Collective issues

In 2019 hiring engineers was hard. A lot of companies were competing for top talent in London. Big tech acted like a sponge and absorbed a good percentage of candidates. I knew we could attract good engineers, because of how we were doing things. Building an app with ReactiveSwift was a selling point. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough. We had to crank up our offers. A senior engineer in my team was earning between 70k to 80k as a base salary. This number wasn’t competitive enough, compared to the likes of Facebook and Google. It was also not good enough against well funded startups. Given how much pressure I was getting to hire more, we agreed on 90k. It didn’t take long until we hired someone. It also didn’t take long until the existing senior engineers knew how much we were paying the newcomer.

A few people are now annoyed at me - and rightfully so.

Like the above example, there are times where a group of people will have an issue in common. As a manager, there are a lot of ways to address problems of this nature. This is the recipe I follow:

  1. Acknowledge that the problem is real. You hired these people, they are smart and you trust them. So trust that the issue is bothering them. Don’t sweep the issue under the rug. If people went out of their way to bring it to you, it means it’s important.
  2. People are not privy to all the context. In my example, they didn’t know how much pressure I was getting to hire people. Providing context and explaining the thought process does help. Sometimes you are still in the wrong, sometimes it’s just misalignment between people.
  3. Decide if you are going to do something about the situation. In my case, my hands were tied. I couldn’t bump the salary of more than 10 senior engineers in one go. I neither had the budget or the authority to do so. Being transparent about why you can’t do anything about the situation helps. I couldn’t do anything at that point, but when salary revision came I would. Have it written that you will do your best for the situation to change and by when.
  4. Discuss in a public forum. This is not a time to have private conversations. People will talk with each other and it will become a case of “he said, she said”. A group of people got together to tell you something, so address the group as a whole.

Looking back, I would have had a meeting with the whole team. I would discuss the hiring challenges and collect feedback from everyone. I would also re-assure them that I would do my best to get them raises. A lesson for the future.

Situations like this are not common, and can be quite stressful. But it’s also an opportunity to strengthen relationships if handled correctly.