September 19, 2021
How I Negotiated My First Pay Raise

Negotiating a pay raise is quite the process.

I can’t say I speak for everyone regarding these events because they’re only from my perspective. That doesn’t restrict itself to what I’ve witnessed, either: thoughts, feelings, past experiences that influenced how I viewed a particular statement or action — everything is unique to me. There are millions out there who could read this and say I wouldn’t have thought of that or you’re overreacting! There are even a handful of people who did witness the same thing or who met me at the time and would say no, that isn’t what happened!

In the interest of keeping identities concealed, I have changed everyone’s name but my own to the names of popular Pokemon.

The subject came up when I had dinner with my parents recently. It was my father’s birthday and we were at the Olive Garden, chatting casually over stuffed mushrooms and bread sticks; I was chatting about my financial situation, and how my school loans were what really was holding me back from doing a lot of stuff I wanted to.

“It’s basically a car payment,” I concluded. “But I’m hoping I can get a raise that’ll offset it come January.”

“How much are you asking for?” Mom wanted to know.

“Well, we’re still pretty small so I won’t expect much.” I dipped a mushroom into my tomato bisque and watched it for a moment. “But I’d like to get up a couple thousand more.”

Dad laughed at me, incredulous. “Don’t you think you’re asking for a bit much?”

I stopped and stared at him. Mom, too. They were looking at me with wry smiles as if I were taking a big risk or being greedy. It was cynicism mixed with concern, a look that said, Don’t get your hopes up.

These were the people that had taught me to be afraid of the world.

I flashed back to when I worked at another company, hands cold and tingling with anticipation as the days counted down to my annual review. I knew what I wanted. I knew what I deserved. But the fact of the matter was, I started at 45,000 at this particular place and jumped up to 48 when I stepped up to take on a role someone had quickly vacated. Would that work against me? Would they say ‘Um, you already got a raise so bye’?

I don’t recall how word of my worries reached Jigglypuff. I might have said it in passing or maybe I said it to my coworker, Clefairy, and she mentioned it to her. (Either way, I’m glad that it did because that was ultimately what started us talking more regularly and becoming good friends.) However it happened, she offered to chat with me about it. I knew she had been at the company for three years so she knew the ropes, so I accepted.

We talked about the cost of living in our city and what other people in similar positions were making on average and she passionately insisted on just how important that was. She told me places to look up facts and figures so that I could show my manager irrevocable proof that I wasn’t being greedy, I was struggling to live.

I walked away from that feeling very confident and more sure of myself. I printed out things. I set up my annual review date. I hounded every co-worker who was supposed to review me to get their reviews in on time. Then, I went to the conference room.

I arrived there before my manager Growlithe and put on my business face. I even went so far as to ensure his chair was lower than mine — a tip I told myself would psychologically give me an advantage, too — and waited. He came in casual and friendly as if this would be an easy conversation. We sat down and reviewed what my peers said about me.

The funny thing is, their only consistent bit of feedback was that they wished I would be more outgoing and assertive. I can’t say much for the outgoing thing — I’m a natural introvert and that is always a struggle for me, although I do my best to work on it — but I acknowledged the assertiveness by immediately following up with my pay raise demand.

He apologized and said that even he wasn’t getting a raise this year. I gave him a stare that I hope communicated how much I didn’t sympathize. He was not me. My manager not getting a raise didn’t automatically mean those below him wouldn’t. I brought up the cost of living and my rent. Again, he seemed to stick in the ‘I agree with you, I can’t guarantee but I’ll try’ sort of space. I thanked him politely and let it be.

But I sat across from him in our section of the office and every week at our one-on-ones, I asked him the status. Apparently, HR was delaying it, or maybe it was our new boss taking his time to look at it (I don’t remember which), but he was still fighting for me. Again, I thanked him. Again, every week, I would casually bring up the status. Same answer each time. I wouldn’t let it go.

I think it was very clear to him that not receiving this raise meant I would leave, and I knew that with how intensely I carried those important accounts and even the work of my coworkers (who were on a separate team) they couldn’t afford to lose me.

