You Just Found Out Your Coworker Is Making More Than You. Now What?

Last Updated Jan 28, 2011 9:22 AM EST

Dear Evil HR Lady,

I've been working for Company XYZ for about 3 years now. Last year I received a bonus the same amount as my 1st year employed at said company. Through an indiscretion on behalf of a colleague, I was able to find out not only salaries of my colleagues with the same title/job function as mine, but I also found out their annual bonus amounts. To my dismay, I realized that these colleagues with the same title/job function as mine, who work less than I do & support fewer people (I promise, I'm not being biased), not only make 14% more than I do, but this year's & last year's annual bonus amounts for them are 4 times the amount that I've received last year & over 10 times the amount that I will be receiving this year. One of the 2 colleagues with the same title as mine received last year's bonus for only having worked 6 months.

I know it cannot be my performance because the HR Director has told me many times that I am the best at my job for this company. And up until now, I've never gotten a complaint from my immediate supervisor, in fact I get compliments all the time.

Why would there be such a huge discrepancy? And what, if anything, can be done about this (since I can't disclose I know about other people's salaries & their bonuses)? How can this situation be approached?

This would annoy me so much I wouldn't be able to sleep at night. Even if I had previously loved my job and my boss, I would start to resent my manager and HR because they know about this and are treating me so poorly.

In other words, at this point I would only have two choices: Quit or confront.

Except I hate the word confront, because it implies walking into the office, hands on hips, and demanding--in a loud and angry tone--that this problem be fixed and fixed RIGHT NOW.

You don't want to do that. Not only would it damage your reputation, you may find out that you're in the very uncomfortable position of pitching a fit over something that isn't even true. Yes, it's possible that your colleague's indiscretion was not only stupid, but false. How do you know for sure that what this person said is true? And how did this person find out so many people's salaries and bonuses? Because most people just don't talk that openly about salaries. Sure, "I don't make enough," or "Great bonus this year!" but hardly ever, "My raise puts me at $86,552 this year, and combined with my performance rating of 3.1415 (a nice round number), puts me in line for a 12% bonus. Sweet!" No, this is just not common.

So, this is what I would do. I would go to my boss, and behind closed doors (no public temper tantrums, mind you) say the following:

You: I really hate to do this, but I'm really bothered by something. One of my coworkers told me that everyone else with the same title makes significantly more money than I do, around 14%. In addition, I understand that their bonuses were up to 4 times what mine was. Is this true?

Now, if this is true your boss will have one of those "oh crap" looks on his/her face. You'll recognize it when you see it. Immediately follow up with, "What do we need to do to rectify this situation?" You'll be pressed for the name of the person who told you this. It's your choice whether to spill your guts or not. I'm not a fan of ratting out coworkers, but I'm also not in favor of protecting rats.

But moreso, I'm seriously not in favor of unjust pay policies. (Note, I didn't say all pay should be equal, I said pay should be just.) Don't just let this information sit in your head and drive you crazy.

Now, if it turns out that your coworker was misinformed, then all is well with the world. If, however, it turns out that you truly were underpaid, you need to ask yourself if you really want to continue to work for people who were willing to pay you so unfairly. I understand that this may not be a real choice, as finding a new job is not always so easy. But, if you are being underpaid, this boss has forever lost your trust.

And I want bosses to remember that. When you take advantage of someone they will cease to trust you. If they can't trust you, they will not perform at the levels they are truly capable of. Why would you want to make your workforce low performing?

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