If it was all out in the open, like a pie on the family dinner table, it would be easy to figure out if you were receiving as much as other people with the same job (in dollars, not pie). In the workforce, though, talking about pay is typically taboo. So how do you know if you're underpaid? And just as importantly, how can you determine if you're making equal pay without making enemies at a job you like?
The first step is checking in with yourself to see if you've been treating the whole salary issue a bit too casually. According to Glassdoor, 59% of employees just take the first salary they're offered. This may be more likely if you're female – 68% of women didn't attempt to negotiate their salary, according to Glassdoor, compared to 52% of men. But either figure is huge, especially since Glassdoor's research also determined that the average American could be earning $7,528, or 13.3 percent, more per year than his or her current annual base salary.
Once you've determined you want to know the truth about your paycheck, here are tactics from Glassdoor and other financial experts that will help you learn more:
Assess what you're making. Access figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' online Occupational Outlook Handbook about your personal career. New numbers from 2018 data were released earlier in 2019. Do make sure you're comparing apples to apples, though. It helps if you select the state you work in and pay attention to specifics like the average pay, the 90th percentile pay, and the typical entry-level education. There's no point in getting agitated about unfair treatment if you're accessing California statistics while you live in Georgia, or looking at the top earners instead of mid-level pay. Glassdoor also offers a Know Your Worth calculator based on studies of its data. You can use it to get a personalized view of what most people in similar situations make.
Note whether you might be in a classic underpaid situation. Glassdoor also recommended evaluating three other factors that could indicate you're being underpaid. The first is whether you're still at the same company where you started five years ago or more. "It's great to be loyal to a company, but it can come with drawbacks," Glassdoor noted. "Employers hoping to lure job candidates away from their current positions often sweeten the pot with a higher salary, which employees staying at their companies miss out on. They still might get raises, but they tend to be smaller."
Second, if you are one of the many who didn't negotiate your pay when you began working at your current employer, odds are good you've got some room to grow now.
And third, see if your salary's been keeping up with inflation, Glassdoor warned. According to the BLS, unadjusted inflation on all items was 1.7% between August 2018 and August 2019. For example, with medical care service inflation (4.3%) and shelter (3.4%) experiencing even higher rates of inflation in the same period. No one wants a 1.7% raise, per se, but it's something else you can cross-reference to add a little more to the raise you're requesting if you go after it.
Chat up your colleagues? Rest assured that even though the law makes it okay to discuss pay with colleagues, it's still almost guaranteed to be awkward. If you want to go this route, follow advice from career consultant Barry Maher. Share your salary information before you ask someone else to share theirs, Maher recommended on the Glassdoor website.
And make sure you're "discussing pay in terms of a range versus exact figures," Maher said, "saying something like: 'I'll be talking with my boss about compensation at some point soon, and I'm just trying to get a rough idea of what I should be looking for… To give you an idea of what I'm getting right now, it's roughly XYZ. Is that the kind of range you're in as well?'
Of course, you may not get an answer, and you'll have to be dignified in that situation. "But if you do, it can be one more data point for you to reference," Glassdoor noted.
When saying goodbye is your best bet
There is another category of people being underpaid, according to Forbes. These are employees who would literally be better off quitting their jobs than trying to renegotiate their compensation. These "the conversation is worse than just leaving" signs are both obvious and serious. Here are the five times Forbes says you should quit instead of trying to get your company to pay you more:
- You've tried to get a raise before and it's failed repeatedly. "While it is typical to have to perform at a higher level before getting an official promotion, it is not typical to have to do this for two years and counting," Forbes said.
- No one is standing up for you. If you haven't been able to renegotiate yourself and no one else is mentoring you, it could be time to call it quits.
- Other people are moving forward while you stand still. If people in your same department are getting steady raises and even higher level jobs while you don't, take it personally. That means you are getting left behind.
- You could spend the same time getting a better job. Never leave without at least giving a salary negotiation a try, Forbes advised. "At the very least, you get to practice your negotiation skills." But once your options are exhausted, consider moving to the next level at a new company instead of spending your limited time and emotional reserves reopening your job negotiations at your current place.
- If you were a new hire, you'd never take this job. Knowing what you know now about this spot where you're not getting a raise, would you sign on again if you were a new hire? Answer that question honestly, Forbes said, and you may realize you don't need a better salary, you need a new job.
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