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Submitted by pucciot on


Hi All :

BLUF : How do we justify this increasing Responsibility Ladder in an environment with little career growth or compensation increase ? It seems unfair and abusive.

In the back of my mind, My father's Blue Collar Union background calls out against this idea of the Responsibility Ladder.

It feels unjust to me to me to continue to thrust additional delegations, responsibilities and decision making down to my Directs without adequate compensation or opportunities for advancement.

It feels to me that the Organization has given me my Title and compensation because of the duties and responsibilities that I have.
("Yep, that's why I get the big bucks.")

My Directs make very much less than I do. Often in the $20ks. When we get them, raises are usually around 3% and we didn't get one this year.

I don't see how I can justify giving my Directs delegations and decision making responsibility on par with my executive level without just compensation.

--- Yes I can understand that it can be done within their job Description and small sphere of responsibility.

But ... this Recent Guidance seems like it is pushing to go even further than that.

We also have job classifications that distinguish between - "Professional Librarian" and "Para-Professional/Assistants".

The Para-Professionals cannot simply be promoted into the higher classification - no matter how much work they do - or how well they do it
They would need to obtain several more years of schooling and a Master's Degree. And then there would need to be an opening.

Our jobs are not vocational schools, or internships, or some kind of Apprentice, Journeyman, Master Craftsman type of job. No matter how much on the job training I do for my directs, I cannot get them more than the standard little annual raise -- nor can I promote them into a "Professional" role.

Additionally, by continuously pushing down tasks and responsibilities from the "Professional" level we are at risk for watering down what it means to be "Professionals"

* How can I continue to justify my salary and the salaries of my fellow professionals if our jobs tasks and responsibilities can be just as easily done by employees at half our salary - and in many cases much more than half the salary ?

* It seems to me that doing this is at once denigrating my own profession while simultaneously abusing our lower paid staff by heaping upon them professional level work at clerical salaries.

M-T, and community, --- Please help me understand and come to peace with your guidance here.

Thanks for your perspective.


mmcconkie's picture

I think that something important to note is that you are still responsible for any items you delegate. For example, if you delegate decision-making to your direct and your direct makes a wrong decision, you are held responsible for that wrong decision. That is why your compensation is higher. While your direct may actually perform the task, you are responsible for the results to your superiors. 

Regarding if it is abusive to direct reports when you delegate, I would say absolutely not. In your example, if they cannot get pay increases, or promotions, then the biggest value that you can give them to help them in their career is experience. By giving them the added tasks you allow them to grow and hopefully find additional ways to help your organization. When they help your organization, hopefully your organization can support your directs back by recognizing them with financial support - but even if not, your directs need to be able to grow so that they can find other positions that will give them the upward mobility they need. 

To show what I mean here, let me tell you that personally I have left a position before because my manager wouldn't give me additional tasks so I couldn't get any additional experience. Where I knew that upward mobility was difficult, and I wasn't gaining any additional experience there, I knew that to stay with that company would only stall my career. I MUST be gaining some type of experience or be working toward some type of upward movement or else I consider that a stalled career. 

Don't stall the career of your directs. Give them as much possibility for additional experience as you can. It is the best thing you can do for them so that they can grow long-term. Hopefully that growth can happen within your organization. But even if it doesn't, you can make them more productive in their time while they are with you, as well as hopefully encourage them to stay to learn new skills so that they can then use those skills in external positions. 

pucciot's picture
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mmconkie :

Thanks for the perspective.

It makes some sense for my younger employees that are still students or starting out in their careers.

 I love to teach them the ropes and get them set-up for a bright future.


I'm not exactly buying that perspective for my middle and late aged employees who have no career to speak of, per se.

They just want to keep this clerical job until they retire.  They want to do a good job.

And, they don't want to go back to school and build a librarian career.

I don't see how I can keep thrusting professional Librarian duties and responsibilities on them without just compensation.


How should we address the idea that doing this dilutes and denigrates the "Professional".

Sure, the organization would love to get professional level of work done at 1/3rd the cost.  

But, isn't that an insult to my fellow professionals and our degree.  Those Letters after my name mean something.

It is not that I don't think they are not capable of it.  Of course they are capable.  But, that is not the point.

These are Assistants and Clerical Staff.  That's their job description and what they get paid for. If I start developing them into project managers and executive level decision makers it is mission creep and expanding them into a job they were not hired to do.  And not getting paid to do.

