44

Recently, the startup I worked for had a location change so I asked for more payment in order to compensate. However, in return all I got was payment for the flight and I still had to pay for my own housing (it's an internship). During negotiations my boss tried to make the situation sound better by stating that I was being paid more than the other interns and that the company was tight on money and a raise would have to come from his own pocket. After a few weeks and speaking to the other interns I know the first is a lie. I also know the second is a lie because shortly after another intern got a raise.

I'm not as upset that I didn't get the raise; I just have a great sense of mistrust since my boss lied to me about unsolicited information just to get me to be more comfortable with not being paid as much.

What should I do in this situation? Confront him?

Edit:

To address how I knew my boss was lying, another intern discussed and showed his paycheck receipt to me.

Thanks for all the thoughtful responses, very much appreciate the wisdom! To address this question being off topic, I would say my main goal isn't to solicit direct advice but learn as much as possible about this situation through others people's thoughts, insights, and experiences. From there, I hope to make my own decisions.

  • I wonder how you know for sure that your fellow colleagues did actually tell you the truth... It makes most probably no doubt that your boss lied (a raise would have to come from his own pocket) or has a strongly distorded sense of humour. But there are also many reasons why the others may have lied to you too : have you seen their paycheck ? contract ? or was it only 'heard of / told you' ? And one intern may have gotten a raise, still putting him behind you moneywise, no ? – OldPadawan Jul 18 '17 at 7:56
  • 28
    its usually not a good idea to use the words "confront" and "my superior" in the same thought. – SaggingRufus Jul 18 '17 at 10:00
  • 1
    Not sure of where you are, but generally the boss is not obliged to pay everyone the same, or to be honest about how much he pays employees that are not you. Just one other thing - if you confront him about it, you may get the intern who told you in trouble or in his bad books - this would not be fair on that intern who may have told you in confidence. – colmde Jul 18 '17 at 13:50
  • Why do you assume the boss was lying but the interns were not? Many people lie about their salaries, for many different reasons. – alephzero Jul 18 '17 at 14:57
  • If this is an internship ... the whole point is the experience you get, not the money you make ... dont loose sight of that, there will be a time and a place to make more money ... internships are not it. – CaffeineAddiction Jul 18 '17 at 15:44
55

This is tough.

I don't think confronting your boss is likely to lead to a good outcome. He has already shown he is unwilling/unable to be honest with you, and confronting him with his lie is not going to make him any more honest. At worst you might lose your position, and my guess is at minimum you well get some new runaround that will be equally if not more frustrating. You cannot trust what he says, and that will naturally color any future dealings with him.

Since you are not primarily upset about not getting the raise, if you have reason to believe this job will give you some solid experience and further your career objectives then it's probably worth staying for now, but you should probably avoid tying yourself long term to an org led by someone so slippery.

Finally, this is a good lesson in not letting salary negotiations get into the realm of "personal extenuating circumstance". No employer would give you a raise because you had a lot of debt or other personal finance issues, so why should you willingly accept not getting a raise because the employer (allegedly) has financial issues? Obviously it could be a limiting condition, for real, but in this case you don't want to work there! It's always best to base negotiations on something more objective to avoid these weird tangents.

  • 39
    "No employer would give you a raise because you had a lot of debt or other personal finance issues, so why should you willingly accept not getting a raise because the employer (allegedly) has financial issues?" I feel like I'll remember this till the end of my professional life. – Ege Bayrak Jul 18 '17 at 9:40
  • +1 for "because you had a lot of debt or other personal finance issues". Nevertheless, no employer should not raise you because of others' salary if this raise is legitimate. – le_daim Jul 18 '17 at 9:41
  • 3
    I would add that financial issues in a company can be real, but they can be handled in a fair and transparent way, which can make it worthwhile to stick it out. I had one employer during the financial meltdown 2008 who cut everyone's salary accross the board by 10% as a stop gap measure in the bad climate. They explained the nuances of the decision to everyone in an all hands meeting and promised to restore wages ASAP, and they did as they promised, about 4 months later. It's not always a lost cause but...be very wary when an employer cries poverty ;) – user74108 Jul 18 '17 at 10:05
  • Obligatory Adam Ruins Everything video: youtube.com/watch?v=7xH7eGFuSYI – Obsidian Phoenix Jul 18 '17 at 10:06
41

What should I do in this situation?

