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Ask HN: My boss lowered my salary to make me more motivated
47 points by bnt on Mar 5, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 73 comments
I work 9 hrs every day in the office and another 2 at home and my boss calls me in to say I'm not working hard enough and he's lowering my pay "to motivate me". I have a triple role in the company and am close to the product design / dev / roadmap decision making.<p>I feel humiliated and angry at the same time, and am in need of any advice on how to approach this.

Start looking for a new job, today. Seriously. I know that at first glance you're going to say "but I can't do that right now". Yes. Yes you can. Log into Monster.com, call local contract agencies in your town.

When an employer does something like this given the role you are providing to them they are either dealing with financial issues and taking them out on you (which could mean you might not have a job in the near future anyways), or they simply have no respect for you and what you provide (simply not a healthy environment for anyone to be working in). Another possibility is they're trying to create a hostile environment in order to get you to quit so they don't have to fire you and pay unemployment benefits (if that's relevant in your local).

It may seem scary, but you'll be better off moving to a new job. Start looking now before you're in a worse position.

Tell him that you really appreciate his motivational approach, and to return the favour you're going to reduce the hours you work so that you can cut out the 'make-work' and really focus down on just the things that the organisation needs.

His minimalist approach to the work ethic has really inspired you to cut out all the crap from your day and simply focus on getting the important things done.

You really appreciate his willingness to see the big picture and contravene the tired old conventions of workplace motivation, going against centuries of outdated thinking by introducing this radical innovation and clarity of vision.

You will no longer refer to what you do as "work", as that clearly references a model of "work for hire" that he is clearly moving away from by reducing the "hire" component, and instead you will refer to it as "life participation".

He has inspired you to go against the tired old conventions of workplace thinking and "participate in life" at places not bound by the restrictions of obsolete convention, so in future he can expect you to build product from such places as your living room, the park, a public library, or even a bar. You will "life participate" for periods of time not bound by outmoded traditional thinking, and turn up when your willingness to participate in life is matched by your enthusiasm for being at the office.

In short; two can play at that game and he needs to be reminded of the rules.

That's funny, but seems pretty passive aggressive and probably wouldn't end well for anyone.

That's not "passive aggressive." It's just "aggressive."

It hasn't started off well, and likely there's little that the submitter can do to make it end well. The main questions are to decide between 1) quit, or 2) get fired.

I'm with kohanz. This sounds like constructive dismissal. A common response is work-to-rule or rule-book slowdown. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Work-to-rule . Do what your job description demands and no more.

I agree completely. That's precisely what I would do.

Constructive Dismissal [0]

If you quit, know that it is likely exactly what your boss wants.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constructive_dismissal

Depending where the OP is in the world, this sounds ripe for constructive dismissal, but I'd encourage you to really think about it before going down this route. It will create a massive amount of stress for very little reward, and rightly or wrongly can tarnish you for a very long time if made public (because then everyone knows someone wanted to fire you).

Judging by the OPs one other post on HN that they could give up 20 hours of time a week it would also be difficult to get some people to accept that the OP was fully motivated in what they were doing and working their hardest.

I'm not a fan of burning bridges, BUT: I'm no lawyer, but if your pay cut is immediate I cannot see why you can't also leave immediately. If you are in a place with a buoyant job market the most satisfying thing to do might be to just not go back to work and get another job (assuming you can afford to survive the time that might take). Even if your employer does want you out, I bet they aren't prepared for you to leave immediately, a little bit of payback that may cause them a lot of stress and not much for you (although a bit like constructive dismissal, doesn't do your reputation a lot to good).

So? I see what you are saying, but when it comes to employment, you make your decisions based on what you want and need, not what anyone else thinks.

I would never advise someone to keep working a job that takes advantage of them, just to spite someone else's wishes. If they are a bad company and make you work overtime for substandard pay, who cares if they're happy to see you go? Go, and shake their dust from your heels as you leave.

You're missing the point.

I don't know the OP's particular situation, but constructive dismissal can be very relevant when someone is pushed out of a job where they would otherwise be expensive (e.g. severance) to terminate. This is what constructive dismissal laws are in place to prevent.

In either case, as you say, the right thing to do is quit, but the OP should be aware of the laws in their jurisdiction, in case they have a case worth pursuing.

I agree with everyone else: you should quit.

However.. I think there may be an opportunity for personal growth here. Though it's probably too late to fix this situation, you can be prepared for the next time.

Put yourself in his shoes. He wouldn't do this for no reason. What makes him think you aren't working hard enough? What do you think are his main issues with your specific behaviors and actions?