My Blue Collar Union Father would use such a way of thinking as stone to throw, as an example of how the company wants to squeeze as much work out of an employee for the cheapest cost.  

It smells of greed and employee exploitation.

It could also breed discontent among my Directs.  They resent the idea that I am giving them professional level work and responsibility without the consummate level of compensation.

I do have one direct that does fantastic work - and has duties on par with another Professional Librarian on campus.  This Direct does resent that the other person gets a much higher salary for basically the same work.  (I try to find other ways to make her feel good about her job) 

It is not fair to either of them.  It is unfair for my direct not to get paid for the level of work that she is doing -- and it is not fair to the other Librarian that the high level of work that she does is considered "clerical" by some people.  It could threaten her job in the future. 

I really love M-T and have benefited greatly from the guidance.

I'm just really having a hard time with this from a moral and ethical perspective.

Any other thoughts would be helpful...



mmcconkie's picture

I think I may be missing something. You say:

"How should we address the idea that doing this dilutes and denigrates the "Professional".

Sure, the organization would love to get professional level of work done at 1/3rd the cost.  

But, isn't that an insult to my fellow professionals and our degree.  Those Letters after my name mean something.

It is not that I don't think they are not capable of it.  Of course they are capable.  But, that is not the point."

I thought that the fact that your directs are capable IS the point. If it's not, what is? 

I apologize for asking what is likely a dumb question. Thanks for the clarification. 



pucciot's picture
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Thanks for trying to help get perspective.

Allow me to engage in some Hyperbole to illustrate my point.


Manager Mike is the Manager and a CPA & Degreed Accountant of his small department.

He has found that his manager duties are starting to take up more of his time.  So he notices that some other larger departments in his organization have Managers and Staff Accountants.

Manager Mike asks for a new Staff Accountant for his department.  The organization says No.  

So Manager Mike looks to his staff who have plenty of other work to do and none of them are accountants and do not have the skills or interest in accounting; except the department Janitor John

Janitor John has only a High School diploma.  He is 50 years old, never was good at school.  Not interested in going to college and his family and home situation takes up all of his time outside of work hours.

Janitor John does have a head for numbers and shows interest in helping with the accounting.

Manager Mike (who was once a Faculty member of a local University) gives Janitor John the equivalent on-the-job training of a degreed Accountant and CPA.

Manager Mike takes the opportunity to train Janitor John into all of the duties and responsibilities of a Staff Accountant.

Manager Mike brings Janitor John to his committee meetings, appoints him to projects and sits him at the table alongside of the organization's other Staff Accountants.


Manager Mike asks the organization to give Janitor John a larger raise at his annual appraisal or annual bonus.  No - The Organization caps all Merit Raise at 3%  - organization wide.  And there are no bonuses given in this organization. 

Manager Mike asks the organization to give Janitor John a larger raise of his base salary level.  No - The Organization caps the Janitor salary Base $15,000 - $20,000.

Manager Mike asks the organization to give Janitor John a change in Job Title & Description. No - The Organization insists that all Job Titles and Descriptions must be standardized -- there is no such thing as a Janitor/Accountant.

Manager Mike asks the organization to give Janitor John a promotion into the role of Staff Accountant 1.  No - The Organization will only allow CPA's with Masters Degrees in Accounting be hired into the role of Staff Accountant 1.

Janitor John is starting to feel resentful towards the organization that he now has the job of Staff accountant without the Title or the salary.


Accountants Andy and Amy are Staff Accountants in other departments in the Organization.  Base Salary $45,000 - $60,000

They have been on committees and projects with Janitor John.  They are starting to feel threatened as professional Accountants that Manager Mike has simply trained up Janitor John.  

Accountants Andy and Amy feel that Manager Mike has insulted his own profession by sending the message that organizations don't need Professional Degreed Accountants -- that Janitors can be trained to do the same work at 1/3 the cost.

This threatens the very idea of Professional Degreed and certified Accountants.  And lowers the stature of the profession and impairs their ability to negotiate higher positions and salaries industry wide.


Does this help illustrate my point ?

* Isn't this unjust to give Janitor John the duties and responsibilities of Staff Accountant without the proper recognition or compensation ?

* Isn't this unjust to other Professional Accountants who have earned their Advanced Degrees and their CPA credentials to send the message that such things really are not necessary for an organization to consider when filling positions ?


