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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Reader Comments:

Wed, Jul 21, 2004 Liz San Francisco

This is the same boat I find myself in at the present moment. I found this article very helpful.

Thu, May 23, 2002 James Atlanta

Good discussion...but what do you do if each move you make uses your past pay to keep you below where you should be? Do you lie and hope to get away with it, or do you just keep moving up in small steps until you find the right job/pay combination?

Fri, May 17, 2002 Keneke Hawaii

Great article. I can sympathize with. One of the problems is that upper management is still largely computer illiterate and thus do not understand the hours we dedicate to keeping up with the technology.

Wed, May 15, 2002 Jeff Kansas City/MO

The article is right on! It has been from my experience to be prepared for the next job. If you feel you have been cheated...nobody is forcing you to stay. There are companies out there that will pick you up if you know your skill and are flexible with the idea of moving. There are jobs out there for under and over achievers. Don't complain about your counterparts salary, do something about it!

Wed, May 15, 2002 Chris Toronto

I am in the same situation. But instead of asking for a promotion, I'm applying another position in the company, and I mentioned in my letter to my manager that I will accept this position as a "promotion". I hope he knows my intention.

Wed, May 15, 2002 Steve DC

Don't be petty and jealous. Enjoy your job. Don't discuss salaries with your co-workers - DUH! IF you like the job, stay. If you don't, start looking. Quitting is w/o a job ready is foolishness. Eat your veggies.

Tue, May 14, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

I would have to say that the article above is quite accurate. In today's "dog-eat-dog" workplace, you either luck-out and get exactly what you've always hoped for in a job, or, like the vast majority, you land up with a job you hate doing but can't quit because there are no other jobs available in your area.

I have come to learn that it's not "what you know", but moreso "WHO you know". Unfortunately, I work for the general public... I know I'm going to get canned in a few months anyway, so I don't care if they read what I'm about to say:

The only way you can get a good job in the gov is if you know somebody that's high-up in management, are a relative of management or are a visible minority/foreign immigrant.

It seems that if you are the average "Joe Nobody" white-american, that you get treated like cr*p no matter how much effort or how well you do your job.

Our building is filled with nothing but foreigners, visible-minorities and relatives of people who are in management... I feel the only way I ever got in there to begin with was by having my OJT rep fluke me a vacant position with them.

It's sad, but in my area, it's true.

Tue, May 14, 2002 Coolbory Schaumburg Il

Well the whole situation stinks!, there is no easy way of letting management know that you are unhappy with your salary and how do they expect you to stay motivated and be truthful to your employer. The truth is that the only way Steve will get compansate would be if he went to his manager and told he or she that they are about to loose a very valuable employee if his needs are not meant. Which in reality means that one of two things will happen. You will be dismissed with a smile and go to hell attittude or perhaps management would take a look around and determine if you are really worth it. The bottom line is find another job and be wise about negociating your salary. Reality is that the market is in low pay mode right now and perhaps the little that you are currently making would be more than others would offer.

Tue, May 14, 2002 Dennis Spokane

I don't agree with the no-fail method offered by Sean. When/If moving forward with looking for a new employer, you can keep your manager in the dark initially, but, assuming your manager was normally in your corner, he/she deserves the respect of you requesting permission to attend an interview with another company. This alone may spark the conversation necessary to improve your current situation enough for you to knowledgeably weigh your options. This may be hard to do, but sometimes the right choice is the hard choice.

Tue, May 14, 2002 BigMo Missouri

While I agree with the premise of the article, it is VERY hard to keep the emotions out of this. When you have been busting your butt and still......your yearly increase is not close to what it should be....

I know the key is 'selling yourself', your worth to the Company. In my situation, it is worse. I have a boss that wants all of the credit. If I ever attempt to 'show my worth' by making a suggestion or doing a demo of something to the ownership without checking with her first........my butt is in a sling! How can you show your worth to Management when your direct manager wants all the glory....but does not know jack about IT???? Ownership really does not want to know anything...just make it work....which I DO!!

There has got to be something between compensation and job satisfaction.....

Tue, May 14, 2002 Anonymous OKC

Steve, you are absolutely correct. I would also like to hear you discuss handling this situation, along with handling age discrimination while looking for a new job.