Are you failing to show the results of your labor? Are you busting your balls on 80% of the problem, but never closing out that last 20%, making it look like you never did anything?

It's important that your boss understands your role in detail, your accomplishments in full (soon after they happen), and your value to the company.

What is getting lost between your effort and his comprehension of that effort?

The main reason why it seems I'm not performing as my CEO expects is because I'm overloaded with work and this is something I've said multiple times over and over again.

Also, my CEO doesn't have enough insight into my work, unlike my superior who I've never had issues with nor was I ever verbally or in written manner told I was falling behind on work.

However, my superior wasn't in the office at the moment this happened and I couldn't get him to stand behind me, but looking at this now (few hours later), the CEO chose the perfect moment to do this.

So, to summarize: I did say I am overloaded, I presented my accomplishments, but the decision was final.


Also, start daily status reports. Mail them at normal closing time and again after your overtime if you do it. Mark what you got done, what is in process, and what is next up.

When a new task comes in, add it to the list in the proper place. If a running task was bumped to make room for an emergency, that gets an ALL CAPS NOTE marking the change in priority.

Mail these to the boss and BCC them to yourself in a personal account. Keep copies of his replies as well.

At best, the act of mailing these alone should show that you're trying to keep on top of things. It might reveal to the boss how much you have on your plate. At worst, you have a paper trail if it does lead to a constructive dismissal situation.

This is exactly the correct thing to do. Spend 60 seconds a day updating both your boss and your CEO of your activities for that day. It is entirely possible they have unrealistic expectations of you, and it may be that your peers are getting more done than you are, but either way the only constructive way to have this discussion is around work assigned, work delivered, and work quality. Your notes will help make that possible.


This sounds like a lot of work and a waste of time in my opinion. If they can't tell what OP is working on, he/she is either:

a) in a really bad situation and should leave ASAP

b) there is some validity for the pay cut

c) there is money issue with the company

Maybe I've been fortunate with my previous employers as they were generally willing to bend over backwards to make me happy, since I got things done. If his/her employer is clueless as to what OP is doing, then really it's a bad situation for all.

Unless OP is in love with their current job, adding paper work to their day to day task would be a waste of time in my opinion.

We're talking a 60-second email that can even be cut-and-pasted from the previous day's email. It's not a Powerpoint presentation.

If OP really wants to hold onto the job this is a tactic to keep the termination at bay and micromanaging to a minimum...possibly. It's also a backup where if bnt is fired and wishes to get a lawyer in the mix, he has an audit trail. Boss might say "bnt did nothing" when the email in fact shows he was working as best as he possibly could and was completing tasks and boss was acknowledging those completions.

You probably have as much insight as I do about bnt's location, family situation, cash reserves, and local job market conditions. "Leave ASAP" could be a week or it could be 6 months.

I'll definitely ddocument everything from now on, but my 6-month plan is to leave. I'm the second most experienced person in the company and don't feel like working for an entry-level pay.

Whatever you do, make your exit professional. Also, don't take six months to find a new job (6-month plan?). You really need to make this happen as soon as possible.

Documentation is fine if you get into a wrongful discharge situation or you're looking to fight opinion of you but unless you're planning to sue these guys, or you really think you're going to cause an epiphany for the CEO, it's better to just GTFO and move on with your life.


Sounds like a smart move. Don't lower your expectations on the next job because you're eager to get out of the current one. Good luck.

This is probably a worse situation than you might realize. At best you have a micromanaging CEO. Your supervisor is in the role to deal with this. There could be a hundred reasons why your CEO bypassed him, but very few are good. There is a possibility the CEO is very detached, does not trust your supervisor to lead the work, and thinks you are a slacker.

Take some of the advice many people have provided:

- Document everything - Stay professional - Look for another job

Honestly, the relationship you have with the company is over. There is no recovering from this. You'd have to work even harder to prove your worth and it's already not being seen. I imagine this is simply a ploy to lower costs. I'm guessing not is all good at the company and they are looking at ways to lower expenses. This may sound bad but I would give them the amount of effort they are paying for. If to you that is 20hrs a week, give them that amount of effort while looking for a new job. Sorry this happened to you, but I've been in positions where this kind of stuff starts. There is simply no way to recover the relationship, even if you end up recovering your salary.

I wish I didn't have to disagree with you, but having a boss with a similar mindset to OP I can tell you it really isn't like that. Not everyone works logically. Not everyone needs a reason to do things - They need an excuse. If his boss wanted to pay lower salaries, this is just an excuses. Some bosses don't want to understand and frankly don't care enough to understand your role in detail. They only care about results. You'll be surprised how many people actually think programming is the easiest job in the world "All you do is push a couple buttons".

