Playing the game

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Fall. Fall is here, the leaves are changing colour and so perhaps now a good time for reflection and change.

I am writing today’s post though as I am confused. I have been with my company 20 years and now things don’t make sense.. perhaps someone reading can explain?

Anyway my company, most people appear ambitious and aiming for the top… they make all the right moves and right noises –  work long hours (late and early), schmooze with the higher ups, are team players, dress the part, use the right buzzwords, seem to love the company and everything it does, get promoted every few years…  They appear to be ambitious, entirely work-centered employees trying to move up the ladder to the top.. and encourage (and often pressure) others to do the same.

So why recently did a few of these people suddenly put their hands up for a layoff package? Sure, the company is restructuring and a bit unsettled, but isn’t this a great time for them to stay and get their next promotion? They are missing opportunities to progress their career even further and continue the path to the top.

Why would they leave now? Some of them even are quitting the workforce entirely (and very early)!  Wasn’t their career at the company, and getting to the top, everything to them? They certainly behaved like it. If this was true, why would they leave now? If it wasn’t, why would they play the game so completely (and create this sometimes toxic workaholic culture as a result)? Its a lot of unnecessary time and effort if you are just planning to leave anyway.

I don’t get it.


What are the chances of getting a pay raise when your coworkers earn more than you do.

Happy Monday! I have a case of the Monday blues which seems to make topics like salary more poignant to me. I was reading an article today about what to do when you find out a co-worker makes more than you do. I read the article and thought it was totally pink tinged and not realistic.

Their main advice was go to your boss and present your case for a better salary. In today’s economic climate, and more so if you are a minority, or a female, then that likely doesn’t work most of the time. If it did women wouldn’t earn 2/3 of what men do!

Lets look at what your chances actually are of getting the raise you deserve, starting with why your pay is less to begin with.

  • When were you hired?  I was hired when the company was low on funds and wasn’t able to offer out big salaries. And they have HR rules that cap any subsequent earnings (even if you get a promotion or new job!! – see below) so I haven’t been able to catch up naturally.
  • Where did you come from? My colleagues Jane and Bob both came from sales. In my company sales are valued more, so they were offered higher salaries to join the company.
  • What has been your career progression? When you get promoted, it can often come with a salary increase. And if you are promoted often or change jobs internally a lot, your salary can increase more than others who don’t. How does your career progression compare to your coworkers?
  • Are they worth it? I know I am underpaid but quite honestly, when I look at industry salaries, my coworkers are overpaid.
  • Where do you live? My colleagues in the US (even considering exchange) get paid more than me. But my colleagues out in Eastern Canada get paid less. So there is a calculation done by HR based on cost of living and the local hiring market.

Hopefully that gives you some insight into why you got where you are.. but the big question is.. what’s the chances you can even score a pay increase now??

  • What is your experience compared to your colleagues? This is the big one that career advisors focus on so you can judge your worth. But here’s the problem with this – everyones’ work experience is different and I have met managers who can take two identical resumes and explain how one has more value than an other just because it suits them!
  • How is the company financially? Your company likely doesn’t want to pay you any more if they don’t have to. They are concerned about their bottom line more than how it effects you. So if they are tight for funds you are fighting a losing battle on salary.
  • Who are your friends? In my company its all about who you know and who you, and your boss are “friends” with. If you have a lot of supporters, especially at higher levels, you are more likely to get a raise.

So I wanted to provide a couple of examples on my experience when asking for a raise which may also help.

  1. When I asked for a pay increase and presented my case, they said I “needed more experience”. Note I had been doing the job for over 5 years, and in this role am one of the more experienced in the company. They didn’t say how much more experience they thought I would need. Note this manager was fairly new so had less experience than me too…
  2. I applied for a senior role recently vacated by a retiring VP. This job was at a much higher grade and salary than my current one (due to my discrepancy over the years) but they decided I was qualified and promoted me anyway. I was given a minimal increase in salary (which meant I was being paid roughly $150k less per year than my predecessor) and when I questioned it my company said” HR rules say you can’t get more than 1 grade level increase and  5% increase in salary when promoted – and each increase  has to be at least 2 years apart!” Some skewed logic about typical promotion and experience paths.  Somehow find out out if your company has an HR policy like that.
  3. Next time I asked for an increase, my manager agreed and told me to fill in some forms so that HR could benchmark my salary against other companies with similar roles to work out what I should be paid. When my boss called HR and asked where to send the form to (and importantly before she even sent the form to anyone) the HR manager said “send in the form and we will give her a 5% increase”.. which is against the whole procedure and defeats the purpose. Note the 5% is the typical amount as per 2.
    A typical company will have a pyramid shape of employees – the president at the top at the peak earning most, then a few VPs earning a bit less under him, then a number of directors earning less again,  and then the wide base with lots of lower earning regular employees. But in my company,  over the years they haven’t been hiring due to lack of funds, and combined with the fact that people haven’t been retiring (and instead every 2 years they get a 5% increase) has caused creation of an inverted pyramid. This means means they have a many high earning VP and directors at the top of the pyramid and a low number of regular employees at the bottom. To try and prevent it getting worse and save more money, they are trying to stop pay increases and promotions to artificially keep lower earning employees at the bottom of the pyramid.. which means getting a promotion is very hard. Does this sound like your company?
  4. The most recent time (and new manager) I asked for a pay increase, they actually agreed I was getting paid less than everyone else and that I deserved more. However they said since the company was short of funds, there was nothing they could do.

