When Your Coworker Makes More Money Than You Do

Jul 23, 2013
5 Min Read

A reader asks:

I just found out that my coworker is being paid 10% more than I am. She does the same work that I do and has only been here for a year longer than I have. My boss has always seemed happy with my work and I’ve never been one to push for more money, but as you can imagine, I’m extremely demoralized by this. Can I use my knowledge of my coworker’s salary to argue that I should be getting paid more?

Well, first it helps to understand why your coworker might be earning more than you in the first place. Some of the most common explanations are:

1. You coworker negotiated better than you did when she was hired. People differ widely in whether and how they negotiate an initial salary offer. Some people accept the offer on the spot, others push for a little more, and others push for a lot more -- and some of them get it. Your coworker’s salary might be higher than yours simply because she asked for more at the time of hiring.

2. She asked for a raise. You noted that you’re not one to ask for more money, but maybe your coworker is. At many companies, you need to ask for a raise in order to get one. It’s possible that your coworker did.

3. The job market was different when your coworker was hired. In tight job markets like this one, employers can hire good people for lower salaries. But if your employer was hired when jobs were more plentiful, and you were hired during a tougher market, that could explain the difference.

4. Your coworker has a skill or degree that the company rewards. Even if you and your coworker do the same work, some employers put people with certain skills, degrees, or certifications into a higher salary band.

5. Her work is better than yours. People frequently overestimate their own work performance, and it can be hard to recognize when you’re doing that. But it’s possible that your employer simply values her work more, and her compensation reflects that.

So, these factors aside, what can you do about it? Well, you’ll have a much better chance of getting a raise if you focus on the salary you deserve, independent of what your coworker makes.

Do some research on industry norms for your work in your geographic area and see where your salary falls relative to those markers. You can also think about what contributions you’ve made to the company over and above the basic expectations for your role and construct a case for an increase based on that. And if you’re not coming up with strong reasons, an alternative is to ask your boss what you would need to accomplish to earn a raise. That conversation could lead to valuable feedback and a clear path to the salary you want.

But ultimately, if you don't like your salary and your boss won't budge, then you’ve got to decide if you’re willing to stay in the job at your current rate of pay. But be sure to base that decision on what the job is worth to you, not what your coworker is getting paid. If you were happy with your salary before discovering this discrepancy, it might not make sense to become unhappy with it now.

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