Crucial Skills®

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Crucial Conversations for Accountability

Unfair Compensation

Dear Crucial Skills,

I know of a very hard-working individual presently employed in State Government who is being paid unfairly. She is very well trained in her profession and has even been recognized nationally for her work. She routinely carries about double the workload of others doing the same or similar job. Finally, she has been evaluated by past and current supervisors as being highly dependable, knowledgeable, and needing little or no supervision. Her performance ratings have always described her as exceeding expectations.

In spite of her contribution, upper management staff have repeatedly denied her requests to be classified within the same title and pay range as others with the same duties. She has requested salary reviews and even filed a formal complaint only to have it be ignored.

What else can she do?

Out of Ideas

Dear Out of Ideas,

In answering your question, I am going to make a couple of assumptions. First, I’m going to assume that your friend has exhausted all organizational channels to get redress. Second, I’m going to assume there may be additional legal channels involving a labor lawyer she hasn’t exhausted for fear of bringing a political backlash.

With those assumptions in place, let’s talk about holding the right conversation. There are three potential levels of conversation people can hold. First is the content level—the initial problem you face. In your friend’s case, this is her original concern about unfair pay. She has already held this conversation and is dissatisfied with the result. So she should not waste her time holding it again.

Second is the pattern level. The pattern she is concerned about here is the continued failure of her employer to acknowledge or address her concern. She has done a good job here by escalating the concern and then filing a formal complaint. She has held the pattern conversation by helping leaders know they have repeatedly neglected her concern. She is done with this level.

Last is the relationship level. The relationship conversation at last puts on the table the need to renegotiate the relationship. Options include everything from changing boundaries or interdependencies in a relationship up to possibly disengaging entirely. Often people fail in their crucial confrontations because they fail to move from the pattern to the relationship conversation when they should.

This sometimes occurs because they fail to a) take responsibility for their own interests in the relationship; and b) count the costs to themselves of continuing as is. In a sense, your friend could become an enabler to the relationship she doesn’t like by continuing it long past the point that she feels well served by it.

So my first advice to your friend is to take responsibility for her interests in her employment relationship. If she has, in fact, exhausted all organization channels to get redress, then she must decide what she really wants. Is the security and fulfillment she’s getting from her work more important than the benefit of getting what she considers fair compensation elsewhere? Or is her feeling fairly compensated a higher value?

If she decides that the compensation value is of highest importance, she should leave. She may also want to give consideration to offering her reasons for leaving so that leaders will better understand the costs of their behavior toward people like her in the future.

Having left, she may also find there are additional legal channels available to recoup past compensation. This is not our area of expertise and we would encourage her to visit with a labor lawyer for expert advice on her options.

The bottom line here is—realize the first conversation you must have is with yourself. What do you really want? Second, if your decision is to disengage from the relationship, hold that conversation.

I wish you the best in finding a situation where you are truly valued and properly compensated.


You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Conversations for Accountability

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