Tue, May 14, 2002 Robert PA

Realistic article. A lot of companies can't pay the "current rate" that you feel you "ought" to be getting. Business is tough right now. A job is like a marriage of sorts - there will be some ups and downs if you are at it a long time. My feeling is that if you don't like where you are at, you can leave. Don't blame your feelings on the company or perform poorly.
A job is not a quantitative thing. A lot of factors have to be calculated into whole picture. Benefits, comfortability and stability all figure in. I know peers making a lot more salary and spend their free time looking for the next position in case their current one falls through. I prefer to take vacations and come home each day not worrying whether I'll be employed tomorrow.

Tue, May 14, 2002 Sean California

I have found a no-fail system. Get offered a job that pays more and then demand a pay raise. You can't lose!

Tue, May 14, 2002 Rick Indiana

Very nice article Mr. Crandall. Each of us knows we must always evaluate our careers, positions, responsibilities and financial compensation regularly. When we let money become a major factor in determining our happiness in a specific job the situation rarely becomes repairable. This is not to say we shouldn't feel as if we deserve a raise or better compensation but we do need to focus on a more positive and productive attitude. Money is a necessity yes, but our true happiness is the enjoyment and friendships we develop with others. I like one of our previous statements saying we should always keep those friendships open (we commonly refer to this as networking). Each day when you awake if you can not look forward to seeing friends and having a little fun at working hard you might need to change careers, jobs or possibly just your attitude. More money always helps the family but when that is spent you still need the friendships.

Tue, May 14, 2002 JayR Philadelphia

Be Pre-active and 3 months before your review, list accomplisments, success stories. The key point is to make sure you spend a few minutes with your manager and give him or her a copy.
I usually start it off by " I was looking back on the calendar and do you remember the problem we had with this and that and how it was corrected? "
PS also a great time to schedule vacation.

Tue, May 14, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

I have been in this situation myself. I had been a consultant at a large Pharma Co. My vendor was getting a huge bill rate and were paying me very little. I found out what the other consultants were getting and took it personally. I went to my manager and vendor and asked for a raise. Instead of giving me a bone they tossed me a scooby snack. The emotions played me and it affected my work and personal life. After 15 months, three small scooby snacks and a lot of aggrevation, I left the company and doubled my pay elsewhere. Its my opninion that if a company already has you at one price, there's not much room for negotiation. The money they make on you is paying the next one the higher salary. Back up your data, get your resume updated and start interviewing. Look for a better "opportunity", not just more $$. Hopefully, as I did, you'll get both.

Tue, May 14, 2002 hobie_man South Africa

Great article, Steve! I am in a similar position to "Disappointed," but still have to have my annual salary review. I have gone for my certs and at the same time started looking around for alternatives. I think ultimately, most of us don't actually WANT to move. We just want to be fairly compensated. The hardest part I've found is to not let my disappointments and frustrations affect my work. I'm keenly aware that the disgruntled employee with the axe to grind could easily end up being the employee that is watched and set up to fail. The challenge is to remain focussed and above all, professional.

Mon, May 13, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

I make it a point to not know what others are being paid. I've done my time, and get a decent salary. I can't imagine having anyone work for me that gets paid more-how does that happen?? You have to stake your claim to the top of the pyramid. If someone who works for you makes more money, it's just a matter of time before you get replaced. Most of the time a company won't shell-out high dollars unless the person is worth it. My problem is, at what point do you switch from working the knobs and levers of the servers to pushing the pen and giving orders..I'll miss the tinkering.

Mon, May 13, 2002 JKL TX

I'm in the same boat as disappointed, I have been compensated. This compensation fell well short of my expectations. I have a track for my promotion to the next level, but will update my certifications and resume to be prepared for a possible disappoint ment. The only real way to make great leaps in any field of work is to move around quite often.

Mon, May 13, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

was good article

Mon, May 13, 2002 peter k MN

There is only one answer to this situation. You polish your skills, maybe even get (another) cert, and start interviewing. When you start getting offer letters that exceed your salary, then and only then do you really have a choice. Good luck!

Mon, May 13, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

I think this is excellent advice but it dodges the question of "How can I get more from my current employer?" Sometimes, everything must be placed on the line...chances must be taken. When do you think this is appropriate and how should a person approach this without needlessly reducing the probability of success or hurting their relationship with the employer? I am way underpaid and I am in a position where I have learned a difficult, messed up system, that will take time for a new person to champion. I am not irreplaceable, but I will not be replaced with a productive candidate over night. I am sure I can get a fairer wage but I am not sure how. Help me to improve my current situation rather than to find a new job. I like where I am and I am willing to take chances to hopefully improve and preserve this job.

