A few years ago I was working as a PA to a senior board director in an organisation full of project managers, engineers and specialist technicians. There were a large number of administration and support staff but we certainly didn’t make up the bulk of the business. As is often the case renumeration was structure around the staff who made the business money (or the folks who made the business more efficient and thus made the business money). Everyone was placed in a salary band depending on their experience and their skills. Except support staff who were placed in lower salary bands or slotted in somewhere that sort of fitted what they did.

I was placed in a low (not rock bottom but not particularly high) salary band with other assistants and admin type people. My salary was good and I was happy with my lot. That was until 2 years into the job and I had reached the top of my salary band. I couldn’t go any higher, according to my Executive during our yearly performance review, unless I changed roles. It was an interesting conversation to have because it was so obviously unfair – I knew it and my boss knew it. It went something like this…

Me: “Right so, I’m doing a good job?” 

Exec: “Yes.”

Me: “But I’m not going to get any form of pay rise this year because I have reached the top of my salary band?” 

Exec: “Yes, you are one the highest paid assistants in the company and we can’t pay you any more. We will have to promote you to a different role or you will have to apply for a different job if you want a higher salary. We can’t promote you unless you study for a few qualifications and I can’t guarantee I can get the funding for that.”

Me: “Right, that sounds fair.” 

So what do you think I did? I left of course. I enjoyed the role and I loved the organisation and people I worked with but I didn’t like a future that involved no monetary reward. After all, what exactly was I working for? Bummer, right? Well yes it did turn out that way as the next job paid more but I didn’t find it as rewarding in other areas.

Speaking to other assistants at the Assist Conference earlier this year it turns out that this scenario is pretty common. Assistants are placed into pay scales and frameworks that don’t in anyway reflect their competencies making recognition and reward more difficult to assess when it comes to pay and performance reviews. After a few years and a few pay rises later they are stuck at the top of their pay band with no where to go. This is a pretty rubbish position to be in and one that is particularly unique to administrative staff.

So what can be done? There are a few tips I can give that can help assistants move salary caps without moving role. For example an assistant can ask for a dual job title such as PA and Administrative Manager. Anything with Manager in the title makes it slightly easier for organisations to justify moving bands. Look at the competencies in the next salary cap and match up the tasks that you currently do and can do over the next year. When it comes to your next salary review you will have clear examples of the work you are doing and why you rightly deserve to move into the next pay scale. Lastly threaten to leave… no only kidding! Do look for assistant roles within the organisation that are supporting more senior Executives (CEO, COO etc). These roles should command a higher salary than other board level directors.

I’m not going to lie, moving out of a salary band that you have reach the top of is tough and will take a supportive boss and lots of determination. But it has been done!