Let’s be honest: we’re entering into a stressful time of year. In addition to upcoming holidays and the home stretch for fourth quarter goals, many Americans are also approaching performance review time. Whether your company has a formalized review process or not, employees nationwide will find out whether they will receive a bonus, a salary increase or whether they’ll go another year with the same paycheck.
This got me thinking: why is pay so darn emotional? Review and salary evaluations come every year, and in some companies, it comes twice a year. So why does it always usher in anxiety, frustration, and stress?
For some insight into the emotions and psychological impacts of pay, I reached out to Rhonda Richards-Smith, a nationally-recognized psychotherapist and relationship expert, to answer my nagging question. Here’s what can explain the tension in your workplace.
GLASSDOOR: Why are salary and emotions so intricately connected?
RHONDA RICHARDS-SMITH: Many individuals rely on their salary level to define their self-worth and the level of appreciation a company has for their hard work. Like other life milestones, many employees have specific salary milestones they would like to achieve by a certain age or point in their careers. When these salary milestones are not achieved as anticipated, employees may experience feelings of disappointment and self-doubt.
But so many people contend that feelings have no business in the workplace.
RRS: The idea of having to prove to your employer that you are worthy of additional compensation can be nerve-wracking, particularly when paired with a fear of rejection.
What advice do you have for employees who are going into a review cycle and could potentially get a promotion or raise? How should they prepare themselves emotionally?
RRS: Always take the time to reflect on your achievements for the year, areas in need of improvement, and career goals for the future. Prior to the review itself, celebrate your accomplishments on your own. Employees often rely too heavily on receiving accolades and praise from others. It is critical that employees acknowledge and celebrate themselves first.
If someone finds out that they are underpaid, how can an employee manage his or her emotions?
RRS: Discovering that you are being underpaid can be very disappointing and confusing, particularly if the employee has been acknowledged as an outstanding member of the team time and time again. There is nothing worse than being caught off guard by the outcome of a salary negotiation. When you are caught off guard and unprepared, emotions can take over and lead to decision making that may not serve you best in the long run.
Here’s a scenario we all fear: your boss says you do not qualify for a promotion/raise but your coworker does. How should someone channel their anger? Flipping out is not an option.
RRS: Prior to your annual review, develop a plan for how you will proceed if a co-worker receives the raise or promotion you believe you deserve. Whether it be requesting reconsideration during a halftime review or seeking a position elsewhere, devise a plan walking in so you will be prepared for what awaits you on the other side. The key to controlling your emotions is to prepare for how you will handle them once they arise. Focusing on your co-worker’s advancement will only frustrate you further and not get you any closer to your goal. Instead, be open to constructive feedback from your boss as well as your peers. Engaging your colleagues in this way may give you the insight and edge you need to get to the next level.
Salary doesn’t just affect the employee, it also affects his/her family. How can employees manage the impact on their family? What emotions should they be prepared to deal with?
RRS: Shouldering some or all of the financial burden in a household can be incredibly stressful. While the thought of disappointing a partner, child, or family member can be difficult, it is critical that employees be open and honest about their earnings and budget accordingly. It is not uncommon for family members to feel anger and sadness on behalf of the employee. Parents can use an unsuccessful salary negotiation to normalize disappointing situations and demonstrate resilience during these times.