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Part II: VP caught in salary trap

headline by franke james,  Hans Caluwaerts©iStockphoto.com

Dear Office-Politics,

Your site is great! I’m just entering the corporate world and had no idea there would be so much politics involved in working for a large corporation (45,000 employees roughly). I’ve been struggling with an issue for quite some time, and have had mixed responses when trying to seek advice from my peers and mentors.

I’ve entered this company at a senior level (Assistant Vice President) and started with a salary that pays very well. I also happen to be 20 years old. Not knowing the political game, when a fellow “equivalent” co-worker asked me how much my salary was (after telling me his salary as well), I hesitated and told him.

Now pretty much the entire company knows, and this individual actually went straight to my boss (CIO) to complain that I made too much money. Additionally, he is now trying to put together business plans to get me to work under him, and he speaks with executives on my behalf and totally invents things (i.e. he says I am not happy at my job, that I do not have the experience to manage people etc)

I’m not too concerned about losing my job – I know the executives support me as they have been telling me what he has been doing, and they went to great extents to recruit me from my previous company. They also assure me that I need not worry about what he’s doing as nothing he puts together will get past them. My main issue with all of this is having to be “fake” around him – and pretend I don’t know what he’s doing.

Additionally, there is a lot of tension amongst my peers because they are jealous/envious of my salary & position, especially seeing I am usually 10-20 years younger than most of my peers. I feel like I am up against an army of soldiers and the rest of my time with this company will be a battle.

Any suggestions? Thanks!

Young Vice President

franke james

Dear Young Vice President,

There are some valuable Office-Politics lessons for you to take away from this unpleasant experience.

#1. Your coworker set a trap
Recognize that you fell into a trap which was set by your ‘more political’ and unethical coworker (we’ll call him Mike). He disclosed his salary, knowing that by doing so you would feel obligated to reveal yours. You took the bait and got caught. And he’s shown his character by blabbing your salary to others. At the very least you know that he is not to be trusted.

If you were able to rewind that event and play it again, what would you be thinking when Mike was asking you what your salary is? I hope you’d be questioning his motives and thinking, “Why does Mike want to know my salary? If I tell him, what is he going to do with the information? I don’t know Mike that well, I think I’ll just change the subject or tell him it’s private…”

But you can’t push the rewind button, so all you can do is learn from this experience and develop your skills to be a better Office-Politics Player.

#2. Be wary of Machiavellian Mike

Your description of Mike and the actions he is taking against you show that he is a Machiavellian threat. He is jealous of you and is trying to knock you down a few pegs. You would be wise to use your network to keep tabs on what he is saying and doing so you can protect yourself. You don’t want to get overly paranoid, however it does seem that he is deliberately sabotaging you (inventing lies and telling management). The smart thing to do is take defensive precautions. You will have to figure out what those precautions might be, but I would practice ‘worst-case’ scenario thinking. For example: If someone accidentally erased my harddrive would I have a backup? Think of protective steps (making regular backups of your data, always having hard copies, documenting any odd comments or behaviors) like an insurance policy. You probably won’t need them, but they can help you to sleep better at night.

#3. Practice verbal discipline

This tip relates to your comment about being ‘fake’ around Mike. Instead of thinking that you are being fake, think of yourself like a poker player who is keeping his cards close to his chest. Verbal discipline means that you think carefully about what you say and reveal at the office. This skill allows you time to step back and reflect carefully before speaking.

It would be easy for you to let people know the opinion you have of Mike, but you will have so much more flexibility in the future if you don’t do that. Imagine if management decided not to allow the two of you to work together on any projects because they know of your animosity toward each other? That might seem okay now, but do you really want to have your options limited because of him? Better to let it be clear to management that Mike is the one who holds petty grudges, not you.

And although it seems impossible now, your opinion of Mike might change. Not broadcasting your dislike of him makes it easier to make peace with him in the future.

I agree with Christine’s comments in Part I. Join a group of other young executives and use them as a sounding board, not your coworkers.

#4. You are a hot commodity (for now)

You’re twenty-years old. You’ve been recruited from another company and you’re a VP. But before you know it another hot young commodity will come along, and they’ll be commanding an even bigger salary than you got — will you be jealous? It’s just a fact of life that in a competitive marketplace companies have to pay big bucks to attract top talent. Your salary will get eclipsed in no time, so don’t sweat it. (Mike was just not as lucky or talented as you.)

#5. Be a team player

You want your coworkers talking about how nice you are, great to work with, and that you are an asset to the team. So here’s an idea: As aggressively as Mike is trying to sink your career, why don’t you try to find ways to help other people develop their careers and contribute in big ways to the company? That type of initiative will get noticed and appreciated — and make it clear you’re worth every penny.

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics. Please let us know how it goes.



Franke James, MFA
Editor & Founder, Office-Politics.com
Inventor, The Office-Politics® Game


Franke James, MFA is the Editor & Founder of Office-Politics.com. She is also the Inventor of The Office-Politics® Game a dilemma-based social game that teaches you how to play, and laugh, at office politics. It’s used by HR departments, and corporate trainers worldwide. The Office-Politics Dilemmas have been inspired by the hundreds of letters submitted to Office-Politics.com.

  1. One Answer to “Part II: VP caught in salary trap”

  2. Excellent comments on my issue. I really appreciated the new networks they pointed me to, didn’t realize such communities existed on the web. Also great that two Advisers decided to take on my case!

    The turmoil has settled down significantly since I first wrote in. I’m not too sure what happened, but I think one of the senior executives here stepped in and really let “Mike” have it. I’m not too sure, but all of the sudden he started to show me some real respect.

    Really appreciate your comments, your Office-Politics blog is such a great idea. I especially enjoy this personal touch. Keep up the great work!

    By Letter writer on Jan 28, 2008

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