Getting Paid

At the end of the day, we all want to get paid for our work.

Washington, D.C., the land of hard work and endless ambition, is also chock-full of taxpaying citizens with mortgages to pay or a rent check to write.

Compensation conversations can be awkward. Even the Congressional Management Guide for members' offices states that clear conversations regarding compensation and expectations can be some of the most difficult — yet necessary — to have upfront.

A good manager makes employees feel valued, and part of that comes from salary. Unless it’s your name on the bronze plate on the door, you’re likely to have at least one co-worker who makes more than you.

So what do you do if you feel your salary is off-base? This week’s Hill Navigator broaches what happens when office compensation is called into question.

Q. I recently found out that my co-worker, who has the same job as I do, makes about $25K more than me. In terms of age and experience, we are about the same. He has been with the company a year longer than I have and probably made a bit more than I did (maybe $5-7K more) in his previous position. We were both hired internally to work on a new project our company recently launched.

I did get a salary increase from what I was paid at my previous position, but it was less than what I asked for. I was told the company could not afford to pay what I asked. But not long after that, they offered my co-worker a significantly higher amount.

One obvious difference between my co-worker and myself is that I am a woman and he is a man. Whether or not that is the reason behind the pay discrepancy, I think it needs to be addressed. However, I don't want to jeopardize my co-worker in any way, or get him in trouble with our bosses. He doesn't know that I know what he makes; I found out by accident through a mutual friend.

My co-worker is a nice guy and I don't begrudge him the money he makes. I just want to be compensated fairly. What do I do?

One, your mutual friend might not be accurately reporting things.

Two, your co-worker’s negotiations could have been very different than yours. One of the most effective ways to get a raise is to have a competing job offer in hand. Or perhaps he has a unique skill set that your company was willing to pay extra to acquire.

Keeping that in mind, the best way to get a pay increase is not through rumors or hints. It’s through homework and research. Find out what people in your city and your industry with your age and experience are making. Any industry-related publication should have those details (for Capitol Hill staffers, there is always LegiStorm). Then, keep track of your accomplishments and goals for the long and short term within your company. Ask to schedule an annual (or semi-annual) review with your supervisor and come up with a plan for you to increase your compensation over time. Keep the conversation focused on YOU and YOUR work, not your co-workers’ actions and compensation.

Finally, if you think this is a case of discrimination, take a good, hard look at the situation. If your research gives you a clear picture, then ask to meet with your HR department or contact outside counsel. Unfortunately, Hill Navigator is not an attorney so I can’t offer you advice on legal matters. But I can tell you that knowledge is power. If you think you have a legal issue on your hands, then start documenting the process now.