5 reasons your co-worker makes more money than you do

Learning that a coworker earns more than you do can be infuriating, particularly if you’re doing roughly the same work at roughly the same level. Here are five reasons that might explain the disparity.

1. Your coworker negotiated better than you did when she was hired. There’s a wide variation in whether and how people negotiate salary when they get a job offer. Some people accept on the spot, others push for a little more, and others push for a lot more. And some of them get it. Your coworker’s salary might be higher than yours simply because she asked for more. (Unfortunately, asking for more now probably won’t close the gap; it’s never as easy to negotiate as before you’ve accepted the job.)

2. The job market was tighter when your coworker was hired. In job markets like this one, employers can hire good people for lower salaries. But a few years back, when jobs were more plentiful, employers had to offer more money to attract the best people. If your coworker was hired during an employee’s market, and you were hired during an employer’s market, that could explain the difference.

3. Your coworker has a particular degree or skill that the company rewards. Even if you and your coworker are doing roughly equivalent work, the company may put people with certain skills, degrees, or certifications into a higher salary category.

4. Your work isn’t as good as you think it is. A lot of people overestimate their own performance, and they often have trouble seeing that this is the case. That’s a blow to the ego, but it’s worth considering whether there might be good reasons why the company might not value your work as highly as they value someone else’s.

5. Your coworker’s boss or job is a nightmare. If your coworker’s job is particularly difficult or unpleasant, the company may pay more to attract and retain people willing to do the work, even if the skills involved are roughly the same as yours. The same could apply if her boss is the problem; it’s not unheard of for a company to increase the salaries of people working under a jerk in order to keep employees from leaving.

All that said, you might be able to improve your own salary if you’re dissatisfied with it. But you’ll have a better chance of getting what you want if you focus on getting the pay that you deserve for the work you doing, completely independent of what your coworker makes.

Do some research on industry norms for your particular work in your geographic area and see where your salary falls relative to those. If  your research shows that your pay is roughly in line with what makes sense for your industry and the only issue is that your coworker makes more than you, you can still ask for more, but be open to the idea that it might be okay not to get it. That’s not an insult, just a pretty typical result of the way different people negotiate different packages for themselves.

You can also ask your boss what you would need to accomplish in order to earn a raise, and you might get valuable feedback that will show you a solid path to the salary you want.

But ultimately, if you don’t you don’t like the salary you’re being offered and your boss won’t budge, go out there and see what other offers the world has for you. You might find one you like a lot better — or you might decide that you’d rather stay put. Just make sure you base that decision on what the job is worth to you, not to your colleague.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 8 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager*

    Ha, actually I think I covered that under reason #1 — he negotiated better than you when he was hired. In my experience, male/female pay disparity in similar roles is often caused by the fact that men negotiate and women don't. Not all of it, of course. But a lot of it.

  2. JC*

    I agree with all these points, as well as the fact that many women don't negotiate as much as men do. I kept this in mind as I was negotiating the salary for my new job. I was determined to negotiate! But then I found out the position was grant funded and there was a fixed salary for the time being. I would have liked to get a bit more, but the salary is a good "entry level" amount so I can work with it for the time being.

    In my last job, working there for only a year got me the same pay as the rest of my co-workers. I didn't even ask for a raise (it went by seniority and everyone knew it) but they told me I did such a good job I deserved the extra money. I was told not to tell anyone (which I wasn't planning to) because my boss felt it would bother my co-workers too much. I think discussing your wage and salary is a bit rude and arrogant anyway. As long as it pays your bills, and you are getting a fair wage for your work, no one else in the office needs to know about it.

  3. Anonymous*

    You forgot a lot. Along with "he is a man" (and thanks for blaming the victims there, Allison, classy!) you can add:

    1. they are white
    2. they are skinnier
    3. they are of a higher class background
    4. they came in as a "consultant"
    5. your boss is trying to force you to leave
    6. they are friends with a higher-up
    7. they are f-ing someone higher-up

    These are all waaaay more likely that your "gee whiz, there's got to be a good reason!" naivete.

  4. Ask a Manager*

    What I wrote about are what I think are the most common. I've been clear that the other situations certainly happen too, but what I wrote about are what I've seen as the most common reasons in my experience. It's easy to cry discrimination when the explanation is actually something else entirely. That doesn't mean discrimination doesn't happen, but there's nothing to indicate it's the most common explanation.

  5. Kara*

    It's well documented that women don't negotiate as much as men. That's not blaming the victim, Anon. But how classy to be anonymous and attacking someone else.

  6. Anonymous*

    There are many well researched reasons for the "wage-gap" between women and men anon 4:30. Some are logical some are less so.

    For example, as Allison pointed out here, women negotiate less aggressively then men. However, evidence also suggests that when women do negotiate aggressively (eg like a man) they are less likely to be rewarded for it.

    However, that is sort of beside Allison's point of "why your coworker earns more than you." The vast majority of the time this is based on actual discernable facts that are within your control. Giving up control to what other people are doing that you are incapable of is unproductive at best.

  7. justice*

    i been a maintenance person for about 5 years ,the job pays 14 an hour and i was told i was going to start at 12 and after the 90 days i was going to get the 14 , to this day it hasnt happen , they hired a white person and gave him 14, they hired another person and just b/c that person knew so much and was doing favors for the big boss he got a raise and is making 14 , me im still making 12.24 , is the department of labor the place to complain ?

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