In HR, you deal with everything you can imagine


Sometimes it was about employee pay and sometimes it was about the bathroom. And that is what made my work in human resources so interesting.

When a company manager asked for help it was just about always to do something about pay to “motivate the employees.” When I met with the employees they would tell me that more money would be great but ….

And what followed that “but” was impossible to predict.

Disgusting bathrooms was a topic raised by employees from Philadelphia to Hawaii. The lying, credit-grabbing boss, the slug co-worker, overtime rules, body odor, why one job is paid more than another and my least favorite topic: job titles.

Anything and everything related to pay, the job, co-workers, the boss, and the workplace, if it frustrated employees or challenged supervisors, I heard about it and did my best to resolve the problem or put it in perspective.

What we are paid and what we decide to pay others is very personal and not something most people are comfortable discussing. Pay and everything related to pay, jobs and employee performance has been the focus of my career.

I hope to use my experience to provide information and present ideas in this column that will be of help to the small business owners and employees in the community.

In a small business there isn’t an HR person to turn to so I am going to use this column to take on the questions and problems that come up in the workplace. Questions can be submitted via email at Any identifying information will be edited out and answers will be provided for the questions that will help the most people.

So let's get started with this week's questions:

Question: Why am I paid the same as my co-workers when I have more experience and a better college degree?

Answer: Most employers want to pay for results, so if your degree and experience help you deliver better work results then you will be recognized.

Let’s imagine that you own a restaurant with two pastry chefs. One has no formal training and the other completed courses from the Culinary Institute’s pastry program. The customers cannot taste or see any difference in the desserts the two chefs produce and the desserts aren’t priced based on who made them. Would you pay the CIA trained pastry chef more?

Now here’s an example I witnessed early in my career. Two people were hired in the same week into near identical jobs in the same company. Nancy had just graduated from Harvard with an MBA, and Jenny was still completing her bachelor’s in business by taking night classes at a local university.

At the end of six months Nancy was fired and Jenny got a promotion and a large pay increase.

Why? Jenny took on the tedious work, tackled it with gusto and produced great results, while Nancy spent more time talking about what should be done than getting it done. The boss was impressed by results, not degrees.

There are jobs, usually in a union or in the public sector, that tie pay to a degree or license or set pay based on years of experience. But most companies look at your impact on the business or what you produce.

If all employees in a job are required to have a specific degree, certification or experience then you know that the employer sees it as necessary to do the job (health care jobs are good examples). But in the end what counts is the quality of your work.

Question: My old employer decided to close the business and retire. I took a new job that I am overqualified for and I had to take a pay cut. How can I get my new boss to value my years of experience and pay me what I am worth?

Answer: It is understandable that you are frustrated with this step back, but the best thing you can do is make sure your new boss and co-workers are happy that you were hired. Try to be optimistic about this opportunity but understand that you will need to prove your value and ability to your new employer.

You may be able to deliver great results and do much more than is expected in your new job, but it is also possible that you will not. Sometimes people are shining stars in one company and just can’t perform in a different company. You will need to adapt and fit in and accept different ways of doing things. Your success will depend as much on your attitude as your skills and experience.

Keep a positive attitude and remember these classic rules for new employees:

Never say “At my old company we did it this way” or “in my old job I didn’t have to get permission to do this.”

Become an accepted part of the team before suggesting changes or volunteering your opinion. Every company has its own way of doing things, its own language, accepted behaviors and values. Focus on learning the processes, policies and terminology of your new company. And if you are new to the industry then spend some time doing a little research on the industry and product. After you are part of the team and you understand how things are done and why they are done that way, your co-workers will likely listen to your ideas.

Don’t compete with your boss. If your new boss has less experience than you then put yourself in her shoes. The last thing the boss wants is an employee eager to show her up. Remember this is the person who decided to hire you and you were hired to be a supportive employee, not a competitor.

Get a clear understanding of pay policies. During the first week on the job you and your manager should agree on your performance goals, how your work will be monitored and evaluated, and how your training needs will be met. Your boss should also provide an overview of the company’s pay policies and tell you when your pay will be reviewed and what determines the amount of pay increase you may receive.

If you deliver great results let’s hope you will see a meaningful pay increase. Focus on meeting the goals and requirements of your own job and let your work speak for you.

Virginia Detweiler is a human resources consultant and has taught business and management at Walla Walla Community College’s Business and Professional Development Program and at Walla Walla University. Questions for her columns can be submitted to her email address at Those used will be edited to remove information that would identify the sender. She also can be reached at 509-529-1910.


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