Asked to Take a Pay Cut? Welcome to My World

You know when the subject of the e-mail is “difficult news” and it comes from the CEO of your company, it can’t be good.

We at the Kitsap Sun received notice today from E.W. Scripps President and CEO Rich Boehne that we would be asked to take a pay cut to help the company weather the recession.

“Maintaining financial health and flexibility must be a top priority in this environment. The economy is throwing new and bigger challenges at us each day and we intend to have the strength to weather the storm,” wrote Boehne in the fairly lengthy e-mail simply signed “Rich.”

When the CEO of your parent company drops down on one knee to meet you – his “dear colleague” – at eye level, you know it’s not good. To be fair, I’m sure it is painful to Boehne to have to make these kinds of decisions. And he’s not alone.

On Monday, in fact, I heard a program on National Public Radio (Planet Money, Feb. 16, 2008) about the likelihood that many major companies would be imposing some kind of voluntary or involuntary cut-backs in compensation to their employees.

People interviewed were asked if, given a choice, they would rather see co-workers laid off or take a temporary cut in pay with the understanding that their pay would be reinstated once the economy turns around. Many said they would take the pay cut. Others said not so fast. Another cost-cutting option shouldered by employees is a voluntary furlough, such as has been implemented on Bainbridge Island and in Kitsap County government.

Personally, I would much rather suck up a temporary loss of pay over seeing more of my “dear collegues” depart the newsroom.

I’ve done the math. For our family the cut will be inconvenient but manageable. I view it as a temporary lifestyle adjustment comparable to families in World War II who went without nylon stockings and put in victory gardens to support the war effort. (Those who know me know that I would have absolutely no problem swearing off nylon stockings for a while ;))

One thing the radio program noted is that to maintain morale in the face of a pay cut it is critical that management take one for the team as well, which is what’s happened at Scripps.

We’d like to hear from anyone else out there who has been asked to take a cut in pay or make other adjustments to help keep your company on life-support. And I’ll ask what the NPR program did, “Would you rather take a pay cut, or keep your job and see others laid off?” (And don’t anybody go judging people who pick door number two as lacking in altruism, because you know in making that choice they concede to shoulder an additional workload to make up for the reduction in force.)

10 thoughts on “Asked to Take a Pay Cut? Welcome to My World

  1. Chris, I appreciate your willingness to sacrifice and share some of what you have for the benefit of your fellow employees and for us as a community. My husband and I are blessed with stable jobs that do not have any such cut backs on the future horizon. I would like to do a small part to give back to you. Does the Kitsap Sun still have a program where you can buy subscriptions for schools? Please let me know if they do and I will purchase a subscription for a Bremerton School in your name.

    Colleen Smidt

  2. Pay scales for print media are generally low compared to other professions, so I can only imagine that a reduction in any amount of compensation will be significant.

    You are to be commended for being among those willing to personally sacrifice in order to ensure a colleague does not lose his/her job. Of course, I am indirectly patting myself on the back for taking the same position last year during my employer’s previous round of budget cuts.

  3. Chris-

    Suggestion: Run for an elected position the next time one is available (agreeing at the time that you will accept the income offered), then come up with a reason that your talents are so important and worthy that you must have a pay increase.

    Perfect answer to the increasing lowering of print media revenue.

  4. Colleen and Builder – Just to clarify, I didn’t have the option to choose a pay cut to save jobs. The jobs were cut at the end of 2008. And we are getting an involuntary pay cut. All I’m saying is that hypothetically, if I did have the choice between a temporary pay cut and seeing co-workers laid off, I’d put up with the pay cut.

  5. I think it would depend on a couple of factors. First, do I have confidence that taking a pay cut will really preserve those other jobs. Second, are those other jobs necessary.

    If I am being asked to take a pay cut to keep people employed that aren’t having a positive impact on our product or service, I think I would be hesitant to say ‘yes’. But, if I were in an environment where every employee was essential and we were already understaffed (like my current job), I would certainly take the pay cut.

    I’m not trying to be selfish about it, but my salary and the salary of my fellow employees are paid with taxpayer funds. If we are just preserving jobs to preserve jobs, we are doing the public a disservice. If we are preserving jobs because those jobs are necessary and add value to our product or service to the taxpayers, then I’m good with it and would take a pay cut to preserve those jobs.

    I think if I worked for private industry, I might have a different perspective because I would feel that my employer has a right to spend their money as they see fit, deciding for themselves what meets their corporate needs.

    Regards,
    Kathryn Simpson

  6. Chris – I understood the context of your reduction in compensation, but still believe you should be commended for being among those willing to personally sacrifice in order to ensure a colleague does not lose his/her job.

  7. Kathryn – You said “If we are just preserving jobs to preserve jobs, we are doing the public a disservice. If we are preserving jobs because those jobs are necessary and add value to our product or service to the taxpayers, then I’m good with it and would take a pay cut to preserve those jobs.”

    My thoughts: There is nothing like a cut in staffing to force a business and its employees to focus on priorities and carve out the deadwood (tasks that were more or less make-work, sit at your desk and look like you’re working so you can get paid stuff). I suspect, though I have no hard evidence, that government jobs are more prone to amassing deadwood simply by the nature of how they are funded … as the result of the legislative process. Cumbersome as it is, it’s the basis of our democratic government, warts and all. This recession seems daily to give new meaning to the term “how low can you go.” On the plus side, maybe it will trim the deadwood out of how we do business, both on the government level and in the private sector.

  8. From what I have seen with the Sun’s policies, deadwood, if you enjoy calling people that, isn’t what gets pruned. I saw some of the most amazing and brilliant people get walking papers from the Sun. Obedience was rewarded more than innovative, ability, skill or even productive output. I suspect that is the case in most places, certainly in most government jobs, otherwise, government workers would not be as risk adverse as they are and we, as a municipality, a county and a country would get more done.

  9. As was explained at the time, longevity was the deciding factor to those let go. Those last to hire were first to go.
    None of the KS folks leaving were ‘deadwood’ and ability had nothing to do with it.
    Sharon O’Hara

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