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Salary Health: Find Out If You Are Underpaid

The good news about pay raises hitting an all-time low last year is that an estimated three percent in salary increases are expected in 2010, according to a survey by Hewitt Associates, a global human resources consulting company. That should help shift the mindset of employees who have felt frustrated by missing wage increases. But with the unemployment rate still hovering around 9 percent, many would rather swallow their complaints than ask for a raise and be shown the door. There are several ways to find out if you’re really not earning to your potential. And, they will help when you are ready to negotiate an increase.
Get a Number

Stacey Carroll, a human resources professional and instructor at Western Washington University, says start by knowing your company’s pay practices. “Ask if there is a formal salary range for your position,” says Carroll asserting that most organizations will share that information for your particular job if they have a range in place. If not, she suggests asking what factors affect pay. “It’s usually performance, longevity, or some combination of the two,” says Carroll. She recommends asking for specific examples of exceptional performance that the company has rewarded in the past. Use Professional Tools

Ed Rataj, managing director of compensation consulting at CBIZ Human Capital Services, says that in addition to individual factors such as performance and experience, most organizations use salary survey data to determine competitive market rates for a job. “From there, they will determine appropriate entry-level pay, fully competent pay, and the maximum value of the job,” notes Rataj.

That information is not top secret Carroll points out, but she cautions against relying on surveys. Information provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics or a private entity such as online salary database PayScale.com, can be more accurate because they take into account your geographic location, years of experience, and the size of your company.

Comparison Shop

“I encourage employees to double check local data by ‘mystery shopping,’” says Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, CEO of Xceptional HR. Apply for positions that are similar to your current job, she says, or schedule an informational interview. If you have a professional blog, Miller-Merrell urges, “Use it to interview and be in contact with prospective companies,” to find out about their benefits, corporate culture, and other perks.

Forget the Competition

Some companies strictly forbid discussions of compensation among co-workers while others make salary ranges publicly available. Rataj says to forget about your co-workers’ pay levels. “A better strategy is to focus on your own performance and contribution to the success of the organization.” Carroll adds, “The more you can quantify and make a case for your contributions, the stronger your argument when negotiating better compensation.”

Bottom Line

Carroll reminds dissatisfied workers to look at the big picture. “There’s so much more to what makes a desirable job than pay,” says Carroll. By measuring your company’s culture, benefits and perks as well as your managers’ commitment to help you learn and grow rather than straight dollars, you may just find you’re better “paid” than you know.

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