Alternate hypothesis: the OP's level of work is entirely acceptable but the boss lacks scruples and possibly funds.

99% of the time this ends up being a funding issue. It's better than been told the company is broke and you have no job. At least now OP can find something while getting paid.

Haha. This is the worst possible way to 'motivate' a high-value employee in a decent job market.

1) Find out a few companies hiring in your area through deep research.

2) Contact a few people in these companies to get a lay of the land on the positions and the environment. In short, informational interviews over coffee. DO NOT ASK FOR THE JOB IN THIS STEP. JUST DON'T.

3) Your objective should be to see which jobs you'd like to do, and which jobs you can do. The intersection will go on your final list.

4) Keep contact with the coffee interviewees by sending them interesting links, or other 'gifts' and by that I don't mean basket of chocolates, I mean any valuable information/links/thoughts that could help them with whatever - business or personal. Reach out once right after meeting, once one week later, and once every month from here on.

5) Craft your Resume and cover letter focused on THE NEEDS OF THE HIRING MANAGER. Think of your resume as a story you're telling the hiring manager that resonates with him based on his needs.

6) Nail the interview .

If any step from 1 to 6 goes wrong, go back to the previous step and carry on.

Good luck. Oh and show your boss the finger when you walk out with a new offer for 10-20% more pay.

Is he getting a sales job? Upload CV to job board, watch the phone fall off the hook is the current modus operandi.

Sure, if any job will do. But if you are far more selective, the above steps will help.

You might also find a good single project you would be able to contract on with one of those companies, to see if they are a fit, before settling on a final job.

First, your boss is a jerk and is obviously trying to get rid of you as others have stated.

Secondly though, please consider that just because you're working 11 hours a day doesn't mean your boss/company considers you valuable. I've seen lots of cases where a guy works 10 hours a day but simply isn't a productive member of the team. Others work maybe 2-3 hours per day and are the most productive people around. I don't know you or your situation but it's entirely possible that your long work hours are just not being used effectively. In addition to finding a new job I would seriously suggest that you take a moment to reflect on how others (not just your boss) consider your value as a productive team member and be careful not to confuse the fact that someone at work might think you're an awesome guy personally with whether or not they think you're highly productive.

Even if you're NOT productive, your boss is horrible and the company you work for is horrible so you should leave anyways. I hope it works out for you and you find better, happier employment in the future.

Or the boss doesn't respect the OP, and that's why the OP gets stuck doing 11 hour shifts -- because the boss feels free to dump all the scut work on them, leaving the choice assignments for the people the boss does respect.

There are some people who only respect people who will punch them in the nose. When they meet new people, they throw unpleasant things at them to see if they're the kind of person who stands up for themselves or not. If they do, they get treated well from that point on; if they don't, they figure you're safe to shovel crap at, so any crap that comes in gets shoveled at you.

It's basically the grown-up version of a schoolyard bully. Bullies only respect strength. So when dealing with these people you have to be willing to draw a line in the sand and throw a (metaphorical) punch if they ever cross it.

Seems like a poorly thought out way to motivate somebody. In addition to the obvious advice of "find a new job immediately", if it were me I'd be sure to demonstrate to the boss in question that it doesn't work the way he thinks it does.

Pull out a calculator. Assume you were previously working 40 hour weeks (he loses those 3 overtime hours a day as a matter of course). Now multiply by your new salary and divide by the old one. That's how many hours per week you're going to work for the short amount of time you're still there.

If your boss notices and complains, you can explain the math to him, and calculate the figure he'll need to pay to get back to those 55 hour weeks he was previously accustomed to.

FYI the boss isn't actually trying to motivate him.

Your organization or situation may not be suitable for this, but here is what I would suggest doing:

1) prepare yourself to leave the job: save money, dedicate time to search for jobs, update resume, etc.

2) Write note summarizing the hours you put in, what your roles are, and how the pay cut is disappointing.

3) Practice a conversation with your boss expressing what you have written w/o getting emotional or angry. Just an informative talk. Prepare to give him a chance to respond.

4) Have conversation, give him note, verbally inform him that you will only be working on your responsibilities while in the office. The other time is to find a job. Do not verbalize this to him, he will figure it out and probably ask you about it. Have a response ready that is on the line of 'the cut in pay effects my personal life and expenses.' You do not want to directly say you are looking for another job.

5) Hand him note and send same note to his boss or human resources. If he is the top of the food chain, perfect.

