Return of the CLMs

As the saying goes, if something is working why stop doing it? The topic of CLMs, aka Career Limiting Moves, has generated over 10 times my normal mail volume, all from people telling me stories about CLMs they’ve seen or committed. We’ve all seen CLMs,  a lucky few of us have even made and survived CLMs, but apparently the unifying thread is we all love to talk about CLMs. 

So without further delay as a blatant sop to my growing readership, here are more CLMs – scrubbed of all identifying details to protect the culpable. 

The Salary Data Broadcast CLM – whereby someone distributes detailed salary and bonus information to a wide circle of people. There are a lot of good reasons in the western corporate world for why company salary data is treated like the secret formula for Coke. Now this isn’t true everywhere – in China for example salary data is considered a perfectly fine topic for conversation from people you’ve just met. I can speak from personal experience on this.  The conversations typically go like this: 

Person A: “so what do you do? ” 

Person B: “oh I work in technology” 

Person A: “oh, that’s pretty good. How much do you make a month? Wow, that much,  you are doing well” 

Person B: “What about you? Oh, that’s not very good, you need a better job. You should start your own business. ” 

The military is another place which has pay transparency. Veterans well know that the military’s pay structure is completely transparent – take a look for yourself . Which means that you pretty much know what everyone’s making so there are no discussions or questions like: “I wonder what he makes?” Instead questions get asked – “how can he/she afford that” usually in reference to a car. The perennial example is that of an E-4 making $24,000 a year yet driving a Mercedes E-class sedan – it just doesn’t add up. Usually it meant that this E-4 was about to be in serious financial difficulties. Which inevitably segued into one of my responsibilities as a Petty Officer ensuring that the guys under my command received credit and financial counseling because all too often young sailors got seduced, still do in fact,  by the “no-money down and $99 a month all military personnel will be approved” credit offers that proliferate in every military town. 

Broadcasting salary data with a megaphone, or by email, can be a serious CLM.

Back to the Salary Data Broadcast CLM. One incident I heard about made me laugh because I’ve seen it before myself, was the inevitable “reply all” mistake with an attached spreadsheet listing everyone’s salary and bonus from prior fiscal years. Typically this is done by an HR staffer responding to a director or VP’s message to the entire company about year-end performance reviews or the like. But I’ve also seen a CFO make this mistake as well. 

Email mistakes do happen, but wow, having a CFO send out confidential pay data is a doozy particularly when pay disparities are revealed – especially big ones. Why those disparities exist in the first place becomes a topic for speculation before becoming a lingering source of bitterness usually causing the most talented, yet conversely under-compensated, people to move on to new companies. It only makes sense that those top performers should seek out new opportunities given that they are being taken advantage of. 

One example that was sent to me was especially stark. Two people who started at the same time with the same titles and levels of responsibiliy were compensated vastly differently – I’ll call one “Jane” and the other “John”.  When they started the pay differences were very small – less than 2.5% in salary, with both receiving the same bonus. But over time Jane earned an average  2% annual raise while John earned a 5% annual raise.  That small difference coupled with a difference in bonus structure for the same results – Jane earned a 15% bonus while John earned a 20% bonus – meant that after 10 years John was earning 30% more a year in salary and bonus than Jane, yet both had the same titles and responsibilities and more importantly were delivering the same results. Needless to say when Jane found out, she was more than a little irritated – in fact there was talk of lawsuits and Jane eventually left the company – for what I can only assume was a more equitable salary. 

I digress – but even if there aren’t huge pay disparities – sending out confidential HR information can have legal and competitive consequences for you and your company. Because information travels so fast, broadcasting salary data makes it easy for corporate recruiters and other companies to poach employees because they can make offers to people knowing exactly how those employees are currently compensated. Now pay isn’t everything, but only a fool believes it doesn’t matter, especially when compared to your peers, which is why sites like or are doing so well. 

Office Romances can be a career minefield - this picture is from Zeppotron's funny web series on Office romance.

Fishing off of the Company Pier 

– a euphemism for dating a co-worker, client or boss. The interesting aspect to this CLM is that so many people do it with no ill-effects whatsoever, but when things go bad they can go really bad. In fact everywhere I’ve worked, with the exception of the USS Flying Fish, a fast attack submarine, office romances were common. Elsewhere in the Navy, there was/is dating between personnel, but of course not on the submarine  – the all-male crew combined with the Military’s policy of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” meant there weren’t many, actually there were no examples of office romance CLMs on the USS Flying Fish. But the lack of CLMs is not an endorsement for the  “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

While it is understandable that office romances occur – given how many hours people spend together at work – they can be very detrimental to careers especially when things go south, as they often do. A former colleague told me of the time that a couple was interrupted “in flagrante delicto” in the corporate board room.  Which was bad, but the worst part was that the couple was married, just not to each other.  It made for a very awkward corporate Christmas Party later that year as you might imagine. 

What’s often unintentionally funny about office romances is how often the newly amorous couples think they are keeping everything completely secret. Just because you don’t hear people talking about your romance doesn’t mean that no one knows. And if that knowledge percolates up to the right people it can prevent you from being chosen to lead or join key projects. Which can limit your career growth even if there isn’t a formal policy regarding office romances.  Although many companies are increasingly creating and implementing policies in an attempt to “regulate” this behavior,  many aren’t, leaving their employees to use their best judgement. A choice that often results in poor decisions for all involved. 

Several people sent me stories about “fishing off of the company pier” – the one I found the funniest was that of a couple using the corporate mail server to send “flirtatious, sultry and explicit” emails back and forth since both were traveling for work to different cities – without realizing that the company had installed corporate mail filters that cc’d managers and directors whenever mails containing certain phrases or words were sent. Unfortunately this couple also took advantage of digital camera technology to send jpgs as attachments on those aforementioned emails – I’ll spare you the details about the content of those photos. It wasn’t very long before this couple was called into the HR VP’s office and put on probation for violating the corporate technology policy. Within 2 months they had stopped dating, and within 6 months they had both left the firm – primarily out of embarrassment, not because they didn’t like where they worked.  

As a very happily married man, I haven’t had to worry or think about office romances and the many permutations of CLMs they can provide in a very long time – although I now work out of a home office so I do have to be conscious of keeping my “office” romance going strong. I really appreciate the CLM stories that everyone is sharing. Keep them coming and I’ll share the most interesting ones – as always scrubbed of all the identifying information. -t

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