You’ve Been Screwed at Work, Now What?

April 10, 2013

……………………A few nights ago I had a great conversation over Skype with the Isenberg Women in Business Society at UMass Amherst’s Isenberg School of Management. They raised interesting questions, but one in particular reflected a universal dilemma all of us face one time or another. What do you do at work when you feel like you’ve been screwed?

I had given an example of a young professional finding out that her year-end bonus was less than that of someone who she knew was a lot less productive, though certainly more outspoken. What should she do? First, and importantly, she should take ownership of the outcome. Maybe the decision wasn’t fair, but it occurred because she didn’t let her manager know that she was on top of every aspect of her career from her assignments, promotion to compensation. This realization is important because it will take some of the emotionality out of any conversation she has with her boss, since she knows she is at least partly responsible.

Secondly, the woman should draw on her old psych 101 class and put herself in her manager’s head. How would he respond if she approaches him to discuss it? She’ll soon realize that any reference to her better paid colleague could make her boss defensive and might not get her what she wants. She hadn’t advocated enough for herself before she received her bonus, so she should consider doing just that now.

And lastly, she should talk to her manager and point out specific accomplishments which warrant her receiving a higher bonus. She can say she’s aware of the range of bonuses paid but avoid referring to anyone specifically. Her boss will understand that she has figured out the landscape.

When you ask your manager for anything, you may not receive the answer you want, but if you ask appropriately, your boss will have increased respect for you and your negotiating skills. I know this to be true first hand. After making enough mistakes the early part of my career, I finally figured out how to advocate for myself. A prospective employer got so frustrated with me when I was negotiating my package, he blurted out “Damn it Terri, that’s why I want to hire you, you’re such a good negotiator.” That’s when I knew I had really gained his respect (and was likely to get what I asked for).

Don’t be afraid to ask, even after the fact. And don’t be afraid to let your manager know you care about your career. The squeaky wheel theory applies.