16 signs you're underpaid -- and what to do about it

Feeling like you might be underpaid can be one of the most disheartening aspects of work.

"It stands to reason, because for many, compensation is a concrete litmus test of how well you're performing and progressing on the job — and how highly you're valued," said Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of "Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job."

What's crucial, if you realize you are underpaid, is to ask for a bump — not suffer in silence.

"The important thing to remember is that if you don’t ask the answer is always no," career and wellness coach Joanna Echols told Business Insider. "Even if you don’t get the raise right away, and you are an exceptional performer, the raise discussion with your boss is a great opportunity to reinforce your accomplishments and explain your future plans of adding more value to the company."

Here are 16 signs you're not being paid your worth, and what to do to boost your salary:

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How to figure out if you're underpaid

A similar job listing on your company website offers higher pay

"If there are multiple positions like yours at the company, the job description closely resembles yours, and the salary is higher, that's one of the most obvious signs," Taylor said.

Stay on top of this by occasionally searching your own company's job postings to monitor what new employees are being paid, "and to see if that feels reasonable given your current level of experience and role in the company," said Michael Kerr, an international business speaker and author of "The Humor Advantage."

Your firm's revenue has taken off, but your salary has barely budged

If your company isn't public, it's harder to obtain hard numbers about revenue growth.

But you likely have a sense of whether your company is booming or busting. If it's the former, you have a good reason to argue for a raise, Taylor said.

The salary for your first job was below market, and it hasn't changed much since

Think back to the salary you accepted for your first job — maybe you accepted a salary you knew was low because you were desperate.

Now consider how your pay progressed from there. If it hasn't changed much, you're probably underpaid.

"It can be difficult to play catch-up if you started low," Taylor said.

You make less than your colleagues with similar levels of experience and education

People rarely talk openly about money, and in many companies salary discussion is even prohibited

But discussions might be a bit more open at association or industry networking events, Kerr said. Pay close attention if salary comes up among people with roles or experience similar to yours.

"If the discussion makes your jaw drop, then there's a good chance you are being underpaid," Kerr said.

Your benefits are also lacking in comparison to your coworkers

Consider all the benefits included in your compensation package, such as health insurance, 401(k)s, paid vacation time, flexible work, free gym membership or cell phone, or child care, Taylor said.

While your coworkers might not be keen on discussing their salary, if they mention that they have significantly more paid time off or have a company phone, that's a sign that your company isn't rewarding you as much as your colleagues.

Your level of responsibility has increased, but your salary hasn't

"If your boss keeps piling on added duties, extra work, and especially more responsibilities without any increase in compensation or even a discussion about it, this may be a sign that you are underpaid," Kerr said.

Another sign: Your title has been upgraded, but it's not reflected in your paycheck, Taylor said.

Your mindset is 'I'm just happy to be employed'

A positive attitude is important, but seeming complacent can work against you.

Most managers can sense this and will not go out of their way to make you an "absurdly happy" employee if you already seem totally loyal and adoring of the company, Taylor said.


 

You haven't had a performance review or raise in over a year

An annual performance review is the typical time to discuss pay bumps.

If your review didn't include a pay raise, or it didn't happen at all, you might have reason to think you're underpaid, Taylor said.

You're in a specialty area that's in high demand

Some jobs are in higher demand than others.

"Cyber security and SEO/SEM marketing are hot job specialties, for example, whereas certain other positions are becoming more automated. Or there may be great supply, but reduced demand," Taylor said. "Factor in where your field of expertise stands in the general job marketplace."

But if you're in a shrinking field, like journalism or desktop publishing, don't be surprised that you haven't experienced lavish pay increases.

You've been nursing a vendetta against the company

Take note of your feelings towards your employer. There might be signs that you feel used.

"If you feel inclined to take extra long lunch breaks, steal the occasional office supply, or in some other small way take advantage of something in your workplace because you feel you are 'owed' it, even at a subconscious level, this could be an obvious sign because at some level you feel underpaid," Kerr said.

You receive salary increases, but they're tiny

Perhaps you did get a raise last year or for the last two years, but they're consistently in the 1% to 3% range.

Those sorts of bumps are just to keep up with inflation, not to reward you for your growing expertise and skills.

Your boss is evasive when you want to discuss your career path

Do you find that it's impossible to discuss your long-term career growth with your boss?

He or she may be reluctant because that may lead to a salary discussion or something complex that they're unprepared to discuss.

"That's not something you should be willing to sweep under the rug for very long, even if your boss is," Taylor said.

Your company has a high turnover rate

A high employee turnover can be a sign that your organization doesn't pay competitively, Kerr said.

If the workplace is otherwise cheery or supportive, below-market pay might be forcing out a lot of your colleagues.