6) Spend the time you would be working to find a job.

7) If he reconsiders his pay cut, have followup conversation that the trust had been damaged. Ask him to fix the situation.

8) Leave unless he goes above and beyond to fix trust.

Great advice about writing down a list of responsibilities and sticking to them. Thanks!

Find a new gig, put in your notice, explain that you were motivated to leave.

Cut your work hours to 40/week MAX. Use your own time for the job search, instead of unpaid overtime for an organization that does not value it.

And here's a tip about "putting in your notice":

If you're working in an "at-will" state (which I'm guessing you are) and you are NOT under a contract (which previous data has led me to believe you are not) you do NOT have to give two weeks notice. Two weeks is a courtesy and nothing more.

You can quit on the spot. In fact, do it and do it nicely and when the boss goes ballistic about finishing up work you are doing then you can make a gentle offer to contract back at a much higher HOURLY rate. It needs to be higher for two reasons: 1) because legally you're gonna have to pay self-employment taxes on it but 2) you're gonna leave with a little bit of pain on his side. With the possibility of your current company being tight on cash you might want to be sure you get prepaid some # hours before you set foot back in the door. Collecting might be tougher after the fact.

And whether you leave on the spot or work those last two weeks, DO leave yourself a week of decompression time before the next job. You'll start a lot fresher and be in a great mood. Start dates are always negotiable and don't have to be exactly two Mondays after the offer letter is printed.

I'd suggest to leave out 'MAX' - the proper way would be to go to 40/week exactly, and document them - the start/end times; otherwise you may get into a payment dispute over the time you still will work in that organization.

Definitely this. Cut back to 40 hrs/week MAXIMUM. Start actively looking for a new job.

The important question is: "Do you have an emergency fund of 6-12 months living expenses?" If you risk being homeless if you miss a paycheck, you're an idiot and you have to suck it out. If you have cash reserves, push back and be prepared to walk and refuse to work more than 40 hours a week.

At my current project, the owner did the EXACT SAME THING (asked me to work more hours for the same salary). I refused. I'm still there for the same hourly rate. I've been actively looking since. I haven't found my next project yet, though.

40 hours max should be in all caps.

[1] In the UK this is illegal without your consent. Have you checked your local laws?

1. http://www.lindermyers.co.uk/can-an-employer-reduce-an-emplo...

EU member state. I'm going to take your (and some others) advice and will lawyer up. It's not a matter of lowering my pay now, but I openly fear this is the first step to getting me fired.

> but I openly fear this is the first step to getting me fired.

It probably is; act accordingly. Continue working if you want, but do no more than your job requires, and only the number of hours per week your country requires without overtime. Find a new job ASAP and contact a lawyer/solicitor.

I would just resign, as long as you aren't in a depressed economy, you should be able to get another job. The damage is done to your psych, you can't really be happy there anymore. Only lawyer up if you think you can make some money out of that, otherwise you'll just pile on anguish.

I'm not sure if lawyering up is so neccessary - the main issue is to be careful in signing anything; if in doubt, or if rushed, then don't sign. If they want to fire you, then you'll end up not working there anyways and the only thing that matters is the conditions and what payment you'll get for your work; and it's quite likely that any offers they make for 'leaving with mutual agreement' will be worse for you financially than them dircetly firing you.

You will not end fired. I suspect he's doing only that so you can resign. So follow people advice and start looking proactively. It's better to leave now, in my opinion, even if they want you still and they never wanted you to resign.

Just come round to London, tons of programming jobs with great pay.

Isn't the London market notorious for low pay and high living expenses?

Honestly, it sounds to me like there is a rather complex political environment there that you are clueless about. You might be a pawn in a war between your CEO and your boss. You might actually be working for terrible or incompetent people. The point is, it's probably NOT about you, although it could be.

Is this in the USA? Europe? Lowering your salary is actually legally troublesome in a lot of places, and you may be able to seek legal help. I know in the US your state's Department of Labor (or equivalent) usually LOVES to hear these stories and crack down on these sorts of employers. Ironically for this site, I don't know how California works with this stuff.

Reasonable people like you often seek to appeal to reason when confronting problems created by unreasonable people like your boss, but unreasonable people can't be reasoned with. Your boss has motives other than getting reasonable work in exchange for reasonable pay, so the most reasonable solution would be to seek employment at a more reasonable company.

Don't quit, YET. Go back at working 40 hours a week and start looking for another job. Once you find a new gig don't show up to work the next day.

Once he calls you up as he needs your help tell him that it will cost him $xxx per hour for contracting, granted this only applies if you actually want to do it.

