The other day my boss asked me to think about what my long-term salary goals were. I was a bit caught off guard by the question… or request, rather… because my immediate thought was “More, of course. Why would I want it to stop?” She admitted being perplexed when her boss asked her the same thing, but she ultimately took the time to think about it and understood where the request was coming from.
Until I have a deeper conversation with my boss, I can only assume there is a commercial angle behind it. And let me tell you, I’ve learned a thing or two about thinking commercially during the past couple years. As a manager, I had to take a bigger-picture approach to my thinking and decision-making. Sure, employee efficiency, productivity and morale are important, but it all needs to fit in with greater company goals.
Needless to say, I definitely spent some time thinking about my boss’s request. I don’t necessarily associate myself with a dollar figure, or even a title for that matter. I’ve recently changed my career path – still undecided on whether it’s temporary or permanent – and my title with it. I had quite a struggle when tasked with coming up with my new title. After a conversation with the head of my department, though, she helped me realize that the title didn’t really matter. “I know titles are important in America, but it doesn’t really matter to me. To me you’re not ‘Lindsay the Editorial Manager’ or ‘Lindsay the Recruiting Coordinator’; you’re just Lindsay.” She not only put me at ease, but she also gave me a great compliment, confirming her belief in my abilities regardless of my title.
Title aside, I still have a hard time wrapping my head around what I’m worth in terms of dollars, especially the implication that it’s a set amount that doesn’t change or increase.
Back when I was a manager, the GM of our office at the time helped me understand the value of our employees. “People are hired to do their jobs well,” he said; they’re obviously not hired to do their jobs poorly or even to a mediocre level. As far as we’re concerned, the people we bring on board are agreeing to do their jobs well in return for a salary. That said, I was hired on the same premise: If I’m doing my job well, I deserve my salary – no more, no less. If I’m doing my job well, I’m not falling short and I’m not going above and beyond, I deserve my salary. At my performance review a year later, my boss would tell me “You’re doing your job well and performing to a level we expect from our employees.” The most I would expect in a pay raise would be a cost-of-living increase. I think that’s only fair for both parties. Ironically the cost of living increase for 2016 is basically zero, but generally it hovers at or below 2%.
I strive to do my job well, but I also like to challenge myself and feel as though I’m providing value to whatever it is I’m working on or whoever I’m working for. So going back to my boss’s question of what salary I’d like to be making, I’d still answer “More,” even if it’s simply the “more” equivalent to doing my job well. But considering my level of drive and perfection, I expect more from myself and would like to think that I’d be going above and beyond more than I would be performing just “well.” So in that case, I’d expect an annual raise higher than cost of living; an earned promotion might deserve something even a little higher.
As I found in my last position, there is a ceiling for growth: a ceiling for my responsibilities, a ceiling for my title and a ceiling for my salary. I get that some roles – maybe most roles – don’t have unlimited growth. And generally, there’s a threshold where a company is financially better off bringing in new blood for a lower price than keeping a senior in his or her position at a high, growing salary. That’s probably part of the reason for the recent move out of my department, as the department head whose responsibilities could easily be absorbed by talented, lesser-paid staff members underneath me. I get it, and I’m not offended. Sure, I think I was underpaid in that management role, but I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had at this company and I’m grateful that the executives saw a fit for me in a new role that has new growth opportunities.
So how that relates to my boss’s question… While I believe I deserve an increase in my salary in accordance with my performance, whether I do well or go above and beyond, I recognize that there’s only so much a person can grow in a particular role before they don’t have anything more to contribute or, more than likely, they become too expensive. So when an employee gets to that point, and even before really, they have to think about what their longer-term goals are. I’m far from hitting the ceiling in my new role (I think), but I understand (I think) that my boss and the executives want to set the expectation that this potential exists. They want to understand what my greater goals are, whether monetary or not, and see how they fit with the goals of the company and what they can offer, or not…
Considering I went into journalism, that low-paying career path I mentioned earlier, it’s reasonable to assume that money is not my only motivator.
In my new recruiting role I end many interviews with the question “What motivates you in your job?” For sales roles, we hope they say money; otherwise we question why they went into sales. For someone like me, a creative who entered a field that doesn’t pay well, it’s more than money. Like I said before, I want to be challenged and feel as though I’m adding value. I also want to be with an organization that values it’s employees and shows it in ways beyond the price they pay for them. Work-life balance is important to me; I don’t mind working long hours if I need to every once in awhile, but I don’t want to do it all the time. I want to have a life at work and one outside of work, and maybe I like the people I work with so much that they even overlap sometimes. I also want to work for a company that is understanding and flexible; I don’t want to be micromanaged or scrutinized against rigid rules.
Fortunately the company I work for appreciates those same things I do and it’s made up of fun, hard-working people like me. It’s given me amazing opportunities, helped me improve existing skills and develop new ones, and been incredibly flexible, allowing me to have a life outside my full-time job. That’s all I can ask for.
But, I still can’t deny that “worth” is at least partially tied to money. And I’d be lying if I said I don’t care how much I make as long as I’m happy in my job. I’m currently happy in my job, but I have bills to pay and would like to get to a point where I’m living comfortably. So since moving from my previous role, I’ve been working hard and going above and beyond where possible. I don’t want to limit the value I can add and I don’t want to limit my growth potential. As long as I haven’t hit the ceiling in whatever role I’m in, I want to keep growing in every way – salary included. If I have hit the ceiling, then I want to find a way to keep growing in every aspect, whether it’s with my current employer or in a new career move.