In this awkward situation, seek clarity from your employer — and start to explore alternatives.
Q: I’ve recently been performing some of the most rewarding work of my career. And I have always had positive evaluations and have felt supported by my boss. In fact, she has been planning to create a new position to make sure the research I am doing continues well into the future. The first stage will end in the middle of next year, and I have been looking forward to seeing our results and to continuing this important work.
But I just found out that the new position is being created at a lower classification, and would require me to take a significant pay cut to do the same work. There is no room for negotiation. I am devastated.
What are my options? Is there ever a good career reason to take a pay cut to do the same work? If there is no choice but to leave, how do I move on from a job I have loved and that is unfinished? Alternatively, how do I continue working at a company that would put an employee in this untenable position? — Leigh
A: This may sound odd, but take a moment to appreciate the positive side of your situation.
You care deeply about the work you’re doing; you can keep doing it; but you can also choose to pursue opportunities elsewhere that will now feel rewarding in other ways. In short, try to proceed from a mindset that’s guided more by opportunity than grievance.
It’s not clear to me how much of the information you have is direct or secondhand. But I think you need to have some kind of clarifying conversation with this boss whom you otherwise seem to admire and find out what the long-term context here might be. If it’s true that you have zero room to negotiate immediately, find out what’s possible over time.
Speaking generally, yes, there can be a career-enhancing reason to take a pay cut: If you believe a certain opportunity will benefit you more in the long run, then sacrificing a little now can pay off significantly later.
But speaking more specifically, I agree that being asked to do the exact same job for less money feels like an insult. So as part of this conversation, I think it’s OK to express your disappointment, if you can do so in a measured way.
Consider something like this: “I was glad to see this position created, but surprised that it meant I would have to take a pay cut. I believe strongly in this line of work, but what are the prospects here for me to pursue it here over time?” Press for specifics: You want bench marks you can refer to later.
But you should also start to explore alternatives. Don’t assume your current job is the only one that will allow you to pursue your professional interests. Take confidence in the strong work that led your employer to recognize the importance of your research, and believe that it will help you find other work if you want it. Don’t hesitate to give yourself options.
Am I being a doormat?
Q: I have a demanding, fast-paced role at my company, requiring a lot of specialized knowledge and industry experience. As part of a reorganization, I’m supposed to move into a new role. But while at least six months have passed since the reorganization was announced, my department has been unable to hire a successor to take over my current role.
There may be multiple reasons for this. But at least two qualified candidates turned down the offer because the compensation was too low. Both work for competitors. I can’t help but wonder if this is a clear signal that I’m underpaid and that I should start looking elsewhere.
I also wonder if I’m being a doormat by allowing so many months to pass for this transition. I want to be helpful, yet I’m conscious that I’m essentially putting my career on hold as I wait. I like my company, but should I put up with this? — San Francisco
A: There are a couple of issues here. Yes, if it’s true that qualified candidates from rival companies turned down offers specifically because the salary was too low, then it seems highly possible that you’re underpaid by the standards of your field. But whether that means you’re being treated like “a doormat” is a different question.
Much depends on your interest in the new role you’re supposed to move into. If you view it as a rewarding and productive opportunity, then focus on that. And press your bosses to agree to a hard deadline for the transition.
If you’re more ambivalent about this new position, then now is a great time to seriously explore the marketplace for your skills. See what’s out there, and how it compares to what you’ve got.
Or, ideally, do both of these things at the same time. Just remember that what really matters is which potential situation will make you happiest and most satisfied. The degree to which that is tied to the salary is purely up to you.