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What Do I Do When I Find Out a Colleague With the Same Job Makes More Money?

Most of us work more than we live, which is to say we spend considerably more time at the office and with our coworkers than we do with the human beings we actually want in our lives. It also means that the stressors and anxieties of work become a significant part of who we are — and can be a real drag even when we’re not at the office. We here at MEL, however, don’t want all that stress to get to you — or worse, kill you. That’s why we’ve enlisted Terry Petracca, the hippest HR expert we know, to help solve all your work-related woes.

I received an email by mistake with a new hire’s salary offer. I’m really pissed about what they’re offering this guy compared to what I’m making. I want to storm into my boss’s office and ask, “What the fuck?” But I realize I have to be smart about this. Any advice? —Kevin F., Chicago
First things first: Don’t ignore this email. You’re obviously concerned about the information it revealed, and if you don’t discuss it, it’ll fester and affect your attitude at work. Talk to your manager about the email and share its contents (s/he might not have been in the hiring loop) as well as your concerns.

Be aware, however, that they may tell you the company doesn’t discuss other people’s salaries. Your response should be, “I don’t normally either, but in this case, some important information came my way. Nor am I asking about that specific person. I’m asking about my opportunities here.” Also, know that the National Labor Relations Board and several states now protect your ability to discuss pay with your fellow employees.

That said, make sure you’ve thought through what you’re going to say. Being confrontational isn’t going to get you anywhere. You should express your frustration and your disappointment in how the information was revealed to you, but you should stay away from saying you’re angry and that it’s all bullshit.

Consider the following strategy:

  • Ask what criteria the company uses in establishing a salary offer. For instance, how does education and experience affect the offer? Are there other attributes or behaviors it values more than others? What are the most important levers for the company?
  • Then ask how your skills, competencies, education and experience stack up compared with the person who received the job offer in question.
  • Finally, ask what it will take for you to get to that same level (salary, title etc.) as the person who was just hired. And how long it will take?

Armed with this information, you can make an informed decision about your opportunities within the company.

Don’t just complain to your coworkers about everyone else you work with — let Terry help. Email her all your office-related anxieties at Or, if total anonymity isn’t required, leave a question in the comments below.