How This Marketing Lead Negotiated Four-Day Workweeks and an Extra Week of Vacation

"Vacation is a wild card at the negotiation table"
(Illustration: Ashley Floréal)

Want to make more money at work? Of course you doFor our series The Top Up, Canadians across different industries tell us exactly how much they earn—and how they navigated every raise, promotion and job change to get it. Each month, a different executive shares their journey and their best advice for how you can better negotiate your salary, too. This month, a Toronto-based marketing pro tells CB how she went from making $60,000 out of grad school to $160,000 at a telehealth start-up in 10 years.

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Current job title: Head of marketing
Industry: Telehealth
Location: Toronto

First full-time job salary: $60,000 in 2013 as a marketing manager at a telecommunications company

I earned an undergraduate degree in finance and graduated into the 2008 recession. At the same time, I realized I wanted to get into marketing. I enjoyed understanding people’s point of view and marketing was a way to analyze behaviours and thoughts—as well as business. I went back to school to get my MBA and hid out in academia until the recession was over. 

Following my MBA, I was accepted into a leadership program designed to give new grads extra training and experience at a Toronto-based telecommunications company. I started as a marketing manager specifically focused on bringing new products to market. I earned $60,000 annually as well as performance bonuses. 

After about 18 months, I started looking around for a new opportunity. I wanted to take on more responsibility to continue growing. I was hoping that I would get a promotion within the company, and while I was told it would happen eventually, it wasn’t happening as fast as I would’ve liked. So I ended up leaving after two and a half years.

Second job salary: $90,000 with a 10 per cent bonus in 2015 as a marketing manager at an American chemical manufacturing company

After I realized I wasn’t going to be promoted anytime soon, I saw a job on LinkedIn at a Canadian subsidiary of a U.S.-based chemical manufacturing company. They were looking for a marketing manager, so I applied. I did lots of research on average salaries via LinkedIn and Glassdoor, and talked to other folks in the industry to figure out what was a fair range. I wanted to have enough of a jump from my previous role and thought my salary should reflect my experience. They offered me $85,000, and we went back and forth over email quite a bit. I asked to review the company’s benefits package to see how it matched up with my previous employer. As it turned out, it wasn’t as good, which is what I brought up in order to increase my base salary by $5,000, bringing me to $90,000. 

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Unfortunately the work culture was very different from my previous job—and I didn’t like it. Vacation was treated as an inconvenience to the business, and it was expected that workers log long hours. Going into the office on the weekend was also common. Even though the paycheque was great, it wasn’t something that I was willing to do for longer than a year.

Third job salary: $110,000 in 2016 as a senior product marketing manager at a SaaS company with a 10 per cent bonus

A previous boss from my first job started working at a Toronto-based SaaS company, and she recruited me for a product marketing role. HR originally offered me $100,000, but I countered with $110,000 plus a 10 per cent annual performance bonus. The company was very large and established, and had defined pay bands, which made getting more money challenging. Knowing this, I asked for a signing bonus of $6,000 and another week of vacation because they had more flexibility with PTO. My old boss went to bat for me and HR agreed to my compensation ask. My annual bonus was based on role-specific outcomes, like projects delivered and positive feedback from my team members, as well as company-wide metrics, like revenue and stock performance. As part of my contract, I would also get an automatic incremental raise annually, similar to cost-of-living raises.

After a couple years, I went on maternity leave. My work paid the difference between my salary and the amount received from EI for the first six weeks, but after that I was on EI until I returned to work. I found it a little disappointing that they only topped me up for a month and a half. For parents, parental leave is a really important part of a general benefits package. I returned to work after 10 months.

First raise based on promotion: $16,000 plus $5,000 prorated bonus in 2019 as the director of client marketing, bringing total base salary to $135,000

Due to my annual salary increases, my base was up to $119,000 in 2018. And when I got back from mat leave, I got promoted to director of client marketing. I had applied for the job internally; I wanted the extra title and responsibilities to aid in my future job hunt.  

