Though a debate is growing around whether companies should make pay information transparent, the status quo is currently to keep individual pay a private matter between the employee and HR. This is why it can come as quite a surprise if you happen to learn that a co-worker whom you thought you held the same rank as is actually earning more than you.
So what are your options besides feeling inadequately compensated? Several HR and pay experts weigh in on how to change your compensation, improve your career path and the steps you should avoid taking.
Don’t turn to your co-workers for information
If your first instinct is to ask your co-worker what qualifies him to earn more, or to ask other co-workers how your pay is determined, stop right there. Deb LaMere, vice president of HR strategy and employee engagement at human capital management services and technology firm Ceridian, says, “Speaking with co-workers about their pay level in relation to your own often results in negative consequences. This type of conversation can lead to resentment and anger, effectively changing relationships for the worse between co-workers, project teams and possibly with direct management.”
While transparent pay information would resolve the secrecy issue that can trigger problems at work, it holds true that compensation levels can vary widely for valid reasons. “There are many factors to consider when it comes to evaluating individual pay, especially length and type of experience,” LaMere adds. “Having a salary comparison conversation with a co-worker is not constructive to understanding ones’ own pay rate and possibly influencing changes to individual pay and compensation levels.”
Research compensation trends and standards
Instead of turning to your co-workers for information, rely on outside sources and garner as many points of data as possible. “Lots of information is readily available through salary surveys and websites, industry associations, recruiters/headhunters who place candidates in your industry and space and through actively networking with colleagues and developing real meaningful professional relationships… so that delicate topics like salary, bonus and benefits will be discussed openly and shared comfortably,” says Roy Cohen, career coach and author of “The Wall Street Professional’s Survival’s Guide.” “You also need to be absolutely clear on what the numbers represent. Are they for equivalent positions and for equivalent performance?”
Prove your worth
Once you have a well-researched idea of the pay level you could and should be on, gather evidence for your boss that echoes those numbers. “One option is to volunteer for and take on visible, challenging initiatives and then manage them successfully,” Cohen says. “That is just half the battle and it is often where the process breaks down. While a project is underway and once it is completed, key stakeholders must be made aware of your significant contributions both during and after…the gift that keeps on giving. It is helpful to have a mentor within the company who can advocate for you and enhance your visibility as well as serve as a sounding board for advice on how to approach your boss.”
Whether you have office backup or you’re presenting on behalf of yourself, it’s important to prove to your boss that a pay raise is deserved because of your merits, not that you’ve simply learned of the pay discrepancy.
Take it to your boss
You’ve done the research and ensured that your request will be backed up by proof of your hard work. So how do you begin this conversation with your boss? Katie Donovan, a salary and career negotiation consultant, equal pay advocate and founder of Equal Pay Negotiations LLC, says, “Start the process of discussing a raise or salary adjustment with your direct manager. I recommend asking for help, not demanding a raise. Say something like, ‘I recently discovered that I am paid below the market value for this job. What can we do to rectify it?’ This makes it a collaborate discussion and gives management the opportunity to come up with a solution, which might be better than you anticipated.”
Heading into the meeting, “bring with you the research you did on pay for the job so you can discuss your research,” Donovan says. “Also, be prepared to highlight your contributions to the company as reasons you deserve to be paid on the high end of the pay range for the job. If you can, compare it to the lesser results of co-workers. Very effective reasons are contributions that saved the company money or generated revenue for the company. Do not expect a solution in this first meeting but do ask for a response in a certain time so this does not drag on forever. Something like ‘Can you get back to me by Friday on this?’”
Negotiating pay is a tough part of advancing in your career, but receiving the compensation that you deserve is well worth the time.
Susan Ricker researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder.