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Over 4 1/2 years ago as a young 20-something man, I started my job as a trainee SQL Developer. I had no qualifications or experience in the field at the time, and the company that hired me did so with complete faith in what I had said during the interview process. They gave me a fair salary for a trainee, and, for the first time I felt like I was earning money, and I had a good job.

As the years progressed, I took my parent's advice, kept my head down, learned fast, worked efficiently and developed my skills to the point where I had skills useful to other areas of the business. Essentially as people had left the business, I continually took on the extra tasks left over to bridge the gap. Before long I had learned the Microsoft full-stack, and additionally many web development techniques on the front-end and back-end to visualise reports and analyse MI. My skills essentially became unique to the business.

We had work conferences and social meet-ups where people received awards for hard work, some were newer to the business than me and didn't really do much, and I began to feel undervalued. Especially when I remained on the same salary that I began with for 4 years, but I didn't speak up because I felt that this would cause me to be seen as only "in it for the money" or "high maintenance".

At the beginning of this year, I was moved to another area of the business because a senior member of staff was leaving and they were worried about who was going to take over. I quickly filled the gap and began working well in my new role. I was promised more money, but I had to mention it a few times to my manager (not his fault, he did keep asking the upper management but kept getting fobbed off). Eventually, I did receive a pay rise, but I felt it didn't reflect what I was worth to the business.

My girlfriend then fell pregnant, and we had to move out of my family home into our own "nest", which put some considerable strain on me financially. I decided the best course of action was to find a new job.

Luckily, I have found a new job with good opportunities to earn more money and support my family. When I handed my notice in, the upper management were surprised and said that I was worth too much to let me just walk, so they counter offered with slightly more than the new role. I obviously turned this down.

My question is, is it my fault that I was overlooked, undervalued and underpaid for so long? Or should my employers have identified my loyalty and hard work and rewarded me for it accordingly? Why did it seem like people who did less than I got more? The sad thing is that I loved working there, and found it challenging and engaging, but the stress financially and emotionally (because I felt like a walk-over) was too much to bear. Ultimately, I had to move jobs even if it was a difficult decision, as I knew that accepting more money to stay would've not only gone against what I'm about but would've also damaged my career.

EDIT:

I thought I'd better edit this and add that I never received a reward or any mentions for my efforts at any meetings, conferences or social meetings in the entire time I spent there. Despite the fact that others had done just the same amount of extra hours or even less, and were recognized and praised regularly. It was as if I didn't exist at all. I don't know if this is a symptom of my character and the fact I kept quiet, or something else. I doubt that it was intentional, but it didn't feel very good either way.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Nov 5 '16 at 8:23
  • Read this. – lowtechsun Nov 7 '16 at 23:37
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    “Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” keep this in mind ALWAYS. – k3y4r Dec 23 '16 at 6:52
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    It's axiomatic in the software industry that in the early part of your career trajectory, getting a high salary means changing organisations. You've made the same mistake I made in my second job. In my first job I had nobody more senior than me to learn from and so was effectively self-taught. When I interviewed for my second job I was honest about this and received a salary offer I thought was fair. Four years down the line at that job my skills, and thus my value, had increased dramatically but my salary had not kept up. For you, I think, it's time to move on. – Jonathon Cowley-Thom Mar 6 '17 at 14:19

12 Answers 12

32

I think if you observe closely how people think and act, you'll understand your situation better.

Many people go crazy for discounts, your boss probably isn't any different. Have you ever told the cashier in the supermarket: "This special offer is too cheap for this great product. I'll pay more for it."? I guess no, so why should your boss?

The second thing you should observe is that if a product is too cheap, you might avoid it even though it might be good. Cheap can also be suspicious, so don't think it always sells better. Specifically if you're too cheap, your bosses will just not believe in you and your skills, and this is the feedback you feel between the lines every day.

The third one is closely related: How much you value things you have depends on the price you paid. Maybe in general you're less inclined to buy something expensive in the first place, but if for some reason you do, you'll value it.

The fourth thing is closely related to that one: If a boss paid a lot for you, he wants his investment to pay off, so you'll get difficult and challenging jobs to do, and as you solve them, they'll start depending on you. If you're at that point, then others are right: The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

When your boss told you he was waiting for their managers to confirm the pay rise, it was just an excuse, I'm 99% sure. If he's the one in charge and the one you have to talk to, then he's also the one who decides. It's a well-known strategy to intimidate employees asking for a pay rise by making them to have to ask again and again and at the same time making it look like you're on their side.

