How to turn a conversation about a promotion increase into a negative

Conversation with one of my best friends yesterday night.

She is HR Director at one of the large French companies and was recently promoted to a position with responsibilities for business lines across multiple countries.

She should be happy, right ?

Her organisation is not very liberal with salary increases, even for promotions. Raises are always managed on the basis of percentages, not absolute numbers. So they always announce “You received 3.12% increase this year”, not “Your new salary is X euros”.

Upon her promotion, her boss said to her : “Don’t worry, I won’t forget you. You will get a good 5% increase“.

My friend was happy, because a 5% increase meant she’d be paid 100, 493 euros, which is a nice milestone to get over and above. She thought “A good 5% means that they may even round me to 101,000 per year at 5.5%”.

Remember, she is HR Director, she has been managing promotions and salary increases for the past 6 years in that company, is used to negotiating with the trade unions, and knows how things are dealt with in the company.

So her expectations were rooted in years of managing other employees’ increases, and quite realistic and adapted to the company culture.

A few weeks later, my friend had taken on the enlarged responsibilities when, finally, the salary conversation took place.

Her manager proudly proceeded to announce that the increase was 4.48%, bringing her right onto the 100,000 euros threshold.

4.48% ???? That was “a good 5%” in her manager’s view ?

My friend couldn’t hide her disappointment and her feeling of not being treated fairly. As she explained to me :

“It’s not about the 493 euros, or  even 1,000 euros per year. I don’t really care about that amount, it won’t change my life. But my boss did not set the proper expectations with me. If he had said “I’ll bring you to 100,000″, I would have been happy. But don’t tell me you’ll give me a good 5% and then give me 90% of that amount. 5% was bringing me just above the 100k threshold, and this is what I should have gotten. Not less than 5% so that the overall amount is a round number. I feel this is not fair as my pay increase has been managed as an absolute amount, not like for other employees. Is this because I am a woman and they don’t want to follow the same rules for me ? So now, I am disappointed and this has killed the enthusiasm and motivation I felt upon my nomination. Isn’t that stupid ? Loosing employee engagement on a promotion, just to save 500 euros !”

And she is right.

This was an easily avoidable mistake. Not applying the same rules to her than to the hundreds of employees in the company might have seen harmless and without consequences. But the boss should have known that my friend would immediately figure out that she was not being treated like the others, especially as she is the HR Director and it her job to enforce the rules.

Now, for saving less than 500 euros, this manager will have to work hard to bring one of his senior people, a member of the executive leadership team, back to full motivation. Who is the real loser here ?

Don’t do the same to your employees. Always put yourself in their shoes, understand what they know and how they will think, and if you want to make an exception downwards, really assess if your gain is real, long-term, or an apparent one which in reality will cost you more in terms of engagement and motivation, therefore output from your team members. And do set expectations properly !

Have you see examples of such negative impact of a badly handled salary increase ? Hit me in the comments and share your horror stories !


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