by The Concessionist
I like my job a lot: the people are great, the work is usually fun, and I have a lot of freedom to do things I want to do in a lot of different areas. For the more than three years that I’ve been working at this company, I’ve operated under the assumption that everyone, like me, was making a low-but-not-scandalously-low salary. But a few months ago, I found out through conversations with other under-30s in my office that several of my peers — people with similar titles, similar responsibilities, similar work experience; people who were hired more recently than me — actually make quite a bit more money than I do. (What’s the fun in anonymous letters about money without numbers? My salary was in the low/mid 40Ks; other people’s ranged from the low/mid 40Ks to the low/mid 70Ks, with the median in the low/mid 50Ks.)
This discovery upset me. I’ve always gotten solid reviews from my boss, I am a “top performer” (so to speak), and in the past year and a half I’ve taken on an annoying additional responsibility that makes the company more money, just because I am a loyal and obedient staffer. So I asked for a big raise, citing all the stuff you’re supposed to cite when you ask for a raise: my stellar track record, both in terms of the quality of my work and my statistical performance, my additional responsibility, blah blah blah. I did not mention what I’d found out about salary ranges at my company, but I figured that my boss would silently acknowledge that I was being underpaid and seek to rectify the situation.
I didn’t get the raise. More accurately, I got a very small raise, and I was told that money was tight this year but that I was getting a higher percentage increase than most people. (Which, you know, great, but it’s going to take a lot of 6-percent raises to bring me up to my colleagues’ level.)
So I know what I need to do next: Apply for other jobs, get an offer, and bring it to my boss to see if he’ll match it (and if he doesn’t match it, leave). My question is: How do I manage my resentment in the meantime? I have been feeling incredibly angry that I am doing the same work as other people but making significantly less. Instead of taking pride in my accomplishments of 2015, I just feel pissed off that I am doing this great work and creating lots of value for my company but not being compensated fairly for it. How do I prevent this anger from corroding my soul and ruining my relationships with my colleagues and my boss (all of whom I really like on an interpersonal level)?
I had a hard time choosing a question for the first installment of this column. There were a few that were rather macro, and those made more sense for us to start with, so as to put down some Fundamental Principles and such. But there’s an urgency here that I can’t ignore. That is: Monday is coming, and you have to go back to that heinous thunderdome of inequity and churlishness.
You have the right by-the-books stuff here. It’s instructive that you brought it up! So let’s just first reiterate that you are doing totally what is to be done when one discovers, to one’s totally righteous and accurate horror, that each of us is likely actually not a valuable member of the team, that you and I alike are actually sorta tarnished or maybe just thought of as a cog or someone who is replaceable or “just so-so,” and we are being paid with that in mind.
What you then do:
1. The meeting where you say “you should pay me another $25,000 a year, and here are four exhibits explaining why.” (Yes, start high.)
2. The job offer, which you go out and obtain, and then return with and say “Hello! I have an offer for a great job at Exxon/Fusion/HBO/GlaxoSmithKline [or whatever additional company is actually hiring in this crazy world] but I’d like to talk with you before I accept it.” [N.B. As in all negotiations, you must be absolutely willing to quit your job and take this new job before having this conversation.]
There is but one other component, which you have probably considered privately. Let’s back up a little to the “sharing salary information in the workplace” part. I’ve heard both sides, and yes, there are times when you may not want to share said information, but in general, my experience has been that more workers overall benefit when employees compare salaries and benefits. You will learn things. This is essential in basic workplace organizing. SO DOX AWAY. And then you have the information to ask:
3. Did you stop and evaluate gender and other types of differences between people when looking at your income disparity? It’s worth it, and it’s worth getting a second opinion after gathering the facts, in case you’re doubting yourself. You may or may not be surprised that women with the same titles as men crop up with a really different paycheck!
SO. You already knew all this, my Undervalued friend. Feel good that you’re being a pro, and taking yourself seriously in the absurd capitalist house of job-cards that we somehow don’t light on fire.
Now you are in the burning-face rage part. The walk of hallway anger. The break-room sulk-out, the bathroom Hulk-out. This part is TERRIBLE! Me and a bunch of my friends once all worked at a place that cyclically changed starting salaries, so, literally some people were making $85K a year and some people were making… like… $34K??? It was crazy. Mostly this was based on date of hire. And we knew it was because management whims and needs had changed over time, seemingly quite randomly. It helped a bit to know that all the people in charge were not good at their jobs, and were making bad decisions, and were incapable of making wise decisions. It didn’t help all that much at rent time though, hello.
And it didn’t get easier or better-feeling when one of us tried to rectify it. The 2% raise wasn’t, go figure, all that satisfying!
Honestly, I’m still kind of broke from this job. Getting underpaid has a trickle-down effect through space-time: you’re starving your future self. Money you don’t save in your 20s means the street you’re sleeping on in your 60s. Money doesn’t care — but you will.
So, in relation to your current BURNING FEELINGS, there are two ways you can go from here.
1. TAKE IT PERSONALLY.
Yes. Your boss did this to you! The place you work at did this to you! They don’t give a fuuuuuck about you. They care about paying someone else more, and they’d rather order shitty sandwiches for everyone on Tuesday than give you an extra $400 a month. WHAT ASSHOLES. It’s fine, the rage will pass, and you’ll realize they made their choices like the rest of us. But, honestly, fuck them, and the sooner you get out the better. Unless you want to stay and destroy them from the inside! Either way! That’s cool.
2. DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY.
Gratitude makes getting up every morning possible. You are so lucky to have a job that you love, it’s unreal. Jobs SUCK. That is so rare. You should be getting down on your damned knees and kissing the threshold of your office at least every Monday, Thursday and Friday. You will have other jobs. You have so many limbs, and so much willingness, and it is all going incredibly well for you. This situation? Well, it’s bullshit. But you’re gonna get it fixed and you can do it with grace, respect and admirable grown-up silence. And you can choose to laugh and pick berries all along the high road.
So make a choice. How you choose will depend upon your natural constitution, and how much righteous rage you can keep kindled in the course of a day. You may of course change your mind after committing to a course of action! But….
3. WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS.
When you become befuddled and confused and pissed off, you may only have one thing left. That will be that pure Superman’s-palace of crystal deep within you, that furious desire to be the best, the most arid, the purest, the most righteous in vengeance. Whether we remember all the time or not, inside each of us is the kind of passion that leads to the creation of the best article ever published by the New York Times or the kneecap-hardness of a track like Tei Shi’s “Bassically.” Would you make anything like that for anyone else? No, you would not. You would do it either for yourself or for the selfless act of doing it. You would do it because the world needs it done, and no one else can. Are you doing your best work imaginable right now? Are you destroying everything in your path? When the chips are down, sometimes you must perk yourself up by temporarily putting on the narcissist’s outlook on life. Look, here is some handy rage and sadness to channel into making something incredible. Get on it! Sometimes the only way to survive the day-to-day bullshit is to do it for distant posterity.
Image by Heather Buckley.
Questions about life in this bleak universe? The Concessionist answers one each weekend. He has seen some things. It’s Concessionist at theawl.com.