Did your co-worker steal your raise?


The person sitting next to you at work has been acting peculiar.

Nothing dramatic… after all, you’ve shared the same workspace for years, worked on several successful projects together, and survived a round of layoffs back in 2009, coming out fine on the other side.

But it’s the little things…

  • There’s a new hop in their step as they go to and from meetings
  • You see them hanging out near the VP’s office more often
  • And that outfit they’re wearing today looks great on them… is it new?

Eventually you can’t help but think:

Did my co-worker steal my raise?

There’s no doubt the economy was down for the count in recent years:

  • An estimated 2.6 millions jobs lost in 2008
  • 32% of companies freezing salaries in 2009
  • Unemployment above 9% for all of 2010
  • The Occupy Wall Street movement highlights economic inequality in 2011

You’re thinking to yourself, “I can’t get a raise or ask for more money because the economy is still bad, right? Right?”

Well, for sure — no matter when you’re reading this — there will be some sectors that never recover. A renaissance in Detroit will probably take at least a decade, some housing markets are still out of whack, and some industries like publishing, music, and higher education will continue to face some form of disruption.

But as far back as December 2010, a year-end survey by research group Mercer found that a whopping 98% of companies said they planned to raise base pay in 2011.  And those salary freezes? Human Resources firm Towers Watson said only 5% of companies planned on doing so in 2011.

So yes, perhaps your boss is still holding the company line that “the economy is unstable” when you’re thinking about a pay increase.

Or perhaps it’s just an excuse in your head because you’re afraid.

What are three things you can do to get your piece of the pie?

1) Ask

The first thing to do is the easiest. Just because revenue is rebounding doesn’t mean companies are automatically giving across the board bumps in pay. They’re just not going to volunteer it. You need to ask. but you’ll need to do it the right way.

Let’s say you go in and complain that you need more money because your 401(k) tanked, the value of your house plummeted, and everything is more expensive. You whine about how cheap the company is for not giving you a raise for a few years, and you heard that Larry over in finance makes more money than you. Your boss says he’ll think about it.

Now let’s say your co-worker comes in with a plan, outlining the things that really matter:

  • Numbers showing how much the company made on their last project
  • Cost savings from the most recent budget numbers
  • Special training and certification that only they have

Who would you give the raise to?

2) Be a Rock Star

The good news is that raises are out there for some people. The average raise is usually around 3%.  The even better news is, since 2012 that’s finally beating inflation.


The way to stay in the black is to outshine your co-workers and be the Rock Star of the office. If you’re staying in your current job, your best bet for a larger increase is a promotion. How to pull that off? Take on tasks that make your boss’ job easier. Volunteer to work on high-profile or revenue-generating projects. Be a mentor to newer employees. Come in early or stay late. Stay up on industry trends. Present a new way to make the company money.

In short, make your work stand out so that your boss can’t help but reward you.

3) If you don’t like the answer they give, it might be time to test the market.

Even if you still enjoy your current job, going on an interview will let you know what your value is on the marketplace, and what skills are important. If it’s been awhile since you’ve looked, after you’ve updated that red power tie, make sure your other skills are up to date as well:

  • Refresh your resume – Paying special attention to new technology and social media skills you may have learned. Better yet, build a digital portfolio.
  • Tap into your network – Remember that upwards of 80% of all jobs are found through networking, and the web has made it easier than ever.
  • Hone up on salary negotiation skills – The HR manager on the other side of the table negotiates salary for a living. You don’t. But that doesn’t mean you should be unprepared and freeze up when they ask your salary requirements. Check out one of my courses or hire me as a coach to get back up to speed.

So if you look over at your co-worker and they’re sitting there with a smirk on their face – and using a cashmere mousepad – they may be making more money than you. It’s time to take action.