Here’s a painful yet fairly common occurrence: You discover that a coworker who doesn’t seem to work as hard (or as well) as you do earns a higher salary—perhaps a lot higher.
Recently I received an email message from a woman who attended one of the classes I taught for Girl Develop It, a nonprofit organization that teaches women how to code and build websites and mobile apps. She had just learned a coworker with the same job title was making 20 percent more than she was. (The coworker told her this, and another colleague confirmed it.) The coworker didn’t work nearly as hard and hadn’t been with the company as long as she had, she said. What should she do?
1. Initiate a Discussion
First, here’s what she shouldn’t do: Tell her boss about the the salary disparity and ask for an increase. For one thing, it creates an awkward situation between the employee and the manager. It also puts the manager in the defensive position of justifying one worker’s salary over another’s. There might very well be legitimate reasons that led to the coworker being paid more, including that the individual negotiated a higher starting salary whereas the other person simply accepted what was offered when she joined the company.
Instead, she should use outside resources to validate that her current salary is indeed below where it should be. Glassdoor, Salary.com, and Salary Expert make it easy to find this data. Then, she should schedule a meeting with her manager. At that meeting, she should start by articulating the value she brings to the company. She should discuss not just the work that she’s completed but also the impact it has had. That might be time saved, revenue increased, or costs cut. Impact is anything that truly matters to the company.
2. Demonstrate Value
So, what does articulating your value look like? Here are a few real-world examples from people I’ve helped with their résumés:
- “After I recognized that we had no ability to outsource our projects, I created a process to qualify and manage an outsourcing agency. And I developed training materials so that anyone in our department could leverage this process. We’re now able to outsource our entire claim submission clearance process—at much lower costs than we could before.”
- “Since we had no plan for coordinating and leveraging social media to better connect with our community, I put together an overarching social media strategy and personally managed all of the company’s accounts, including Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. Over the past month we saw a huge increase in users, who posted many positive comments about our brand.”
What makes these two examples so powerful is what I call the PSI framework: problem, solution, impact. Present the problem, then describe the solution you developed and the impact it had. The impact doesn’t need to include numbers, just anything that matters to the company—even a subjective measurement of success such as “many positive comments” on social media.
3. Open the Door
Finally, after articulating the impact you’ve made, follow with some positive comments about why you like working for the company and your manager. And then add something like this:
“But there is one thing that is troubling me a bit. I feel that, given my role and the impact my work is having, I am undercompensated. And I’d really like your help so we can address this.”
That opens the door to a nonthreatening, collaborative discussion about compensation. In Part 2 of this series, I’ll share details about how to navigate the conversation from here, including what to do if you encounter pushback.
Anthony Gold is a writer, speaker, and entrepreneur who recently helped found ROAR for Good, a company in Philadelphia developing smart safety jewelry that—at the touch of a button—can sound an alarm and send text messages with GPS information to emergency contacts if the wearer is in danger.