Ask Belle: Get It All in Writing

Oct 31, 2012

Dear Belle,

Seven months ago, my supervisor left her job and I was promoted into her former position.  At the time, I was told that I would receive a new title and salary (at least an $8,000 increase) after a training period.  I have still not received my bump or my new title even though my training evaluation happened five months ago.

I know I should have gotten a firm committment in writing before I took the job, and I am kicking myself, but whenever I bring up the issue to my boss she tells me she is working on it.  How do I get my bump and my title without making her angry?

Sincerely,

Christine

As you said, not asking your boss to put everything in writing was a foolish decision, but you’re hardly the first woman to make this mistake. We all want to believe that our bosses have our best interests at heart, and that it’s okay to just let things play out, but it almost never is.  You cannot expect someone else to take care of you or to put your interests first.  

I’ve been in a similar situation twice, and if I have learned one thing it is that you must always, ALWAYS get everything in writing.

First, for the benefit of other women reading this post, let me lay out how your role in the promotion process should work before I address your situation specifically.

When you accept a promotion, you should get the following IN WRITING (by email will do): job title, effective start date, salary increase and a list of new responsibilities.  If they tell you that there will be a “testing” or “training” period, then you need to know exactly how long this period will last and whether there will be an evaluation at the end.

If your boss insists on talking to you in person instead of by email, which most will, after the conversation immediately walk back to your desk and write and email that says the following: Thank you so much for discussing the specifics of my promotion with me.  I am grateful for the opportunity to move into the position of (job title), effective (date) at (number) salary.  I am very grateful for this new challenge; please let me know if you need anything else from me.

This is a back door way of having a record of the conversation and confirming the specifics in case something goes awry later.  This is important because manyemployers don’t offer work contracts, so add as many of the particulars as you can while keeping the email short and conversational.

If your boss says to you, “Belle, I’d like to be able to tell you for sure how this is all going to work, but we’re sorting that out and you need to be patient,” take a deep breath before you proceed.  Too many women (and men) knee jerk react in these situations and either get upset, or melt in to a puddle and let the matter go.

Instead say to your boss, “I am so grateful for this opportunity, but if you could give me a better idea of the timeline for figuring out the specifics, I would appreciate it.”  This process should rarely, if ever, take more than one month. 

Onceyour boss gives you a ballpark, send an email like the one above thanking them for giving you a better idea of when the matter will be settled, and that you look forward to speaking about the specifics in 30 days (or whatever the specific number he/she gives you is).  Then relax, and go about doing good work.  I think it’s important, that once you have a timeline, your boss doesn’t feel like you’re not breathing down his neck.

If your boss refuses to give you firm expectations, you need to respectfully but forcefully push back.  This is not the time to be a shrinking violet.  I hate to say it this way, but this is the time to act and think like a man.  

In that situation, I would say to my boss, “I understand that you’re sorting this out, but a prolonged period of uncertainty doesn’t benefit either of us.  I think it would be best for both of us if we could agree on a timeline for when these decisions will be finalized as I have already taken on the responsibilities associated with the position.”

Maintain your calm.  Speak to your boss with respect.  Make eye contact.  And most importantly, emphasize that you want to work with them and help sort out the specifics in anyway you can.

Now, if you find yourself in Christine’s position, you need to give your boss one more opportunity to make good.  Send her an email explaining that you accepted this new position several months ago and that at that time she assured you that a new salary and title would be conveyed.  Explain that since you accepted this position you have performed all of the tasks associated with the new title.  Then tell her that you would like to work with her to finalize your new salary and title on or before (choose date two weeks to one month in the future), and ask if you can find a time to meet to discuss specifics. 

Don’t just knock on her door and show up, making an appointment shows you respect her time and her role as your boss.

It is a truly unprofessional employer who would receive that email and blow you off.  If she does, you need to determine whether there is someone else who can address this issue.  Do you have an HR department?  Is there another person who has an equal or higher title to hers who you can speak with?  Look for someone who can, at the very least, advocate for you.

Going over your boss’s head is obviously the solution of last resort, but if it has been more than 90 days and you do not have anything in writing, do not have a firm timeline and have not received your raise, then this strikes me as your only chance of receiving your due.

If this still does not result in some finality to the process, you need to consider whether this is somewhere you want to be working.  If your employer is so unprofessional or cares so little about their employees that promises are easily made and deferred, or even broken, you should consider looking for a job elsewhere.  Respect is a two way street, and if your boss isn’t showing you any, then it may be time to find a new line of work.

Ask The Edit, Style

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  1. @marginfades says:

    I'm thinking of occasions during my career when I did and did not do this, and I completely agree with the strategy Belle has outlined here. The important distinction is not to wait to get a record of what's been discussed in writing, but to outline it one's self – right away. Bosses get busy, and changing business environments can blur the original need for your enhanced role/title.

    That's fine if it does – your title/role can then be enhanced further (or given to someone else while you're moved on to better and better things.)

  2. Heather says:

    Belle,
    Thanks for the advice, written down. I should print this out and keep it in my desk drawer. Too often I am a shrinking violet when it comes to “confrontations”. I work in defense contracting and having had male bosses for 10 years, I need to think more like them in the workplace.

  3. Re: Get it in writing says:

    Even if your employer commits in writing, nothing prevents him/her from revoking the offer due to “changing financial circumstances, budget constraints,” etc. Getting the offer in writing is a good step, but hardly a guarantee for an at-will employee.

  4. MM says:

    Just want to point out for readers that the Ask a Manager blog is awesome for answering these types of questions. Appreciate your answers as well, Belle, and I think you're right on here, but just wanted to put that out there as another resource, especially for non – DC/Hill specific job questions.

  5. Belle says:

    RE: You're certainly right. But in this case, she's not getting a rejection, she's getting a stall.
    MM: I'll check that out.

  6. love it says:

    Great advice!

  7. Nicole says:

    I had the same situation happen to me recently and I simply said that I was fine with them taking the time to sort out the specifics as long as the changes to my compensation were made retroactive to the date that the changes in responsibilities were made. As long as it's delivered in a way that is respectful I think it can be well received. It was in my case.

  8. AP says:

    A well placed, “As we discussed” in the email that Belle suggested adds extra impact. Christine–what ended up happening?

  9. ChinaRette says:

    Second the Ask a Manager (AAM) recommendations. She's a straight shooter and answers so many tricky workplace-related questions in a variety of industries and career levels. I agree 100% with Belle's recommendations but the OP should keep in mind: what is her ultimate line she's willing to draw in the sand? If the manager won't stand up for her and HR isn't responsive, is she willing to leave or will she stay without the bump? If it's the latter, you don't ultimately have much leverage. Be firm, be thorough like Belle suggested, but this ultimately may be some “stupid tax” you have to pay.

  10. BS says:

    I'm in a similar position (promoted 2 months ago; have not yet received salary increase). I think the big elephant in the room is the economy. Many of us feel lucky to have jobs at all and I know I'm hesitant to rock the boat, even a little.

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