By Joann S. Lublin, Staff Reporter | THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Few people ever feel adequately rewarded and recognized for their work achievements. But how can you gripe about such mistreatment without being branded a whiner -- and possibly sabotaging your job? It's an especially tricky question at a time of scant raises and promotions. Many persistent complainers try to whine their way to success, says Judith E. Glaser, a New York executive coach. But they "have no idea how close they are to serious career harm.''
Complaining apparently helped derail Warren Lieberfarb. The Warner Bros. video chief was forced out of the AOL Time Warner movie studio in December. He said he was let go over policy differences. But he also told colleagues he felt bitter at not receiving enough money for his pivotal role in introducing and popularizing digital videodiscs. AOL Time Warner leaders were tired of his constant grousing, people at the company have said.
"If you express discontent in a culture that doesn't want to change, you run the risk of being seen as disruptive,'' concedes Mr. Lieberfarb, who now owns a digital-media consulting firm in Los Angeles.
Different grievance tactics might enhance your chances for greater rewards and job security. For starters, determine your manager's performance measures, provide objective evidence of your relevant accomplishments, and regularly confirm that your boss agrees you're a star. "Make it easy for people to give you what you're asking for," and don't expect "performance to speak for itself," advises Deborah Kolb, a Simmons College management professor.
That's what Cindy Haas Davis did during five pay chats over 12 months. Early last year, she advanced to program manager at a Bryna, Texas, nonprofit. Her boss said she wouldn't get paid more, and initially she didn't object. Two months later, though, Ms. Davis demanded a 10% raise for performing well. Her superior not only agreed but increased the raise to 20% a week later after she divulged a pending job offer.
In December, Ms. Davis learned a male program manager with the same duties made about 25% more than she -- thanks to his 10% cost-of-living increase. But her boss said her raise made her ineligible for an inflation adjustment.
Through a group called Business and Professional Women/USA, the 44-year-old Ms. Davis then researched the federal equal-pay law. She wrote her supervisor citing the pay disparity as a possible violation. When Ms. Davis again met with her boss, he said, "You didn't have to come on this strong.'' But she had done her homework, and he granted her proposed 17% inflation adjustment. She now earns $42,000, twice her starting salary four years ago.
Inadequately recognized individuals can aggravate their predicament by reminding underlings about their situation. A well-paid executive at a big New York human-resources consultancy says she's sometimes frustrated because her undemonstrative superior rarely praises her in person. He prefers emails that read, "Great month!"
In turn, the 45-year-old executive alienates lieutenants because she whines so much, according to Ms. Glaser, her coach. "They all know she is smart, makes the most money [and] brings in the largest sales. She rubs it in their face,'' the coach says. "They don't want to work with her.'' The client agrees she hasn't seen "the level of collaboration that there should be'' because some staffers believe she's a showoff.
Yet supportive colleagues can bring you wider appreciation for your achievements. A Latin American managing director of a major U.S. financial-services concern felt her remuneration didn't match her impressive results. There was a reason. Subordinates had complained to a personnel manager about her insensitive manner and excessive expectations.
The managing director forged an alliance with the personnel manager by accepting responsibility for her attitude and soliciting his advice in crafting corrective steps. He became her ally with her employees and boss.
The upshot? The managing director's region is performing better, she won a bigger bonus -- and she moved "to a high performers' list with better career possibilities,'' says Paul Winum, an Atlanta psychologist for the executive-coaching firm RHR International who counseled the woman last year.
Similarly, the HR consultancy executive discovered she wins greater plaudits and satisfaction when she praises co-workers. Senior management recently sent her a congratulatory e-mail after she and several associates nationwide landed a significant client assignment. "I couldn't have done it without those folks,'' she replied, because "it was really a team effort.'' Then she e-mailed team members -- and some of their bosses -- copies of both messages.
Senior management complimented her for that gesture, too. While the executive enjoys kudos for acknowledging others, "I don't do this just to get praise,'' she says. "It's very exciting ... to be working on a team and achieving more than I could individually. There's plenty of glory to go around.''