Feeling Underpaid? Don’t Get Mad, Get Money


Ever heard the motto: “compare and despair”? You might’ve felt it as a kid on the school playground, casting an envious side-eye at classmates’ cooler clothes or yummier lunches. Unfortunately, that feeling doesn’t go away in adulthood.

Now, we might feel that tinge of jealousy or resentment when people do better than us financially—like finding out a coworker’s salary is higher, when you’ve been at the company longer or have pretty much the same list of responsibilities. Or maybe you felt frustration when you heard that CEOs make 312 times what their employees earn on average—and, over the last 40 years, have seen their earnings soar more than 1,000 percent, compared to workers’ measly 11 percent.

There are plenty of wage injustices to get upset about. In fact, according to a new survey, nearly half of us feel we’re underpaid. And while that might make you want to raise a proverbial fist at “the man” and get mad, why not try something more productive? Instead of wallowing in another “compare and despair” sesh, let any anger you feel about other people earning more fuel your motivation to grow your own income. Here’s how.

Make yourself indispensable at work.

If you want a bigger paycheck, you have to make a good case for why you deserve it—beyond simply noting that it’s been awhile since your last pay bump, says Lynda Spiegel, a veteran HR exec and founder of Rising Star Resumes. Instead, come to the table with specific, quantifiable examples of what you’ve achieved and how you’ve delivered value to the business. Instead of saying you were a top seller, for example, come with specific numbers in hand showing how much your sales have grown, especially relative to others.

“Ask yourself, ‘Why would [my boss] care about my achievements?’” says career coach Kyle Elliott. “If you can easily answer that question, consider asking for a raise.” 

If you’re not quite there yet, start brainstorming ways to strengthen your argument in the future. Consider how your role or department might evolve in the next six months, year and beyond. Then sharpen your skills so you’re not only competitive, but leading the charge in your department.

Ask for more—at the right time.

Once you’re ready, pick the right time to broach the topic with your boss. That time could be this fall, as many companies are nailing down their payroll budgets for next year—though that’s not the case for every company. If you’re not sure, check your employee handbook or ask your HR department.

Spiegel says another opportune time to ask for more is after you can point to a recent achievement on deliverables. “There's usually funds baked into managers' budgets to account for small variances, like an individual raise,” she adds. (You can also consider asking for a one-time bonus.)

Change jobs—strategically.

You might realize that to get paid more, you need to switch companies. According to PayScale, you can expect anywhere from 8 to 20 percent more this way. But before you start sending out resumes, make sure you understand what’s considered competitive compensation in your field—and where your best opportunities lie long term.

Another PayScale study reveals that for certain roles where knowledge is mostly transferrable, like for software developers and staff accountants, switching jobs generally leads to more money. However, for jobs where institutional knowledge makes employees valuable—like for operations managers and administrative assistants—those who stay with their company get paid more over time.