A reader writes:
I have been working for my current company for five years now, and have moved up substantially over those years. I've been promoted at least four times, given more and more responsibility each time. I love my job, I feel as if there is limitless room for growth, and have become an essential/integral part of the company. My problem is, I believe I am being taken advantage of as far as salary is concerned.
Being sensitive to our company's size, financial constraints, budgets, etc. in the past, I have let it slide, not giving it too much thought based on the fact that I 1) really enjoy the work that I do and the company I do it for, 2) am lucky to have such a job in today's economy, 3) actually believed I was being compensated based on performance. However, in the past six months, especially after a recent performance review, I realized that I am definitely not being paid what I am worth and need to step up. (Speaking, of course, in comparison to co-workers within the same company, not related positions in the market.)
Here's where the problem lies: I started out at entry-level, basically data-entry. Soon after, I was requested to take a higher position. They brought on someone to fill the old position, nothing more. Due to excellent performance, I was soon again promoted to an entirely different department working as right hand to an executive. Neither time did I receive a pay increase to go along with these new responsibilities. To make it worse, the person hired to take over my first, data entry position, was hired at $6,000 more than I had been making... to do less than I, at this point, was currently doing.
And I let that slide for a while. Time goes by, I am handed even MORE responsibility, while said employee holds the same position, and nothing! Our annual salary increases are a flat percentage across the board, so at this stage in the game, they are still making more than me. They hold no regard for company hours, come in late, leave early, take off without prior permission, waste ridiculous amounts of company time on personal phone calls and personal emails (I have actually logged it!), cannot hold to deadlines and cannot handle many tasks without hand-holding. As well, they have to come to me for approvals/direction a good part of the time, so they are technically at a lower level on the food chain, albeit slightly.
Here's where it gets sticky: At my last performance review, I received the same 5 star evaluation, praise, and acknowledgment as years past, knowing I have earned every last drop of it. When it came down to my boss revealing the raise number, I expressed my frustration, and got this response: "If you feel that you aren't making what you are worth, you have to remember, it's because you started really low. It may take you a while to build up to that magic number."
The question: Is his response justified, knowing what the other person makes? What can I do/say to point out this fact, without becoming an annoyance? Can/should I state that I feel it isn't right that I am making far less than this person despite performance? I want to point out not only said employee's slacker attributes, but the fact that they started at the SAME level as me, yet make more than I do.... while still holding FAR LESS responsibility! I can not see any reason this is justified, and am at wits end every day when they stroll in an hour late and head straight to their personal email while I am working my back end off nine hours straight a day! Can you offer any advice, a plan of action, suggested research?
Depending on the typical practices of your company, you might have a pretty good change of getting this remedied ... but do NOT bring your coworker into it. It's absolutely frustrating to see someone doing a worse job than you and getting more money, but for better or for worse, managers do not respond well when employees use a coworker's salary as the basis for a raise request.
If it helps at all, keep in mind that there are lots of reasons why someone might have started at a higher salary than you did in the same job: one person negotiated better than another when hired, one person was hired when the market was tight and thus salaries were higher, and so forth. The reality is that each employee negotiated the terms of their offer individually and there will be variations, so don't get too hung up on that.
What you want to focus on is getting the pay that you deserve for the work you're doing now, totally independent of what your coworker makes. The argument you want to make to your boss is that your salary should be based on your current job, not on the one you started in. If they had hired you off the street for your current position rather than from within, they would have negotiated a salary with you from scratch, not based it off your old salary. Say this to your boss, and then say this: "I believe that my performance and my contributions warrant a higher salary. This company has been wonderful about rewarding my performance with increased responsibilities and increasingly responsible positions, but my salary does not reflect that. I am asking you to reevaluate my salary in the context of my current position, my performance, and the company's overall salary structure."
Will it work? Maybe. This company likes you. They have given you multiple promotions and excellent reviews. And it's not a crazy request. On the other hand, some companies are (a) stingy and short-sighted or (b) stymied by bureaucratic rules that make it impossible to go outside preordained salary structures. But it's worth a try, and there's nothing inappropriate about it.
Good luck, and please let us know how it goes!