Let’s Talk About Your Salary

Are you unhappy with your salary? Do you think it’s under market rate for the work you do? Do you feel underpaid relative to your colleagues doing the same or similar jobs?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these then maybe it’s time for you to raise the issue of your compensation.

So where should you start?

Here’s a pragmatic take on how to go about raising the matter of your salary if you think an increase is justified.


There is a school of thought around that says you should only raise salary issues at pay review time. I think it’s the worst time to start to talk about your salary.

If you have concerns about your salary level talk to your boss weeks ahead pay review. Why? Well because by the time your boss sits down with you to talk your annual review he will probably have already agreed it behind the scenes with the Head of Rem and HR and possibly even had a Peer Group Review. In all likelihood you’ll have missed the boat and created an awkward situation.

The exception is, if during that review meeting, you are given a salary increase you didn’t expect and disagree with. In that case say you disagree but ask for time to assess and come back to the matter. That gives you time to do your research and get your facts together whilst still putting a marker in the sand.

Take Benjamin Franklin’s Advice

He who said ‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail’.

Never were words more apt. You absolutely have to make a case for yourself. Do lots of preparation and gather together a file detailing your achievements and any extra responsibilities you’ve taken on. Detail the business impact they’ve had. Make it compelling!

Present your case on paper and give it to your boss for two reasons. Firstly it shows you have put thought into your subject and secondly, it gives your boss something to take away to fight your corner. Make it easy for your boss to be supportive of you.

The Power of Logical Data

If ever there was a time to present logical data it’s when you’re talking salaries. Where possible find out what the market is paying for your type of job in your type of environment. Compare apples with apples. Do not compare an NGO with Investment Banking. They just don’t pay the same, it may be unfair in your eyes but it’s the way of the world and banging on about how much your role earns at somewhere like Macquarie isn’t going to help your case.

Instead, focus on similar. Research the market. Call recruiters that specialise in your field and ask for their input. Check out online salary data surveys.

Dealing with the Thorny Issue of Equal Pay

So how to deal with the vexed question of equal pay. You believe your colleague who does the same role as you is paid more.

Start by taking an objective look at that person’s role and assess if you can see any good work-related reason why that should be the case. Do they have extra responsibilities you don’t have? Are they more experienced? Is their client group more challenging? Do they get involved in project work additional to their main role? In other words don’t leap in before assessing the situation.

If after that you are still concerned then your first port of call is to do your research. Check the marketplace, gather your salary survey data. It is still going to be useful to you during your discussions, particularly if you don’t actually know your colleague’s precise salary package. If you benchmark yourself against the market then you will gain objective salary information that will help you weigh up your situation.

For many a major dilemma is should you ask your colleague what their salary is? You could… and some do. It’s a personal thing and you need to weigh up the pros and cons. It can be quite confronting for some people to be asked their salary and an unwillingness to share that information can create awkwardness.

Equally, if they do tell you it can sometimes create tension afterwards, whatever the outcome of your own negotiations. So if you do ask, think about how to go about it and be respectful of your colleague’s feelings, particularly if they don’t want to share the information.

As they say, it’s complicated and there is no one size fits all answer. I still think in this sort of situation you should draw on the experience of HR and make an appointment to talk to the most appropriate person for advice how best to handle your concerns. If equal pay is an issue with you, it’s likely it is an issue in the business and that’s not something you are likely to want to take on alone. HR should also be aware of it and have more insider knowledge than you. And if you haven’t already done so, talk to them about how to best keep your manager in the loop.

Be Creative in Your Thinking

It may be that more money is what you want and need however, consider some other options if there simply isn’t any money in the kitty to give you.

Consider asking if you could work less hours for the same money, thereby increasing your overall FTE salary.

Think about other value adding items that could enrich your career such as courses or further training in specialist areas such as remuneration or change management.

Places You Shouldn’t Go

The issue of your salary is not a good subject for a social media soap box rant. Be respectful of your employer and colleagues. Doing otherwise will not help your case.

If I don’t get this pay rise then I’m off. Be careful what you wish for as it’s likely your employer will ask ‘how soon can you go’?

Otherwise known as ‘no win land’. Yes, you might, just might, win in the short term but your employer isn’t going to like being held to ransom. You’ve played all your cards and they know you’ve been tempted by other jobs. It will simply lead to a question mark over your head regarding your long term career with the business and that could affect decisions about pay, promotion and plum projects.

And Finally…

I believe every employee has a right to ask about their salary. It’s important. However, it’s also important that it should be done in a way that is professional and respectful. It isn’t easy to do for many people and may require a deep breath and a bit of extra courage but if you have a good case and are well prepared, then do it.