DEAR J.T. & DALE: I have been taking some heat around the office because I skipped the annual holiday party. Was this a huge faux pas? My employer likes to throw parties at his house every few months, and I rarely go. Is this hurting my career? – Jamie
DALE: Here’s another chance to advance my belief that you should make a distinction between your work and your job. Your job is much more than getting your work done – it includes supporting your co-workers, understanding the social dynamics of the organization, making a contribution to team spirit and, yes, being a welcome addition at company social events. Said another way: You can’t just shoot the basketball, you’ve got to play defense, and you’ve got to show up for the team photo and the charity event, and you’ve got to smile the whole time. And – trust me on this, Jamie – you want it that way. You want to be part of a team, not just somebody putting in his hours at the Trudge & Drudge factory.
J.T.: I agree with Dale, Jamie, but I get there via a different logic. Keep in mind, you aren’t just an employee, you are a business-of-one. Your No. 1 client is your boss. You need to keep the client happy. If attending his party ensures that he knows you appreciate the job, then doesn’t it make sense to go? It’s also a great time to get to know other staff members whom you might not interact with on a daily basis. It pays to have as many allies as possible in the office. These events can be your chance to develop new relationships that can help you in the future. So, go to the next party and enjoy it!
DEAR J.T. & DALE: I am a struggling single mom. Five years ago I started at my current company as a receptionist. I eventually became office manager. Previous office managers made almost double my salary. When I got behind on rent, I went to my boss and asked for a small raise. He declined and stated that my landlord should lower my rent. I ended up being evicted. I can’t afford the Internet or a cellphone. In your opinion, is $9.50 an hour considered underpaid for my position? – Cindee
DALE: The simple answer is yes , I consider you underpaid. How much depends on your qualifications and your local labor market. The easiest way to learn how much you’re underpaid is by following postings for similar positions. Meanwhile, let’s develop a goal for your income: Go to the Living Wage Calculator (livingwage.mit.edu). It defines, by city, typical expenses and what you must earn to support a family. If, say, you are a household of one adult and one child in Fort Collins, Colo., your Poverty Wage is $7 an hour, while your Living Wage is $20.28. So, taking $20+/hour as a goal, how can you get there?
J.T.: It certainly isn’t going to be by begging your current boss for a raise.
DALE: Agreed. We could offer you negotiating tips, but even a generous raise of 20 percent isn’t going to get you to that goal, and nothing you told us about your boss leads us to be optimistic that he would be generous.
J.T.: No, your only hope of dramatically improving your income is switching jobs. You are going to need to find a way to get out and interview while keeping your current job; you may need to call in sick to get the time to interview.
DALE: As you get hiring mangers interested, they’ll ask what you’ve been making. Here’s where your research will be helpful. Try saying: “I’m looking for a new job because I was not able to advance my career and my salary at my old job. I am looking to make what is fair for my experience and skills, and from my research, I think $X-$Y an hour is about right. What do you think?”
J.T.: Yes, debate fairness, not your old wage. When you do, we feel confident that X and Y are going to be considerably more than you’ve been making. Let us know how it goes.
Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm jtodonnell. Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with AgreementHouse.com. Please visit them at jtanddale.com, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.