Salary Story: The High Salary Wasn’t Worth My Mental Health

Illustrated by Jessie Wong.
In our series Salary Stories, women with long-term career experience open up about the most intimate details of their jobs: compensation. It’s an honest look at how real people navigate the complicated world of negotiating, raises, promotions and job loss, with the hope it will give young women more insight into how to advocate for themselves — and maybe take a few risks along the way.
Been in the workforce for at least five years and interested in contributing your salary story? Submit your information here. All published stories receive £100.

Age:
27
Location: London
Current industry and job title: Law (in-house) legal counsel. However, law is not my passion and I finally found the courage this year to leave law and pursue a different role that will get me closer to my dream job. I've therefore just accepted a senior account manager role and will be responsible for selling my company's beauty portfolio into our supermarket customers.
Current salary: £59,740 + £8,000 car allowance.
Number of years employed since school or university: 4.5
Starting salary and year: 2017, £37,000.
Biggest salary jump: 2019, from £50,000 to £58,000.
Biggest salary drop: 2021. I successfully negotiated the same base salary for my new role starting in a couple of months but will receive £6,000 as a car allowance (a £2,000 reduction).
Biggest negotiation regret? Not having the confidence in the value of my skills to ask for what I was really worth! I qualified as a solicitor in 2019 but knew the toxic culture of City law firms was not for me so took the unusual step of not applying for a job at the firm I had trained at. I was the only one in my cohort of about 60 trainees who did not apply so HR were pretty shocked! During my training contract I had worked on secondment for a fantastic FMCG company and knew I wanted to work there but there were no opportunities available at the time so I took a job for a boutique London law firm instead. They offered me £48,000, which was the same as my trainee salary. I negotiated them up to £50,000 but regret not asking for more – I think I was so grateful to get out of the City culture that I undervalued myself. I trained at one of the top firms where salaries start at £70,000+ for newly qualified lawyers and although boutique firms never pay the same, I definitely should have asked for more.
Best salary advice: Follow your values, not the number on your payslip. Like many, when I graduated university I was swept up in the notion that I should take the highest paid job I could get and did not spend enough time thinking about whether it was really right for me. In hindsight, I didn't enjoy my summer internships but ignored the red flags because I was focused on a number. Well, let me tell you, these City firms work you to the bone for that number! Fast-forward six months into my training contract and I was suffering from anxiety and depression – no salary is worth your mental health.

More from Work & Money

R29 Original Series