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Underpaid compared to peers

Q: In my first year in an entry-level role at a non-profit, I spent 7 months doing my work and that of another position. I eventually "trained" two new hires for that role. During our recent hire, I learned secondhand that job's salary is $6000 more than I make. This person is not a manager; nor do the responsibilities demand more advanced skills than mine - just a different focus. How do I negotiate a more comparable salary or better benefits (i.e., employer pays full, not half medical insurance)?

A: Compensation is an emotionally-charged topic for many of us, especially if we perceive that there may be inequities in how we are paid. However, there are often logical reasons for employees being paid at different levels.

Assuming you are correct, that your pay is lower than your colleague’s pay, one valid reason may be a difference in skill set. Certain hard-to-find skills may be worth more in the employment market place. As an example, there are many technology firms in Massachusetts with several engineers with similar levels of experience. However, one engineer may have a certain skill which may be very difficult to find. The engineer with the unusual skill set may be compensated at a higher level of pay than his or her peers. Another reason may be experience level. If you have been hired in an entry-level role, your experience may be less than your colleague’s level of experience.
Asking your employer to pay for a greater portion of your medical benefits is probably not a viable option. Most employers do not pay for the full premiums because of escalating health care costs. However, some benefits may be negotiable. One benefit that you might want to ask about is tuition aid. Your employer may be able to provide some type of financial assistance for you to continue your education.

If you decide to ask for a salary increase, you need to be careful. If you learned of your colleague’s salary “secondhand” does that mean someone shared this with you? Most employers assume that employees will keep salary information confidential. Further, you need to make sure that your information is accurate. Sometimes employees embellish or exaggerate starting salaries, salary increases or other compensation information.
You can have a candid conversation with your manager if you believe you are underpaid. Try to get external data on similar roles from other non-profits of a similar size within the same geographic area. Or your company may publish salary ranges for open positions. Explain that you absorbed extra work for seven months before your colleagues were hired. Remain professional, factual and not emotional. Have this conversation in a private setting. Be gracious and thank your manager regardless of the outcome.


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