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Thursday, August 14, 2008

earning less than slacker coworker

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!


Anonymous said...

Great information and add a couple of things to AAM's advice.

1. Do you have salary ranges? When we bring in people entry-level, we have a process to evaluate them at the 3-5 year make to bring them as close to the median as possible. If your positions have salary ranges, see where you are in the range.

2. If your company doesn't have salary ranges, consider asking for some help with 'benchmarking' your position. That means comparing your position with similar positions at other companies. Do you have an HR department? If so, they could help.

3. You can look at companies like to try and mark your salary (not comparing yourself to your coworker, you are looking for other sources to mark your salary). You can also look at your local Employment Development office (sometimes partner with Unemployment). They sometimes have resources.

4. Your supervisor's response is not very savvy. You should not punished for five star performance, just because you started low.

5. For your own mental health, stop logging or tracking your coworker. People KNOW slackers and are either unwilling or unable to address it.

6. Long term, you are sacrificing significantly with that kind of salary gap. If they are unwilling to address it, I would consider looking around.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything that has been said, but I really want to reiterate: bringing up your coworker's salary will only lose you ground. It's not a professional thing to do, and can make a realistic (and well warranted!) discussion about fair compensation turn into finger pointing and whining. This is about your and your contributions to the company. Remember that while you're chatting with your manager.

I would absolutely use resources like and benchmarking other (local) companies to determine what a fair compensation is for you. I point out local resources, because I work in New York City. Admins with BAs can often start in the high-30s. If you're out in Wyoming, I doubt a fresh college grad has a chance at high-30s.

Just remember: stay calm and focus on your worth to this company. If they won't listen, start looking around. Best of luck!!

Anonymous said...

If you do anything, LEARN from this. Never "let it slide" when it comes to salary. Always negotiate. Always advocate for yourself.

Anonymous said...

What are the gender's of the employee who left the message and the "said employee" who started in the data entry position??

Anonymous said...

Ahh. One would definately not "let this slide". I've found that going to a supervisor and being upfront, respectful, and professional yields positive results. They may not be the results you've hoped for, but are positive nonetheless. Some employers are unfairly compensated due to poorly designed union and/or company contracts (I know this personally). If working in a particular place is where you want to be and will help propel your career forward in the long run, sometimes you have to "go back" inorder to move forward. It sucks but contracts are contracts. On the other hand, you could "talk with your feet" and leave that company all together (their loss) making it know why exactly you left (in a professional way w/o mentioning your co-worker).

Anonymous said...

People like the company slacker. because they are easy to work with.. When they are asked to do a job they do it right away.. they never complain about anything and they are always polite. Work place politics is probably more important then job place skills.