I work for a small (~80 person) design agency in a major metro area on the West Coast. The initial compensation offered was average at best, as compared to similar jobs in the area with the same skills and experience level. But I accepted the offer, along with a verbal promise to review performance after 6 months and adjust compensation accordingly.

At 6 months, I got a cursory review that was mostly positive, but there was no increase in pay. The response I got was "we're re-organizing the entire company structure and will deal with salaries later." Later never came.

Now I've been there almost 2 years and just had a more formal and comprehensive review, including peer reviews. Both my boss and my peers rated me highly, with very positive comments. There were only two minor suggestions for improvement, and peers noted that I had already started improving in those areas.

While I was (finally) given a raise, it feels meager (~2.5%) considering the positive review and my tenure at the job. I like the company and the people and really don't want to leave. But I'm also a bit introverted and non-confrontational so I'm not sure if or how I can do anything. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

My question is "What can I do to stay at the company but feel I'm being paid fairly?"

  • 1
    Is this the same question you have?
    – enderland
    Oct 29, 2013 at 21:25
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    "We're re-organizing the entire company structure and will do X later" always translates into "We won't do X unless something beyond our control happens that forces us into doing it." It doesn't matter if you are in Google, the Vatican, FIFA or wherever. It's just a cute and polite way to lie.
    – user10483
    Oct 29, 2013 at 22:27
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    @joestrazzere - My question is "What can I do to stay at the company but feel I'm being paid fairly?"
    – user11098
    Oct 29, 2013 at 23:23
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    @user11098 isn't that protected speech under the National Labor Relations Act as long as you do it outside of work Oct 30, 2013 at 16:21
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    2-3% Raises are the norm in most US companies. And have been for more that 30 years.
    – HLGEM
    May 19, 2014 at 12:52

5 Answers 5


What can I do to stay at the company but feel I'm being paid fairly?

First, you need to figure out what "fair" is. There are a couple of ways to do that. You can compare your salary with the salaries of people who have experience and talent similar to yours. Or you can look for new positions and see what you are offered. You may find that no one else will pay more than you are currently receiving. That may cause you to change the way you feel about your salary. Or you may find that other employers are willing to pay more. Then you can go to your manager and tell him that you are being underpaid in the current market, and see if they care enough to adjust your salary.

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    Kevin nailed the answer. YOUR POSITION IS NOT WORTH ANY MORE THAN SOMEONE IS WILLING TO PAY YOU. You know what your current company thinks you are worth, go find out what others think you are worth. That's the way to find out if you are underpaid. So you don't end up in the same situation as now, you better ask for MORE than you think you are currently worth. Almost always, existing employees fall behind the new hire pay curve. The best way to offset that is to start out for more than you are worth. Until you find out how much you are worth, you don't even know if there is a real problem.
    – Dunk
    Oct 30, 2013 at 13:59
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    @Dunk, Just to clarify, you aren't paid what your employer feels you are worth. You are paid the LESSER of what they feel you are worth and what you are willing to settle for. If I make $30,000, but threaten to quit and am offered an extra $10,000 to stay, then I was worth $40,000 all along but only got $30,000 because the company had no incentive to step it up.
    – Brandon
    Jun 18, 2014 at 16:25
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    @Dunk easy on the caps. Jul 24, 2014 at 19:48

Your company pays you in line with how they value you and your position.

It sounds like you reluctantly accepted this position, even while feeling that you were underpaid. Now you have been there for 2 years and feel like you have been getting raises that haven't brought you up to the level you believed you deserve.

Most likely, your mental calculations for the value of this position don't match the company's actual value. It's possible you are near the top of the pay scale for your salary grade, and thus (despite a great review), you aren't entitled to a big raise.

You could speak with your boss about this. "Boss, I feel like my position is worth more than you are paying me, and here's why". You should then list reasons why this position adds significant value to the department and the company.

You could also approach this as a question about how to get more. "Boss, I was disappointed in my last raise. What can I do to get a better raise next time?" You might discuss how you can provide more value, or how you can be promoted to a higher pay scale.

In either case, be prepared for an answer that basically says (in a nice way), "We don't think you are worth as much as you think you are worth."

Remember, just because you feel underpaid is not necessarily a good reason for the company to give you a big raise. If you have leverage (for example, if you are in a position where few others could replace you), you may be able to command a raise, but in reality few are in such a position.

My question is "What can I do to stay at the company but feel I'm being paid fairly?"

The answer is easy (although getting there might be difficult for you). You need to change your opinion of what "being paid fairly" means.

In general, I believe we all need to focus on our own personal situation and not worry about what others are getting.

I know a woman who was very happy in her busy job. Then, some of the people in another department became less busy, due to business reasons, while her job remained busy. Now she is unhappy, because "I'm the only one working hard here."

To me, this is silly. Her job hasn't changed at all. Yet, she went from happy to unhappy because of someone else's change.

