I was promised a raise and promotion … 3 years ago

A reader writes:

I have am at a loss about what to do in this situation. Any advice would be great! I work for a mid-size nonprofit doing fundraising. I have been here for 3+ years now in a position that was a lateral move from my previous job. When I started, I took the same salary as my previous position because it was work I wanted to do, but was promised a raise and better title when it was available. That was three years ago, and I have not received a raise. Several people have been promoted over me, even though my performance reviews are stellar. I expressed my displeasure with this to my boss, but was always dismissed with, “The opportunity wasn’t right for your (skills, location, etc.).”

Finally, just last month, I was approached about running a new project. I was thrilled, as it came with a position bump and talks of a raise at the end of the year. It is, however, a lot more work. When I accepted, it seemed doable. Since getting more detail on the project, the scope has grown. I have done this kind of work before, but with a team of three. This will just be me doing the work of three.

One more issue. When my boss finally sat me down to explain the exact work I would be doing, she threw in there, “Oh, and your title upgrade hasn’t been approved. You will continue to have your current title,” and then continued on with all the work I would be responsible for implementing. I was so shocked I didn’t respond (not that I was given the opportunity.)

I don’t know what to do. Should I continue with the promotion that isn’t even a promotion any longer? I feel like I have shown this company loyalty for 3 years and have been fooled repeatedly by promises of credit for my work, both in title and money. I am very disheartened.

I recommend that you do three things simultaneously:

1. Start believing what they’ve been telling you for the last three years, both through their actions and their words:  They do not plan to stick to that original promise they made you. They intend to get as much work out of you as they can at your current title and salary. And while not giving someone a raise or promotion can make sense in many cases, in this case it makes them people who break their word. And not only that, they break it so cavalierly that they don’t even feel any need to go back and talk to you about it.

2. Call your boss on it. Do this politely and professionally, of course, but stand up for yourself. Say something like, “When I accepted this job three years ago, it was with the agreement that I’d receive a different title and a raise as quickly as possible (or whatever your exact arrangement was). It has been three years, and my performance evaluations have been consistently excellent. But I haven’t even had a cost of living raise, let alone one for performance or the one that was agreed to when I came on board. Now you’re asking me to take on work that was previously done by three people, which is a significant amount of responsibility — and one that I imagine must further reflect your confidence in me. When I accepted, I was told that it would come with a title bump and a raise at the end of the year. Now, though, you’re telling me that won’t be the case after all. Before we move forward with this, we need to resolve this. I think the work I’ve done so far and the work I’ll be doing warrants the title of ___ and a raise of $___.”

If she turns you down, then you have a decision to make: Do you want to take on the new work anyway (which could help you with step #3)? Or do you want to tell her that your acceptance hinged on what you were told earlier about the title and pay, and if that’s off the table, you’ll reconsider your acceptance? (Keep in mind that the latter comes with the risk that she’ll tell you it’s simply part of your job now, which she can get away with doing.)

3. Start looking for another job. No matter what happens with step #2 above, start actively job-searching. This organization and this manager have not treated you with integrity, and even if you get them to give in now, you have plenty of evidence about how they operate. It’s time to move on. Not every employer is like this; find one that isn’t.

And when you do, get any employment agreement in writing — salary, future salary reviews, promises about title changes, all of it. (Similarly, if your current employer does agree to a raise and title bump now, get that in writing too — they have a track record of ignoring promises. And if they refuse to put it in writing, assume their “agreement” with you is a sham.)

And a big-picture takeaway from this:  Three years is too long to put up with something like this without asserting yourself. Six months, fine. Three years — no. You’ve got to speak up when people are reneging on employment agreements. If you don’t, you teach them that they can continue to do that to you.

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