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Saturday, September 30, 2023

Dear Tori: My coworker makes more money than me – what should I do?

Dear Tori: My coworker makes more money than me – what should I do?

My coworker makes more money than me – what should I do?

Dear Tori,

I recently found out that a coworker in a similar role as mine makes more money than I do. We joined the team at around the same time and – as far as I know – our responsibilities are very similar. I heard through the “office grapevine” that this coworker makes quite a bit more money than I do, and while I don’t know her all that well, I can’t wrap my mind around why there would be such a significant discrepancy in our pay. What should I do?

So, you found out that your coworker makes more money than you – that never feels good, and trust me: I know from experience. Before I started my own business, I worked in corporate marketing and I too found out that a coworker was making significantly more money than I was for the exact same role. Navigating that tricky situation taught me what to do when issues like these arise, but also taught me just how commonly they occur.

I know how discouraging it can feel to learn that a colleague makes more money than you for the same work, but I encourage you to not let that discouragement to hold you back from making the most of this opportunity – because believe it or not, that’s exactly what this is: an opportunity to get paid what you are worth and better empower the people around you to do the same.

First, don’t react in the heat of the moment

Right now, you may be feeling frustrated, discouraged, hurt, confused, or even angry – and I want you to know that those feelings are valid. After all, I’ve been there, and I’ve experienced those feelings too.

But while those emotions are all very natural, we don’t want to be reactive without taking the time to adequately process the information that we have received. By acting or speaking too soon, you run the risk of entering into a discussion with an employer unprepared and without the clarity of mind that you need to successfully navigate this complex situation.

So before you take any action, give yourself time to process and ask yourself the following questions:

Are there any legitimate reasons why this coworker should be paid more than me? Do they have more experience? More advanced education? More qualifications or credentials? More years with the company?

Do I have a performance review coming up that could result in a pay increase? Is it possible that this coworker simply completed their review and received their pay increase a bit earlier than I did?

Are our roles and responsibilities comparable to the point that our rate of pay should be the same?

Now, initiate the appropriate conversations

If after answering these questions you realize that there could be a valid reason as to why your coworker is currently earning more than you, then I encourage you to reach out to your supervisor or HR for more clarity on how your company’s compensation is structured. Not only will this help you better understand your own compensation, but it will hopefully also teach you about any potential opportunities for advancement or salary increases.

But, if after answering the questions above you still believe that there is an unfair discrepancy in pay, you may want to consider discussing the issue with your employer. Send your manager an email stating that you would like to initiate a conversation regarding your performance and make sure to emphasize your excitement to grow with the company for years to come.

Next, gather your research

It is extremely important that you go into this conversation with your employer clear headed, grounded, and prepared with concrete information about your performance, value as an employee, and industry standards. In addition to increasing your chances of successfully negotiating a higher rate of pay, having this research will also increase your confidence and make the whole process that much easier.

Be sure to do your online research by looking up the salaries of roles in your state or region. And get personal: reach out to people in your network in similar roles and industries. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation about salary to gather information and valuable context. Print out or write down key pieces of information to have on hand for your conversation with your boss.

Also, take time to prepare a list of any certifications you have gained or additional responsibilities you have taken on since your last pay evaluation. Write down some concrete examples of ways that you have recently contributed to the success of your team and how your involvement directly benefited the company as a whole. Wherever possible, come prepared with specific numbers and percentages to help quantify your value as an employee.

Have in mind a minimum dollar amount that you hope to secure – this will increase the chances that you walk away from the negotiation process feeling heard and satisfied.

Finally, engage in a professional conversation with your manager

I know that these kinds of conversations can be intimidating, but negotiating your salary is an important part of advancing your professional and financial journey. When you feel nervous, remember that you are prepared with research and that you deserve to be paid what you are worth.

Keep the conversation focused on your industry research, qualifications, experience and desire to continue to grow with the company for years to come. Make sure to reiterate throughout the conversation that you are engaging in this dialogue because you care about the work you’re doing, and that you want to find a compensation package that works for both you and the company. Tie back your statements with specific examples of your work, qualifications and experience to consistently remind your boss that it’s mutually beneficial to come to an equitable compensation arrangement.

Present your manager with your desired rate of pay, and be prepared to participate in some back and forth negotiations. Once you have secured your raise, make sure to take the skills you learned and share them with your community so the people around you can do the same.

Good luck; you’ve got this.


Tori Dunlap

Tori Dunlap


Tori Dunlap is a millennial money and career expert. After saving $100,000 at age 25, Tori founded Her First $100K to fight financial inequality by giving women actionable resources to better their money. A Plutus award winner, her work has been featured on Good Morning America, New York Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, and more. An honors graduate of the University of Portland, Tori currently lives in Seattle, where she enjoys eating fried chicken, going to barre classes, and attempting to naturally work John Mulaney bits into conversation.


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