Thanks for your help.





mmcconkie's picture

Thanks for the clarification! That helped me understand much better. Maybe I'm coming at this too much from the for-profit perspective. Because in my mind your example makes sense (with the exception of any legal issues), and the organization would able to save money on labor, and yes Accountants Andy and Amy would have more competition in job searches. Now let me explain that a little bit. 

Andy and Amy are feeling frustrated because they put in the time to get degrees and their work is being threatened by Janitor John. What that means for Andy and Amy is that they need to step up their work level. The entire purpose of education (related to the work force - not necessarily personal fulfillment) is to be more effective than you otherwise would have been without the education. If Janitor John can get there without that education, then either Andy and Amy aren't utilizing that education as effectively as they need to, or the education wasn't necessary in the first place. Now there are 2 exceptions to this which are education being used as a foundation for research projects, and education/certification for legal purposes (meaning even if a janitor in a hospital is trained by the head surgeon, the janitor would still need to become a MD before practicing medicine per the law). 

So here's how I see the individuals should proceed forward: 

The organization should give janitor John a raise and a title change if they want him to stay. If the organization wants results they need to give employees the incentive to stay. If they do not give John a raise and a title change, then when he gains that experience and has the results on his career management document John would be able to use that experience and those results to get the job change and raise in another firm. 

Now before I close I don't want to come across as if I am against education. I have received my BA and am currently working on my MBA. Now note that the only reason I am pursuing an MBA right now is so that I can be more effective in my future job searches and because I hope that this education will improve my job performance. If someone without an MBA could do a job better than me, then I would expect them to be hired over me. And if I am working along side others who don't have an MBA (when I receive mine) who perform just as well as I do in a similar job, I wouldn't expect to be paid more than them. 

And I don't want to say that education is useless if it doesn't contribute to effectiveness in the workplace. If education were only to be more effective in the workplace, then the arts would provide very little value - and I know that the arts are incredibly valuable. My business law professor once said that life without the arts would have no meaning. I certainly understand that the arts have a great place in the university setting. During my first semester at my university I was actually enrolled as a piano performance major. My point is that I love education, and I love the arts. That being said, from the employer perspective, the employer is looking for the best person to fulfill the tasks in the job. If someone without the education can do any better than someone with the education, then the employer ought to hire the person without the education. This is seen in so many markets, technology being one of the most prevalent right now. 

Now to give Andy and Amy the benefit of the doubt, are there other tasks that only they can do? Do they contribute to research which requires a degree? Are there things that require their degree for them to do legally? If so, then help them focus on that. And if that is the case, then I would continue to fight for Janitor John to have a new position that allows him to perform those tasks at a pay level higher than his current pay - but (if there are tasks that only Andy and Amy can do) lower than Andy and Amy (how close that is to Andy and Amy's pay range depends on how much of their daily work can only be done by them). 

Does that make sense? Am I coming at this too much from a for-profit perspective? I don't want to demean education - but education in itself isn't a qualification in my eyes. It should be a tool used to improve workplace performance.

mrreliable's picture

Over my working career, I've volunteered for no compensaiton, worked for minimum wage, worked for a bit more than minimum wage, and worked my way up to executive level pay. I've shoveled horse barns, reamed out residential sewers as a plumbers helper, done manual labor, and I always did the best I could no matter what I was paid. Deciding I wasn't going to work as hard or put as much pressure on myself would have made those grueling tasks even more distasteful.

I've never put an automatic governor on myself to make sure I'm not doing the best job I can if I'm not earning the compensation I think I'm entitled to. This issue is exactly what work ethic is all about.

It's unfortunate that you have angst over the fact that your directs are doing jobs that "can just as easily be done by employees at half our salary."

One truth I've learned over the years is that compensation gets a person to show up. The worker will exhibit the same kind of work ethic no matter whether they're getting paid a lot or a little.

The best thing you could do for your directs is to encourage them to do the best job they can. It's unfortunate that you find yourself in the position where your directs can easily do your job for half of what you make. If that's the case I would agree the compensation policies of your company are misguided.

Think of it in the context of a professional athlete who is as talented as most in the league, but is not being compensated relative to their contributions. Should they not run as hard? Should they stop showing up to voluntary practices? Should they wait until they get the big contract before they put out 100% effort? Should they stop "throwing the stone?"

You're selling your directs short thinking that you're helping them by lowering expectations.

pucciot's picture
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OK - Thanks dudes.

My Union Blue Collar Dad would be telling me that you are trying to get me to drink the Kool-Aid of cut throat capitalism.