What actually worked for me then? I am still underpaid but have had 2 significant increases in my career and here’s how:

  1. I found a new job with another company and gave my 2 weeks notice. Suddenly my VP took me aside and asked “What would it take for you to stay?”. I got a significant increase at that point. This is a ballsy move though, you need to be prepared to leave.
  2. I applied for a promotion with a manager who was a major fan of mine. I told her I would only take the job if I got a significant promotion. She fought tooth and nail with HR and I got 10% raise. Still not great but better than nothing.

Hope my experience helps and good luck with your raise!

Not what you think

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Photo by Lukas on

Hey there – hope you are enjoying your summer. And since its summer and things tend to be a little slow, its a good time to re-evaluate where you are and what you are doing with your career and where you are heading – because you may not be as secure as you think!

The last few months I have seen a number of layoffs at my company and thats another reason to evaluate where you are.  A few questions to start you off.

  • Are you happy in your job? Bored? Fulfilled?
  • How is your work life balance?
  • Do you feel appreciated? Are you paid enough?
  • What are the promotion prospects like?
  • Are you where you expected to be by now? If not, why?
  • How do you see yourself in the next 5 years, and what steps do you need to take to get there?
  • How is your company doing? Do you have a long term future with them?

Considering these will certainly help you develop a career action plan however perhaps you are happy and feel valued by your company and see a long term future with them?

Be careful – nowadays there is no such thing as job security. You may love your company and your job, but when a company is in difficulty, they may still let you go – and you need to have a plan for that!

For example, recently a number of my colleagues, in roles from graphic designer to senior VP, were laid off.  They were shocked and sad and really not expecting it.

They had followed all the office tips from schmoozing with upper management, jumping at every request, showcasing themselves at every opportunity, dressing and acting the “right”way, using the buzzwords etc etc – making all the “right” office moves. And they thought they were invaluable and indispensable.. They were wrong. Nobody is.

And it made no difference in the end. They were still laid off when the time came.

So follow my secrets, make the right moves, and do your best – but plan for the worst.

Part 3: The layoff process. What to expect when being laid off



Ok so you think you are about to be laid off.. how does it happen? What should you expect?

  1. Your boss will book a short meeting with you in  a private meeting room (or by phone). He will likely get there before you.
  2. When you arrive at the meeting he will likely be with an HR person. Now you know for sure whats going on as you weren’t expecting someone else to be there.
  3. He will get to the point fast. No discussion. He will explain that you are being laid off, and provide documentation on your severance package and how long you have to review and sign it. Package will likely include details of severance, benefits, pension options etc etc.  Likely you will be too shocked to hear anything but the big takeaway is get the documents and find out how long you have to sign them – but don’t sign them until you have had your lawyer look at them!
  4. He may then exit the room or wrap up the call. Many companies will recruit an independent third party career counsellor to come in and explain their services.
  5. He will then escort you to pack your desk and collect personal items. Some managers may allow you to come back at a later time to do this. If you are virtual they will expect you to return your laptop and any other equipment. They may provide shipping labels and boxes for this. Note: I cleared my desk of any personal items years ago so that if I do get laid off I can just walk without worrying about packing my stuff in front of people.

Go home, take a breath and call your lawyer and have him review the contract before you sign.

You can if you wish send an email from your personal email to your colleagues to let them know you have moved on and how to contact you. Try to be professional and keep your feelings out of the note – dont share details of the package etc.  You may need a reference from them later and you don’t want to jeopardize your professional reputation – plus you may need them later on .

Then start planning your next move and your future.

Part 2: How to know if and when you are getting laid off



In part 1 in this series about layoffs I discussed how my company chooses employees to layoff.  In this part I will review how you can tell if and when are about to be laid off.

What to watch for:  

Company performance and other layoffs: Whats going on at your company? Is it doing well? Are there layoffs in other divisions or departments? What role or tenure of employee is being laid off – and are they equivalent to you? If it’s happening in your office to another department, watch to see how/where and when they do the layoffs.

Timing: In my experience, decisions on who to lay off are made fast. Usually to achieve quarter or year end results  And they want to pull the band-aid off fast… not delay it for months.  So typical times for layoffs are towards the end of the year (November December), the start of the year (January), or start or end of a quarter. Often this is done towards the end of the work week as well – Wednesday through Friday.