What your parents told you about accepting anything seems to be based on the fear of not having a job or losing the one you have. They're right in that respect that just as you like to be appreciated, your job and employer also want to be appreciated. It's an important kind of energy both sides have to bring in for the employment to blossom. However, appreciating something and being grateful is far from being scared of losing it. As soon as you're scared, your market value goes down rapidly because you'll be weak in negotiation. And you'll also do a worse job, because you'll be more focused on not doing the wrong thing as opposed to adding real value and surprising everyone with great ideas and great contributions.

This leads to another important implication: Your salary is not only there to cover your expenses, you must also be able to save money. The more money you have in the bank the less scared you will be and the better you will negotiate in the future. Make sure you save enough so at least you can cover 6 months of unemployment without any financial trouble.

In general it's easier to get high pay rises by taking another job. The more casually you change your jobs the easier and more independent you'll start feeling in general and the bolder you get in negotiations. Just don't change too often, because it leaves a bad impression unless you're a freelancer. Every 2-3 years should be alright.

The last bit of advice I give may be the most difficult one for you to comprehend for two reasons: 1) it's probably everything but obvious, but 2) you'll probably feel like you've heard it a hundred times before, it will LOOK obvious, and you'll think you've already thought it through. It is: How others appreciate your work is a direct indicator of how you appreciate it. It's like looking in the mirror. What you see there isn't their fault at all.

When you wrote your request, you stressed the value of your work with words, on the surface it looks like you know your worth, but reading your problem I'm almost sure deep down you disregard your work and your skill. If you solve that, I don't think you'll have a lot to worry about your salary anymore, you'll automatically do the right things about it and earn very well in the future.

  • 3
    By "less independent" do you mean more independent? – Mehrdad Nov 6 '16 at 3:08
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    I believe that what's meant there is "less dependent". – Bob Jarvis Nov 6 '16 at 11:10
  • One nitpick: "If he's the one in charge and the one you have to talk to, then he's also the one who decides." That's not necessarily the case, depending on the nature of the organization. In a large organization all pay raises not according to policy may have to go through HR, etc. – Mark S. Nov 6 '16 at 11:28
  • "It's a well-known strategy to intimidate employees asking for a pay rise by making them to have to ask again and again" any chance you could add some reference to this "well-known strategy"? It just seems like stalling, or avoiding the question, and not intimidating in any way. – Amani Kilumanga Nov 7 '16 at 1:48
  • Yes, typo, sorry. Corrected it to read "more independent". – tln Jan 12 '17 at 21:24
139

My question is, is it my fault that I was overlooked, undervalued and underpaid for so long?

There's no way to know without a lot more details, but "fault" isn't something that should worry you anyway.

Every company has a unique culture. Some companies value quiet, steady work. Other companies value loud cowboys. In some companies you can grow to more senior roles naturally and easily. In some companies, you can campaign actively for a promotion when a new job opens up and be considered. In other companies, once a newbie always a newbie. Knowing what is important within your company and maximizing those attributes only comes with time and experience. Perhaps you were too young and too new to learn that.

And sometimes the only way to get paid market value is to actually put yourself on the market.

My first professional job was a good one in many aspects. I learned a lot, had a good mentor, was well-respected and enjoyed the work. But the pay was sub-par during high-inflation times and it was clear to me that this company didn't value the things that I was particularly good at. It wasn't their fault, they were an older stable company in a low-margin, lower-tech industry (it was a supermarket chain and I worked in IT), and I was particularly strong in learning and adapting newer technologies. I made a decision that was difficult for me at the time, and found a new job with a significant salary increase. Like you, I also turned down a significant offer to stay. I never looked back.

Over the years, I've learned that it pays to keep an eye on the market. Even if you are happy in your job, learn what skills companies are looking for. And learn what companies are willing to pay for. That can help guide your actions in the future.

Sometimes you'll decide that you need to update your skills on your own. Sometimes you'll decide that you can get what you need within your own company by being a little louder or more proactive. Sometimes you'll decide that you need to move on and find a new job - perhaps in a different sector.