Nothing, file the information away under 'experience', you just learnt a valuable lesson, you cannot take people at their word. Part of being an intern is learning social facts in the workplace as well as your job and how to judge people.

Nothing positive will come out of confrontation, so don't do it.

  • 8
    I agree, its an experience. But nevertheless, playing interns out against each other documents a manipulative mentality that should not be considered acceptable. – NoBackingDown Jul 18 '17 at 7:30
  • 1
    @Dominik so? It happens, not much the intern can do about it that will end well for them. Most bosses I've ever had including while self-employed were mental in one way or another ;) – Kilisi Jul 18 '17 at 8:50
  • 7
    @Dominik that is a second entry under experience: how to know a toxic environment for one, and how to deal with or run the heck away from it. – Mindwin Jul 18 '17 at 12:08
  • 3
    "acceptable" or not it happens. This is what experience means. How you react is your choice. – Michael Durrant Jul 18 '17 at 13:24
  • 1
    Live and learn, be sure to focus on both. – Mister Positive Jul 20 '17 at 18:32
6

If your boss is really comfortable with lying to his people (demonstrating poor social skills), then confronting him with the situation will either produce other lies or righteous indignation, potentially terminating your employment. You have to decide for yourself whether you can put up with the situation and finish your internship (maybe you can re-negotiate your payment), or you quit and look for another company. The seed of mistrust and envy has already been placed, so in the long run (after your internship) it's better to set the sails.

6

Short version: if you don't trust your boss, look for another job. Once you've got other options, then you can decide if it is worth a confrontation, but be aware that the chances of a confrontation being beneficial to you are slim.

Many years (and jobs) ago, my manager offered me a promotion with no pay increase until after 90 days in the new position, but said that the raise would be applied retroactively to cover those 90 days. The same offer was made to the coworker whose position I was moving up to fill.

After 90 days, the manager took me into his office, and apologized, saying that he had gone to bat for my coworker and I, but that the retroactive portions of our raises were denied by the higher-ups.

Later that day, my coworker took me aside and told me that his raise was retroactive, and that our manager had told him not to tell me.

I promptly found another job, then submitted a letter of resignation, stating that I was leaving because my manager had broken my trust by lying.

I was promptly brought into the office of the owner of the company, who apologized profusely, and offered to make it right by giving me the retroactive pay, saying that he had no idea that this was promised to me.

The reason I'm sharing this story is that I believe there are two key points that apply to your situation:

  1. Getting a resolution via confrontation is not likely to work unless there is someone higher up than your boss to appeal to (and even then it is a long-shot). You boss lied to you. Calling him on it will not get him to do anything but become defensive and/or hostile. If you don't have someone higher up in the organization backing you, it will not end well for you.

  2. There are two likely outcomes to a confrontation, regardless of whether you can go to someone higher in the organization: productive discussion, or the end of your time at the company. If you plan on pursuing this issue, be prepared to walk out the door if things don't go as you hoped.

In all honesty, I believe that what happened with me was atypical. In most cases, particularly a small startup, management will side with management over employees (especially interns).

  • "In most cases, particularly a small startup, management will side with management over employees". It depends. If higher management has the feeling that lower management is driving people away by such stunts, it may very well act. After all, lower management is subordinate to higher management as well; they are not peer to peer. – Thern Jul 18 '17 at 12:40
  • @Nebr Good point. However, I still believe that is the less common scenario. In startups, management can be more difficult to replace than interns, since the budget tends to be much tighter and higher-level employees require a larger investment to recruit. – Beofett Jul 18 '17 at 12:45
  • @Beofett: A smart executive will see the replacement of the middle manager as an unavoidable cost (waiting until this manager alienates one of the senior staff could sink the whole company), and the replacement of low-level employee as completely avoidable. When the equation changes from (replace manager) vs (replace employee) to (replace manager) vs (replace both), you can see that the relative difficulty doesn't actually matter. – Ben Voigt Jul 18 '17 at 13:48
  • This is a great answer – axsvl77 Jul 18 '17 at 14:01
1

During negotiations my boss tried to make the situation sound better by stating that I was being paid more than the other interns and that the company was tight on money and a raise would have to come from his own pocket.

