Are You Being Underpaid At Work?

Photographed by Nicolas Bloise
Salaries are a tricky thing to talk about. Are you making way more than your friends? Is your co-worker making more than you? Who gets to decide what's 'fair' when it comes to salaries? How are you supposed to know that you're being paid the 'right' amount?
Recent movements like the gender pay gap activism have highlighted a need for greater transparency when it comes to wages and a number of places are taking steps to make sure this happens. Journo Resources, for instance, a website dedicated to providing the tools journalists need to keep going, will no longer advertise jobs unless a salary is provided by the hiring company.
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But until we reach full transparency, how on earth are you supposed to know whether what you're being paid is the right amount? We spoke to some industry experts to find out.
If I'm considering moving to a new job, how can I make sure I'm equipped with the right information about salaries?
It is REALLY important you do your research beforehand and find out what people get paid in your potential new situation. "If you are new to the industry and therefore unsure of the average salary it is wise to speak to recruitment agents that have experience in recruiting for similar roles," advises David Baddeley, CEO at Finance.co.uk. "You can pick their brains on what you can expect so that you do not have to head into the interview blind."
Sarah Seymour, a careers expert at LinkedIn, recommends using her company's salary tool to do this research as it allows you to see what people in jobs similar to your new one are being paid.
When in the hiring process should the salary conversation happen?
It can be tempting to talk salary straightaway, but Sarah advises waiting to make sure you don't end up underselling yourself. "Many people find it useful to ask for a general salary range without disclosing their own at the beginning of the process." This means you won't waste your time on something that's way beneath you salary-wise. Although, Sarah says, if a company really wants you, it's worth remembering they will negotiate to make it work. Have a think if there are other benefits which could make up for a lower salary – like flexi-working or a company car.
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David says it's important to remember that talking about money during the hiring process isn't taboo. "The recruiter is not under any illusions and knows you're working for a reward. Even if you request a higher salary than the recruiter was initially anticipating, people buy into people and it is amazing how the margins move once they feel that an interviewee will be an asset to the team."
What if I'm already in a job and I suspect I'm being underpaid?
Again, research here is really important. If googling 'your job' + 'salary' consistently comes up with numbers way higher than your compensation, it's only natural to feel like you're owed more. David says, however, that it's important to understand and analyse before you go in, all guns blazing, demanding more money. "First, determine why you believe you deserve a raise," he advises. "Have you secured a new client that has increased the business' revenue? Has your role evolved to the point where it is now a merge of several roles? Put together the highlights of your performance. It may be a case where others are simply not noticing the work that you do as it has become the norm."
"Approach your manager to ask for a meeting, making it clear you would like to talk about salary. This way they won't feel like you've put them on the spot," says Sarah, who encourages you to stay calm and present your points clearly.
"The big thing to remember is to never make it personal," David adds. "Just because you have bought a house or need the money in your personal life does not mean that you need a raise."
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Should I ever ask my co-workers what they're being paid?
Remember: if you decide to ask, once you know, you can't un-know. "It's a tricky one," agrees Sarah. "It really depends on your workplace and relationships with your co-workers. In some places it's a very open topic but make sure you judge the vibe before you approach anyone, and make sure that you don't put pressure on them to discuss salary if they don't want to."
It can be dangerous ground, she acknowledges. Finding out someone is paid more than you can hurt. "But you never know where they are on their own career journey and everyone brings something different to their role, so don't get disheartened. Rather than basing your salary expectations on what others earn, the most important thing is that you think about the salary you deserve, with clear reasons to back this figure up."
What if I accidentally find out my colleague of a similar standing is being paid more than me – should I mention this to my boss and use it as leverage?
Both Sarah and David are clear on this: no. "You do not know the experience that [that person] has come with, every aspect of their role and the impact they have on the workplace," David says. "You should always base your salary negotiations on how valuable you are as an employee." Sarah agrees: "Consider their experience or any additional qualifications or responsibilities they have that might warrant them receiving a higher salary." If they do, don't be afraid to ask for more responsibilities or training that can put you on an equal level.
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What if I suspect my male colleague is being paid more because he's a man?
If a raise is denied when you ask for it, don't be afraid to ask why, says David. If, after this further conversation, you still believe it is a genuine gender issue, then it may be worth having a conversation with HR, he says.
Sarah agrees. "Under the UK Equal Pay Act 2010, it’s illegal for employers to pay women less than men for doing the same or equivalent job. If you suspect that you are paid less because of your gender, it’s still really important to make sure you approach the negotiation process in the same way you would in any other situation – be calm, confident and clearly define the reasons you deserve to be paid more based on your performance and what you have brought to the business."
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