Less pay and less respect; How much do I have to take?

Your Life
Jim Berlucchi
October, 2014

Q: I am being paid less than I was before, but being asked to do more. It feels unjust – how do I handle this?

A: More work for less pay? Sounds biblical. Pharaoh laid the same burden on the Hebrew slaves after Moses outraged him with demands for their liberation. You might remember the song, Let my employees go. Or something like that.

Since you’re not an indentured servant, your best move is to take it up directly with your boss and work it out to your satisfaction. Why are you working more for less? Is it a subtle performance-related demotion? Is it a company-wide response to external business pressures or market loss? Is it temporary or long-term? Find out what’s going on.

Your next steps will be informed by your boss’ response. If he or she makes satisfactory adjustments, you’ve succeeded. If not, wisely gauge your options. You can look for another job. You can make clear how much work you can reasonably handle. Or you can grin and bear it. But the worst option is to grudgingly comply. You’re a free person. So aspire to work for a wise employer.

“When the free serve a wise slave, the wise will not complain.” (Sirach 10:25)

Q: I just got my first full-time job after college, and I am not being treated with the respect I expected. I know I am “low man on the totem pole,” but I believe my education means I am not the person who should have to make coffee in the morning or act as the back-up receptionist. How do I get my employer to show me more respect?

A: Earn it.

You can’t get your employer to do anything. But you can demonstrate cheerful competence in doing anything you’re asked to do, and more, including lowly tasks. 

I once heard a high-level executive praise a fresh college grad for vigorously cleaning windows in the boardroom just before the directors arrived. “That kid’s going somewhere,” he gushed. “She’s not afraid to roll up her sleeves and do what it takes. I’m impressed.” 

I’m reminded of a similar incident when I was in an executive position. A printer got jammed in our office so I tucked in my tie, rolled up my white sleeves and got to work. I was kneeling with my head and arms inside the printer when I heard the voice of my boss, who unexpectedly dropped by from his remote office. He fairly shouted out, “I love to see a hands-on executive who’ll tackle any problem!” 

As long as your main duties and salary are commensurate with your education, don’t misinterpret the delegation of some lowlier tasks as disrespect. Do a superb job with your primary responsibilities, make a better cup of coffee and answer that phone with gusto and professionalism.

“Do you see those skilled at their work? They will stand in the presence of kings, but not in the presence of the obscure.” (Proverbs 22:29)  


Jim Berlucchi is the executive director of the Spitzer Center, whose mission is to build cultures of evangelization: spitzercenter.org