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    "the only way to get paid market value is to actually put yourself on the market". This cannot be understated. Especially in the case of someone who entered very low, and did grow up a lot in the company. Usually, only outsiders will see the new profile as worthy as it is. – gazzz0x2z Nov 3 '16 at 11:57
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    I like stability, and found it a monumentally difficult decision to move on. But it seems like the bird has to fly the nest at some point. Thanks for the answer. I would say because the business is very sales-oriented that they prefer louder people who speak up. It was difficult for me to see these people rewarded so much. I know jealousy is not pretty, but I couldn't help it when I'd put so much time and effort into my role. – John Bell Nov 3 '16 at 11:57
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    I agree @Kilisi. The more times I read it, the better I feel that I've made the right decision. – John Bell Nov 3 '16 at 12:47
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    @JohnBell Fortunately or unfortunately but all sings show that, at least in IT, the best way to earn more is to change a job. The sources disagree on the period of stay at place mostly from a year up to 3 I believe. I find that stability is a value for the employee. You accept lower rates of raises for the sake of being in a familiar place. Change is always more risky. That's your trade-off for more money. It is extremely hard to keep up the salary raise at one place competitive to "job hopping" even utilizing all the good advises. – luk32 Nov 3 '16 at 14:26
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    @JohnBell: As you grow in your experience you will start to notice another trend in IT - people who switch jobs more often are more likely to have higher salary then those who switch jobs less often. Note that this generally ONLY apply to IT, other professions typically don't have the same kind of freedom to switch jobs (except perhaps for nursing, nurses are in high demand and can switch jobs almost as freely as programmers) – slebetman Nov 5 '16 at 8:04
53

I had a job once where I was working there for several years and was making less than they were hiring new employees for. I went to HR and complained about X employee, who was making almost twice what I was (salaries weren't that secret in those days in that business) and I wanted to know why. The HR woman told me it was because he had years of experience at his last job. I said to her that I have years of experience here, and she said they don't count that. So I said that I'll go somewhere that will count it and quit.

I've learned that a lot of companies will only look at what you have done before you get hired there. I don't have any idea why that is.

I've never been a social worker, the kind that is always hanging out at the water cooler or coffee area (I drink neither) and chatting everyone up. I usually just do my work, which I do well, and go home. The problem is that most companies seem to only recognize those types of employees that make sure that everyone knows that they work there - even if in doing so they don't get a whole lot of work done. The people who are good at their jobs and just quietly do their work get overlooked a lot.

Over the years I have found that not much has changed. I've come to expect that I will only get out of a job what I ask for when I get hired. I don't have the personality or patience to 'campaign' for recognition, a raise, or a promotion. This seems to be the way that it works a lot of times, you have to actually work to get these things instead of the quality of your work getting you these things all by itself. Hard work is recognized, but a lot of the time it seems like it is the wrong hard work - most of the time is the the hard work of trying to get recognition, a raise, or a promotion that is rewarded and not actual work of the business itself.

19

Quite often, managers manage by doing exactly enough to keep important personnel happy. Basically, they want to avoid people leaving.

From a manager's point of view, you probably seemed hard-working, dependable, flexible and cheap - so they probably felt the risk of you leaving was low. Hence the lack of recognition.

It might not seem fair - but important employees who articulate their grievances are simply pampered more - because the risk of them leaving seems more acute.

  • Though what you said might or might not be true, could you explain how this answers the question of "should I have done something?" or "was it wrong of me not to ask?" or even "what would you have done in my Situation?". The last one not being a question of the OP, but could still provide value. – Raoul Mensink Nov 3 '16 at 12:37
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    @Raoul Mensink : I believe those two questions are answered by pointing out that employees who actively seek recognition have a much larger chance of getting it – morsor Nov 3 '16 at 12:43
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    @JohnBell what you say is true, but life is war and no one is going do play your trumpet for you, so you have to do it yourself, or be ignored often. It's sad but it's true. – STT LCU Nov 3 '16 at 12:56
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    @JohnBell It's all about the way you make noise; just being loud and annoying won't do it - but confidently pointing out your actual contributions is fair game – morsor Nov 3 '16 at 13:00
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    @JohnBell : last Morsor's comment is the key. Showing pride for nothing is bad, as you've been taught. Communication about your actual prowess is, OTOH, mandatory. Do well first, let it know later. Both are important. – gazzz0x2z Nov 4 '16 at 15:04
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In general, if you don't ask, you don't get. Companies are in the business of making money, and cash they don't spend (i.e. on salaries) is money saved.

If the company doesn't have a formal review process, and I'm guessing it doesn't, then the onus is always on the employee to ensure they're getting what they think they're worth. The company may not agree, but if the employee doesn't initiate that conversation, the company definitely won't, as it's not in their interest to do so.

