Q: What is the protocol for negotiating salary in a market with a dramatically lower cost of living? I’ve been putting off a potentially amazing position in a different state because I currently live in New York City and assume the jump would require a pay cut. While I understand costs would be lower, taking on the upheaval of the move doesn’t seem worth it without continuing to advance in terms of salary. — J., New York City
A: To answer your stated question first: The protocol for negotiating salary in a market with a lower cost of living is the same as that for any other salary negotiation. Research the market for the role you are up for and ask for a number at the top of that range.
But now to answer your unstated question: Salary, of course, is just one part of the equation. When considering a job, it’s important to think about a host of other inputs, from potential for advancement, to affinity with colleagues, to the quality of benefits on offer.
It can be hard to get a pay increase when leaving New York, which, if I may draw on the cliché of fish and pond, is a veritable ocean of capital and talent. So take pay out of the equation for a minute and think about the role: Is it more senior than the last? Will you be a bigger fish, albeit in a smaller pond? Will you gain valuable experience? A better title? A higher profile in your field?
I understand not wanting to spend the rest of your adorable fish life swimming in boring circles in a filmy little bowl, but if you’re midcareer and the job is a step up, there is a good chance you’ll one day be released back into an ocean, or at least a pleasant lake. And when that time comes, you will again be able to ask for a salary at the top of the market for your role. Ka-ching. Mmm, fish food!
Q: I’m a female who has been with a medium-size company for five years. The company has no protocol for regular performance and salary reviews, although a plan is in the works. May I ask my boss whether my salary is at least equal to that of a man my age who has been there longer, but who doesn’t have as much experience as I do and by all accounts does not do great work?
If so, what is the best way to ask? Or simply to ask if there is a policy of equal pay for equal work? — C.W., Pennsylvania
A: Everyone, and I mean everyone, needs regular performance and salary reviews! What is it with you bosses, disorganized and too scared of your own employees to deliver a review! Get it together, bosses!
That said, no, you should not ask your boss whether your salary is at least equal to that of a man your age or of anyone else who works at your firm. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for salary transparency. But it’s not strategic for you to compare yourself directly to a co-worker and put your scattered and/or cowardly boss on the spot.
What you can do, however, is ask friends who work in comparable roles elsewhere what kind of salaries they make. You can also study the market for your role online. Heck, you can even apply for some jobs in your field and see if you get an offer. These methods will tell you as much or more about what you should be making as asking your boss directly about a co-worker’s salary.
It’s easy to get distracted by what is right in front of us, like Twitter or less competent colleagues. But remember to keep your eye on the prize, which, in the case of your salary, is what will end up in the bank. Don’t compare yourself directly to others in the workplace. (Or log on to Twitter, ugh.)
Q: I’ve been in the workforce for decades, before email was the bane of our existence. I used to pride myself on keeping all the balls in the air and staying super organized. But once I had a child 16 years ago, that went away. Every year I tell myself I’ll get more organized and stay on track. I try different things: lists, apps, etc. But once the list is made, it’s so overwhelming I don’t want to deal with it and end up getting sucked into easy stuff like answering emails and reading social media.
I get a lot done, but I feel like I’m getting nothing meaningful done. I desperately want something meaningful to do. Suggestions? — K.G., California
A: Welcome to the club! And thank you! Because if it weren’t for people like you, which is basically everybody, the work-advice business would be out of business.
In our era, it’s internet addiction, but before that there was paper-shuffling addiction, and addiction to dialing up rotary phones — you name it. And kids can be so gosh-darned cute.
Because I’m part of everybody, and even though for 13 weeks now I’ve been doling out work advice, I too feel hopelessly addicted to the internet and often rudderless and out of sorts. Because that is what it means to be a human in our time.
I’ll tell you what I tell my friends and also myself on a good day: Just accept who you are. You’re enough! Accept the internet addiction and the dispersal of your energies between family and work, and the anxiety about ecological collapse. (If you’re not feeling it yet, you’ll feel it soon.)
There are some things you can do, like calling your representatives and listening to the young activist Greta Thunberg, whose job it is to read scary reports on behalf of politicians and rich people who can’t read. You can also “eat the frog,” which is a colorful way of saying you should try to do the hardest task first, like, say, mobilizing at least $1 trillion globally per year to remake our energy system.
But let’s face it: Life is short. Temporary assignments for major international newspapers are short! Children grow up in the blink of an eye. And we have to start aggressively reducing our emissions. I have accepted that this is my last column in this run. Really! I’m OK with it! I hope you can likewise accept your own mortality, and the fact your internet addiction is here to stay. Until then, it has been an absolute pleasure being your Work Friend. I hope you’ll stay in touch, or at least keep my résumé on file in case a more appropriate position opens up at a later date.
And now it’s time to eat that frog.
Work Friend is a cheeky New York Times advice column to help with careers, money and the sometimes grim, sometimes hilarious maze that is the contemporary office, from a rotating cast of advice-givers.