Are you being paid what you’re worth?

New research suggests workers know what they should be making, but many feel their salary doesn’t actually measure up.

“Know your worth. Never settle for less than you deserve.”

If there were a motivational poster hall of fame, this often-used phrase would have a place alongside the “Hang in there!” cat. But in reality, knowing what you’re worth and actually making it don’t always go hand in hand.

New research from staffing firm Robert Half shows 82 percent of workers feel well-informed about what they should be making, but 46 percent believe they’re underpaid. What’s interesting is these employees aren’t necessarily basing their information on salary surveys or projected salaries for similar positions they see in job listings. Instead, they’re doing their research a little closer to home: the person sitting next to them. More than half of employees (54 percent) admit to comparing notes on salaries with co-workers, and 28 percent have used that information to ask for a raise.

Additional findings from the survey include:

  • 73 percent of workers are checking salaries against industry resources, up 54 percent from two years ago;
  • More than half (57 percent) feel the strong economy has helped their earning potential; and
  • Millennials are more likely to discuss salary: 67 percent of workers 18–34 have talked salary with colleagues.

“Traditionally, it has been frowned upon to discuss salaries, but times are changing and more people are discussing topics in the workplace that have typically been kept quiet — including how much money they make,” notes Jim Jeffers, metro market manager of Robert Half in Madison. “Much like they disclose other aspects of their lives to those they interact with, younger workers especially feel comfortable disclosing how much they make with one another.”

Still, rather than relying on hearsay or asking colleagues outright, Jeffers recommends using more trusted sources like salary guides, which are based on real placements, to get a better idea if you’re being paid what you’re actually worth.

Coming to salary conversations equipped with these numbers so that your existing or potential employer knows that you are aware of the industry landscape and that you’ve done your homework will make it easier to negotiate for a higher salary, says Jeffers. “Make the conversation more about your achievements and market rates for your position — it’s best to leave others’ salary information out of the conversation altogether.”

Robert Half offers its own salary guides, but other resources like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provide comprehensive wage data by state and even metro area that are broken down by industry and position type. Once you have the research to back up your points, Jeffers says don’t shy away from scheduling time with your boss to make your case. Be proactive and set the meeting if you don’t have regular check-ins.

Jeffers says there are a few common mistakes to avoid when asking for more money:

  • Letting emotions take control. Practice your discussion points out loud with a mentor so you don’t feel angry, nervous, or upset. It’s critical to be confident and even-keeled. This is a business discussion, not a personal one.
  • Timing is everything — don’t catch your boss off guard or ask when the company is having a rough quarter.
  • Asking for the moon. You need to be realistic and not too demanding.
  • Not having a Plan B. Make sure you have a backup in case your boss cannot give you more money. Ask for other things like more vacation, schedule flexibility, and a promotion timeline.

Just as it’s important for workers to do salary research, the same holds true for employers and managers. “It’s also imperative for employers to have ongoing communication with their staff regarding performance and salaries,” advises Jeffers. “Yearly performance reviews aren’t enough — set up quarterly meetings to discuss goals, achievements, career progression, and salary. In today’s hot job market, if you delay, morale could suffer and employees may leave for greener pastures.”

Jeffers offers the following tips for managers when approached by an employee regarding salary:

  • Keep an open mind — don’t jump to conclusions or say “no” prematurely.
  • Have a discussion and ask open-ended questions to learn more.
  • Ask to see research/evidence like published salary figures, industry reports, or a list of duties they’ve taken above and beyond their job description. How have they moved the needle or exceeded expectations?
  • Look at nonverbals and how they’re communicating — is it a compensation issue or something else (burnout, feeling underappreciated, or personal issues pressing on them)?

“In a stronger economy, top performers have options, but they’re more likely to stay put if they feel they’re getting paid fairly,” adds Paul McDonald, senior executive director for Robert Half. “Employees know their worth, so don’t risk losing key players because you’re not showing them they’re valued at your company.”

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