Manager behaviour:  Your manager likely will not know until perhaps a week or two out.  A couple of days before the layoff he may start to act a little strange. Distant. Stressed.  He may not give you new projects or may not invite you to meetings that you normally may attend. He may be attending meetings with HR or his boss and come out in a weird mood.

1:1 Meetings: Watch for your boss adding an unusually short meeting  to your calendar with only him – in a small meeting room or by call if you work virtually. This won’t be at his desk or  public place. He may also do this during your scheduled one:one if you have one.

See the signs above and think you are about to be laid off?!

In part 3 next week I will talk about the process and how it typically happens at my company.


Part 1: How to tell if you are going to be laid off


Every year since I started working at my company 20 years ago,  there have been layoffs. Sometimes more than once a year. First time it happened I was so freaked out to see it, but now it’s so much part of the company culture that I just shrug and move on. It’s happened to my friends, bosses and colleagues. One day it will be me. Likely soon.

In this 3 part series I will talk about my experiences with my company – how they decide who to layoff, how you can tell if it’s going to be you, and the layoff process.

In my company start looking at a combination of factors below:

Salary:  if you earn a good amount, especially compared to colleagues, this makes you a target. However this is not the only factor as layoffs can be based on headcount and not salary.

Age + Tenure: How old are you? How long have you been at the company?

  • My company frequently targets people over 50 – and especially 52+ as  they can give them a package to get them to perceived early retirement at 55. (Where I live the package is often 3-4 weeks per month of tenure.. up to about 2 years worth of salary. So if they “retire” you at 53 then your package will last you to 55 when you can in theory start pulling a pension or from your retirement savings if you have any). People over 50 often are earning more as well and as such can be a target of layoffs.
  • Last in first out often applies as the package they would be required to pay you is minimal. So you can be a target if you haven’t been with the company long.

Role + Performance: What do you do and how well do you do it?  Your department may be told to get rid of X people. How do they decide who? My company only pays a cursory glance to this… sadly (and perhaps surprisingly to many) they dont deep dive into what each employee does.
At my company the individual layoff decision can be made by the department VP sometimes in consultation with  the employees boss (but not always). So its important that your boss and, perhaps more importantly boss’s boss understand what you do at a high level, how critical your job is and how good you are at it!
In my company sales people are considered the most important people and will be kept on assuming they are performing well. So low performing sales people, support people such as service, marketing, finance etc are more likely to be layoff targets… who is most important at your company?

Consider these factors together and perhaps you are a target!

Next week  in part 2 find out how to know when you are about to be laid off .

The negative nelly in the square hole


Ok so you have been working your butt off in your job for months.. years.. and you just arent getting promoted. Or perhaps, as is common nowadays, you are a contractor hoping for a permanent position.. You work hard.. and you know you do a good job but you just aren’t getting promoted or that full time job you wanted..

I have been in this position and seen people in it. And what happens frequently to some people is they start to get jaded and a negative attitude. They start to dislike the job, boss etc and tell their colleagues and work friends. But dont. It shows and people can tell.. including the people who control the strings. Do your best to keep a professional and happy demeanor no matter what.  And stop gossiping.

Meanwhile its time to question why this promotion isn’t forthcoming for you. Perhaps you are a round peg in a square hole or don’t have the skills you need yet.. Here’s how to find out.

  • Is it you or is it everyone? Are you seeing others been promoted and you aren’t? If not and your company is in a slump, it may be time to leave. But if it’s just you then consider, what do others have (or do) that you dont? Watch and analyze other successful people in your company that you aspire to. Replicate what you think is working for these individuals.
  • Dress the part and play the gameDress and act the part of the role you aspire to. At first it may feel weird but people will forget how you were before and will be able to picture this new you in a new role.
  • Find a mentor – if your company has a mentor program then join it. Otherwise is there someone  in your team, or higher up that you respect, that is doing well in their career and that you have some form of positive relationship? Have an  informal conversation with them and see if they are willing to help and mentor you and provide tips.
  • Tell your boss you want to “develop skills” and if they can “recommend training to improve your knowledge base in your current role and help develop you for future positions”. Say you can do it in your spare time if needed. You boss will likely be very happy to recommend. Pay attention to what they advise – likely there will be indicators of what they think your weakness are (but whatever you do dont ask them outright to list out your failings- that never is a good conversation!). Note sometimes their input  can be more a reflection of their own weaknesses than yours.
  • Ask the boss  – Ask what they view as your promotion opportunities and potential roles they see suitable for you. Pay close attention to any feedback they give.  Read between the lines. Does this match up with the role you are looking for?


Consider the above but at the same time start looking at jobs outside the company. Job postings and interviews will give you a better feel for what matches your skills and interests and whether you are a fit for these – plus there may be a better opportunity out there!