Friday, June 29, 2007

That's Some Weird Idea of Fairness

I was so angry yesterday that I got home from work and cried. Crying seems like a weird response to being angry, and I wish I didn't do it, but as far as out-of-control behavior goes, it's better than the responses that lead to broken things/pets/people and will not get you arrested.

Why was I so angry? I am now just not-angry enough to write about it.

My boss D, my co-worker K, and I met in the afternoon to make some decisions about posting the job opening for my replacement. One thing we were trying to figure out was whether to stay within the current Planner series or try for a reclassification of the positions to another sequence (for those of you not familiar with state government, there are specific job classifications that come with pay grades and acceptable salary ranges, so you have to choose up-front which particular classification the job opening will have and the people up the food chain get to decide whether this is reasonable or not), so D looked up my and K's current salaries and discovered that K's 12-month salary is $3,500 more than mine, not even counting longevity pay. And I am the team lead and K is not. D's response in its entirety was, "I didn't know that." Even though she is our manager and she is the one who put in and signed the paperwork that authorized our taking these jobs. I basically believe her that she didn't remember this discrepancy because I don't think she's so stupid as to call out the numbers for me to calculate the yearly salaries if she knew how bad mine was going to look (unless she so completely thinks of me as out of there that she doesn't even give a shit how it comes across).

This was bad enough, but then D starts to make the case for why if K's salary goes up by the $3,000 that K wants (which K deserves and the agency would be foolish in the extreme not to give her and that D absolutely sincerely does want to give her also), then the team lead's salary should go up higher than that because it's a job with a lot of responsibility and challenging and onerous tasks and it would be unfair for the team lead not to make significantly more than K. So D writes down what she considers a reasonable salary for this new person - an amount that is $10,000 more than what I make.

"Would be" unfair?! Um, hello, I am sitting right here and can tell you how unfair this is. And you don't have to make the case to me that the job is difficult and demanding because I am doing this job right now. I was so blown away by the disconnect between what she's saying and the life I have been living for the over three years I have been doing this job at a too-low salary that I didn't know what to say. It's like she is filled with this sudden concern for this theoretical employee who does not even exist while not batting an eye that it has come to light just how thoroughly screwed over I have been for all these years.

When I make some comment about "if the job is going to pay that much, maybe I should apply for it," she kind of realizes that she's in a danger zone and attempts to deflect any possible criticism from me by saying that if I wasn't being paid enough money, I should have come to her. This is laughable given that nobody I have ever spoken to has ever heard of anyone in our agency successfully getting a raise in pay that did not come with a promotion. (Today D admitted to me that she hasn't ever heard of this either.) And since I was already at the top of my chain, I knew it was pointless to even ask. But it pissed me off big-time that she was playing this blame the victim game with me. Given that every person at our organization knows how this system works (that you are dead-ended when you hit the top of your ladder), I had assumed that D had gotten me the most money for my position that she possibly could, but instead, I got an amount even lower than K.

When D got into work today after lunch and stopped by my office to see how I was, I said, "Well, I don't know." And when she asked what was wrong, I said that I was still thinking about our meeting yesterday and that I was disappointed to find out that my salary was not just too low in general but was specifically lower than K's. She was a bit more prepared to discuss this today and she laid it at the door of HR/the budget Nazis; this is probably basically true. (I let her off the hook in my mind for screwing me of a decent salary but am still angry at her as my manager for mishandling the situation so badly the previous day. She has difficulty accepting responsibility of her own mistakes; this is the second time this has happened where she has blamed me for things that were in her purview and not mine.) She also said that she hasn't had a raise (aside from the occasional, 2% joke raises that the legislature allows) the entire time she has been at the agency. So we discussed how fucked up the system is that just about the only time you can get a position upgraded in salary is when an experienced person leaves the job and you hire in a clueless one at a higher salary. I have a friend who is an admin assistant doing the work of a higher level person and HR rejected the reclassification her boss put in on the grounds that if they "look at reclassifying this job, they would have to look at all of them." Since she is eligible to retire in 6 months, she's leaving, and not a single admin in the agency is expected to apply for the job at its current classification. So either they leave it where it is and get somebody from the outside who doesn't know our business or they reclassify it to make it attractive enough to fill internally, in which case they might as well have reclassified it so the person who already knows how to do the job would be willing to stay.

In a real sense, it doesn't matter to me how much the next person makes, and I am really happy for K if her reclassification and payraise come through. But it chaps me to realize that D is going to pay a person who walks in the door, not even knowing where their own desk is located, 20% more than they are paying me after almost 6 years of experience in this job. (And as immodest as it sounds, I really do an excellent job for them with moments of unbelievable brilliance and a fairly low level of on-the-job leisure consumption.) I was angry enough yesterday that if I wasn't already quitting, I would have quit.

But there is an upside to all of this. Dissatisfaction with the disconnect between the difficulty and stress level of my job and my pay and promotion prospects was one of the things that made me start thinking about what I wanted to do next, since I obviously could not keep doing this job much longer. And the result of that torturous thought process was the plan to go to graduate school. So if my plan works out at all, I will look back at my agency and be glad that they didn't pay me just enough that I was making good money, felt valued, and kept working there, given that I was ultimately going to be unhappy with the job due to the lack of opportunities for advancement. It's easier to walk away from something when it's kind of gone south and you can see yourself stuck in the rut forever than when it's going okay and there's some hope of improvement.

