5

My coworker and I are both in IT, but he is the sole full-time hardware guy while I'm one of a handful of developers. We are fairly good friends.

The Incident

Last week, he had to take a midnight call to reboot the system after a power outage. Since our boss was out the following day, he and I were getting chummy. Despite his ten-year employment at this company, he lamented he has only received cost-of-living raises and never a merit raise. Since he's the only hardware worker, he has to take basic troubleshooting calls from end users and manage things like licensing and printers which takes away from his network administration (his actual job title) and he's disappointed that this extra responsibility never lead to a proportional pay increase.

He then wondered aloud if anyone had gotten merit raises in our department, since he had never heard of anyone getting one. Since we were being chummy, we both joked about how ridiculous it would be if certain people got raises.

I kept mum about my own situation: this is my first job out of college and I've gotten at least one merit raise per year, and this will be the second year in a row that I'll be getting two. I've been here only a couple of years.

The Unknowns

From the surface, there sounds like some sort of injustice, but there are a few unknown factors here:

  • I don't know how much he is paid. He may have negotiated a higher starting salary than the other developers since he came from a previous job.
  • I don't know how much the other developers are paid. Merit raises may be a mechanism to catch up to the more senior developers, and I was initially hired as a bargain.
  • I don't know if other developers are getting merit raises.
  • I don't know the steps to getting a merit raise. From my perspective, it's at my manager's discretion. I'm literally just doing my job and getting raises without asking. It's a small company.
  • I don't know how conversations have went when/if he asked for a merit raise. I couldn't imagine that it's anything performance-based, as he always does solid work and completes his projects.

The Options

I know this guy well enough that he would champion for me if these roles were reversed, and I'd like to help him if I can. So, I can see a few options:

  • Tell him I've been getting merit raises and to take it up with our manager. I may harbor some resentment from him and my manager, but at least he would know that he's getting skipped over. Plus, this issue should be resolved between those two; he just needs my evidence to make a case.
  • Meet with my manager and discuss how my coworker feels neglected despite his responsibilities, mentioning the difference in merit raises between the two of us. I would explain my list of unknowns, concluding with how odd it sounds on the surface. I wouldn't ask for my coworker's raise on his behalf. Maybe this is the push my manager needs and he doesn't understand how my coworker feels about this situation.
  • Say nothing; his pay isn't my issue, and my pay isn't his issue.
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    Ten years with no merit raise and he's never looked for another job? If he's not happy, there's a reason he doesn't get another job and it's not good. Stay out of it. – user8365 Mar 28 '17 at 20:42
  • Did you get "cost of living" raises? Maybe he is counting his regular raises as that, while you are counting them as merit raises. – skymningen Mar 28 '17 at 21:25
  • Exactly why at many companies getting caught discussing salaries is grounds for immediate termination. – dlb Mar 28 '17 at 22:07
  • Has the subject of merit increases or pay in general come up since this last conversation? I'm wondering if you're asking because this co-worker is putting pressure on you. – BSMP Mar 28 '17 at 22:28
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    @skymningen, no. I've had to sign for the merit increase so I know it's more than the standard inflation rate each time. – MagicConch Mar 29 '17 at 13:35
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There's no way I would ever discuss my pay with a fellow employee. Not because it's some great big secret or anything like that. I don't feel that way. My reasoning is more selfish. I would gain nothing by discussing it and it could cause problems instead.

You don't know why he hasn't gotten it and you also don't know any history prior to you having been there. It's simply impossible to know all the reasons behind any decision like this and you're not in a position to investigate them.

The negatives are significant. At the minimum, you could be hurting morale. You could also anger your management who might not feel it's your place. This could affect you in many ways in the future, including putting a stop to your advancement. You really just don't know.

And that's the key, which you admit over and over. You don't know.

The most you should be saying is "you should talk to the manager about it" and leave it at that. Even then, it needs to not seem like you're pushing him toward that end.

I know you want to help the guy and I can't blame you. But it's almost never a good idea to interject yourself in the employment relationship of another.

EDIT: I would like to add that there are more components to job satisfaction than money too. Not to mention, you don't know what his compensation looked like when he started (he could have been at the high end). Lastly, it's even possible that it might not even be true. Imagine how awkward it would be if that turned out to be the case.

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    Yes, telling him could lead to making yourself a target for his resentment. Even if he doesn't feel that you are bragging, it will still chafe. Also, most companies consider it a breach of professional ethics, if not outright prohibited, for employees to share salary information. I know of at least one co-worker who was fired for sharing her salary figure with co-workers (though there may have been more at work than simply this violation) – Francine DeGrood Taylor Mar 28 '17 at 21:09
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    I would gain nothing by discussing it. Encouraging salary transparency provides your coworkers with more knowledge and negotiating ability over their employer. This goes both ways as well. I've been on both ends, learning I'm being underpaid, and then pushing for a raise. As well as learning a more experienced and competent coworker is being paid less and informing him of this gap so he can push for a raise. In both instances it worked out and the pay gaps between people doing the same job vanished. – Douglas Gaskell Mar 28 '17 at 21:20
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    @FrancineDeGroodTaylor It's good to note that in the U.S. labor laws prohibit retaliation over sharing wage information. – Douglas Gaskell Mar 28 '17 at 21:21
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    @DouglasGaskell, glad it worked out for you and your co-worker, I personally have only seen it generate resentment. – HLGEM Mar 28 '17 at 21:22
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    @HLGEM The resentment I have seen is not typically directed towards the coworker, but rather at the company. The way you frame the discussion with your coworker plays a big part in this as well. Don't brag about it, don't hold it over their head, don't act better than them just because you are paid more. Bring up company wages in a casual conversation and take it from there. Edit: Definitely agree that making your boss/manager angry is no good, even if you are on the right side of the law. In my instances this was done discretely, but it's case-by-case I suppose. – Douglas Gaskell Mar 28 '17 at 21:25
8

