Career Advice Tuesday – “Talking About A Revloution”

November 10, 2009

Dear Infosecleaders,

As I was reading your post from last week, something stated in “For Love or Money’s” question really struck a chord with me.  When they stated that “I work for one of those employers that is known for being a low payer, and can get away with it because of the coolness quotient associated with the opportunity,” I felt as if they were one of my co-workers.

Let me explain.  I work in a security research environment.  My team is full of smart peoole.  We have a great deal of freedom in our jobs.  If I do say so myself, we do produce some great results.  Security research is an important component of our company, however it is not our core business.   The downside is that we are not paid as well as our peers in other security research organizations.

During some informal work meetings, the subject of being underpaid comes up regularly.  I know first hand that for myself and other individuals, the low wages are making things difficult in our lives.  There are some members of the team that have not have increases for over 2 full years, not even cost of living. 

My current employer (the CEO) regularly reminds me and my peers that we are fortunate to have the jobs that we have, and to do the work that we are doing.   He also says that there are many people who would like to have these jobs, if we do not want them.   Statements like those, have made us all afraid to ask for additional salary, since we fear the consequences of becoming jobless.

However, recently we have been speaking about the ideal of coming to him, collectively, to let him know how we feel and our dissatisfaction with our compensations.   I have spearheaded the idea with my peers, and I feel like the leader.  As the end of the year approaches, it becomes a logical time to approach him with this – however I/we am not sure if this is the right move in the back drop of this economy.

Hoping for some help,


“Paul Revere”


Dear “Paul Revere”:

This is a personal decision that has big consequences for everyone that could be involved.  I think that before you begin preparing for the revolution, you and your peers have to strongly consider the following factors: their feelings about their current employment, the importance of compensation, their ability to find suitable employment elsewhere (marketability), and the personal financial situations (which do not appear to be that solid).

I realize that you frame this question as a “revolution”, as an outsider it appear to be more akin to “unionizing” your workplace.   Many times when people attempt to “unionize,” management is forced to make some hard decisions either  give into the demands, appease the workers in the short term (until suitable replacements can be found) or fire everyone. 

Generally speaking, management does not respond well when they are foced to do anything.

Here are two thoughts that you may find helpful:

The first thing that I think you should all do is figure out a risk/reward scenario for your potential actions. 

I would think that the largest amount of increase (best case scenario) that your company can stomach would between 5-10K per person.  At the end of the year, that amount equals somewhere between $100-$200 per week/ per person – before taxes.  Generally speaking, that kind of money is not going to change any one’s lives dramatically, although there is no doubt that it could make things easier.    

The worst case scenario, is that your management decides to fire either one of your team’s members, or all of your team.   If they choose to fire all of you, then at least you are all in the same boat, and have learned your lesson together  (Although this is not good, but there is something to be said for solidarity). 

What could possibly happen is that your management decides to fire one of your team’s members (most likely the least productive one) and then divides their salary amongst the remaining team members.  If that happens, all but one of you will have accomplished your goal (getting more money), but at the expense of one of your team members losing their job.   If this does occur,  you all may feel a sense of obligation to that fired team member (since it is a result of a collective effort)  and each of you should contribute to a team created “severence fund” (until they locate employment) – therefore negating the compensation increase.

The second thing that you should do is to come to grips with the fact that your company’s attitude toward compensation is not going to change.  

Your CEO has made it clear tha they are not going to pay you any more money.  They have even gone as far to say, that you should be grateful to work there.  Since that is the prevailing attitude, toward you and your team,  you should begin to polish your resumes, and begin to search for an employer that places a higher value on your talent and contributions.    

One thing you may try to do, is to market yourself as a “team” – and approach companies collectively.  Given the nature of your work, there could be a few companies out there that are looking to establish or enhance their information security research function.   If you do decide to package yourselves as one unit, make sure that you all are realistic in your compensation expectations and that these potential employers understand that you come as a unit – that they can not hire one, without the other.   This way, they will fully understand the total cost associated with your hiring, and will know very quickly if they have the budget to absorb you and your team.

Having had some experience with recruiting teams, I can tell you that it is human nature for people to look out for their own self-interests and careers during this process.  I have seen some of the best teams deteriorate, when they have competing self-interests.   

Please remember that everyone’s career is unique to them – and what is good for one person is not necessarily good for the other.    Your intentions to mobilize the team are honorable.  However, they can turn out to be quite complicated and more than you originally bargained for.

Hope this helps,

Lee and Mike

Posted by lee | Filed Under Advice, Career Advice Tuesday 


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