D mentioned to me today that she thinks HR should be doing marketplace salary analyses because people in the non-resource divisions (i.e. are not wildlife biologists, game wardens, etc.) are being underpaid across the board. For instance, trying to hire a qualified web developer was a nightmare for her and the web team manager a couple months ago because we pay so much less than anyone else. And not only can we not match the private sector, some people were talking recently that my agency pays less than any other state agency except maybe for the School for the Blind. The group was divided on whether we beat out that particular one, but the consensus was we are below all the rest. (This is reminiscent of the arguments in Oklahoma about whether both Mississippi and Alabama are worse along some dimension or only Mississippi.) The new admin in my area said that when people at other agencies she was interviewing with heard she was talking to my department, they told her to be prepared to be underpaid.

Well, where my HR division fears to tread, I boldly sally forth. With a high speed internet connection, 5 minutes of spare time, and one question of my house economist (not to be confused with home economist, ok?), I was able to determine from the Bureau of Labor Statistics web site that the pay for market research analysts in Austin is such that I am currently earning just under the 25th percentile. Damn.


Debbie said...

Wow, that sucks.

And so many things you wrote feel oddly familiar. Either I have felt them, or I feel sure I would have felt them in your place.

When I left one job after ten years, they replaced me with one and a half new people, both of whom had the next-higher job title. Worse than that, they reformatted the hard drives on my computers, thus losing all the documents of professors who don't type. I did once get a 3% "added duties" raise in addition to my regular 3% raise.

That's why I didn't complain too much when my current title was changed to something nonsensical in order to give me a more reasonable raise.

Sadly, stupid practices concerning raises exist in the private sector, too, where you might never get a raise unless and until you get a higher-paying job offer. R has the philosphy that you should start looking for the next thing every three years.

"So we discussed how fucked up the system is that just about the only time you can get a position upgraded in salary is when an experienced person leaves the job and you hire in a clueless one at a higher salary." I never quite thought it out that far. Depressing.

And even if HR did do some kind of salary survey, what could they possibly do with the information? The extra money will not come out of nowhere. Or do I just think that because I am too gullible?

And here's another ranking example for you: When I worked for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, my boss told me that the only employer she could outbid was UT. (I know that's a simplification because UT can outbid the other colleges in town.)

Sally said...

It's a very good point that having the data on salary comparisons between my agency and other employers may not do much good if the money isn't there to match the market rate. If anything, given how highly (ahem) the director appears to value the work of my division (a "support" division, not a "resource" division which does the "real" work of the agency), they may use this as an excuse to cut positions that are viewed as expensive luxuries rather than find a way to pay more adequately.

But to the extent that the organization wants to recruit and hold on to talent in these (in my opinion, increasingly important as the values of the agency continues to diverge from those of the citizens) positions, they need to understand the situation and come up with some plan for solving the problem. Basically, I think the agency has been able to skate by all this time paying less across the board for those in "support" positions because we have a mission that many people strongly believe in and people (perhaps wrongly) assume that working in the organization will be more "fun" than working somewhere else. But morale has taken a major nosedive such that even many of the hardcore types in the department are getting sick of the bullshit and the sense that they are not being allowed to do their jobs.

And I agree that similar problems exist in the private sector, but perhaps not to the same degree. In many firms, it is at least possible to ask for and successfully get a raise or negotiate a new position/salary after getting an offer from another company. If they want to keep you, there is somebody in the firm who has the authority to make that happen, even if it requires making up a new job for you. In state government, we have the bureaucracy that makes things a lot harder. I am not actually sure whether making me "Curmudgeon-in-Chief" would require an act of Congress or not. (It's not obvious that it would sit well within any of the defined job titles in the state classification system.)

And when raises are tied to promotions in the private sector, there is generally more room for promotion. In my case, I was already, at the age of 29, at the very highest position I could hope to aspire to in my agency, which would not be the case in a typical organization of 3000 employees. (Even working the client side, rather than for a research firm, there is a much larger scope for market research people in a company of any decent size.) So I knew I wasn't going to stay there for the next 35 years of my professional career the way people on the resource side might.

At least D is not planning to replace me with two people making a higher salary than I am. In fact, I was pretty pissed off when she told me that none of the $180 million the agency is getting in the 08-09 budget is going toward research staff. That was a good indication, even if I'd had my head in the sand prior to that point, that research work was not valued by my agency unless it involves how to grow bigger deer.

rvman said... also has a salary calculator, both a 'general' one and a calculator which determines some sort of 'personalized' salary based on your experience and credentials. The former is free, but the latter apparently (I didn't try it) has a fee.

If TPWD's honchos decided to, they could do the salary research, and do a vast reorg, making sure everyone who was underpaid gets 'reclassified' - all the planners are now program specialists, etc. The money is there, at least right now it is. They just don't want to do that. (I don't blame them, it is a lot of work, and takes money away from what they really want to, and arguably should, be doing, like fixing sewers, building cabins, and raising fish.)

Debbie said...

I bet each employee would be happy to do this research on their own time and just hand over their results to HR. HR could then just double-check the ones that didn't make sense.