I'm not as upset that I didn't get the raise

I just have a great sense of mistrust since my boss lied

[Should I] Confront him?

I would strongly suggest that you don't. Confrontational business meetings with people you need to continue to work with after the meeting should only be done as a last resort because their purpose is to break the relationship in the hopes of reforging it as a better relationship.

If, as you seem to suggest, the current relationship is acceptable to you, and you need to continue to work with him, then there is no need for such a drastic measure, particularly when there are other resolutions available.

What should I do in this situation?

First, learn from it. This is a great opportunity to learn how to work with liars and those with unethical business standards. The reality is that he may not even see this as a lie, but a simple negotiation tactic. The ethical foundation you two operate on may be so different that a confrontation will be about semantics rather than the issue at hand - your salary. So figure out how to deal with him, and figure out what he knows and does that you might be able to use in your business practices that doesn't violate your principles.

Second, renegotiate. A few weeks after the move restart negotiations, and re-position yourself mentally to do so. Recognize that you have little to lose - all he can do is say no, and it's very unlikely that he'll fire you. While you don't need the money, you need to learn a few things about business - you now have more knowledge than you did last time you negotiated, and you may now be in a better position to obtain the raise, even without calling him out on his lies.

It's been a few weeks since we moved, the business is doing well, and I'm finding that the cost of living here is different than the old location. I enjoy working here and want to continue, and so I made the leap after you refused my last raise request, but I want to re-discuss the raise now that we're here, everything is settled, and I better understand how this change in location affects my situation. I'd like a raise to $xx.

Now that you've moved, he's less likely to give you a raise, as you've already shown you're willing to put up with a lot of inconveniences in order to stay with the company, but you already know he can afford it, you're still cheaper than the other interns, and as long as your work is equivalent he would be a poor business person if he shot you down. You have to be ready to leave, though. The "I enjoy working here and want to continue" is an implied "I'm going to leave if you don't meet my needs" and he's not going to respond positively if he thinks you're stuck and won't leave.

Spend some time looking at the job market and gain some confidence you could leave and get another job without too much difficulty first and you'll have the confidence needed to have that discussion without discomfort. Note that I've worded it so there's no lie - you don't need the raise, and you've only pointed out that the cost of living is different, not better or worse, but he may push you to discuss your personal finances in order to make his case that you don't need more money.

Resist the discussion of your personal finances, cost of living, etc. Just hold your ground, knowing the other interns get that much and live no differently, and haven't needed to justify their needs.

I'm not going to discuss my personal finances, I'm trying to keep this on a professional level, so please stop asking me about my rent, etc.

If he presses you could mention your desire to visit family occasionally, which involves travel - in other words you want to mention specifically the things that cost more because you've moved due to the job - but this is not necessary or useful, and you shouldn't bring him into your personal finances, but it may redirect him if he continues to press for specifics.

Perhaps he'll refuse. Go back a few months later and attempt to renegotiate again. Each time, even if you don't get the raise, you'll get experience. Furthermore, chances are good he will eventually relent the more you ask, as long as you're not obnoxious about it. The one downside is that if you ask too often, he may not give you a great recommendation, or it may be something he specifically mentions to future employers if they call him. Not the worst attribute in the world, but it would be a negative thing to have said about you.

  • +1 for the renegotiation bit. Keep in mind your knowledge of his dishonesty with all future negotiations, and you might even try to renegotiate your salary, now knowing the truth - even if you don't bring that fact up directly. – colmde Jul 18 '17 at 13:49

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.