One Datum

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Some time back, I encountered the following question in Nick Corcodilos's Ask the Headhunter newsletter. I am glad to see that he has blogged it:

I recently started a new job, and there is one other person here who does what I do. He was hired about six months before me. While he was helping me get settled, he showed me his annual benefits enrollment form as an example. It had his salary pasted all over it, and I was dismayed to find out that he makes 30% more than I do. We have the same job, the same responsibilities, and my initial assessment is that my skills and background are stronger than his. (He did have a contracting relationship with the company for some time before he was hired.)

It's been very demoralizing to learn this so soon after starting this job, which is otherwise a good situation for me. Is there any way to handle this, besides going out and finding another job? It's hard to be happy and effective at work knowing someone else who does the same things you do earns so much more. Thanks!
The following excerpt-of-an-excerpt from Corcodilos's answer reaches the heart of the matter, namely that the questioner knows precious little other than the difference in pay (if even that, as the fourth comment indicates):
You have no idea why the boss pays the other guy more than he pays you. But there may be many reasons. For example, your co-worker may have been hired on a career track you're not aware of, and he may have skills you don't have that the boss will need later.

Your buddy may have been better at negotiating his deal than you were. Or, it may be easier to find workers today than it was six months ago. Maybe the company can't afford to pay more now. The list of possibilities goes on.

The point is, you accepted a certain deal, and your boss is honoring it. Don't leap to a conclusion about this...


In the meantime, consider how presumptuous it would be to ask your boss to pay you more, right after you accepted the deal you did...
Interestingly enough, in the later comment thread, the subject of discrimination crops up. Not to dismiss that possibility out of hand, but even a second data point, such as the questioner being a woman and the better-paid employee being a man wouldn't necessarily explain the gap, for reasons Thomas Sowell once discussed. Also, some of the commenters indicate that the gap could actually -- depending on the full context, of course -- indicate something good about the employer:
"Demoralizing"? I think it's time for some cognitive reframing, why let this ruin your honeymoon? If it were me, I would see this as good news. It means that there is room to move up in salary and that you are partnered with a colleague that can teach you some things.
Only time and much more evidence will tell this questioner what this gap means (if he ever finds out), or whether it is ultimately temporary or irrelevant. In the meantime, I was very impressed -- as I always am -- with the method of analyzing this situation that Corcodilos advocates. "Fair pay is a good thing. But jumping to conclusions is not." I am also impressed with the questioner, for neither acting intemperately nor simply indulging himself by seeking out only sympathy.

Haste and lack of evidence can sabotage the crucial task of winning one's just deserts. The feeling that one is being treated unjustly is a powerful one, particularly in a work environment. But one must remember, especially when in the grip of such an intense emotion, that all it is reveals is how one evaluates a given piece of information at a given moment. One must always ask whether that evaluation is correct, and that can often require much more evidence, as in the case shown above.

The large pay gap came with a large context gap. The strong emotion could and did motivate the task of filling in the latter. Only then will the questioner know what action to take (if any) about the pay gap.

-- CAV


Vigilis said...

Gus, yours (by way of Nick Corcodilos) is by far the most concise, yet useful treatment of this relatively common employee grumble that I had ever read.

Gus Van Horn said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this introduction to Nick Corcodilos. All the insights are his!

Michael Randall said...

Great post, Gus! Spot on.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thank you, sir -- and I might as well thank the Headhunter again, too.