Dear Penny: Should My Husband Demand a Raise After 45 Years on the Job?
My husband has worked at the same company for almost 45 years. It’s a small manufacturer that is run by a family.
Over the past 20 years, raises have been few and far between (up to eight years if I remember correctly). When he does get a raise, it’s often offset by increases in health insurance contributions and other reductions in benefits.
My husband got a raise about seven years ago, but four years ago, his hours were reduced from 37.5 to 35 per week. It didn’t mean that he actually worked fewer hours; he just didn't get paid for more than 35 hours a week. This meant that his gross income was lower in the past four years than it was in 2009.
A year ago, they also ended their 401(k) program, therefore, eliminating the employer matching funds. As you may guess, he is less than 10 years from retirement.
My husband holds himself to standards of loyalty and a strong work ethic. I have been married to him for over 30 years. I’ve suggested he look for another job many times. It's not going to happen. I'm not angry at him, but it's hard to watch him go through bouts of depression and frustration because he has done his best and consistently more than what has been required.
He has been told that he’s appreciated, but he’s not treated as if he is appreciated. Is there a way for him to address the situation to get him a salary or benefit that he deserves?
Had your husband had asked me for advice, I’d tell him that loyalty in the workplace is a one-way street. No amount of loyalty protects your job if your company isn’t profitable. So I’d suggest that he make the case for a raise and apply for new jobs, as well.
Of course, your husband didn’t ask me for advice. You can pass my thoughts along to him. But I have a feeling you’ve been dispensing the exact same advice for many years at this point.
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You clearly have a lot of empathy for your husband. So try to understand where he’s coming from.
He has worked at this job for most, if not all, of his adult life. We become comfortable with what’s familiar, even when it’s a bad situation. This is the only job your husband knows. It’s not surprising that he refuses to quit his job after nearly 45 years.
This sounds like a struggling business. I say this only because your husband needs to understand that this probably isn’t personal. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s right for his company to expect 37.5 hours of work for the price of 35 hours. (That’s wage theft, which is illegal.)
But your husband is likely worried that if he makes a fuss, he’ll lose his job altogether, especially as retirement approaches. Ageism remains a real problem for older workers. From his perspective, 35 hours’ pay is better than zero hours of pay.
You can’t control the actions of your husband or his employer. You can’t go to job interviews for him or negotiate directly with his boss. Your husband’s emotional reactions to how he’s treated at work are also out of your hands. The only thing you can control is your reaction.
If you’re frequently telling him how unappreciated he is, you need to stop. Sometimes feelings of frustration can motivate people to act. But clearly, that isn’t the case here.
Try to remove the emotion as much as possible from the conversation. Focus on reality instead. Make this about what needs to happen so the two of you can eventually retire.
Your husband needs to accept that things are highly unlikely to change at his current job. Try talking about what that means for your finances objectively.
His wages will buy less and less each year, particularly if inflation sticks around for a while. Will the two of you still be able to keep up with living costs? Are you saving enough to eventually retire now that your husband no longer has a 401(k) plan?
If the answer to either question is “no,” then you need to talk about what you’re both willing to do. If your husband won’t search for a job or ask for a raise, is he willing to work a couple of extra years to make up for his reduced pay and benefits? Or is he willing to take on a side gig? Assuming that you work, your contributions need to be part of this discussion, too.
When your husband gets upset over his treatment at work, try not to stoke his anger. You can acknowledge his frustration, but he doesn’t get free rein to complain to you during every waking hour. Sometimes when you talk about a problem incessantly, we feel like we’re taking action even when we haven’t.
Remind your husband of the qualities you’re proud of, like his loyalty and work ethic. But don’t make this a pity party. There’s no point in talking about what you think his employer should do when you know it will never happen. So keep things focused on your husband and what actions he’s willing to take.
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