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June 19, 2007


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When I was teaching, everyone's salary was public knowledge because the pay matrix was published every year. The conflict over pay came when folks discovered that the secretaries and some some custodians were making the same pay as some teachers with less education. Personally, I didn't mind: you couldn't pay me enough to clean up after 2000+ kids and 100 adults every day.

And besides, almost EVERYONE who works a job is underpaid. Even many doctors (who aren't in private practice) are underpaid. You will never find a job that pays you what you are worth or what you could generate on your own. I think learning other people's salaries affect folks so negatively because it brings that point home.

About 2 years into my first job, I was supervising an intern on a project. At a party, my team lead told me what the intern had been offered to join our company the following year. It was more than I expected to be making after my next raise, and that included an expected promotion. I'd quite possibly be this person's team lead on a project, and he'd be making more than me!

Result: I brought up the salary discrepancy at my mid-year evaluation. They offered some platitudes about starting salaries being based on the school and major, but this person was from my school and had a similar major. I decided to test the market and interviewed with a competing company. I purposely did not tell them what I was making. I got an offer for a 40% higher salary, and better job responsibilities. The intern got hired, and I got the raise and promotion I expected. I decided to take the offer, but before I resigned, my year end review came up. I brought up the salary discrepancy again and they said they'd "look into it" again. Uh huh. Bye bye.

I was relatively happy at my first company before all this happened. If I had not been told that intern's salary, I might never have tested the market, and for all I know I might still be working there today. That, boys and girls, is why companies don't want you talking about salaries.

I work as a civil servant, and it seems that everyone at least knows the pay grade range that you fall in. The interesting thing about this knowledge is that as a young employee in a mostly aging workforce, there is a lot of pressure to quickly rise through the pay grades - they want to show they are training the next generation to take over the roles of the retiring workforce. However, with higher pay grades come more "management" responsibilities, and I personally have found I would prefer not to advance so quickly vertically, but allow for time for within-grade "step" raises and spend more time gaining technical skills. Since there is high insight into your personal vertical position in the pay scale, there is a perception that if you linger in any pay grade too long you must be a poor performer, which may not be the case. I can make more money and be happier as a highly competent technical performer who is left to do detail work than if I am promoted vertically and asked to take on more managerial tasks, and that is unfortunate.

I don't like the idea of new recruits coming in at the same or higher salary than the current staff. If they have something new to bring to the table (MBA, specialized training, etc) then that is a reason for higher than average compensation. But it could be a market issue. HR may not be able to get anyone to look at the position for what current employees are being paid.

Can't get to the money numbers in the company/field you are in? Time to change. If you are making $45k and HR can't get anyone to consider the job for less than $50k then guess what, you can probably move to another company and get that $50k.

But current employees can't just sit back and complain if the money doesn't roll in. They have to be aware of their market value and present a case for fair compensation. They also have to keep up with skills and

My pay was slipping behind at my current company because of some mergers. Every time we acquired another company HR cycles got interrupted. I talked to recruiters to get a feel for what was out there and then I 'made my case' to my boss and gave them a reasonable timeframe and targets for compensation. It didn't hurt that the last time I made a lateral move in this company it took 2 people to replace me.

Where I work, it is widely known that all hourly employees are paid minimum wage, except for a few long-timers who are paid 20 cents above minimum wage.

So nobody expects that superior performance will get them a raise, or that poor performance is the cause for their lack of one.

I haven't discussed my pay at my new job with anyone I work with (been here since October); it's a fair assumption that I'm making less than anyone else on my team, as I'm in a fairly junior position.

At my old job, I poked around a little bit and quickly realized that I was paid more than all but two people on my team. And when I let them know I was leaving for a new job, they offered me more money. It's nice to know you're valued that highly, but it felt like a lot of responsibility to me, too - if they were going to pay me more than my peers, then I had better be working harder than the others were.

I remember the first time I found out what a co-worker (though senior staff) was making. Putting a number to a person was a big eye-opener -- it made me think of them in a different light.

I don't share what I make, at least not with my co-workers. We do, of course, try and figure out what the higher ups are pulling in.

Salary isn't just about your job function and tenure though (at least in the private sector where I've always worked, I guess it's different for union and government jobs), it's a function of your interviewee and negotiation skills both at hiring and review time. As it should be, it's a tough world out there and nobody's going to spoon feed you. Same for vacation time and flexitime and other benefits in a lot of places. I drive a hard bargain, and so do many of the people I interview. If the guy/gal next to me doesn't, I'm not going to share with him or her what I make.

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