For all you know, he's baiting you to give up your salary information. That, in turn, has a high likelihood of backfiring on you in the worst way. He may be looking to do "MagicConch got a raise, why can't I?" Then the focus of the management turns to YOU, and you can get in trouble.

I'd say, when he complains: "Why don't you ASK for a raise?" This takes the responsibility and stress and worry-making, and puts it right back where it belongs - in his lap. You can't go to your manager whining about someone else's money, because it will make your boss think you're a fool for doing so. Make this person own his stuff, or make it clear that you aren't going to discuss salary any more.

  • Then the focus of the management turns to YOU, and you can get in trouble. - FWIW, whether management is actually allowed to retaliate against an employee for discussing pay depends on the laws where they live. – BSMP Mar 28 '17 at 22:20
  • @BSMP Management may not be "allowed" to retaliate, but there are still countless ways they can sabotage his career if he gets branded as a troublemaker. – jpatokal Mar 28 '17 at 22:40
  • @jpatokal Yes, but it's still worth pointing out that the OP may have legal rights in regards to discussing pay. – BSMP Mar 28 '17 at 22:44
  • The focus of my "manager meeting" option would be more that my coworker feels undervalued, citing his complains about zero merit raises as an example. In my mind, it would be less about money and more about attitude. That doesn't take away from the rest of your answer, though. – MagicConch Mar 29 '17 at 13:50
  • @MagicConch You're not the other guy's union rep, or his mother. He has to speak for himself. "Stay in your lane". – Xavier J Mar 29 '17 at 14:08
4

From a managers point of view: If you came to me about why your co-worker needed a raise, though I'd think it was admirable, I'd wonder why your co-worker never came to me himself. Was he not confident enough? Did he have a problem with me?

Because I know your co-workers pay, and maybe it's higher than it should, I might become alienated because of this.

tl;dr; There's too many unknowns, but these would be the questions going through my head if this happened to me. I have an open door policy, and will work with my developers no matter the discussion, but my office is not a school ground. I won't feel appreciated if someone came to me and told me a friend of a friend might want to talk to me.


For you, the best thing I could recommend is that if your co-worker feels undervalued, and feels he deserves a merit raise, to discuss it openly with his manager 1:1, with evidence, and concrete reasons why.

This has to be done in a constructive way, so it doesn't come across as whiny. If you are not working in a Union shop, then that means that employees that have the exact same job might have different salaries and terms on their employment agreement.

The only involvement, in my opinion, you should have at this point is to encourage him to do what he wants to do. If he feels he deserves a merit raise, then encourage him (in private) about it. If your boss ever asks you who's doing a great job that you've seen, then you have a platform to say something about your friend. But this is his career, and he has to be able to manage that. Don't enable him ;)

  • "employees that have the exact same job" This guy is the only person in his role. Therein lies the rub. – MagicConch Mar 29 '17 at 13:43
2

The answer to this in my mind is very simple, and it's one of your options:

Say nothing; his pay isn't my issue, and my pay isn't his issue.

Case in point: You're not responsible for his pay, and on top of that you admit there's a list of necessary knowledge you don't have in order to make a reasonable decision.

I can see no advantage of you getting involved.

1

"He then wondered aloud if anyone had gotten merit raises in our department, since he had never heard of anyone getting one"

Now imagine if at one point Bob had told him he's gotten 6 merit raises - the quote would be different, it would be

"He then wondered aloud if anyone other than Bob had gotten merit raises in our department, since he had never heard of anyone getting one"

So your question becomes: Do you want to be Bob?

No, you don't want to be Bob, so you don't tell your coworkers about your raise.

Second, keep in mind he may have been able to negotiate a very good deal. Who are you to hint your manager that your coworker needs a raise, when you don't even have an idea how much your coworker earns? You'll look like a fool. Somebody who was a senior 10 years ago certainly knows how to negotiate a salary increase on their own, if he wants management to be aware they already are.

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    He may not know how to negotiate a raise, that may be why he has never gotten one. – HLGEM Mar 28 '17 at 21:19
  • @HLEM A senior requires a junior to teach him how to negotiate salary? Possible, but not likely. – Peter Mar 28 '17 at 21:22
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    Very likely especially since he has been there ten years with supposedly no merit raise. There are people who think that raises happen without them having to ask for them. – HLGEM Mar 28 '17 at 21:26
0

You are obviously not obligated to give him any personal information that you do not want to. Its worth noting that your employer can not prevent you from doing so (or punish you for doing so) either. Ethically and legally you are in the clear either way you go. I would do whichever feels more right to you personally. If this was just a casual friendly conversation as you say, there is probably no reason to bring it back up. If he brings it back up, that would be the time to tell (or not tell) him that you are getting more raises than him.

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