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Guilt-Trip Your Boss into a Raise

By Marty Nemko

We all know, the rich are getting richer, the poor getting poorer. For example, the U.S. Federal Reserve found that from 1995 to 2004, the top quartile’s income jumped 77 percent, while the bottom quartile rose just 8 percent. The stereotype of the CEO in his mansion and his workers living in a shared apartment is too often true.

Much has been written about how to reduce the gap between rich and poor. Calls are ever louder for caps on CEO compensation while increasing the minimum wage. Unions are trying to figure out a way to continue to argue for higher salaries despite their greatest “successes” having driven America’s leading unionized industries: automobiles, airlines, and steel to their knees.

At the micro level, book after book teaches employees how to negotiate salary. Some say, shoot for win-win, while others, such as Jim Camp’s Start With No assert that your adopting a win-win philosophy usually results in you losing. Still other negotiation books focus on alerting you to employer ploys or embracing your inner sisterhood.

I’d like to propose an approach that, heretofore, to my knowledge, has not seen print: guilt-tripping.

Of course, that won’t work if your boss happens to be “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap or even your garden-variety greedy boss whose own income grows by keeping yours low, and doesn’t much care if that causes you to descend into destitution.

But most bosses, believe or not, are human. Amid the maelstrom of business, it’s easy for them to forget that the bottom line isn’t really the bottom line. The true bottom line balances profitability and humanity.

So, if you believe you are underpaid, that the underpayment results in your being unable to live a middle-class existence, and especially if your boss or your boss’s boss is much better paid than you are, I invite you to consider guilt-tripping the hell out of her. For example, “Mary, you’ve said that you’re pleased with my work and I’m glad. But I gotta tell you, I am having a helluva time making ends meet on what you’re paying me. My children and I have to live in a crummy, dark apartment in a neighborhood where I’m scared to go out at night or even to let my kids play outside. Despite that, I have to sublet one bedroom to make ends meet. I have to send my kids to a crappy school where they’re bored to tears and scared every day that their lunch money’s going to get stolen or they’ll be beat up. Do you have to live like that? Is there anything you can do to get me paid what you think I’m really worth?”

Of course, there’s some risk your boss will decide he better dump you before you infect your coworkers with your insurrectionist ideas. So, you can’t pursue this without aforethought. But, if you think your boss, at core, is decent but just has forgotten her humanity amid the drive for profitability, it’s probably worth the risk. And if you get fired for your request, you’re probably better off. There’s likely a boss out there who will treat you as you deserve.

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