A reader writes:
I work for a company with about 30 employees. We used to have five people in owner/management roles and things ran pretty well, but four left in the last year mostly due to the difficult personality of the remaining manager, Mo. Mo became the sole owner but did not want to pick up the extra management tasks, so decided to distribute these to existing employees without any change to our pay.
I only work two days per week and stay at home with my kids the rest of the time, but the draft plan for who would pick up what work would have required about eight hours of work spread across the other three workdays. I am unwilling and unable to afford three days of childcare for three children to do unpaid work, and the work is also not something I want to do or would be good at (for example, I was assigned accounting and payroll tasks but I have diagnosed dyscalculia).
Mo made it clear that “volunteering” was a requirement of ongoing employment with the company. I reached out to my colleagues to communicate my concerns about the proposed changes and ask whether anyone would be willing to join me in raising these issues with Mo and advocating for ourselves. About half told me they were concerned too but would “see how it plays out,” while the other half did not respond.
I’m usually pretty passive, but I know that I bring more than my share of income into the business and that it would not be hard to go and work for myself if I were fired. So I raised my concerns with Mo and negotiated for only four extra hours of work, all on one workday, with a 50% raise.
The final list of task allocations was recently released to staff. It was very clear that I had a small number of easy tasks while others had several, time-intensive tasks. Apparently, a few people asked Mo for a raise at this point, but were told that one employee had “taken” all the money allocated for raises. People put two and two together and figured out it was me, and that information spread quickly through the company. Yesterday I arrived at my desk to find a letter, signed by almost all the other employees, asking that I volunteer for more tasks and decline the full raise so the money can be distributed more equitably. These people did not help me when I asked for their support, and I risked my employment in talking to our manager to get the rewards I got, so I feel resentful that they want me to sacrifice to help them now. However, I also think that taking on more tasks and less money is the Right Thing To Do, in that it would be fairer. But then if I had to take on many more tasks, I would rather just resign. But if I ignore their requests, I’d imagine the workplace is going to become a pretty unpleasant place for me to work.
Do you think I’m right to be resentful or should I make things fairer? Do I respond to this letter? Will I be able to keep working here if I ignore their requests? Is there any advantage to letting my manager know what’s happening?
Wow, yes, you are right to be resentful. It’s not in any way reasonable for your coworkers to ask you to turn down a raise or take on more work on days you are not paid to do work just because they declined to join you in advocating for themselves when you initially proposed it.
To be clear, your coworkers are getting screwed and they have a right to be upset — but they’re getting screwed by Mo/the business, not by you, and you’re not obligated to sacrifice your pay or your free time to make up for the business’s deficiencies.
(Also, for what it’s worth, unless the business has a had a significant decline in revenue in the last year, I’d be questioning whether there really isn’t enough money to pay them what their work is worth, given that four senior managers are no longer on the payroll.)
So, you are right on the principle of it.
Whether that will matter to your coworkers and how pleasant it’s going to be for you to keep working there are different questions. But what about helping your coworkers advocate for themselves? If you tell them that this is the only way you could keep the job and you’re not able to work additional days or take on more hours without being paid for them, but that you want to help them advocate for themselves as well — and then you really do that (which could be anything from telling them what you found effective with Mo, to helping them craft their case, to lending your voice to theirs when they talk to Mo, to making sure they know the National Labor Relations Act protects employees’ right to organize for better wages and discuss working conditions) … well, it might or might not change how they feel. But it’ll demonstrate that you’re on their side and should make it clearer that their beef should be with Mo, not with you.
Then give it some time to play out. You’re in a good position since you’re confident it wouldn’t be hard for you to leave and work for yourself. That means you can afford both to help your colleagues advocate for themselves and to leave if you ultimately conclude it’s not a great place for you to work anymore.
But don’t back down on your pay or your hours. You negotiated the terms under which you’re willing to do the work, and you shouldn’t compromise on that.