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Fix It Or Forget It?

October 1st, 2010

How would you feel if others knew your salary?  What if you knew what they made?  Would it bother you if others knew your relative standing?  Would you Fix It or Forget It?  See what others did.

Some people feel that salary is a very private matter, while others believe that it is more of a management conspiracy, keeping everyone in the dark for the benefit of driving all pay and benefits down, and that having this information open would be better for workers in general.

Sam* originally had difficulty finding permanent work, but was hired as a temp, and was generally pleased with his job.  It ended up being quite a long-term assignment, and although he wondered why the company didn’t just hire him outright, he decided not to pursue the matter – particularly because he was later assigned greater tasks, including supervising subsequent short-term temporary employees.

One day, however, Sam discovered a horrifying truth, when he was assigned to clean and organize certain files: he saw documents showing that the recent temporary staff that he supervised were each paid more than he was!

This was a wake-up call that made Sam decide to Forget It! and contact me about a job search elsewhere.  Clearly, the company not only had no intention of bringing him on permanently, but they had no sense of priority with regard to pay, either!

Theresa* was working on her company server, trying to view and group documents into a more user-friendly arrangement, since most staff didn’t use it properly or know where to find the documents that were there.  Many were replicated multiple times due to this, weighing heavily on the server, and leading to confusion as to the correct, final copy of certain documents.

While working on this project, she stumbled upon a public folder that her director had created which blatantly listed every member of her department’s salary . . . including her own!  Theresa was aghast and uncertain what to do with this information.  Because of the confusion of the server structure – and relatively unskilled staff – it was unlikely anyone else would find these documents.  On the other hand, all anyone had to do was go looking, and they could easily see the information.

Theresa considered several possibilities and concluded that exposing her (very ignorant) supervisor would most likely result in him deflecting the blame back upon her, such as admonishing her for viewing others’ salary information, or punishing her for moving “his” files to a secure location that he probably couldn’t locate.

She decided to Fix It! by blanking out only her salary information on the document, and leaving it where it was.  It seemed clear that her director only referred to the document during times of staff turnover, for listing job descriptions, etc.  She hoped that if and when he noticed and mentioned it to her, she would already be ready to depart the organization.

Theresa stayed another year, to establish a good work history on her resume, before we began her job search, and her director never mentioned the document to her – although she did notice that he finally added a password protection to it shortly before her departure.  She secretly wondered if/when he noticed her edit to it.

There are some new studies out about how knowing one’s pay in relation to others’ can affect one’s satisfaction in the workplace, and debate about whether or not this information should be made more public.

Consider the case of Lilly Ledbetter, however, and many before her who have affected the workplace, because they did come forward.  Legislation has been enacted that will make real changes, because someone notified Lilly Ledbetter that she was paid less than coworkers with less time on the job and less experience.

Despite years of her efforts in the courts, the ruling was that she should have known – and objected to – the pay discrepancy within the first 180 days of her employment!  The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signed into law, reverses this decision.

Many employers still find ways to circumvent legal requirements to pay what they should, however.

Veronica* worked diligently at her entry level development position, very nearly always putting in an additional 10 – 15 hours per week, and was pleased when she learned at her review that she was promoted with a professional level and title, along with a slight raise in salary.

What she soon realized, however, was that her additional duties required at least as many additional hours, and her new exempt status meant that she no longer earned any overtime pay.  It didn’t take long for her to catch on that her “slight pay raise” was actually going to cost her money at the end of the year!

It’s imperative that employees use all negotiating tactics available, and begin by believing in their own worth.  Some tools that can help with this are industry salary surveys, to bolster one’s case for adequate pay.  Another aid to the actual bargaining itself is the book Women Don’t Ask by Linda Babcock.  The subtitle is The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation – and Positive Strategies for Change.

Whether or not we know what others earn, we need to lobby on our own behalf more diligently – instead of waiting and hoping to be recognized for a job well done.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

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