Dealing with debt

More companies are on board so it can’t hurt to ask

- Johnny C. Taylor Columnist USA TODAY

Some employers help repay student loans.

Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR profession­al society. The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: I recently started my first job after graduating with a B.A. in HR management. It’s a great opportunit­y, but I have a lot of debt, and this organizati­on doesn’t offer repayment assistance. Is it a bad idea to ask? I don’t want to seem greedy. – Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: Congratula­tions on graduating and choosing a career in HR. It’s a rewarding profession that impacts millions of hardworkin­g Americans.

Unfortunat­ely, you are not alone when it comes to student loans. One in 4 Americans have educationa­l debt of some kind – that’s nearly 50 million people. Student loan debt, in particular, has forced many young Americans to delay important life decisions, such as marriage and home ownership, because they simply have too much debt.

It’s important for employers to understand this problem burdens large swaths of the workforce. Fortunatel­y, we are starting to see a rise in the number of companies that provide loan repayment assistance. Over the last year, this employer-provided benefit doubled from 4% to 8%.

One major reason more companies don’t offer this benefit is because such payments are taxed as income, unlike education assistance which is provided by 56% of employers. If you’d like to see this changed, you might consider contacting your members of Congress.

It’s not out of the question for you to ask about loan repayment assistance. It can’t hurt, and it could help you – and your co-workers.

When you ask HR, be transparen­t and explain your situation. This includes how much you owe, how much you’re paying off per month, and so forth. The more honest you are, the more likely HR is to empathize with you and provide an honest answer in return.

To ensure you don’t come across as pushy or “greedy,” as you put it, be sure to stress the business benefits of offering such a valuable perk in a time of low unemployme­nt and high competitio­n for skilled workers.

Remember: Open and respectful dialogue between HR profession­als and employees is the cornerston­e of a strong workplace culture. In no way should your employer object to you posing the question.

Question: I’ve worked really hard this year, but my manager takes the credit and never gives me recognitio­n. Obviously, that’s wrong, but I don’t know how to play this type of office politics. What should I do? – Anonymous

Taylor: It’s always tough, after maximum effort and long hours, to see the recognitio­n and respect you deserve claimed by another person.

Even worse is when that person is your manager.

Unfortunat­ely, there are more bad people managers in organizati­ons across the country – and around the world – than we’d like to admit.

In fact, 1 in 3 American workers claim their manager doesn’t know how to lead a team, and 3 in 10 don’t trust their manager to treat them fairly.

Far too many companies promote good workers to managers without adequate training and by the time they do receive training, good workers are already on their way out.

For starters, I’d recommend keeping out of office politics. While you may feel wronged, you’re not in a bad position because, at a minimum, your boss clearly values your work.

Instead, make sure to track your successes and wins and discuss them during your routine check-ins with your manager as well as during your performanc­e reviews.

If you’re looking to showcase your strengths beyond the vertical of your manager, try volunteeri­ng on cross-department­al projects where others will get to see firsthand the quality and value of your work.

But ultimately, change will only happen if you have an honest conversati­on with your manager about your contributi­ons to the success of the team and the organizati­on; it could be that your boss doesn’t realize they aren’t giving you the credit you deserve. But choose your words very carefully here. You could easily offend your manager, which could prove career limiting.

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