It is said ignorance is bliss. And anyone who has seen the salary slip of a better-paid colleague is likely to agree. In such a situation suddenly, questions about your own value and worth crop up and you feel resentful towards your otherwise-friendly boss, or the unaware colleague in question. And if the said colleague is at a lower level, has lesser responsibilities or experience, or has a shorter tenure in the organisation than yours, it’s like rubbing salt deep into your wounds.
On learning that a colleague is paid better, something as important and objective like remuneration can seem like a random game of musical chairs. However, as much as you feel like storming your boss’ office; demanding better (a la Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich), hold your horses and pay close attention:
How can two people doing the exact same work be paid differently? As it turns out, in quite a few ways: maybe you didn’t negotiate when you joined – and maybe your colleague did; or when you joined, the economy or industry was slacking and you were offered a lacklustre pay. Maybe they are more vocal about their achievements than you have been, and got a better raise, or your colleague takes on more responsibilities that you are unaware of, or has more skills to offer. Find out the reason as to why you co-worker makes more than you do, and as unfair, random or impossible it might seem – there is a good chance that there is a solid explanation for the same. Also, very importantly, make sure you are absolutely sure about the difference – and you are not acting on hearsay. Further, talking to your colleagues about it is likely to make for an awkward conversation, and not many will be totally truthful about how much they earn.
After you have understood the reason for difference in your salaries, you need to assess where you stand: do you need to improve your skills, ask for more responsibilities, and if your salary is in accordance with the industry average. If you were feeling underpaid and overworked before you knew about the pay gap, you need to seriously consider asking for a raise. Hence, objectively assess where you stand, how much you bring to the table, if what you earn is in according to your experience or industry-wide average. Once you have all these facts in context, reach a realistic number – and set up a meeting with your boss.
Your argument when asking for a raise shouldn’t be about the colleague who earns more – but about you. You need to list your achievements, your progress, and how you feel that you are not paid at par with the work you do. Directly pitching yourself against an individual might not be the best approach to ask for a raise, hence, you need to carefully communicate your knowledge about how others are paid for the same work. Saying, “I like my work, and want to know where I can improve to be eligible for a significant raise next time” might send the message across. Never, ever point out an individual by name in this meeting saying he/she earns this much more than me. Remember this is about what you bring to the table – and be paid accordingly.
After you have made your concerns vocal, let your boss do his/her job. If they really value your work, and want you to be happy, they are likely to agree to your realistic demand for a raise. However, sometimes, despite their best intentions, they might not be at a liberty to bump your pay – with your staying at the same position and with the same role. Hence, do not be rigid, and be flexible in your demand. If an immediate raise is not on the cards – see if you can claim better benefits, or work out any arrangement that will fulfil the purpose. Negotiate, be tactful, and be willing to settle for less than what you want.
Worst case scenario, your demand is outright rejected. Or you are told to raise the issue after some time. Or the offer is so abysmally low that you know it has been made just for sake of it. At this point, you really need to decide if you want to work for an employee who is not even willing to pay market value for your job. Don’t make any hasty decisions, and consult your mentor, confidante and someone who knows the industry. It will be tough to go back to normal, and shake off the feeling that you aren’t valued as much that colleague. If you love your job, you can choose to stick around until the next raise, and then take a call.
At the end of the day, knowing that a colleague who does the exact same work as yours, yet makes more money will be difficult to stomach, and you will be forced to act on it, even if your better judgements says otherwise. Look at the bright side, for you may end up bumping your salary if you demand a raise, or you will realise how you need to improve upon your skills and work, in order to keep up with others. Ignorance might be bliss, but once you have this piece of knowledge, all that matters is how you choose to act on it.
What did you do when you found out that you colleague makes more than you do? Let us know!