Everyone around you seems to be getting bonuses — but you're not

Your coworkers are chatting about holiday bonuses or performance bonuses — but you've never gotten that happy direct deposit.

It may simply have been an oversight, but if it was intentional, you should find out why you're not getting that extra money.

You never asked for a pay increase

Ask and you shall receive — or not.

An analysis by Salary.com found that failing to negotiatecould potentially cost you more than a million dollars over the course of your career.

The No. 1 sign you're underpaid: research says so

If any of the previous signs ring true, it's a good catalyst to do some investigating.

According to a Glassdoor online survey conducted in the US by Harris Poll, 69% of employees say they wish they had a better understanding of fair market compensation for their positions within their local job market.

Thanks to a number of handy online tools, there's really no excuse not to know whether you're being paid fairly or not. Check out salary data websites like PayscaleGlassdoorIndeed, and Salary to see the median pay for your industry, position, and location.

"You must stay on top of the current salaries for your type of position," Taylor said.

By supplying your current salary, title, company, location, and experience, you can use Glassdoor's Know Your Worthtool to see how your market value has trended over time and how it compares to workers similar to you. Glassdoor found that the majority of its users that underpaid by about $4,700.

You can also take PayScale's Salary Survey to access a free report with a salary range based on your position, skills, education, and experience.

Prepare a data-heavy case

"Doing the research is key when asking for a raise," Echols said."You and your employer need to know why you feel you are underpaid or deserve to be paid more for your contributions."

After you've found how industrywide data on how your role is usually compensated, look for quantitative evidence of your success at the company.

Vicki Salemi, career expert for Monster, said you should already know the quantitative ways that your company measures performance. A successful salary negotiation presents that evidence of good performance.

It also might include qualitative information, Salemi said. If you led training or became a trustworthy person during a year with tumultuous office politics, you mention include that in your discussion.

'I stay late every night' should not be part of your case

Don't talk about how you work really hard and spend a lot of time at the office, Salemi told Business Insider.

"When you're asking for a raise, it shouldn't be subjective," Salemi told Business Insider.

Keep focused on the proof that you've been excelling at your goals, and that your pay is below what others of your experience level makes.

Think about your industry, and how you fit into it

Before you decide to ask for a possible raise, take an inventory of your unique selling proposition.

"Know how you measure up in the industry, department, and company," Taylor said.

Present the unique skills and achievements you bring, particularly ones that are in shortage industry-wide.

Show how you will maintain your good work

A successful salary negotiation includes how you will "plan to deliver even more value in the future," Nichols said.

You might offer to take on more responsibilities, launch an additional project or team, or get another degree or certification, Nichols said.

Decide on the minimum you'll accept for a raise

If you do approach your boss for a raise, know the minimum you'll accept for a new salary and stick to it, Taylor said.

Come to that number from your industry-wide salary research.

Decide when you want to set the meeting

Lynn Berger, a career counselor and coach, said bad timing is one of the most common mistakes people make when deciding to negotiate their salary.

You shouldn't ask for a raise if you've been at the company for less than a year, but inquiring about the fiscal calendar before that is acceptable.

Salemi recommended to learn beforehand when the fiscal year is set, and ask for a raise several months before then.

"You want to get ahead of the term and ahead of the timing," Salemi said.

You might also want to ask about a raise after you've enjoyed a major accomplishment, Berger said.

Think about whether you'd be willing to accept something other than more money

Especially in a cash-strapped company or industry, Salemi said you might want to be open to flexible working hours, more paid time off, a one-time bonus, or other benefits.

Schedule a meeting

"Schedule a convenient, relaxed time for your manager and you to sit down, uninterrupted," Taylor said. "Approach the subject diplomatically, with an upbeat, positive demeanor."

Maintain a pleasant demeanor

"Keep in mind that your boss may not be aware that you're being paid below market value," Taylor said.

Kerr also recommended expressing your concerns in a constructive way, focusing on the value you bring to the company, and coming armed with data bolstering your case.

You want industry-wide data, but don't discuss your colleague's salaries

Have all your facts together about your market value based on solid industry research, rather than hearsay about what others are earning, Taylor said.

"Don't compare yourself to other colleagues, focus on your own career path and goals," Kerr said. "And since many companies have a policy that prohibits employees from discussing their salaries, don't bring up other salaries, unless you speak in generalities."

If you don't get the minimum raise you're looking for, consider quitting

Getting a new job is the easiest way to earn a raise.

As a bonus, all of the research you did on your excellent performance at the company can be easily entered into your new résumé, Salemi said. You also are armed for your next salary negotiation with industry-wide salary date.

If you scored your pay bump, don't forget to follow up with an email

Congrats! Now it's time to make a paper trail, so your raise comes on time and in the right amount.

Mention your excitement to continue making great contributions to the company. Spell out all changes to your compensation package and when they will take effect.

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