CAREERS: Pandora's Problem Page

Q: My supervisor recently chewed me out for taking too long at lunch and for using the agency phone for personal calls. Everyone does it. Was she being unfair to me?

Ms. A, San Diego, CA

A: I once worked with a girl who would spend an hour each day on the phone to friends, loudly describing the more intimate details of what she'd got up to the previous night with her latest boyfriend/neighbor/mailman.

I swear our boss turned a blind eye because he was so fascinated.

But the vast majority of managers aren't sleazy eavesdroppers, and would much rather you invested your vocal energies into doing the job you're paid for. Everyone needs to make a call from time to time, just don't make it excessive.

Same with the lunch thing - who hasn't needed to make an emergency Bloomingdales trip occasionally? But when it becomes a habit, you're into danger time, my friend.

If you think you're being unfairly picked on, maybe you are. Perhaps it's just your bad luck that the boss noticed your calls rather than those of your colleagues, and saw you slipping guiltily back to your desk at 2:30pm. Whatever. One of the worst things to come out of Washington in recent years is the 'everybody does it' defense. No, your boss was not unfair or wrong. You are.

Q: I'm pretty sure I'm underpaid. How do I ask my boss for a raise? Should I go to our human resources department for help?

Mr. R, Chicago, IL

A: I wondered when someone was going to bring up the subject of their hard-earned dollars. The fact is, I have never met anyone who didn't believe they were underpaid (and I have some disgustingly well-paid friends).

I have also never met anyone who actually did the research to prove they were underpaid. There is no other facet of the workplace that is more anecdotal and less factual.

But the best people to actually tell you if you are underpaid are executive recruiters. Why them and not HR people? Recruiters are out in the market; they know what a variety of companies are paying for talent.

HR execs, on the other hand, have a company structure to enforce, so they will always tell you what you are worth in the context of the company's overall pay structure.

So make a discreet call (this is exactly the kind of thing cell phones were invented for) to your friendly neighborhood recruiter and find out exactly how poorly you're paid. But don't expect to get something for nothing - be prepared for the fact that the recruiter will smell commission and want to sign you up on the spot.

Another option is salary surveys. You should check PRWeek's own salary survey (the latest one will be published on March 26), but others are conducted by the PRSA and the Council of PR Firms. On the Web, includes data for the PR industry, broken down by city and seniority. The New York Times' Web site breaks down salary using similar criteria.

Once armed with your research, you still shouldn't expect an automatic raise. With companies trying to keep their costs down to make it through this economic hangover, you don't want to give them reason to think anything other than what a great value employee you are. Maybe you'd be better off holding your fire until the economy gets healthier again, then charge in before everyone else does.

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