Dear Matthew: "I'm getting paid less than someone less experienced"
BD’s agony uncle on what to do when you discover a more junior colleague is earning more than you
Q: I have just found out that a less experienced colleague is earning more than I am. It’s completely unfair as I have worked hard for this firm, and for longer. What should I do?
A: Pay can be such a divisive issue, even for those who aren’t that motivated by money. Of course this is because it represents how much you are valued. But the root of that value can easily be nothing to do with your real worth, merely your confidence at negotiating your salary when you start in a firm.
While some workplaces operate on transparent grades, where seniority and time served is formally rewarded, most medium and small businesses — so most architecture firms — do not. Therefore, salaries can vary quite a lot, depending on supply and demand, or how desperate a need was at the time of recruiting. Managing — and concealing — differences in wages can be a major headache for bosses, as the salary bill is usually the firm’s biggest outlay.
So you have three choices. The first two, with the supply and demand equation currently firmly in the employer’s favour, require considerable skill to succeed. The first option is to make the case for your pay rise. To have any chance of succeeding, you should avoid highlighting the unfairness of your colleague’s salary, but base your request on evidence of how much you have contributed to, and will continue to benefit, the firm.
The second option is to find another job, announce you are taking it, then hope for, or request, a counter offer. This is a high-risk approach, which can easily backfire when no offer comes, as well as risking you burning your bridges — many people don’t appreciate being pressurised in this way.
The third option is to accept the situation and notch it up to experience. It’s a great way to remember next time that the period after being offered a job and before you accept is the critical moment to negotiate your price.
I learned this inadvertently a few years ago. I had been to an interview, then offered a job by phone. I was away for a long weekend, and out of coverage. The employer, interpreting my lack of response as a lack of interest, was clearly desperate to conclude, so I got back to messages not only offering me the job but upping the salary without me even asking.
Of course few enter the profession for the money. And it is worth remembering a few thousand pounds might not make that much difference — the gap between, say, a £35,000 salary and a £38,000 salary is around £170 a month take-home pay, which, although not to be sniffed at, might not be worth quitting a job over.
Architect Matthew Turner of buildingonarchitecture.com has worked at a range of offices as well as being a client adviser, project manager and competition juror.
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