Here’s What To Do if You Find Out Your Co-Worker Makes More Than You

Arm yourself with confidence and knowledge to confront unequal pay head-on.

three colleagues using laptop together
Updated May 28, 2024
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Learning your co-worker's making more than you can be a gut punch. But before you spiral into a comparison trap, remember: this information is power.

Armed with the right strategy, you can transform this salary shock into a catalyst to help you get ahead financially.

Here are 10 tips to assist you in navigating the situation with confidence and turning pay envy into a raise negotiation win.

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Don’t go running to your manager

Krakenimages.com/Adobe reading document at office

While the initial reaction to learning a colleague earns more can be frustrating, making a beeline for your boss and responding in a “gimme-gimme” way is unprofessional and counterproductive.

Instead, take a breath and process the news. Figure out if you deserve a raise. If the answer is yes, approach your supervisor and ask for a chat about compensation. 

Specify the topic. Many factors can influence pay, including tasks, tenure, background, education, experience, and negotiation skills.

Don’t reveal names

kerkezz/Adobe stressful business meeting

When you talk to your boss, the discussion should be centered on you, not your colleagues. They don’t need to know what you know. 

The specifics of how you discovered your co-worker's higher salary or the exact figures don’t matter. Stay focused on your performance and the value you bring to the company.

You can keep the chat positive by highlighting your dedicated efforts, expressing enjoyment in your role, and asking what you can do to secure a raise. Asking questions is better than outright confrontation.

Consider your colleagues

Sasint/Adobe tired staff officer

Getting yourself a raise is inherently about you, but other factors might be at play if your co-worker makes more than you do.

Consider the duration of your colleague's tenure with the company. If they've been there longer than you, they might be entitled to raises and bonuses you're not eligible for yet. 

While this can be frustrating, it's crucial to recognize that, in many cases, it's just a matter of time before you also become eligible for these rewards.

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Research as much as possible

Liubomir/Adobe tired man working at a computer

Pointing out how much you do at work probably isn’t enough to earn a raise. You have to go beyond that and do some research on the salary landscape for roles similar to yours.

If you have a solid understanding of the salary range for positions comparable to yours, connect with recruiters, hiring managers, or industry professionals for an unbiased perspective. 

When you’re armed with this information, discuss your standing — either at the top, bottom, or middle — and areas for growth.

Figure out the salary you want

Muhammad/Adobe upset woman looking at her phone

Similar to researching what you’re worth, it’s important to determine precisely how much of a raise you want.

A well-defined figure will aid in negotiating with your manager. Be sure the number is realistic and aligns with the job's fairness and market standards. 

This will make your bargaining position stronger while maintaining a reasonable and justified expectation for the role you fulfill.

Have a counteroffer ready

Bacho Foto/Adobe business meeting with an executive

Negotiations are just that: Negotiations. There should be some back and forth.

Anticipate a counteroffer since your manager may not be able to meet your specific request. They might propose an alternative figure, potentially lower than your request. 

Evaluate the pros and cons before deciding, and remember that further negotiation is possible if the offer falls short of your expectations.

Keep working

pikselstock/Adobe  young woman working on laptop in her studio

Finding out that one of your colleagues makes more than you is not a good reason to be bad at your job — though it might be tempting. You have to keep on truckin’, as the saying goes.

Perform with dedication. Demonstrating your commitment and dependability can motivate your manager to consider a salary increase on the grounds of your consistent and valuable contributions.

Stay stalwart

insta_photos/Adobe boss listening to a female latin candidate at job interview

If you get the impression that a raise isn’t on the menu, you don’t have to blindly accept the situation. Keep asking. Inquire about the specific steps required for a potential raise.

Ask what you need to do to qualify for one. If the boss cites budget constraints, ask when the option might be back on the table. 

Make sure you both agree on objectives and timeframes, document the conversation, and maintain regular check-ins. You can also explore alternative benefits like more vacation time or remote work options.

Ask if you need to improve

Mangostar/Adobe businesswoman consulting financial advisor

Acknowledging that you’re underperforming is, in a word, miserable. But sometimes, it pays to take the hit.

You can claim responsibility even if a raise isn't granted. Regardless of how you view your odds or chances of deserving one, ask: "How can I up my performance to boost my chances of a raise?" 

Hopefully, asking the question will give you something of a guide for steps to improve, which can increase the likelihood of a raise.

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Know when it’s time to go

vadim_key/Adobe female manager carrying office box

This is the nuclear option. But you need to look out for yourself. If the prospect of a raise seems distant and you sense a need for change, consider exploring other job opportunities.

You don’t need to broadcast your intentions. Keep doing your thing while discreetly seeking out a new position. 

The new role might offer superior benefits, and submitting your resignation could lead to a counteroffer with an improved salary package, potentially surpassing your colleagues' and helping you boost your bank account.

Bottom line

Elnur/Adobe business meeting

It’s never fun to learn that someone you work with makes more than you, but there are ways to improve your finances.

Whatever tactic you decide on, remember that salary negotiations are integral to any career and should be approached with respect.

Sticking to these strategies should help you effectively negotiate a higher salary, which will help ensure you earn what you’re worth.

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Author Details

Will Vitka

Will Vitka is a D.C. area reporter and writer. He previously worked for WTOP, The New York Post, Stuff Magazine, and CBS News.