Are You Getting Paid Enough?

Are You Getting Paid Enough?
Photo: Westend61, Getty Images

A pre-pandemic survey revealed that nearly half of Americans thought they were underpaid, and that’s been made worse by COVID, as nearly a third of Americans have lost their job or had their wages cut, according to Redfin. Do you feel underpaid? Here’s some tips on how to make your case for a raise.

First, define underpayment

Unfortunately, it’s a reality that many workers do thankless work for little money. For most of us, the market dictates what we define as underpaid. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to earn more, but knowing how your salary compares to others is the most effective way to justify a raise to your employer. To make your case stronger, use comparable numbers from the same industry and location (as the cost of living varies) and demonstrate that you have taken on more responsibility or have more experience than is typical for your role. To help you make the argument, try the following suggestions:

Use salary comparison sites

Check out sites that allow users to view salaries by job type, like Salary.com or Glassdoor. Pay can vary widely, so don’t treat these income ranges as objective fact so much as a general guide on what the job might pay. Don’t get too caught up in titles either, as many can be too generic. As an example, the title “coordinator” can encompass all sorts of responsibilities and vary wildly between companies and industries. This is why sticking to your industry is important: if you’re a coordinator in publishing, comparing yourself to an event planning coordinator could undermine your case. Focus on what you do more than titles if they aren’t very specialised.

Compare your salary with colleagues

Stopping a colleague in the hall and blurting out “Hey, how much do you make?” might not go over well, as many people are sensitive talking about their salary. But as long as you’re tactful, knowing how much your own company already pays people in your role is indispensable information.

Quietly ask colleagues you trust, or even a predecessor who that has worked your job and since left the company. People will be more comfortable talking about this subject if you focus on generalities, so ask about the companies “pay band” for the role, or what the salary range will be for a role that’s just been posted, rather than on what specific people are paid.

Also, don’t forget to consider the perks that come with your employment. It may not be salary, but additional time off has value to consider, too, as does the company’s reputation. Is a small raise worth the trade-off?

Know your worth to the company

Speaking of coordinators, I once met one who was quietly running a communications department team in an unofficial managerial capacity. She had outgrown the original scope of her role and was clearly important to her company, but the title remained. The danger here is something known as “job compression,” which describes the negative effect on your salary when you’ve had the same job for a long time. In this scenario, inflation and new market conditions are not factored into your salary, and in extreme cases new hires can make more than you.

Avoid this by knowing your true worth to the company, especially if you’ve taken on roles not described in the original posting for your job, as employers are more likely to give you a raise if you can prove you’ve taken on more responsibilities. Write down your accomplishments, too, and make that a part of your pitch when you ask for a raise.

Asking for a raise

Find a good time to talk to your manager. You’ll want to be clear about why you think you deserve a raise, have a realistic idea of what you should earn, and be able to point to relevant accomplishments that support your case. (It can help you write out a little script beforehand).

If your raise is rejected, stay calm and professional, and ask their reasons why (if it’s because of “budget reasons,” you can try to negotiate for additional holiday time or other perks). If you aren’t getting anywhere with your employer, you might want to look for a different job. As disappointing as that might be, the legwork you’ve done to justify your raise will at least give you a head start in the labour market.

For more on negotiating a raise, check out this Lifehacker post.

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