Similarly, you can decide to be content with your compensation or not. You should try to judge your position based on what you are receiving, and how that meets your personal needs, rather than what others are receiving.

It's difficult to do this, I understand. But if you can't get yourself into that mindset, you may find yourself constantly unhappy because you can always find someone "better off".

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    Thanks, Joe, your tips are helpful. I generally agree with your first statement. But I think in some industries, and in some companies, the thinking is "what's the minimum amount we can pay to keep the employee from leaving?" Where I am, turnover is relatively high, and I think the company sometimes forgets the cost of recruitment and training. They think they can let someone walk out the door, because his replacement will be waiting outside. However, the company may have spent thousands of dollars getting that guy to find them, and will spend more to train him.
    – user11098
    Oct 30, 2013 at 0:38
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    If you think your company are doing things wrong and paying you under market level, why do you want to stay? If they have been doing things this way for 2 years, and don't seem to have an issue with it, what makes you think they will change to make you happy? I think that Joe is right in that if you want to stay, you're better off changing your expectations.
    – jmac
    Oct 30, 2013 at 2:06
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    @user11098 It is important to note that on paper it can probably be proven that it costs more in the long run to maintain a policy that encourages high turnover, but the simple matter is that when it comes to money, not all spent dollars are equal in value. Things get budgeted, departments and projects get budgeted and budgets are finite. The funds for new workstations might be incredibly valuable because there isn't many dollars for that. When it comes to salaried workers putting in extra time to train people there is generally a much lower value per dollar spent on salaried hours (cont)... Oct 30, 2013 at 13:28
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    ... (cont) because often times salary is an annual sunk cost for a company. Furthermore if they have too many salaried hours then it is hard to lower that number because it is often exceedingly difficult or expensive to lay off employees. Another facet is that in high turnover, the least talented generally stick around, meaning their already sunk cost hours have less value still. Oct 30, 2013 at 13:31
  • I empathize with that woman. A pet peeve of mine is to be held to a standard by somebody who doesn't hold everybody else to that standard, and/or themselves. So if I was the only one working hard, that would demotivate me.
    – Brandon
    Jun 18, 2014 at 16:29

The first step is to confirm that you have a fair rate in mind. Do your research. It is difficult these days as job listings rarely include salary information, so you may have to commence the application process for listed positions just to find out the salary. Find a few and get an idea of the range - don't just ask for the maximum; instead get the maximum and minimum expected.

After that you can simply approach your boss and ask him

What do I need to do this year to earn a salary of $X?

You want to make a deal with him that if you perform reasonable and achievable targets you'll get that salary. If he can't make that deal - even on a less optimistic salary - then it's very likely that you aren't going to get a raise.

There are only two ways to set your salary - when you start a new position (including a formal promotion), or by getting a raise. I've worked in a number of companies that, for whatever reason, never gave raises. This is why a lot of people advise that you negotiate hard when you start a new position. If you aren't valued as much as you think you should be then you might want to find a new position.


My question is "What can I do to stay at the company but feel I'm being paid fairly?"

This is going to be one of those "not what you wanted to hear" anwers.

Short version: nothing.

Long version: your company got you with a price. Even though some steps may have been missing or implicit, they evaluated for how much they could get your services, then offered you that much, when you were hired.

The only way they will agree to pay you more, is if they can no longer get your services (or others of similar quality) for the same price.

This means that if you tell your boss "I would like to to earn more" (no matter how you word it), his default answer is likely to be "so would I" or similar (I actually got that answer in a salary negociation :( ).

If insteadm you are prepared to tell your boss "I need more and am beginning to search for it in another place", then your boss is faced with the possibility of not getting your services any more (i.e. he doesn't have the option of saying "deal with it" unless it costs him your services). This won't work unless you are really prepared to leave (as in "you decided, you searched for alternatives and you found another offer and whether your boss gives you a raise is the deciding factor on leaving or not).

There are also many companies where they don't pay at market value, but at how low they can get away with paying (usually hiring students, people with little experience, and whoever they can convince to work for low wages). If you are in such a place, leave. You will be glad you did, 3-4 weeks after finding something else (no matter how hard leaving in the first place actually is).


"What can I do to stay at the company but feel I'm being paid fairly?"

So long as you remain totally committed to staying at the company, there is very little you can do to get paid more (I've said 'more' because 'fairly' is in the eye of the beholder).

What you need to do is work on your BATNA ('Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement').

Brainstorm a list of all available alternatives that might be considered should the negotiation fail to render a favourable agreement;

Chose the most promising alternatives and expand them into practical and attainable alternatives; and

Identify the best of the alternatives and keep it in reserve as a fall-back during the negotiation.

BATNA Explained, The Negotiation Academy

While you remain completely committed to staying with your current employer, your BATNA is worth exactly $0.

Worth noting that developing a BATNA doesn't mean you have to actually leave the company, it just means you need to develop some other options, so you find out what you would be worth to other employers if you did decide to leave.

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