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After talking with my coworkers, I now know I’m getting paid less than them. How can I bring this up with my manager? Elaine Varelas guides

Competitive pay is extremely important, especially with businesses struggling to retain employees. Elaine Varelas guides on what steps to take if you believe you aren’t being compensated fairly and how to negotiate for better pay.

Ask the Job Doc.

Q: I’ve been talking with my coworkers and after a few conversations, I realized I am getting paid less than them for the same responsibilities. Can I bring this up with my manager?

A: Your conversation with your coworkers is exactly why organizations used to try to make all this information about pay private and would let workers know they were at risk if they talked about their compensation with anyone else. Understanding a company’s pay structure and what gets rewarded is important to find out in order to determine whether you are being paid well and equally compared to colleagues. Some businesses reward tenure, so if you’re at a company for 10 years, you would be expected to be making more than a new start. For other organizations, it may go the exact opposite way. Because of increased demands, a new hire may make significantly more than you even though you’re in a similar role and have been there for a number of years.


As you look at your coworkers, you need to identify a few things, including whether your roles are the same or if your roles differ, how they differ. Identify what skillsets you have compared to others around you, what level of expertise you have, what sorts of judgements are needed and used in your day-to-day activities, and/or if your jobs demand different sets of responsibilities. If you think the jobs are the same and you all tend to cover for each other during vacations or leaves, then having a conversation with your manager makes sense.

Give your manager advance notice that you’d like to have a conversation about your compensation. This will be enough of a heads-up for your manager to review what your compensation is and your compensation history. It will also allow them to look at what others are making. They may ask HR to join the meeting. That’s ok. Be prepared to be uncomfortable and be ready to not be angry or sound it. If you can be curious, you will have a better chance of getting what you want, which is to increase your compensation to at least where your colleagues are or perhaps more. Being armed with external data can be valuable as well. Learn what the market rate is for your job.


Using your best questioning skills, you might say: “I recently became aware that my colleagues, who do the same job that I do, are making more money than I am. I am not sure you were aware of that, and I’d like to understand why.” Now listen. Really listen. Does any of what they are saying make sense? Are the jobs different? Do others have more responsibilities? More tenure? Have they demonstrated more initiative or delivered more results? If not, your response needs to be: “I am not hearing that others have different roles or responsibilities, and they have not delivered more results. We have the same job, and I’d like to be making the same amount of money which would be equitable. How can you make that happen?”

If there is developmental feedback provided, clarify the message. “So, you need to see (some kind of improvement) from me to increase my pay? I’d like to work with you to make sure that happens. Let’s set up a plan and a time to review my compensation. Do monthly meetings for the next 3 months work?” Take charge of the conversation, confirm the results you need to show, and insist on regular feedback.


Your manager and HR business might not be happy with you discussing pay rates, but it isn’t illegal or a fire-able offense. While some in your organization may not be thrilled with the idea since people want raises when they uncover discrepancies, you are entitled to talk about pay with your coworkers as an employee. You have the right under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to communicate about wages with other employees. It’s unlawful for your employer to punish or retaliate against you for having any conversation about pay. However, recognize that compensation is a sensitive topic. Most people want to make more, and managers and HR know that. Their role is to keep payroll within brackets that have been set by the larger organization through competitive research and by determining the value of the role to the organization. So, handle the conversation respectfully and if anyone needs reminding that it is within your rights to discuss compensation, you have the information they need.


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