What to Do When You Find Out That You Are Wildly Underpaid

Through a casual discussion with your colleagues, you suddenly realize that you are making significantly less money than co-workers with the same experience and job title. Or, a clerical error occurs, and you see something you shouldn’t: the new team you are assigned to train going to be making nearly as much or more than you. Whatever the means of discovery, the realization is that you are indeed underpaid. So what can you do about it?

gold bars

(Photo Credit: New Old Stock)

It’s not a great feeling to realize that for the same work or more, you are getting paid much less than your colleagues. If you are in this situation, and want to do something about it, here are a few tips to present your case.

1. Pause and understand your situation.

Why are the new hires being brought in at such high salaries? Qualifications make a huge difference, at least to the starting salary. An MBA who is going to work in your team as a trainee and move on to a different team for additional training before settling down into a role is probably going to be making more than you, assuming you do not match up to her qualifications.

2. You can do your research to figure out what your role should be paid.

PayScale’s personalized salary report lets you find salary ranges for your job title, skills, level of educational attainment, and geographic location.

3. Know your company’s compensation policy.

Most companies have salary ranges for jobs, and employees performing the jobs can fall anywhere in this range. Factors like performance, your pay versus the market pay, company’s growth plan etc., play a part in deciding your pay. If you’ve been a consistently good performer, you may need further clarification on how your salary was arrived at. Talk to your HR manager to get a sense of how salaries are decided.

4. Build your case.

Equip yourself with the right data. While it is not illegal to discuss salaries, most companies do not encourage it. So instead of discussing the fact that your colleagues work less than you do but get paid more, build your case. Write down your daily schedule, your work assignments, progress, your special skills, your unique contribution to the team, etc. 

5. Set some time with your manager.

Set some time with your manager to discuss your findings. You could either do this in your regular one-on-one or schedule a time with your manager to have a career discussion and bring this topic up. Be as objective as you can. Don’t become overly emotional or make the situation uncomfortable for either of you. Remember that you are paid for what you do, not what you are capable of doing or for what your personal contingencies are.

6. Don’t expect a commitment.

You most likely won’t get it. A lot of factors get into deciding salary increments and if your increment needs a substantial shove, then your manager needs to make a case for you at your calibration meeting. If your manager says she’ll try her best, let her know, politely that you can provide any data that she may need to make your case. (If you can.)

7. Stay motivated.

Yes, it’s easier said than done. One of the biggest setbacks of knowing your colleagues’ salary is that you become demotivated and feel cheated. It could often translate into not staying connected with your work, letting project deadlines pass by, and making mistakes. If you really want to get that increase, let your manager know that you are here for the long run, that while you are disappointed about your low salary, you are mature enough to handle a setback and patient enough to wait for a resolution.

8. Have a plan B.

What happens if the expected increase does not come through? Figure out whether you will stay or move on. Work on your options and have a backup plan in place. But whatever you do, handle the situation with tact. 

Tell Us What You Think

Have you ever discovered that your colleagues were making much higher salaries? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.