Office coach: Do the homework for salary review

Marie G. McIntyre
Tribune News Service

Q. I recently realized that my salary doesn’t match my level of responsibility. For 11 years, I have worked for a small, family-owned business that has experienced considerable growth. During that time, my duties have expanded exponentially, but my pay has increased only modestly.

In reviewing salary comparisons, I have discovered that people in similar jobs make almost twice as much as I do. Closing this gap would require a $50,000 increase. Although I think my bosses will approve a raise, I’m afraid such a large request might not be well received.

I have heard that you should always specify a certain amount when discussing a pay increase. However, in this case, I wonder if I should simply provide the comparison data and see how my managers react. What do you think about this?

A. Your problem is certainly not unique. In a growing business, duties can easily expand until the original job morphs into something completely different. But before making your case for a raise, you must be sure that you are comparing apples to apples.

If you only consider job titles, pay comparisons might be meaningless, because the same label is often applied to widely differing roles. For an accurate assessment, you have to look at responsibilities. Company size and location are also relevant factors, since salaries tend to be higher in large corporations and urban areas.

If valid comparisons still show a significant gap, then it’s time to request a salary review. Naming a specific figure is often recommended because it conveys your expectations and becomes the starting point for negotiations. Otherwise, your boss may start with an offer which is unacceptably low.

Finally, if you expect management to resist “catching you up” all at once, be prepared to suggest a two-step process. By agreeing on your next raise now, you can avoid having to repeat this uncomfortable conversation.

Q. I manage a small community bank which has very conservative customers. To avoid offending them and present the proper image, we ask employees to abide by a specific dress code. New hires are sent these guidelines before they report to work.

Our latest employee often wears skirts which are inappropriately short. I need to discuss this with her, but I’m not sure how to approach the subject. Any suggestions?

A. Instead of criticizing your new arrival for her fashion choices, take this opportunity to explain both the rules and the reason for them.

For example: “In case you didn’t have a chance to read our dress code, I wanted to review those guidelines with you. We require conservative attire here because many of our customers are very conventional, and we don’t want to offend them. For that reason, your skirts will need to be slightly longer than you may be accustomed to.”

You should then provide a specific definition of acceptable skirt length and thank her for making the change. To prevent similar problems in the future, include a detailed dress code discussion in your employee orientation sessions. Unfortunately, providing advance reading material doesn’t guarantee that it will actually be read.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”

Twitter: @officecoach