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  1. Blog
  2. Salary
  3. December 5, 2022

How to Ask for a Raise at Work When You Know You’re Underpaid

What to say instead of, “That’s not fair!”

Woman at work on laptop prepares to ask for a raise
Photo courtesy of Tima Miroshnichenko

It’s wonderful—necessary, even—to have friends at work. People you can go to for advice and bounce ideas off of. And sometimes that means you’re talking to each other about what you get paid—and might find out there’s a big difference between what you both make…

Many companies are somewhat secretive when it comes to pay. They either don’t post jobs with a salary range, or subtly discourage employees from sharing pay info (even though they can’t prohibit or punish employees for talking about it; know your rights!). 

The laws have changed and are changing to favor employees. They’re encouraging pay transparency, which comes with all kinds of benefits. It helps you find jobs in your desired salary range, it helps you research what careers can pay, and it can help lessen the gender pay gap. Companies benefit from pay transparency, too. Studies show a correlation between employees knowing more about salary and being more productive and motivated. 

All this is great—but what about that moment when you find out you’re underpaid compared to someone with similar experience in a similar position? How do you ask for a raise knowing this information? Here’s what to do. 

Can you talk about salary at work? 

First, you are protected from sharing salary information with coworkers, even if some workplaces don’t love their employees comparing paychecks. 

Talking about it is really the only way to know what people make. Even if a job posting has a range listed, the range could be big, like $40,000-plus, or the employee could have negotiated for much better pay when they were hired. 

You can read about all the protections for employees on the National Labor Relations Board site. The National Labor Relations Act protects workers who discuss salary face-to-face or in written form—but the rules might change a bit if you’re posting about it on social media. 

The good news for job seekers is pay transparency is getting more, well, transparent. On November 1, a New York City pay transparency law went into effect, requiring employers to post salary ranges in job postings. Similar laws have or will go into effect in other cities and states, including California and Washington state. They also require employers to include salary ranges when advertising jobs, and in some cases require employers to disclose a salary range for an employee’s current job description when requested.

This will help shed light on what your coworkers make. It’s unlikely someone in a similar position as you with similar responsibilities and experience would have a wildly different salary. So if you do share with each other, you’ll be less likely to be surprised. 

Of course, there are still going to be discrepancies in what people make. Sometimes that makes sense—maybe your colleague took on more work or completed a program that enhanced their skills. 

If it doesn’t make sense to you, it’s motivating to ask for a raise yourself, which you should always do when you don’t think you’re making what you’re worth. But you don’t have to kick off the conversation with what you just learned…

Read more: The Best Companies for Salary Satisfaction, Rated by Women Who Work There

How to ask for a raise when your coworker makes more than you

It might be tempting to beeline for your boss’ office and say “why does Jack make 15 percent more than I do?”, but the better move is to focus on asking for a raise because of what you bring to the company. 

“I would not mention that I know someone else makes more,” says Mary Jeanne Vincent, career coach and salary negotiation expert. “I would look at what [the company is] currently posting your job at, and see if you’re at the low end of that. I had a client recently who discovered he was on the low end, so he went in to negotiate.” 

Asking for a higher salary in this case is really no different than asking for a raise for any reason. You might feel more upset, but don’t let that shape the conversation. Do the same things you know work when requesting a raise: 

  • List your own accomplishments and what they yielded, print them out, and have them ready to share with your manager.

  • Research what similar positions pay at other companies in your industry and use that as support for what you’re asking for.

  • Show how you hit goals and what value completing those brings to the company. 

  • Share any additional education or courses you’ve completed that add to your skills and knowledge. 

  • If you don’t get the raise you ask for, see if you can set up a 90-day follow-up to show you’re hitting goals you both agree upon. 

If you highlight the reasons you deserve a higher salary separate from your colleague’s pay, you can get a good idea of what your company can do for you. 

“Sometimes they’re willing to negotiate, sometimes they’re not,” Vincent says. “But [after my client talked to the company], now he knows, and he can either look internally for another position outside of that department, or look externally, for somewhere he knows he can get paid, based on his research. That’s the key—you have got to do your homework. That’s what I might go in with to my boss, that I’ve done my research and here’s what I’ve discovered is being paid to people with this amount of experience and this background. This is the market value, and what can we do to address that.” 

Check out more tips on how to ask for a raise

And note that while some pay discrepancies are not discriminatory, others are a sign of a bigger problem. You can use InHerSight’s guide to wage discrimination to help determine if you are experiencing it and what to do about it.

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