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    This only answers half the question though. Compared to others I received very little acknowledgment at all. It was almost as if I didn't exist. – John Bell Nov 3 '16 at 11:32
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    @JohnBell So your former company likes talkers. Which means, in the new one, make sure everyone is aware of your skill(once you have enough stuff done to prove it, of course). Be sure to read everything in gnat's links, in comment of your OP - they are full of enlightening elements. – gazzz0x2z Nov 3 '16 at 12:01
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    This is, of course, a bad way to save money as it causes employees to leave and then they have a spend a ton of money on finding new people, but it is indeed a common practice. – Erik Nov 3 '16 at 14:28
  • Yes, I actually disagree with this answer. Companies are in the business of making money. To me, rewarding loyal and hard working employees with regular appraisals and bonus schemes is a good way to keep them, and avoid wasting money finding replacements. – John Bell Nov 3 '16 at 14:53
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    @JohnBell I could have written this post 2 years ago. If you don't advocate for yourself in a company, in most cases, no one will. Managers and C-level execs as nice as they can be, are in it for the money. Period. They have to, by law, in for-profit business. If you don't let it be known to then that you are not happy with your compensation, they will asume you are, even if it's unfair or way below market. Even it you were promised "more in time" when you were hired, they will conveniently forget. Squeaky wheel gets the grease, as they say. Don't ever be afraid to ask for a raise. – unknownprotocol Nov 3 '16 at 17:14
11

You probably did a good bit of this to yourself and you need to learn how to avoid doing it again at your new job. Some part of this may also be because you had a boss who was incompetent at office politics.

Perception is all there is. If you are doing great work and people above you don't know it, then you are not doing great work to the people who hand out awards, pay raises and promotions. Therefore it is in your best interests to make sure you get credit for all the good things you accomplish.

If you get an email from an internal or external client saying you did something well, then forward it to your boss and save a copy in a folder in your email program. When it is review time, go back through all the attaboys you have received and mention them.

If you have done something significant, make sure to mention it in a team meeting or other appropriate public venue. If you have beaten a deadline or saved the company money, make sure to mention it.

Make sure to give credit to others and thank them for their help in getting your work tasks accomplished. Provide help to others when you can. This helps build allies, people who will want to say to their managers how much they like working with you.

Look for assignments that will be important to the company and especially ones that will be cross-functional where you get to work with other departments. What you need to do is to start developing a reputation outside your own work group and this type of project is a great way to do that.

Ask for pay increases when you want them. Keep an eye on your market value. Don't rely on others to give you a pay raise out of the goodness of their hearts. Look at your work accomplishments to justify the raise. In today's world though, the best way to get more money is, as you have found out, to change jobs.

Do presentations within and outside the company. Having a public reputation for knowledge is a good thing. If you feel up to it, write a blog or a book. If you work with SQL Server, speaking at SQL Saturdays is a great way to make a public reputation for yourself.

Accept that it doesn't matter if people have less overall experience or less time in the job or don't appear to work as hard or are younger than you. If they are perceived by management as contributing more, they will get rewarded. Much of the time, they will deserve it. Sometimes they won't, but it is unproductive to dwell on that. Simply know that if they are rewarding some people, you can do the work (both the actual work and the political work) to make sure you are one of the people who is rewarded. If they reward no one, then it is time to move on if you want to be rewarded. (Sometimes it pays to stay in a place that doesn't reward well in order to gain a new skill set though, then the rewards come at the next job.)

6

Based on your telling, definitely yes, looks like it's your own fault.

seen as only "in it for the money"

You are in it for money! I know, for some companies you may be more than an employee, they may back you up on your life as well. But seems like that's not it in your case.

I had a friend just like you, an excellent developer who carries the whole company's business and paid a laughable salary. I always informed him as they are using him. He found another job with my advice. And the day he gave his resignation, they counter-offered with 4 times more of his original salary.. (For detals: First salary was 1.850TL (€530), Counter offer was 3.000TL + $1000 + Paid any certificate exam he wants to take. (€860 + €900 + €100 per certificate.)

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    4 times more....wow! – hd. Nov 4 '16 at 8:43
5

Be brave, be bold, take initiative

My story:

  • Interview for my first full-time job, boss asks "how much are you asking for?" I honestly say I don't know.
  • I get an offer for the job, and they offered 49k, but I realised I was hoping for more (even though I was unsure at the interview). I asked for 55k, they offered 50k, with a vague promise of revisiting it after 3 months. I agree and sign the contract.
  • 3 months in is my first performance review. The boss says I'm doing well. I plainly tell him I hope to put in extra effort, and to also be rewarded for the extra effort, so I was hoping I had demonstrated that I was worth a higher pay. I said I was hoping for something around 60k.
  • A few days later he came back and said 60k was too high, but he offered 54k. I asked if we could bump it to 55k, as it was a milestone for me. He agreed.

