my boss told me I’m “not a good human” when I asked to be paid for my time — Ask a Manager

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A reader writes:

I work for a professional firm that has a long history of devaluing non-partner contributions. Let’s just say we have problems:

• The pay structure for employees is all risk and no reward. Salaries are artificially low, below market, supposedly because of our bonus structure.

• If clients don’t pay, that comes out of our pay (bonus), and we get a lecture about how it’s a business and we are only worth what we bring in.

• If clients pay, we are given a lecture about how we are not partners so we don’t deserve to share in the reward. It’s a lose-lose.

• Predictably, there has been 120% turnover in my three years at the firm. Twice in the last five years, the entire staff has quit en masse.

• I have not received even a $1 cost of living increase since I’ve been here. As a matter of principle, the firm does not give base pay raises, ever, supposedly because you can “earn” more each year by working harder and bringing in more profit for the firm.

• When the pandemic happened, the firm cut 20% of professional employees, and also cut remaining employee pay. A few months later, the fear wore off and we realized that our hours/collectibles were actually up and started questioning why we were earning less for working more and bringing in more. We were told that things are “complicated” and there are things we just “don’t understand.” (Notably, all partners are men and all employees are women.)

• We also noticed that our firm received massive PPP “loans,” and that same week every partner announced a long vacation. Again, we were told we just “don’t understand.”

Fast forward to January, when the firm excitedly announced that they would be “helping” me and another completely overworked employee by hiring a new employee for us to train. The time spent training the new employee would come out of our bonuses, but we were told that this would benefit us in the long run because we would not be overworked next year. (We do not share in profits from this new employee.) What a treat!

I decided to raise this with the managing partner, and asked that they take our non-billable time into account this year for bonuses. It did not go well. Understatement.

His immediate response was that I’m “not a good human” and “selfish” because so many people have helped me learn my job, and so how dare I not be willing to help everyone else. (I never said I wouldn’t help — I just asked that I be compensated for my time.). He told me I’m being “short sighted” for complaining about reduced pay this year and not thinking about the supposed long-term benefits for me (not being overworked next year). He told me at least three times that he’s “disappointed” in me, which, okay whatever.

I mean, I’m not the crazy one here, right?

You are not.

This place is openly mistreating and exploiting you, and insulting you when you question it.

There are some people who aren’t good humans in this letter, but it’s not you.

Get out get out get out.

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