You’re Underpaid – What To Do

In a world driven by money, it is quite ironic that discussing a pay rise and asking for more of it is considered taboo.


To break this very common stigma, it’s important to recognise the value of your work and observe any signs that you are being underpaid. Red flags may be things such as: Does your salary match industry benchmarks? Are you constantly working beyond your job description whilst your salary remains the same? Does your organisation discourage any discussion regarding salary? Such questions are often “googlable” and easily answered. Others involve destigmatising conversations surrounding salaries with your colleagues. Are colleagues with less experience and effectivity being paid more?


In the end, being underpaid can have detrimental effects on your mental health and work productivity. It’s not only in your interest to address the fact that you’re being underpaid, but also in your employer’s. It’s time we shift the narrative!


Asking an employer for more money is in no way disrespectful. An appropriate salary that reflects your worth will provide your employer with a motivated and satisfied employee who feels valued, and will add value. In the long term, it leads to lower employee turnover and a positive company culture.

Before considering the best way to address the fact you’re underpaid, first figure out if you are in fact underpaid, and why that is. Only then can you determine if you should ask, and exactly how to ask for more money.


Lack of Resources

It could well be the case, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, that your company has a lack of resources. If possible, take a look at your company’s financial records, ask around and look out for layoffs. In this case, it’s probably not the best time to ask for a raise. Your employer might see you as a valuable asset, but not be able to afford to pay you more. Instead, you must consider whether you want to remain in the company in the hope that conditions improve.



Pay discrimination based on race, gender, and other factors is still prevalent in the workplace. It’s difficult to identify when if is happening to you if your workplace does not engage in salary transparency. It is then up to you and those you work with to initiate conversations around salary disparities. If it is the case that you are being underpaid due to discrimination, there are steps you can take to address this, rather than just simply requesting a raise. For example, you could report it to HR, seek legal advice and seek professional mental support.


Your Employer Does Not Value You

This one might be tough to navigate, but you could be dealing with a toxic company culture. Are you putting everything into your work, maybe even working extra hours? And your employer still does not value you enough to pay you? In this case, your employer is aware that you are underpaid but chooses to exploit you. Negotiating a pay rise in this kind of environment can feel scary, but if you are set on not quitting, you should do so out of respect for your hard work, time and effort.

After figuring out why it is that you are underpaid, you can take the necessary steps to ask for a raise. If your company is not facing any lack of resources and you believe they can afford to pay you more, the following are a list of tips to follow, to get you your money.


Pick the Right Time

The easiest time to ask for a raise is during a performance review. Employers often expect to discuss your salary expectations at this point and are more open to adjustments.


Performance reviews are usually arranged yearly, whilst some companies have them more often. Since employers expect you to prepare for these sessions with a self-evaluation, it’s the perfect opportunity to justify why you believe you deserve a raise. Be prepared to bring concrete examples of exactly how you have contributed to the company in the past year. If you nail your performance review it is common practice that you will get what you deserve.


If you would rather not wait for your annual performance review, another good time to ask for a raise is after a successful project. Your achievement will be fresh in your employer’s memory. However, if you are at a new job, it’s advised that you wait 6 months to a year before asking for a raise. In the meantime, keep a written record of your monthly achievements until it’s time to ask for a raise.


Preparation: Do Your Research

The number one thing to achieve a pay raise is being prepared and gathering evidence. Make sure to research market data regarding your current role. Compare average salary raises to your experience in order to show that the industry benchmark should aligned with your salary.


Base your argument on this data and quantify your value to the company. It often comes down to how much money you have helped your employer make or save. Did your work lead to increased sales? Did you exceed your targets? How did you help your employer save money? Be ready to present this evidence in clear data so that you can logically show your contributions to the company’s top or bottom line.


You might also find that you have been working beyond your initial job description. Essentially, you have unofficially taken on a promotion without a raise. If this is the case, be prepared to show how your additional responsibilities have helped your company, to justify a possible raise and maybe even a promotion.


Coming prepared could also mean having some leverage handy. Months prior to asking for your pay rise, you could start applying to other jobs. Having a couple of job offers to bring to your employer may not only allow you to understand exactly what you’re worth in the market, but also help persuade them to give you the raise you want in order to keep you. Some professionals believe this is unethical and will lead to resentment from your employer. Perhaps, but so is being underpaid.


Deliver it Just Right

Now that you have done your research and prepared your justifications, how are you going to deliver your arguments? You might think preparation is enough, but how you express yourself is also impactful.


Although you want to put on the role of a lawyer who backs up their claims through logical evidence, you should also convey a relaxed and positive outlook. Rather than complaining about your workload, you should also express gratitude for your job. Do not dwell on the injustice of your underpayment and show that you are unhappy as this will come off as unappreciative. Instead, use language that expresses your respect and commitment to the company.


It could be as simple as how you start off the meeting. For example, begin by telling your employer, “thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I know how valuable your time is”. Throughout the meeting, avoid words that make you appear uncertain such as “think”, “feel”, “usually”, and “probably”. Instead, use words that project confidence such as “definitely”. Body language is also important. Make eye contact, sit with good posture, and smile when appropriate. If you show confidence in your request for a raise, it increases the chances that your employer will follow.

Sticking It Out

So your employer decides to not pay you more. There is nothing wrong with remaining in your role if that feels right to you. You can still discuss other types of compensation! Oftentimes other perks such as healthcare benefits, extra paid vacation days and sabbaticals can be just as valuable for your wellbeing. Do not be afraid to ask for these if you’re denied a raise.


And a “no” today does not necessarily mean a “no” tomorrow. Work out a plan towards getting that raise in the future. Ask your employer what Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) you need to achieve to possibly get to your preferred salary. KPIs are a quantifiable measure of your performance over time that show how well you are achieving your goals. For example, for someone in customer service, a KPI could be their average response time. Having such set goals in place could get you that raise.


Switching Jobs

On the other hand, it might be time to move on to another workplace which knows your worth. Hopefully, you will already have done your research and so job hunting will not be as daunting. Maybe you already have job offers lined up if you decided to use these as leverage for your salary negotiation.


Although leaving a job can be frightening, switching companies often leads to a large salary hike. On top of that, facing a new challenge will allow you to advance professional growth in your career and diversify your resumé. However, changing employment is not a decision to take lightly and it’s always safer to have a job lined up before quitting your current employment. 


Whether you’ve just been offered a new job and about to enter salary negotiations, or you’ve been working for the company for a number of years and know you’re underpaid. Salary discussions are always a tricky topic to navigate.


When asking for a raise, it’s important to be forearmed with as much data as possible, keeping in mind that even with an abundance of data, your request may be rejected. It’s important to consider that salary is just one form of compensation and companies offer many other aspects of organisational benefits which contribute to increased satisfaction in your job. Whilst the most obvious is salary, it’s important to review your compensation package holistically before making any brash decisions.


If you are at the stage of your career where salary is the most important aspect of your compensation, and being underpaid is impacting your desire and willingness to perform, it’s important that you have the discussion with your company.


Be prepared for an unfavourable outcome, and as we’ve highlighted in this article, have a back-up plan!


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