my company is cutting my overworked team’s pay as punishment for mistakes — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

My team has been struggling with workload the last few months, and mistakes have been made by nearly everyone. We were notified by leadership that everyone would receive a temporary (two-month) pay cut because of our performance.

I was pulled aside and told this wouldn’t include me, as I’ve continued to do very well with no errors in my work. A few hours later, our grandboss pulled me aside and said it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t also receive a pay cut, and that I needed to take one for the team.

I’m very frustrated by this situation. I’ve always received “exceeds expectations” on my reviews, help our leaders with their work, and put in quite a bit of overtime. I have loved this job, but this whole situation is just making me wonder, “what’s the point?”

If I had made errors, I would not have had an issue with taking the pay cut with the rest of the team. In an ideal world, none of them would have received it because they are fantastic people who just have too much work on their plates right now.

I’m trying to find a professional way to voice my frustrations, without potentially causing more trouble. How do I politely tell them this is not how you motivate your high performers?

This is so messed up that I don’t know where to begin.

They’re overworking people and then cutting their pay as punishment when they make mistakes?

And they’re telling you that even though this pay cut is ostensibly punishment for bad performance and you’re doing well, you still need to accept a pay cut because of “fairness” and “to take one for the team”? By that logic, your manager and your grandboss should also accept pay cuts to take one for the team, no? After all, it’s supposed to apply across the board and not be parceled out by performance.

This is just utter BS on every level.

You don’t need to search for a “polite” way to explain this is wrong. It’s perfectly professional to say outright: “We have been overworked for several months, and it’s natural that that’s resulting in mistakes. People shouldn’t be punished for the natural result of overwork — we need more support and a realistic workload, not cuts to our pay. We will lose our best people if we do this, and they are the last people we should want to lose if we’re trying to raise performance team-wide.”

You might also consider saying, “I didn’t agree to work for $___ and since you’ve acknowledged there’s nothing about my work that warrants a cut, I need to know that my salary will be the amount we agreed on when I started” (or if you’ve had raises since you started, “the amount we agreed on at my last salary review”).

But an employer that does this to people isn’t one you can trust to act rationally, fairly, or in your interests. I’d strongly suggest cutting bait and running.

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