Know Your Worth, Salaries, Salary Transparency

How to Find Out If You’re Earning Less Than Your Coworker

Trying to revive her day with coffee

Money isn’t exactly an easy topic to talk about with your BFF let alone your coworker. As finance expert and founder of LexION Capital Elle Kaplan commiserates, “discussing money is seen by many as a taboo subject.” And yet, she argues, “it should feel empowering. As the saying goes, knowledge is power—and if you know your coworkers’ salaries,  you can begin to understand your worth in the workplace and take steps to empower your financial life.” 

On the flip side, if you don’t know what your coworker earns, that lack of knowledge could keep you for asking for the raises and promotions you deserve, Kaplan points out. Career coach Hallie Crawford agrees. “While most organizations discourage talking about wage, talking about money with coworkers can ensure everyone is making a fair wage,” she says. 

In fact, knowing your coworker’s salary could mean finding out you’re earning a lot less.  

So, now that we’ve got you convinced you need to know your coworker’s number—his or her salary, that is—how do you go about getting it? Here’s a step-by-step guide to help. 

1. Don’t blurt it out.

As Kaplan mentioned above, money—and especially what people make in a workplace—is a sticky subject, so this isn’t a question you want to ask casually at the watercooler. “If you’re going to talk pay with coworkers, do it in a private situation and don’t make them feel pressured,” Kaplan advises. “For instance, you can invite a colleague out for a coffee, reveal your salary first, and then gently ask them if they want to compare.”

2. Speak with a trusted coworker.

Just like you wouldn’t ask what a coworker makes in any ol’ place, you shouldn’t ask any ol’ person, says Crawford. Make sure you approach a peer you can trust with such a sensitive topic. In other words, steer clear of office gossips and liars.

3. Reach out to former colleagues.

You can also approach people in your organization who once had your role and have since been promoted, says Kaplan. They’ll be able to tell you what they made when they held your position. And, “if you can find one of these sources, they’ll likely be a lot more open and upfront when talking numbers,” Kaplan points out. 

4. Use Glassdoor.

While you may not be able to find your cubemate in Glassdoor’s salary tool, you can see what people in your position—and even within your company—are earning and compare your salary to theirs, says Crawford. Using Glassdoor’s Know Your Worth you’ll be able to get a personalize salary estimate and see your value in today’s market. “You will want to compare yourself to coworkers with a similar workload and time at the company,” she cautions. 

Of course, if you find out that a coworker or previous employee earns (or earned) more than you, you’ll probably be ticked. (And who could blame you?)”But it’s important to keep a cool head,” encourages Kaplan. “Rather than storming into your bosses’ office, keep your feelings out of the equation and create a calculated plan to boost your net-worth. 

Recognize that “there are a plethora of reasons that your co-worker could be earning more than you, and most of them have to nothing do with your value,” says Kaplan. For example, “their experience, previous salary, and other factors often cause the discrepancy. Don’t let the comparison make you think any less of your value.” Instead, focus on what you do bring to the table and what those skills and experience are worth in your workplace. (And don’t name drop to your boss.) “Let your boss or manager know you’re aware your industry salary is below average, and then back it up with facts and your capabilities,” she says. 

One last thought: “I know it can be intimidating, but standing up for yourself and getting your true value is one of the most empowering—and profitable—things you can do for yourself,” says Kaplan. “We’re often brighter and more talented than we give ourselves credit for.” If you take a chance, “the worst that can happen is your raise will get put on the table while you find a new employer who does recognize your enormous value,” she says.  


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