What wasn’t clear to me was that the account I was training to be on next — the largest account — was soon going to be my sole responsibility very, very soon. The person who had been on the account since its creation, Meowth, had been showing me the ropes for about 4-5 weeks. I had the hang of it and had already been introduced as her little helper-to-be, but she was still double-checking the content of my social posts to make sure it stayed ‘on the brand.’

On the morning of what we had planned to be a team outing, I said good morning to Meowth and sat at my desk. She said she wanted to show me something cool regarding the account, but she had a one-on-one with our new boss Poliwag to take care of first.

“Okay! I’ll have these tweets finished when you get back,” I wrote back to her through IM, and watched her leave while tending to my work. About twenty minutes later, I noticed something very curious happen out of the corner of my eye: Poliwag came by to her desk, picked up her backpack, and walked away.

I felt something sink in my stomach but tried to ignore it. Then, ten minutes later, Poliwag called for us to go into a small conference room. I can’t quite recall how he worded it, but it was very pseudo-inspirational. He stated that Meowth was let go due to ‘performance issues’ that had been a problem for a long time.

Before this, Oddish (the woman who had been helping Meowth, whose job I had stepped up to take over, the second time I had to do that in this company) had been let go for similar reasons. Everyone in the room glanced at each other uneasily, and Poliwag quickly assured us, “This will be the last time this happens. From here on, we’ll only be growing the team!”

When he seemed like he was finished, I raised a hand.

“Meowth was teaching me her account,” I began, clearly concerned. “She showed me a lot of it, but I’m still not one-hundred percent confident in running it. Will I be all alone on that, or…?”

“Oh, no. We’ll eventually hire a new strategist,” he promised, “Until then, Growlithe will take on that account with you.”

I smiled brightly and thanked him. Inwardly, I grimaced. Growlithe hadn’t touched the account before. It’d be the blind leading the blind — but he had dealt with similar, so I let it go. Maybe he would surprise me and I wouldn’t have to do all the work with only half the experience! Spoilers: That was exactly the case.

After the meeting, Growlithe pulled me aside into a separate room looking proud of himself. I thought he was going to check up on me and see if I was “doing okay” regarding Meowth being let go, as they had when they let go of Oddish, but instead, he slapped a paper down on the desk and said, “I got you 50!”

As in a raise. He got me a $2000 raise. I looked at the paper and I know I didn’t have enough time to react properly and mask my disappointment. I was definitely frowning.

“I wanted fifty-two,” I reminded him. “You guys just let go of Meowth who I know made at least 60. Now I’m taking on her job, too, until you hire someone new. You can’t get me two more?”

I could tell he was taken aback. He thought I’d be satisfied with this, and when I saw that expression on his face I got even more frustrated. I remembered how Jigglypuff told me of a story that happened two years ago at the same company, where a new guy she had trained was immediately offered a $5000 raise where she had to fight for $4000. Was this what was happening to me? Was this 1950s ridiculousness actually happening?

I reaffirmed that I appreciated his help, but that I felt that with Meowth’s removal I could get more. He said he would try and I thanked him. And I’m proud to say that eventually, I did get my salary up to $52,000. And I was sweet as sugar from that point on.

And let me also add that that person they had been planning to hire ‘immediately’ to replace Meowth didn’t get hired until the week I left the company six months later. So I can’t even play Devil’s advocate to myself and say ‘Ah, they needed her salary to pay her replacement’. They didn’t. They saved a lot of money by giving me jobs — and that was told to my face three times.

Yeah. Great way to remind me of my worth.

Since my departure, the company has lost many other employees — including ones that have been there for over five years and had previously been very dedicated and loyal — and let go of others. Jigglypuff and another friend of mine, Pikachu, have already taken new jobs. My department has lost several accounts from what I’ve heard and had to dissolve an entire team. Meanwhile, Poliwag has been promoted. But that’s another story for another day.

The point of this story is: Don’t be afraid to fight for what you feel your work is worth. It doesn’t matter what gender you are (or aren’t).  You spend most of your adult life at your workplace — make sure you feel confident and appreciated, or leave as soon as you’re comfortably able. Finding a place you love is truly worth the risk.

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