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As part of this promotion I also went to my boss and negotiated a four-day workweek. I put together a deck about how taking a day off wouldn’t be disruptive. I included stats on the benefits of four-day workweeks, some of the studies that had been done and different models we could implement. I managed to secure a shorter week, but would clock four 10-hour days, rather than the normal eight hours. Still, having Fridays off was a huge benefit for me and made me more willing and able to come back to the same company after mat leave.

Fourth job salary: $145,000 in 2020 as a director of product marketing at a software start-up

After about seven months back from my mat leave, I was head-hunted by a recruitment firm for a Toronto tech start-up to be their director of product marketing. Because I was approached, I felt like I held the power in the salary negotiations. I was offered $145,000 as a base with a 15 per cent bonus. They said they didn’t have wiggle room to increase my base, so I asked for a $10,000 signing bonus to offset the bonus I was would be giving up at my previous company by leaving. Plus, I insisted on keeping my four-day workweek and having four weeks of vacation, which they agreed to. My main argument was that I had arranged my childcare around working four days, and that it was important for my mental and physical health to maintain this schedule. I think it helped that the CEO had kids and understood the importance of work/life balance. I was also offered options to purchase equity in the company at a significantly decreased rate, which really is like buying a lottery ticket. You hope that one day that start-up is going to be purchased or IPO, and you’ll make a bunch of money.

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After about five months, I was promoted to the head of the entire marketing team. I asked for a pay increase but was told it wasn’t in the cards at that time. Obviously, a promotion without more compensation is not ideal, but I considered it to be part of the realities of working at a new start-up; there are investments of time needed to help the company succeed. Because it was such an interesting, exciting role, I felt okay with the situation in the end.

Fifth job salary: $160,000 in 2022 as the head of women’s health at a telehealth start-up

I ended up getting laid off from my previous job at the beginning of 2022, which really sucked. But, the timing worked out: A lot of companies were hiring and there was demand for product marketers. Someone who had interviewed me earlier in my career at an entirely different company heard the news of my layoff. He contacted me and told me he knew of a role opening up at a Toronto start-up that would be perfect for me. He recommended that I speak to the CEO and made the introduction. The start-up has multiple brands under its umbrella, and the CEO wanted a great marketer to head up the women’s brand at the company. I applied and was offered the job.

The negotiation process was very collaborative; I actually wrote my job description during the recruitment stage. I did my research on what similar roles paid to better understand a good range to propose. From there, we negotiated back and- forth on the benefits package, bonus structure, equity options, base compensation and vacation. Because I was so excited about the role, and they were excited to get it filled, the negotiation was quick. And I was happy where I landed: I secured a $160,000 base salary with a 15 per cent bonus, five weeks vacation and a four-day workweek. My title was head of women’s health: I was the general manager of the brand, and was in charge of getting new people to use our product while also ensuring internal processes were working smoothly.

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I was promoted after a year to head of marketing for all three brands within the company. This promotion didn’t come with a raise, but it was validation that what I was doing was working. Based on cash flow and project milestones, we agreed to discuss a raise in six months. I was okay with that since I have a lot of flexibility in my role—including a four-day workweek. We’re coming up on six months so we’re having the conversation soon. I’ll probably ask for $10,000 to $20,000 more. But the truth is I absolutely love what I’m doing. I’m in a flexible workplace, we’re doing really important work and I’m surrounded by smart people. I don’t care as much about the money. The flexible work structure counts for a whole bunch—especially as a mom. 

Best negotiation tip: If the budget isn’t budging, go for other benefits, like extra vacation

I always ask for more money during salary negotiations no matter what, but if the company is not prepared to give more, I ask for an extra week of vacation instead. I found that, especially at larger corporations, salaries are determined by specific pay bands. I’ve often found that companies can’t (or won’t) offer more than the upper limits of those bands, but vacation is a wild card at the negotiation table. So, if a company isn’t prepared to give you that extra $10,000, or a signing bonus, more vacation might be something they’re willing to provide.

Rebecca Gao
Rebecca Gao
Rebecca Gao is a Toronto-based journalist writing about tech, business, culture and health. She has bylines in publications like Bon Appetit, Chatelaine, Toronto Life and Best Health.