Professionally Speaking

I’m Worth More Than This!

What to do when you hear others earn more than you.


I work as a support specialist for a small start-up company. I recently came up for a one-year review and was not happy with the compensation from the company. As the first employee hired at the company (outside of the executive staff) and based upon my performance and contributions, I thought I would have been more fairly compensated.

I’m grateful that, in today's market, I still have a job; however, it’s the information I obtained from former employees that makes me feel unappreciated. As it turns out, people I trained and supported in their job functions were getting better salaries and more stock options. I put a letter together for my review, justifying the salary and options I felt I earned and never mentioned other peoples’ salaries or options. The response I received was that I am "being fairly compensated for the job I am hired to do."

I know that I’m a valuable part of this company, and they tell me that I am. So how do I go about getting the compensation that I deserve?
—Disappointed

I must say that I agree with everything Greg says, but I want to say something about the emotional side of the situation. This issue is going to eat you up. Only an automaton would be able to look at the other employees and not wonder whether they’re being compensated better than you, especially if you believe your performance and/or contribution to the company is much better than theirs. Yes, your rational self may be able to keep working and not pay any attention to the compensation issue; but people aren’t always rational. In fact, they are irrational more often than they’ll admit. And this also applies to your management.

You may feel that you’ve been mistreated and lied to, and that may very well be true. I don’t want to get into a discussion of situational ethics, but I will say that—in a tight labor market—good candidates for openings above entry-level are often in a position to demand more. Although management may have had every intention of granting the same number of options to every employee, when potential superstar candidates come along and ask for more, it’s hard to turn them down. We all know that those potential superstars sometimes under-perform (a million sports examples come to mind), and the result is that you feel cheated. The next step, emotionally, is that you feel that you can never trust management again, especially because you feel you presented a rational case and were basically told, “Sit down and shut up. You’re getting what you deserve.” “Deserve” is a very emotionally charged word (as is “value.”) They obviously don’t value you as much as you think you deserve. Can this marriage be saved?

I think not. Can you go into work each day and say to yourself, “That’s all right, they know better than I do—they must be doing this for some good reason.” Again, I think not. The rational next step would be to open the lines of communication, but you’ve already tried that. And you can’t play your ace—the knowledge that others are/were compensated better than you, as there may be a rule in the company that forbids discussing compensation with other employees. So, unless there’s a radical change in management at the company, this isn’t a long-term relationship.

I’m not saying you should storm in and demand a raise “or else,” unless you’re prepared to carry through with the “or else” at that very moment. And “prepared” means you’ve already boxed up your personal belongings, deleted all your old e-mail, and wiped your hard drive. Let me swing around to the other side of the desk for a moment and say that most managers, including me, don’t react well to ultimatums. You might as well have your hat and coat on when you deliver your demands.

So what do you do? First, as Greg says, be professional. You’re being paid to do a job, so unless you are willing to stop being paid, you’d better do the job to the best of your ability. Second, have you stayed in touch with those former employees? Have they landed somewhere good? Are there more openings? Quiet, person-to-person networking is how you’re going to improve your situation. Maintain those contacts with others in the business—don’t ask for a job, but ask if they know anyone who might use your experience and talents. This isn’t a short-term process, but eventually you’ll find a better match between expectations and reality. Good luck!

About the Author

Steve Crandall, MCSE, is a principal of ChangeOverTime, a technology consulting firm in Cleveland, Ohio, that specializes in small business and non-profit organizations. He's also assistant professor of Information Technology at Myers College and a contributing writer for Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine.

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