I'm still trying to incorporate this into my mind.  I appreciate your efforts.

You are all talking about the future of the employee, while I am talking about my actions - today (or at least within a short time frame).

You seem to be saying that the employee should - move on - get another job - leave my organization ... in short, it is their fault for taking on these new tasks and not making the best of the opportunities.  It is their own fault that they have the skill and capacity to do more -- and do it without anything more than "a psychic wage".

It seems more to me that it is my fault that I have given an employee increasing larger tasks and responsibilities and knowing that they would not be compensated adequately -- today or next year.  

This idea that I am compensating them with the possibility of a bigger future --- comes across as a little bit bogus and self-serving.

My sense of justice includes the idea that a worker deserves a just wage for the work that he does.

If my employee is hired and is being compensated for a particular job and they do it well  - they deserve their wage - today / this year.

Yes - they are expected to grow and change over time and that is built into the work relationship.

And if they outgrow the position that they are in - there is also an expectation of the organization to recognize and compensate them for that.

I am in an environment that, I feel, does not do that very well.

Isn't it upon me to take into account the environment that I am in ?

I feel like I am taking advantage of these people.  Because, If I hadn't trained them into these other higher tasks that they could still be dong their usual tasks and making small improvements - that would satisfy me and the organization.  

They would still be doing the job they were hired for and growing at a small rate - and qualifying for the 3% raise...

It sounds like you think I am being overly concerned and my sense of justice is too sensitive.


From what you are saying :

* It is not unethical or immoral for me to increase the responsibilities and tasks of an employee way outside of their standard job description even if I know that they will not be adequately be compensated or even officially recognized.

* It is not unethical to train up an employee to do work that is generally considered "professional" and I should not worry about watering down the significance of mine and other's degrees and official credentials.


That I should not worry about sending the message that the work of Degreed Credentialed Professionals can be done by on-the-job trained clerks for 1/3rd the wage.   In short, saying that my fellow Degreed Credentialed Professionals, are being overpaid.   When, in fact, I think that my fellow Degreed Credentialed Professionals are not being overpaid and are not getting the recognition that they deserve.  

That I am not degrading the state of my entire profession and eroding the quality of my industry overall.


I will have to think on this much more.

Again, thanks for your help and perspective.

At your service,


pucciot's picture
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mrreliable :

The Pro Athlete metaphor is worth considering...

And it is a little lacking ... Pro Athletes are expected to put 100% effort into the job every day.

And if & when they actually get onto the field and make great plays they do get bonuses

And each of them are on the "Professional Athlete" Tier.

What I am talking about is asking the Towel Boy to Suit up play a few games and still keep his Towel Boy Title and Towel Boy salary.

The Towel Boy may be a totally capable athlete... but he is not a recognized Pro.    And the Coach should not have asked him to suit up and play if he knew that the Towel Boy would not be compensated for helping the team win the big game.

Thanks for suiting up and helping us win the big game -- Towel Boy -- here is an extra coupon for a hot dog from the snack bar.

If you ever want to be a Pro Athlete you will have to get an agent, go to college, and work at another club.

-- and BTW - from now on --  I still expect you to suit up for the next game and give us 100% to the win the next big game.

It feels unjust to me.



mrreliable's picture

"Pro Athletes are expected to put 100% effort into the job every day."

In my opinion, I would be doing my directs a disservice if did not expect the very best out of them all the time. Do you really believe that an employee who is encouraged to lower their efforts based on compensation will be better off than an employee that is held to high standards at all times? In my opinion you're selling your directs short by not expecting the highest possible performance from them.

"What I am talking about is asking the Towel Boy to Suit up play a few games and still keep his Towel Boy Title and Towel Boy salary."

Who do you think will be better off once they move on from the position of Towel Boy, the employee who got to suit up and play in NFL games, or the employee who did not get that opportunity? 

I'm not defending companies that try to squeeze every last drop of humanity out of a person while paying them a starvation wage, and I'm not suggesting those companies don't exist, I've worked for some. I'm just saying that lowering expectations whether it's out of a sense of "justice" or something else is short-changing yourself and your directs.

I have frequent contact with young people of high school and college age. Most of their entry level jobs along the way are burger flipper type jobs. Of course they're not making sqat and doing many thankless tasks with little reward. My suggestion to them is to realize they're learning world-class business systems and to do the best possible job they can. Don't resent the bosses, watch them and learn. People pay big bucks to go to college and learn many of the same things as being in charge of the fry station. They'll be much better off in the next job interview if they develop a solid, enthusiastic work ethic.

