When you learn that a coworker in a similar position is making more money than you, it can stir up intense feelings of jealousy and amplify your insecurities. You work just as hard! You do the same job! Why don't you get the pay you deserve?
Instead of focusing on your personal flaws, take note of what your coworker is doing right. There are lots of variables that go into determining how much to pay employees. Even when you think you're doing all the right things, chances are you could be doing more.
Gaining that competitive edge that brings a higher salary is probably simpler than you think. Just make sure you're not overlooking these key reasons your co-worker may be earning more than you:
1. She negotiated more aggressively
One of the worst mistakes you can make going into a job is accepting an offer without doing your research. Companies don't want to hand out more money than they need to, so their first offer is likely on the conservative side. Pushing back on an initial offer is necessary in order to get the salary you want and deserve.
But make sure you do your research first. Coming back with a counter offer that is much higher than the industry standard is a surefire way to show that you aren't salary-savvy.
"You need to figure out your market value and negotiate for a market adjustment," says Caroline Ceniza-Levine, career expert at SixFigureStart. "If the idea of negotiating makes you nervous, work to get over this because you'll need to negotiate to fix your situation, regardless of the underlying reason."
Whether you are negotiating an initial offer or a raise, you need fair numbers and a strong understanding of why you're worth the money.
2. His timing was better
As frustrating as it may be, if you were hired during a season of economic scarcity, chances are that you may not be making as much as employees who were brought on when the company was prospering. If you know that you were hired at a time when business was tough, asses the current economic climate and see if it might be time to revisit your salary.
"Sometimes new hires join a company at a higher salary because the company pays more to attract them," says Ceniza-Levine. Make sure you know the current market value for your job, and make sure you're broaching the subject at a stable time.
If the timing is right, make sure you have a strong case for your increase. Bring up your contributions and how you have helped your company move past those times of economic hardship. Coming into the fold during a difficult time may actually set you up for more success now, because it shows your adaptability and hard work.
3. She doesn't let a good job go unnoticed
In the workplace, humility can be overrated.
If you want your boss to recognize your efforts, keeping your nose to the grindstone isn't always going to do it. You need to keep track of how your hard work benefits the company and other employees, and bring attention to yourself when the timing is appropriate. Tooting your own horn may be uncomfortable for you, but if you want to earn more, you need to demonstrate why you deserve to.
4. He remembers to dress to impress
In a perfect world, perhaps looks wouldn't factor into a person's money-making ability, but the reality is, the way you present yourself matters. Taking pride in your appearance in business and in social situations can have an impact on your earning potential.
Those who dress the part and keep spirits high are more likely to be noticed in a positive way, so make sure you are putting your best foot forward, especially if you are looking to ask for a raise. You want to make sure everything about you leaves a good impression, from your work to your wardrobe.
5. She has a better background
Before landing a similar position to you, your coworker may have done some impressive work elsewhere to attract a higher salary. Or she may have developed skills that you didn't. More general experience, more functional expertise in that role, or more industry knowledge relevant to the company can a have a big impact on salary negotiations, according to Ceniza-Levine.
"To bridge the gap, you need to shore up your expertise, knowledge or skills," says Ceniza-Levine. First, she recommends evaluating whether or not you're worth what you're asking. "Confirm that your job is as valuable as you think – are you working on projects and clients that are important to the current strategy of the company? Are you delivering results that matter?"
Just because you're jealous of your coworker doesn't mean you are owed more money. Ceniza Levine also warns that roles that appear the same might actually be more different than you think. "Just because you work in the same group or sit side-by-side doesn't mean your projects, clients or results have the same value."
So make sure you work is actually worth what you think it is, and then make your case.
Gemma Hartley is a full-time freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Glamour, Women's Health, Redbook Magazine, and more.