I agree with this. It creates leverage that you wouldn't otherwise have while simultaneously making a statement that you don't appreciate being taken advantage of. Worst case scenario: you never hear from him again, which still sounds like a win.

Also, it reminds me of this: http://www.27bslash6.com/bob.html

A cut of 20% or more in your pay can allow you to quit and draw unemployment. I'd suggest a quick phone call with the unemployment office to check, and then write up a letter to the top management of the company stating what you are resigning and that you will be drawing unemployment. That'll be a nice ding in this guy's ass for doing what he did.

BTW, he's probably a narcissist. No matter the outcome of the unemployment situation, you should arrange to leave post haste. Things will look brighter on the outside.

Best of luck. Sorry you got caught up in someone else's suffering.

Maybe the company needs to cut costs, but truly needs your work. So they don't want to fire as they still have hope for the results you produce. Lowering your pay may be there way of buying themselves more time before they admit they wont reach their end goal.

Up and leave. Head held high. Finger in the air, LOL.

Seriously though don't look back. Don't let them say "We will give you back your full salary if you stay"

Not a money issue, fresh Series B in the pocket.

Honestly: I would search for a different job.

You can try inside your company to find a different boss or go for another company.

Incompetent bosses are widely spread in the computer business. That kind of treatment is a clear sign of it. As one wrote, it could be a political thing, but I am not sure about that and also you need not to care, because on every side, the result for me would be, that I try to find a different job. Such bosses are the hell and nobody that is competent in is work deserves such bosses.

Edit: This "hard enough" thing, is something, that is inside the heads of bad bosses and is spread by business-magazines like viruses. The thing is: A good developer should be honored to work hard enough, when he works 40hrs period.

If the boss thinks, that he needs people working 50-60hrs, than in reality he needs morons that he can turn his whip on. The hours don't tell anything on the productivity of people. Some programmers make twice the work in half the time of others. And spending long hours means that you are exhausted and exhausted people are both, less productive and much less creative.

I worked at a place where the VP of Engineering threatened to do what you described to 'motivate' people. He also said if he thinks the interns are working better he will lower full time employees salaries. A couple of months later I and some other engineers left. You should look for another job.

Start looking for another job. Nothing good can possibly happen in this situation from now on. Once you've made arrangements for another position, feel free to quit at the most inopportune moment without notice. I'm assuming at-will employment here, of course.

Your boss is a jerk who doesn't respect you and this is constructive dismissal.

Understand the law where you live, take advice if you can, but absolutely 100% look for another job and get out.

Your boss can't unilaterally lower your salary. You had an agreement to do X work for Y pay, and if he/she wants to change Y you need to agree.

If you are in the US, don't quit. Instead send an email (important to get this in writing) that you reject the proposed lower salary.

There's a lot of missing info here. In general, if your boss is trying to get you to quit, you're probably better off getting laid off or fired instead.

Also, immediately start looking for a new job.

Echoing the other comments here: just find something new. There are plenty of jobs out there. Dig up the last HN "Who's Hiring" and start there.

Sounds like you've been motivated to find a new job.

Leave. Your time is valuable and you could spend it somewhere else for the same or more money, if you feel disrespected.

Sounds like as terrible boss! Any salary changes, good or bad, should have a conversation preceding them.

I couldn't find your email in your profile, but found it in some other comments you made. Your skillset overlaps nicely with what my team already does!

Leave. Regardless of how the situation subsequently plays out, this is not someone you can trust.

(Meaning, find the next job while you're employed. And that reduced pay should justify -- in your own mind -- the personal hours it takes to do so.)

I never understood this... As a programmer you have tons of options, bosses just can't treat programmers as normal workforce anymore. Do take these options and move on. It is really simple.

One thought, why you should quit (at least in the long run): A company, that treats valuable people this way will go downhill in short or longer time.

Just quit. I think it will be the best thing you can do, specially when you do 3 jobs for the price of one.

Find a new job first, then quit. Its a lot easier to find a job when you already have one.

Build something essential yet convoluted that only you can understand. Then suddenly quit.

'nuff said.


I would recommend the same "Leave", but make things clear with he could be a good start, just because is your boss is not the only-rule-decision-maker, express your anger if he get hot-head, punch that f%ckr. :)

Punching your boss would be a very poor response to this situation.

probably, but is just a added thought.

Even if you go over his head, you've probably still got to work with the bastard - with the added problem that he'll be looking for every little fuckup you make to construct a case against you. Generally, I find it easier to find a new job and then leave politely rather than work around difficult superiors.

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