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Learning that a colleague at your level earns more than you can feel unjust. To deal with this, you need to tread carefully.
How do I react?
“The knee-jerk reaction is to kick your boss’s door down and go in with all guns blazing,” says Ros Taylor, an executive coach. “But you need to hold your fire.”
Alan Smith, a partner at negotiation skills consultancy Scotwork UK, adds: “Use your emotion rather than letting it use you. Of course you’re upset but demonstrating this in a rational way gives you more power.”
What should I consider?
First, you need to check that you’re not getting upset over nothing, says Joris Wonders, a director at HR consultancy Towers Watson. “There can be a lot of misinformation and rumour around pay.”
Next, ask yourself if you both actually do the same job at the same level. “People are rarely in identical situations, with respect to jobs, experience, performance and criticality. Trying to make direct comparisons is fraught with danger,” he adds. “You shouldn’t limit the discussion to one element of pay. You might have lower base pay, but a better pension or different terms and conditions.”
Ms Taylor points out that if you don’t ask, you don’t get: “You may have been there for years and someone who arrived later may have demanded more. People often don’t ask for pay rises – and women tend to be worse than men at this.”
How do I tackle my boss?
Mr Wonders says: “If you feel you’re worth more, it’s much better to argue on the grounds of your performance than compare yourself with others. Focus on things like pay relative to the market and any changes in your role, your competences and value.”
Ms Taylor adds: “Do your research. Speak to headhunters and recruiters about the going rate for your job. Have a spreadsheet that demonstrates the value you bring.”
Present something your boss can act on, says Mr Smith. “Rather than whinge and moan, come up with a credible proposal to move out of the problem. Saying, ‘It’s not fair,’ just doesn’t cut it. Ask a lot of questions, my favourite being: ‘Under what circumstances could I get the same package as Bob?’ ”
What if they say no?
“Plan for pushback,” says Mr Smith. You could be asking for more money midway though a financial year, when budgets are set in stone. “You might ask for a commitment to parity in the future, with some extra holiday to keep you motivated in the meantime,” he suggests.
Ms Taylor says the ultimate bargaining chip is to threaten to resign, but do so only if you’re prepared to follow through. “If you say you’re going to leave, you may find that they want to reduce headcount, so you need to be careful.”
Mr Smith adds that the problem with taking the gloves off is that your manager may do so too. “You could discover that even if you do exactly the same job, Bob is just better at it than you are.”
The writer is author of ‘ The Careerist: Over 100 ways to get ahead at work’
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