.5% annual raise -- about level with RPI, so effectively nothing in real terms -- based on almost-entirely absent performance reviews. ("Absent" because my line managers have let them slide and never bothered chasing them up.) Currently, it is very clear that, amongst my peers, I am the most skilled, productive and have the most institutional knowledge. Besides this being "just my opinion", it has been echoed -- albeit not quite so explicitly -- by my line manager. For example, I am given more complex tasks, and/or tasks with more responsibility (including training said peers).

It is also true that I am at (or exceed) the levels of skill of many staff that are at the next "rank" up. (Don't get me wrong, there are also many at this higher rank who vastly exceed my skill.) I understand that rank does not necessarily correlate with merit -- which explains the wide range -- but, on paper, I believe I have a good case for promotion; based on seniority, skill and productivity. However, there would be no any added value to my employer, more like a market correction for me.

Unfortunately, given the current times, the opportunity cost of alternative employment is way too high. While this is my opinion, I think it's fairly objective. As such, it's a completely asymmetric relationship and my employer can therefore just refuse, knowing that I won't leave. (Having the effect of making me look overambitious/greedy and, consequently, resentful. Not a good look!) They could even justify it using the crisis or, more reasonably, the absence of performance reviews. I'm not going to call their bluff, because I know I'd probably "blink first", having more to lose.

Obviously, "don't ask, don't get", but what's the point, given the potential fallout? Even if it weren't for the pandemic, I'd have trouble justifying this to myself (because alternative employment takes time to establish and comes with a great deal of risk). The crisis, however, pushes it completely over that threshold for me. In the meantime, the status quo makes me feel less and less respected. (I'm also of the mind that I should be happy just to have a stable job, given the current circumstances.)

(I briefly considered the alternative solution of artificially limiting my ability/output in line with my peers. However, this seems like a terrible idea, because it would just come across as obstructive and insubordinate; i.e., fireable!)

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    Does this answer your question? How should I properly approach my boss if I'm feeling underpaid? – Tymoteusz Paul Aug 4 '20 at 14:49
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    Is it a risk to speak up? Certainly, but who do you want to be in charge of your career and your success? Your employer or yourself? You have two choices: 1. Speak up and ask for what you think you deserve. 2. Say nothing and take what you get. We can't make that decision for you. – joeqwerty Aug 4 '20 at 15:05
  • @joeqwerty True. While I have to take the decision, I don’t want to do so on false premises and I guess I’m asking if my assessment of the risk is reasonable? I might be being too cautious, without realising, for example. Or maybe my view that an employer will pay the least amount for its staff is too cynical, etc... – user67054 Aug 4 '20 at 15:24
  • Hiring is also difficult these days. Even without the pandemic, your institutional experience is impossible to replace. So why do you think it's a asymmetric situation? – Chris Aug 4 '20 at 18:27

So... you feel like you deserve a promotion, you have some decent evidence for that, but the evidence is largely circumstantial, and you have zero leverage. Your immediate supervisor is quite happy with you. You want to make progress towards getting the promotion you deserve, but you don't want to do anything that might put your current position at risk.

That means that this is not the time to start trying a salary renegotiation. Those depend on leverage, and you have none. Instead, this is time to talk with your direct superior, and put the idea in his ear. Don't put pressure on it. Acknowledge that you understand that the current situation is somewhat strained, and thus that you're specifically not making demands. (It's covid. Everyone's situation is strained.) Then point out your evidence that you're effectively currently working one rank up from what you're being paid, and ask if your boss can do anything for you... or perhaps keep it in mind for when things get somewhat less strained. Alternately, if he starts talking like there's something you're still lacking to take the next step, ask him to be clear as to what, and then work on that thing.

This won't necessarily do much, especially if things are strained. It depends on your line manager agreeing with you and going to bat for you. He wont' want to lose you, because you're basically his best worker. Bringing it to him as a set of logic and a nonpressured request puts him in a position where he might feel at least somewhat personally obligated to try to support you in this... and if it's coming from him, rather than coming from you, that again is not threatening to your position.

The low-pressure tactic probably won't work in the short term, and isn't necessarily going to work in the long term, but it might work, it's very low-risk (assuming you're correct about your skills and productivity), and if you wind up leaving the place for another one that pays you what you deserve once the economy improves, your boss won't be able to say that you didn't give him a chance.

  • What leverage does one have in "normal times"? The only reasonable one I can think of is the "threat" of leaving for somewhere new. However, I understand that such a play is generally not advisable as, even if it works, it marks you out. – user67054 Aug 5 '20 at 12:57
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    @Xophmeister that's basically it. There are certainly schools of thought that say that you should not attempt salary renegotiation under any circumstances, but it's not necessarily a mistake on the face of it. Doing so when you can't afford to walk, however... – Ben Barden Aug 5 '20 at 16:40

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