5 Reasons Managers Refuse to Give Developers the Rewards They Deserve

    Andrew McDermott

    In this article, we’ll explore five reasons managers refuse to give developers the rewards they deserve, and what you can do about it.

    The Problem Outlined

    The harder you work, the less you’re rewarded.

    Your co-workers aren’t pulling their weight. They do less work, but it seems like they’re receiving more and more rewards. You’re running circles around the slackers on your team, but your manager doesn’t seem to care.

    How is this fair?

    It’s completely unfair. What’s worse, this scenario will continue to repeat itself whether you stay in your current role or not.

    Is Your Manager a Terrible Person?

    Your manager (or boss) is a terrible person. Or at least, that’s the nagging thought many developers have as they notice their peers are passing them by.

    Is it true?

    Possibly, but that answer isn’t something you can fix. If your boss is a terrible person, there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t force them to change.

    But what if you could persuade them to change?

    Well, that would be something now, wouldn’t it? Well, you can change their mind if you understand why they’re not rewarding you for your hard work. Worst case scenario, you’ll know whether it’s time to find another job or not.

    So let’s look now at five reasons managers refuse to give developers the rewards they deserve, and what you can do about it.

    Reason 1: You Are Insurance for the Future

    Your manager may be making moves towards a promotion or change in position. They view you as a necessary component to his success, and they want you with them as they climb the corporate ladder.

    When they’re promoted, you’re promoted.

    In their mind, this is great for job security because it means they see you as invaluable. Unfortunately, this means they’re not going to let you out of their sight if they can help it.

    It’s a tough position to be in.

    If you call your boss out on this, there’s a very good chance they’ll fire you or punish you in some way. If you know you’re able to have a heart-to-heart with your boss and it will be received well, go for it.

    What if it won’t?

    There are two ways to approach the problem. The easiest option is to simply find another job.

    What if you can’t quit your job?

    The second option is to begin building connections and allies in your company. If you can move laterally to another position or role in your current company, it would be good to do so.

    Reason 2: They Can’t Afford to Reward You

    This is a common problem.

    Your manager has a specific budget to work with. This budget is typically set in stone until it’s time to renegotiate the budget for the next fiscal year. For whatever reason, a raise for you and your colleagues would put their department over budget.

    Your boss can’t say that, of course.

    If they decide to tell you the truth — that they can’t afford to give you a raise — you and your co-workers will leave.

    Your manager can’t have that.

    So they’ll string you along for as long as they can, until they can actually give you a substantial raise. Your manager can string you along in several ways. For example, they can:

    • give you a cost of living raise (3% or less), which is kind of an insult
    • give you cheaper amenities (that is, a promise to increase 401k contributions in the future) to placate you while they work with HR to figure out how much they can give you
    • give you nothing because you’re a patriot, and you’ll stay even if you receive nothing (more on that in a minute)
    • push you out of the company once they’ve squeezed as much value out of you as they can (they had no intention of increasing your pay and will dump you when confronted)
    • give someone else a (cheaper) raise in hopes that you’ll accept the same when word gets out or you’ll leave

    Most of the time, your manager will never admit they can’t afford to reward you.

    How will they respond?

    It all depends on whether you’re a patriot or a mercenary.

    According to Gallup and Steve Rasmussen, former CEO at Nationwide, all employees are either “patriots” or “mercenaries”.

    • Patriots identify with their company. They’ve bought into the company’s values and culture. They’ve embraced the company mission, and they’re true believers. They’re in it for the long haul. They’re working in support of something bigger than themselves.

    • Mercenaries are more likely to focus on personal outcomes. They’re great at getting results, but they’re typically more disengaged. They’re gone as soon as things take a turn for the worse. They’re phenomenal workers, but they’re hired guns.

    If you’re a patriot, managers will likely blow you off for as long as they can. They know you’re a committed employee, so there’s less incentive to do what’s necessary to keep you.

    They know you aren’t going anywhere.

    If you’re a mercenary, you’re focused on wiifm (what’s in it for me?). If you’re a superstar employee but also a mercenary, management will work harder to keep you, so long as you continue to perform. The lack of loyalty goes both ways. If you’re a mediocre or terrible employee, management will simply let you go.

    Reason 3: They Can’t Afford to Reward Your Co-workers

    Or they don’t want to.

    If you’re the superstar employee (and you’re well liked), your manager will fight to keep you regardless of whether you’re a patriot or a mercenary.

    What about your co-workers?

    If your co-workers are mediocre, management will consistently place them at the bottom of the reward priority list. They’ll spend their budget on all sorts of things first. They’ll only reward their mediocre employees when they feel forced to.