Mon, May 13, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

I am currently in a similar situations to this, original employee of a start-up built the systems from ground up and trained all other users - with new technical staff arriving that are less productive and higher paid than me, their supervisor. My situation will undoubtedly be different that someone elses, the solution to my problem was the ultimatum - knowing that the clients I was servicing would, and have said they would, follow me no matter which company I went to - I had a fair few draw cards to lay down. The best way I found was to find out how much you make for the company, counter that against what you earn and then work out that you should be paid 1/4 or 1/3 of the profit you bring in to the company. With such obvious, black and white figures looking at management they will have to really think as to whether or not they should keep you happy. Either way, start looking for a job - it will make you feel better short term. Good luck

Mon, May 13, 2002 Bob MN

Very few of us have been fortunate enough to avoid this scenario. I'm no different. I know certs, experience, and technical godliness are important, but I challenge all of you in searching for jobs to look at not how you are certified for anything and everything, but how you can add to the company's bottom line. It is all about selling. Selling yourself. Selling your company and their product. Think critically about what you can do to make your company money and/or more efficient and that money will filter back to you. Until I realized that, my searches were fruitless.

Mon, May 13, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

I totally agree with Steve's comments. I would like to add if "disappointed" thinks it's worth staying with the company, keep the lines of communications open with your manager and ask "What will it take to get to the next level?" Set goals and expectations together, ask for periodic feedback on how you're doing, and document in detail your progress throughout the year. Then come review time present your facts to him. You may or may not get the compensation you're looking for, but at least you'll know where you stand.

Good Luck!

Mon, May 13, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Here is my question,
Let's say you took a risk, by going from a high paying job, to a job with lots of stock options. Those stock options are a part of your salary, but currently they are worthless. Should you go back to the company that paid you more, or demand the current company compensate you for the loss of the stock value?

Mon, May 13, 2002 JB LONDON

HI: I'VE GOT AN HND IN COMPUTING AND INFORMATION SYSTEM, PLUS CCNA AND NET+ BUT I'VE BEEN LOOKING AROUND AND CAN'T FIND ANYTHING.
WHAT SHOULD I DO

Sat, May 11, 2002 Prabhjot Hyderabad

Hi:
The words of wisdom are easy to say but hard to bear...
I work for a company with a work force of about 8000 odd associates.
Here the salaries are just to say about the market stands, but the hikes are just to show that the process is in place.
The rating process is in the hands of the Project Manager and he is tooooooo irrational abt the things... likes to take the ass of all the ppl under him and then while paying back says... SORRY BOSS!!!

It is frustrating to say the least. Other PMs are more realistic saying I need work , rest I shall give you... Ppl work for only 2 mnths ina year and go with a booty and an onsite opertunity, other place we go with the hearts burnt.

WHAT TO DO... HARD LIFE... ISNT IT???

Thu, May 9, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

IT employers hold all the cards these days; be glad they arent downsizing or going bust. On the flip side, I would test the waters for another job and not talk to anyone about it and dont suddenly change your work attire either. Play it loose, practice interviewing, see what the market will pay for your skills currently. Also, your company might not now pay a new hire what an ex-employee in the same position made a yr ago.

Tue, May 7, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

A very accurate picture. It is unfortunate that the only option seems to be to look elsewhere. In many cases the company may be the only one in a local area that offers the type of employment you want and your alternative is not only looking for another position, but relocation.

Sun, May 5, 2002 Billy Plano

Right now just be thankful they have a job with the market the way it is. I have be at the same salary for almost 2 years and will stay here until the market turns around. I have what I want for now "GREATFUL TO HAVE JOB RIGHT NOW". It is secure at this time and would not give it up without a fight. So be safe and be secure as possible it will turn around.

Fri, May 3, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Good article. Really makes you think about asking for more money when you know your worth it, but valuing the fact that you do have a "secure" job.

Thu, May 2, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

I've been there and completely agree with Steve. If a system is rigid try to affect it only if you are in a position to do it. Else, Ignore it, revisit your priorities map them with your long term goals and just move forward in life. Good Luck to all of you out there and God Bless

Mon, Apr 29, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Thanks for the clear guidelines. What if your budget doesn't work out with your current salary and you feel you're worth more?

Thu, Apr 25, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Well, most of us techkie are not good at politics. Personally, I think the important thing in this type of market is job satisfactions and career development opportunities.

Thu, Apr 25, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

One issue not mentioned is politics in the workplace. If you know how to play it, you can go a long way. Furthermore, it seems the only way to make more money is to switch jobs.

