If they think they’re being underpaid, it may be time to talk

With the rise of employer review websites, job listings that mention a salary range and sites that offer general wage guidelines, it’s become easier than ever for employees to find and compare salary estimates to what they earn — which can prove problematic.

Perceived discrepancies can spark resentment amongst employees, which can eventually cause disengagement and potentially result in significant, lasting discord in the workplace.

Unfortunately, all those troubles may stem from a misunderstanding. Although a number of workers feel they’re being underpaid, a PayScale study found less than half actually were earning less than peers who were in similar roles.

If employees approach HR about erroneous salary estimates they’ve found online — or to express frustration about a coworker being paid more — the following scenarios may help reassure them pay is being distributed fairly:

“The average salary for my position listed online is much more than I’m paid.”

A number of factors can skew online salary estimates. Because they’re crowdsourced, they may only represent what a small group of respondents make; or, depending on respondents’ geographical location, fail to accurately reflect what workers are paid in your area.

Likewise, some estimates don’t take prior experience, career level or other distinguishing features into account. Titles can also differ regionally and from company to company; a junior sales associate at one organization may actually be performing a considerably different role than someone at another organization with the same title.


“This company is known for paying low salaries, from what I’ve read.”

If the comment comes from a candidate, you’ll likely get a chance to prove you pay a competitive rate if you make the person an offer. Current employees, however, can also come across negative pay-related comments on employer review websites. While you may not be able to discuss it with employees who approach you about pay, it’s possible some items may have been posted by disgruntled former employees who are actually upset about other issues — or current employees who are basing their assessment off incorrect online salary estimates.

If you’re seeing or hearing about a lot of negative pay-related comments, however, it may help to conduct a benchmarking review to confirm your employees aren’t being underpaid. Our blog post on sizing up the talent competition can provide some suggestions about where to start.

“My coworker says she makes more than me.”

HR team members may find it helpful to discuss any key reasons coworkers are in a higher pay grade. Pointing out different responsibilities, unique experience or skills, years in the industry or additional degrees the person possesses, for instance, may help employees understand why colleagues are receiving additional compensation.

On a positive note, the situation may present an opportunity to encourage employees to take advantage of any training, tuition reimbursement or other programs the company offers to work toward achieving a higher position and salary.

If your organization doesn’t currently offer any internal learning resources, you may want to read more about what types can be beneficial in our blog post on employee training program options.

You may also be interested in our posts on skills training companies can afford on any budget and eliminating skills shortages with reverse mentoring.