I found a colleague's payslip on the photocopier. I shouldn't have looked, but I did as I was curious to know if he earned the same as me, as we have the same role. Well, he doesn't. In fact he earns Dh3,000 more than me. I'm almost certain our experience is of a similar level, so is this because he is lucky or because I am a woman? I realise this is a delicate situation. Should I raise this with the boss? B C, Abu Dhabi
You are in a really sticky situation and have found the one piece of information everyone wants to know but will never ask in organisations — how much others are paid. It is even more unfortunate that the information has come back showing you at a disadvantage. I urge you to think through your response to this information, as essentially you have seen something you shouldn’t have.
I understand you feel like you shouldn’t have looked at the payslip on the photocopier. For this reason this colleague has every right to feel annoyed if he ever finds how you came across this inside knowledge. Equally, if you raise it with your boss, an already delicate situation becomes even trickier as you may be held to account for how you found this information, before even being allowed to discuss why you feel it is unfair.
My strongest message is for you to be careful and think things through. I know this information may be frustrating but the way you have gathered it could reflect badly on you and affect your reputation in other areas of work.
It’s almost like you are a secret service agent who has gathered some incriminating evidence about a treacherous colleague, but the way you went about gathering the information could expose you and leave you open to organisational assassination. So continue with caution.
Moving away from how you found this information, I would like you to openly explore all the possible reasons as to why this person may earn more than you. What company did he join from? Does he have a different kind of experience to you? Was he recruited under a previous manager? Has he been there longer than you or was he just lucky? I understand you may feel discriminated against based on your gender and I am not saying this is not the case, nor does it no longer happen in some organisations. The unfortunate reality is that biases, stereotypes and discrimination can occur, even in modern, contemporary, forward-thinking workplaces. But I ask you to consider every possible reality before you go back to this unfortunate truth. Even then you will never know for certain.
If you still feel the reason you are paid less is because of gender or something not based on your experience, merits or work rate you may then decide to hold a discussion with your boss. If I was in your situation, I would focus on a more open discussion around your general contribution to the organisation using real data about how you have helped the company produce and perform. I doubt I would even have the courage to raise the payslip issue. However, the issue may be eating away at you and you may feel like you have to speak up. If you do, then plan it, make it succinct and explain how it has made you feel.
Your boss’s reaction depends on your relationship with them. Some may understand and want to support you to do something about it, others may feel that you are implying they are being unfair and could become defensive (this is the more likely outcome because of how you came across the information in the first place). The latter unfortunately reduces the chances of you having an open and productive discussion about how you are rewarded for your work. Again, I always stress diplomacy, especially as you are feeling cheated or let down and emotions are involved. If you speak up but in the wrong way you will wish you had just ignored what you saw on the photocopier and carried on with your work. If you handle the situation skilfully, you may find the results will be in your favour.
At work, there are certain things that happen under the radar we wish we knew about — and how much others are paid is certainly one of them. Unfortunately, as is often the norm, when we do find out we wish we hadn’t. Caution is important here and more information is required before jumping to conclusions. Even when you have as much information as possible, the conversation itself is still a tricky one. Just because you want to speak up, some things are best kept to yourself.
Alex Davda is a business psychologist and consultant at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, and is based in the Middle East. Email him at email@example.com for advice on any work issues.
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