I've always lived by the philosophy that I'm going to conduct myself in a certain manner regardless of what someone else does (such as under compensate me). I owe it to myself and my own standards not to let transgressions of others dictate my performance.

Don't get me started on my daughter's old boyfriend. He worked at a fast food pizza joint, made minimum wage, not only refused any additional hours, but he wouldn't even show up if he didn't feel like it. I listend to him constantly gripe about how he wasn't making what he was worth, and the work was not fun. He finally just quit and sponged off my daughter. Fortunately she got sick of it and gave him an opportunity to be successful with some other girlfriend. Ironically, another friend of hers also worked at a pizza place, and is now in the process of buying his own franchise. It's not hard to figure out which person worked the hardest at their entry-level jobs, and which one has the higher self-esteem.

Don't sell your directs short, that's all I'm saying.



mrreliable's picture

If your company is as cut-throat and abusive as you say, you're not doing your directs any favors by trying to make it easier for them to tolerate the environment.

In short, it is their fault for taking on these new tasks and not making the best of the opportunities.

Yes, it is their fault for not making the best of their opportunities.

Because, If I hadn't trained them into these other higher tasks that they could still be dong their usual tasks and making small improvements.

Good for you for training them to perform higher tasks. I'm perplexed that you think that might have been a huge mistake.

Have you considered starting a business yourself? You seem to be very passionate about wanting employees to be fairly compensated. If you're that passionate about it, why not put yourself into a position where you have control over employee compensation?

 It is their own fault that they have the skill and capacity to do more -- and do it without anything more than "a psychic wage."

I know you're trying to ridicule the concept, but when the definition of a "psychic wage" is personal development, learning,  achieving higher skills, increased capacity, pride, and self-esteem, I guess that would be your "fault."

Again, I'm not defending under-compensation, but it's something you can't control. You're not going to convince me that helping your directs achieve higher skills and increased capacity is some kind of injustice. 

pucciot's picture
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mrreliable :

No, I didn't not intend to ridicule the "psychic wage"  I recognize that it is useful and has its place.

I meant to express that it is not enough to make up for as large gap between Towel Boy and Pro-Athlete.

You are correct that much of this is out of my control --- except that there is something under my control ... what Tasks I assign and responsibilities I delegate.

If I believe that it is unjust to assign "professional level" tasks to my clerical workers, then I have my own conscience to deal with - as I am put at odds between my responsibility to the Organization and my ethical duties to my fellow human beings - both my directs and my fellow professionals.

What I can control is my cooperation in an injustice.

I expect to hire a janitor, a towel boy, or a floor sweeper to be the 100% very best janitor, towel boy, floor sweeper that they can be.  100% of the time.  And they would deserve consummate compensation.  If they are excellent at their job -- they get the top raise I can give them.   Excellence includes growth and development -- within their role.

I don't expect to hire a janitor to be the 100% very best accountant, just because he can do it.

Just because he can do the job of an accountant - dose not mean that I should take advantage of that and ask him to do accounting work as part of his job without adequate compensation.

No, my organization is not a terrible cut-thoat place to work.  But, just like anything else it is not perfect. 


I know that you are coming from an environment where such things are not as cut and dry.

You make it sound like you would be OK to hire and pay for a floor sweeper -- and be OK with it if he becomes the COO at the same salary for many years.

In my environment, there are clearly delineated Job Classifications with clearly delineated salary schedules assigned to them. 

In order to get the Title and Salary of Professional Librarian one must have the credentialed Masters Degree.

Yes, the Degree is a required qualification - for the Title and the Salary.

I have no problem training and giving reasonability to a Direct that tells me that they want to go to Library School and become a Professional in the future.

Yes, training them up is doing them a great favor.

What I am expressing is the intentional training up and delegating of Pro responsibilities to an employee that has clearly stated that they have no intention of going back to school or becoming a Professional Librarian.  I would be forcing them to become a Pro without having the benefit of the degree on their resume and without the consummate compensation.

Again - I'm not talking about increasing their current Job Role by small degrees - within the general sphere of their current role.

-- I'm talking about assigning them job duties outside of their current Job Description that usually reside in the Job Description of a position that makes much more money.

I appreciate your time -- and I will have to wrestle with this on my own for a while.