What Is Scope Creep?
After working in a position for several years it’s not uncommon for your job description to expand informally. Like that one time a colleague quit and you “temporarily” absorbed some of their work, except it never left your plate. The phenomenon of expanding job duties and responsibilities without any corresponding pay or title increase is called scope creep. Scope creep can happen to anyone. Most frequently, it happens to freelancers and small business owners who negotiate contracts with a set fee and a set number of hours allotted. But it’s not exclusive to the self-employed. Anyone who has negotiated payment for a certain set of deliverables can fall victim to the encroaching demands of a client, boss, or company that doesn’t respect boundaries.
Maybe your boss keeps asking you to stay late to help with tasks outside of your job duties. Maybe you find yourself providing training and support to new team members. Whatever the case, if you’re doing work outside of your job description and not getting compensated for it, it’s time to ask for more pay. The big question is when to do this and how to go about it.
Situations that Constitute Scope Creep
Scope creep can be difficult to define. A little extra work is common. Most people have those occasional late nights in the office or projects that balloon into more than expected. These situations don’t necessarily represent scope creep. Sure, you’re busy, and at those times your work-life balance may be an issue, but if you’re doing the work that your job description outlines and there just happens to be a bit more of it right now, it doesn’t quite fall under the umbrella of scope creep. Some situations that do, however, include:
- Frequent short turnaround times – Everyone’s time has value, especially time outside of your normal working hours. When an employer or client starts to show a lack of respect for that time, you should address it. Short deadlines that eat up your weekends and evenings, that push back other work, or that push outside of the agreed-upon arrangement you have start to edge into scope creep territory.
- Taking on new job duties – New job duties are not a bad thing. They represent increased trust in your capabilities by your boss, and an opportunity to prove yourself and move up in the company. But those new duties don’t always come with additional compensation. Promotions in responsibility only without increased pay are not true promotions. If someone leaves the company or is fired and you find yourself with a stack of new work, have a conversation sooner rather than later to avoid it becoming permanent with no adjustment to your pay.
- Management or training – Another common area of scope creep is the delegation of management tasks. If you are an individual contributor, your job description probably revolves around getting things done, not managing the work of other people. If you suddenly find yourself training new recruits, overseeing interns, or assisting management with their day-to-day tasks, it’s time to have that conversation.
Scope creep is a dangerous precedent that can lock you into a more demanding job without the perks of promotion and a pay increase.
How to Ask for a Pay Increase to Account for Scope Creep
This is where things get tricky, and where many people balk at having that difficult conversation. You want to appear helpful, especially if you’re not the only one affected by the work changes. After all, no one wants to be the one person who complains. But, the fact is, you didn’t sign on for your new job duties. You applied for and took a job with a set definition for a set compensation package—if the former changes, so should the latter. So how do you broach the subject and ensure you’re compensated fairly for your work? Here are some tips:
- Communicate early and often – Scope creep often happens slowly over time. By the time you get frustrated, it may have been weeks or months of handling these additional duties. Your manager may wonder what precipitated the concern, and worse, your morale could be much lower by this point. If you feel a new job duty is outside the scope of your role, say something early. Even if you’re okay doing it, define the parameters and get confirmation of how long this will be part of your role. If it’s permanent, discuss the path to a fair compensation discussion.
- Define the nature of the additional work – Far too often, these conversations are combative, with the worker feeling aggrieved and the manager immediately becoming defensive. By entering the discussion early and with an open mind, you can avoid an otherwise negative tone. At the same time, define the nature of the additional work. Outline why the work is outside your original job description, the extra time you feel it will take, and why you want to discuss solutions.
- Have a solution in mind – Even with additional compensation, scope creep often leads to workloads beyond what is manageable in the long term. Don’t burn yourself out in exchange for a pay raise. Come to the meeting with an action plan for how you will address the overload. Whether it’s training someone to take over or assist parts of your original job duties, hiring an additional entry-level employee, or restructuring work for yourself or your colleagues, show that you’ve considered the problem and have a solution in mind.
The goal of this conversation is not to accuse your boss of taking advantage of you or to complain about your long hours; it is to clearly explain your self-worth and what you feel is fair compensation for the additional job duties you’ve recently taken on. By defining what scope creep looks like and communicating quickly and clearly, you can ensure your role is secure and your pay fair.