I might be considered somewhat aggressive, but I got my salary from 49k up to 55k within 3 months of working. If I had never taken initiative, it would have been at least 1 year before they considered giving me a raise.

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    Are you a brain surgeon?! 50k+ first permanent job?? – John Bell Nov 4 '16 at 3:57
  • @JohnBell Software engineer in a high wage area I'd guess. – Tim B Nov 4 '16 at 13:32
  • @JohnBell The average starting salary for software developers in the US is about $65k - that's for 22 year olds with nothing but a BSc in Computer Science. Developers with many years of experience can expect upwards of $200k in certain areas (which is comparable to surgeons in the US). – Shaz Nov 4 '16 at 13:48
  • @Ryan Well looks like I'm on the wrong side of the big pond... – John Bell Nov 4 '16 at 13:49
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    I'm a web dev in New Zealand, these figures are in NZD and are fairly standard for the trade. (at the current rate, 50k NZD is about 36.6k USD) – Mirror318 Nov 6 '16 at 4:11
2

Proactively checking that employees are paid a wage commesurate with their worth to the company has significant short-term costs for a company. Every dollar they pay you is a dollar less profit.

It is very, very seductive to freeze wages and only give raises when there is a squeeky wheel. This can generate significant short-term return on lack of investment.

Measuring employee dissatisfaction is hard, and measuring the impact on the business is just as hard. Things that are hard to measure are neglected in a culture that seeks to use objective metrics to make decisions.

Imagine trying to sell "I want to spend X more dollars a year on this. No, I cannot give you a business case other than a vague one. No, I cannot directly show a connection to the business's bottom line." It is a hard sell.

Meanwhile, "I kept costs down" is an easy sell.

And in a low-inflation environment, a zero salary increase doesn't feel as bad as a the few-percent cut it actaually is.

The harm from failing to "properly" compensate workers is that they move on. Institutional knowledge decays at a faster rate. Churn increases. The cost of hiring qualified applicants goes up. But all of these costs are longer term than "an extra X thousand dollars in salary" next year, and they often come out of someone else's budget.

And the opposite, where you give everyone generous raises every year, can lead to a bloated cost structure and a morbund business.

If you don't feel comfortable advocating for your own raises and promotions and recognition, find a business where they don't require that kind of advocation. Where there are salary bands and clear non-objective non-schmooze based promotion tracks. Some large companies, union shops, and governments offer these kind of environment.

There, keeping your head down and doing good work, learning what is required to gain recognition and promotion according to some objective criteria, and generally not self-promoting can work.

There are negatives to every work place culture. Find a work place culture that works with your preferences.

0

Sounds similar to me. I have 2 Degrees (Maths/Computing), doing a Masters (Maths), Chartered with lots of experience. Yet I'm paid little more than others and sometimes it feels like I don't exist.

My problem? I don't talk Crap or Kiss backsides! It's not in my DNA to "Self Promote" in the workplace, I like to think that hard work and continual development are worth more than "talking the talk". I have seen so many people progress into Management with huge Salaries yet I know they know nothing about what they are managing.

Sound to me like you just get on with your Job to the best of your ability but don't shout about it from the rooftops. Maybe (like me) you need to shout louder......

Good luck in the new job.

-1

Basically dude. This happens initially with every fresher who learns and developed skills in his first company. But does not get enough money as per his increased skills because generally company is not able to recognise the skills developed by the fresher within the organisation. This hurts more when company pays more to new employee who has less skills than you. This problem has one solution which is your self confidence on your skills and experience, you should realise that how much you are worth as compare to the market salary with your type of skills and experience. Then if you feel you are under paid then you should ask for increment keeping in mind salary structure followed in your company in regard to experience & skills. But everybody should be 100% sure about this. Hope this help.

  • 1
    this post is rather hard to read (wall of text). Would you mind editing it into a better shape? – gnat Nov 4 '16 at 21:34
-1

my own experience and few good engineers I worked in the past with- management is completely blind to who pulls the load until they get notice at which point it's too late. You did a right move and the only advice I can give- keep moving, your own skill set is the only guarantee of your future.

protected by Jane S Nov 5 '16 at 8:23

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