Thu, Apr 25, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Ditto here! I'm in the same position today as Disappointed is, although I have not submitted my justification for increase. Things I try to keep in perspective is that 1) I have a good job 2) that job helps me keep my lifestyle and 3) that I cannot allow this to cause me to to get angry about someone else. The only person I'd be causing any guff to is me! If I get angry about them or someone else or the situation I'm only hurting myself.

Wed, Apr 24, 2002 Nguyen Hung Hanoi

Good article for a sensitive subject.

When I've got my MCSE cert, I thought that It would be a good chance to increase my salary. But my manager has never seen my cert. For him, salary is based on the performance, leadership skill and the importance point is: employees must be able to present what they are contributing to company.
For me now, a cert is not much value in company but it would be better for you to seek a good job in future :-(

Wed, Apr 24, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

"Been there, done that" is cliche' but true.
I was paid about 3/5ths the going rate BUT I had a great Manager. He started getting me raises and promotions. Then came the re-org. I got stuck under the stuffy white-shirts and quickly learned it was a dead end. I'm no longer there but wish I had stayed. I could have worked my way out of that spot and into something better. Good companies with longevity are rare today. Good Luck!

Wed, Apr 24, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Disappointed - I have over 15 years IT experience, a degree, MCSE and CCNA yet I've been looking for a job for quite a while now. My advice? If they pay you - you're ahead of the game right now. Plant your feet, get some good solid certs and when the industry rebounds... start searching.

Wed, Apr 24, 2002 Anthony Pottstown PA

Gotta say great article. I went through this same instance. With a lot of time and paitence it paid off. However I am still NO where near the IT average salery I am happy I am making more. Your drive and detication to your job really pays off, even if you think no one notices. I will stay where I am at cause it seems solid. If I look now and take another offer I may be another unemployment statistic. At least I will wait till the market expands. (If it ever does). keep your head up it cant be bad forever.

Wed, Apr 24, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

At least you got better treatment that me. I have a MBA and MCSE+I and am also a RHCE. When I applied for the post of IT manager recently, I got the rude reply:

The person I am looking for must have Masters in Chemistry, Nuclear physics, Bioinformatics, MBA, CISSP, CISA, A+, Network+, Inet+, Checkpoint CCSE+, Symantec Certified Security Engineer, Novell CNE, Lotus CLP, Red Hat RHCE, Cisco CCNP and I am willing to pay $4,000 a month. As you only have 1/5 of my requirements, I am willing to offer $1,000 a month. This may not be much but this is the best you get based on your qualifications.

Tue, Apr 23, 2002 Roxanne Colorado

Many of us complain that we're worth more, but few of us choose to change jobs for that reason alone. Personally, I'd rather work in a low-key environment for a laid-back boss than in a suit/tie setting for a pointy hair. I accept that I may be making less as a result, but

if you're not having fun, you're not doing it right.

Tue, Apr 23, 2002 John Califronia

Disappointed look around. log on to monster.com or mcpmag.com job search. find a contract IT Company and see what they have to offer. Contract work is often very rewarding and once you have a job assignment from them you can inform your boss that you have a better job offer and give notice. I once had an it job that paid $10 an hour. I left it for $15 an hour contract and now pull around $45 an hour. and I don't have my MCSE yet. Also target more certs. Get a security cert and the coveted exchange cert. Ok, the job market is tight, but you don't have to take being told your worth less than you think. There are so many things you can do to change that. Good luck, and start looking.

Tue, Apr 23, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Very good article.

Sun, Apr 21, 2002 Kevin Scotland

I believe most of us in the IT game have at one time or another felt undervalued. It is difficult for us to sell our skills in the same way others in the company can. We are often only seen when things go wrong. People do not see the value we provide behind the scenes. I believe it is my job and my managers to positively sell the IT team all year round. Do not grumble too much, if a runner finishes second he tries harder for the next race!

Fri, Apr 19, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

I like Steve's respond. Unless some kind of restructuring happens you won't see any change. Make it happen for yourself, but be professional about it, take the personal part out of it and be objective.

Fri, Apr 19, 2002 Bryan Greer Anonymous

I liked this article. I think others should it and take heed in these times. Look to yourself for rewards and plan a future for yourself. the company doesnot owe you a future, you make your own future. I teach at a college and constantly have to deal with issues concerning "how much will I make when I get out???" I tell students that that is entirely up to them....

Anyway, a fabulous article and good advice.

Fri, Apr 19, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

We need more articles like this one.

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