    They’ll wait for the purge.

    These managers will use triggering events to trim the fat. As soon as there’s a recession, economic downturn, or decrease in share price, these mediocre developers will be let go.

    These developers are mediocre. Rewarding them is too expensive; they might decide to stay.

    Managers today take the subtle approach.

    Instead of firing your mediocre co-workers outright, opening themselves up to a wrongful termination lawsuit, bad PR, or messy legal action, they motivate these developers to leave on their terms.

    It’s a win-win.

    Reason 4: You Have to Quit to Climb the Ladder

    There’s this bizarre belief going around: you have to “quit to climb the ladder”.

    For a variety of reasons, some managers won’t promote their developers unless they’re forced to do so. How are they forced to do so?

    Lily Herman, in her post on climbing the ladder, shares the specifics of the new normal.

    There’s actually another credential that can help you ascend those rungs a lot faster: the principle of “Minimum Required Credibility” (MRC).

    The idea is this: When someone is hiring you, they want proof that you’re going to be good. One way of proving this is, yes, showing that you’ve been in the field for years and years. But another way is simply showing that you’ve succeeded at said task somewhere else before — somewhere comparable or just one level below the company you’re aiming for. You’re essentially searching for the least amount of experience you need to gain the most amount of credibility to jump to the next level of your career. Then, when you’re at that next level, use it as a springboard to get to an even higher level.


    For many companies, this is the new normal. If you’re in a corporate culture like this, your progress is capped at a certain level.

    What are your options?

    You move on. If you’re in a corporate culture like this, no amount of cajoling, bargaining or hard work will produce the rewards you deserve.

    How do you identify whether your company identifies with MRC?

    Just ask your co-workers.

    If you’re seeing that many people are moving up, your company has an “up or out” philosophy, or there are lots of people receiving raises, rewards, profit sharing, and so on, you know rewards are achievable.

    If they don’t have any of these things, you know it’s time to leave.

    Reason 5: Your Manager Doesn’t Feel You Deserve to be Rewarded

    But they’re afraid to tell you.

    If you’re a manager, that’s an incredibly awkward situation. Your manager is supposed to show you where you’re going wrong, but companies are hesitant to do so these days due to the legalities, headaches, and hassles that come with that.

    Companies with a healthy culture don’t have this problem.

    Companies that are missing the right culture, systems, and procedures do. The good news is there’s an easy way around that.

    An individual development plan.

    You sit down with your manager, and you ask them the following questions:

    1. Is it possible for me to get a raise, bonus, incentive, etc?
    2. What would I need to do in the next x months to qualify/earn a raise?
    3. What sort of help or training is available to help me reach my goals?

    Your manager’s answer will be very telling. If their answer is evasive and indirect, you know there’s a problem. If you’re a patriot, you can dig deeper and try to negotiate. If you’re a mercenary, you can begin looking for another job.

    What if your manager agrees?

    Get the terms in writing so they can’t back out later. You can summarize the meeting, write things up and send it to them afterward.

    This way, you have a record of the deal you’ve made. Then, go above and beyond your targets. Do your best to smash through the goals you’ve set.

    Your plan should include:

    1. specific goals that make you more valuable to your company
    2. deliverables that will benefit the company (more than you’re paid)
    3. the timeframe for achievement, or how long it will take to produce the results you’ve promised
    4. what you’ll need to deliver results
    5. who will provide the items you need to produce results
    6. the success metrics and expected benefits or payoff to the company

    Assume your manager is busy. Make your plan simple and concise. Don’t give them a long, drawn-out story.

    Can you see what’s happening?

    This sets clear guidelines, ensuring that the objection “you don’t deserve it” can’t be used against you legitimately.

    What if something goes wrong?

    Your manager breaks their end of the deal, they’re replaced, or you’re moved somewhere else in the company?

    It’s simple.

    Keep your word (if you’re able), then renegotiate with your new manager. If your current manager fails to keep their end of the deal, you can move laterally in the company or get a new job.

    The Harder You Work, the Less You’re Rewarded?

    If this sounds like your experience, you have options.

    But it all starts with awareness. If you understand the circumstances you’re dealing with, you have the information you need to make your move.

    Stand up for yourself.

    If your co-workers do less work, but they receive more rewards, that’s unacceptable. If you’re outperforming those around you, you should be rewarded.

    Use this post to guide your negotiations. Choose to maintain awareness and fight for yourself. You’ll find managers who are eager and willing to reward you for your hard work.