What To Do When You Think You’re Underpaid

Sometimes your job search starts because of positives: a desire for a better role, looking for career advancement, or relocation to a new city. Other times, though, what initiates your search is something far less pleasant: retrenchment, a terrible boss, or, as in the case of our article today, being underpaid.

Finding out that you’re the lowest paid person on your team even though you do the same (or more!) work than your colleagues can be a pretty discouraging discovery. Before you decide to jump ship, of course, you should definitely bring the issue up to your manager. How you do it, however, is what makes the difference between getting a raise or getting fired. Thankfully, it’s not as difficult as it may seem.

If you’ve “discovered” that you’re underpaid, it’s likely either because someone else you work with let it slip, or because you did the research yourself at a site like Glassdoor and found that the average salary for your role at your company—or in the industry as a whole—is higher than what you’re making. Now it’s time to do a little homework.

Are You Really Underpaid, or Is It Perception?

The first thing you shouldn’t do with this information is assume that because you’re making less than your colleagues that you’re underpaid. You’ll need more evidence than that if you go to your manager, so before you get too angry or go off half-cocked, do a little digging. Glassdoor is a great resource for salaries, but it’s also a good resource for information on what different roles are like at various companies. Read the reviews there, and while some of them are undoubtedly people looking for a place to vent about their misgivings, the reviews can shed some light on what the day-to-day responsibilities are at a given company.

Head over to the company’s website and see if there are any open positions for the job you currently have. Usually a job description is included, and you’ll be able to see how similar another company’s “systems analyst,” for example, is to the same title where you work. It’s possible they’re very different, and have different required skills and responsibilities. Do the same digging with your current position—if you did find out something you weren’t intended to learn from a coworker, let them know you don’t want to talk money, but you do want to talk about your day-to-day. Bounce your daily responsibilities back and forth, and see if there are discrepancies that might account for the salary differential—your colleague may be working on special projects, or have skills you don’t. To be fair, the opposite may be true—you may discover they do less than you do, and get paid more. All of this is good evidence to help your case when you approach your manager.

2. Be Diplomatic

Armed with this information, hold a scheduled meeting with your manager to discuss your “career path,” in an informal—but private—discussion. Without tipping your hand that you learned from your coworkers that they’re making more money than you are and avoiding direct comparisons between you and your colleagues, instead present the evidence you’ve collected that proves that your boss should reconsider your salary.

Show them the Glassdoor salary numbers, and let them know that you’ve taken the time to investigate how your position differs from others in your industry. Let them know that you understand how your work differs from your colleagues and highlight some of the ways you’re indispensable to your coworkers, either because you have special skills that no one else has or because everyone comes to you for help or guidance. Point out some of the high-profile and critical projects and duties you have on your shoulders because you’re the best person for the job—or because no one else can do the work the way you can.

Finally, let your boss know that you’re open to understanding if there’s some reason why you’re paid less (a good feint, even if you’re really raging inside) by comparison even with all of this evidence on the table. Your manager may not be able to explain it right away, or they may not even have the power to set salaries in the first place—it’s possible there are other circumstances that have nothing to do with your work or your boss (for example, your other colleagues came from different departments, there’s something about their work history or education that tips the scales in their favor that’s confidential, etc,) but they should at least be willing to hear you out, especially since you’ve collected the evidence needed to make your case, and as long as you’re diplomatic about the way you present it. With luck, they may be able to make an adjustment to your salary to address the discrepancy. Even if it’s not as much as you hoped, it may be something.

3. Don’t Expect the World

A case study of how this strategy can pay off (for better or for worse):

“I’ve seen this method work—one of my best friends was an assistant to our old CIO, and when she discovered that she was underpaid by about 20% compared to other assistants that did less than she did, she wasn’t too happy about it. She collected personal stories, job descriptions, and even drew up a list of those ‘other duties as assigned’ she wound up getting that she never bargained for. When she put it all in front of him, he was taken aback, but he gave her a raise. The tradeoff was that her next scheduled raise would be off of her old base pay, but she got the money, and the recognition for the additional work she had been doing.”

This won’t work for everyone, and at the end of the day, if your manager isn’t receptive to this type of conversation, you may not want to bring it up in the first place—especially if you’re worried your company may use the conversation as a way to find out that you’ve been talking about your salary to other employees, which can be enough to get you fired in many places. You’ll have to make the call as to whether it’s worth bringing it up, or looking for one of those other positions with a higher average salary instead—but if you like your company and your job, or just don’t want to go to the hassle of leaving, a little negotiation may be worth a try before you do something drastic. It will be a difficult conversation, but it can be worthwhile.

4. Move On

After all of this, if your boss and your current company seem unwilling to offer a raise, then it might very well be time to move on to a new position. Of course, salary isn’t the only reason to work at a particular company but if you feel you’re being underpaid, it can be difficult to remain motivated at work. And unless your manager provides a solid reason behind it, you may be justified in assuming your value to the company is not appreciated.

But you’re already ahead of the game in regards to your job search because you’ve already researched salary information for your industry and roles at other companies. You’ve also done a thorough investigation of your own responsibilities and accomplishments so you can effectively update your resume to better reflect your background. Time to reach out to your network (which you’ve hopefully been cultivating) to see where the grass is greener.

Negotiating a raise can be nerve-wracking. Sometimes, it feels like your employer has all the power and fear of losing what you have can make you reticent to demand more. And if you already lack confidence, it can feel very much like Oliver Twist asking, “please sir, may I have some more?”

So it’s important to keep in mind those valuable contributions you’ve made – the objectives you clinched, those impossible deadlines you met, that money you saved the company – and remember your value. Even if your employer doesn’t appreciate those things, you should.

Good luck!

What To Do When You Think You’re Underpaid | Alan Henry via Lifehacker.

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