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What are you doing in the pits?

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By The worrying thing in India is that nobody discusses issues such as pay hikes
  • Published 10.04.07

Ever wondered why, when all your colleagues are getting handsome pay hikes, you seem to be the one left holding the short end of the stick. Wasn’t it only yesterday that you consoled yourself re-reading Erma Bombeck’s If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?

The chances are that many people are building up this dissonance with their salary hikes internally. “And the worrying thing in India is that there does not exist a climate for discussing issues such as pay hikes,” says Mumbai-based HR consultant D. Singh. “The dissonance can grow to dangerous proportions.”

Singh says that in many cases it is more perception than reality. But it is easy to let the former take charge. You start with a mindset that you are not valued as you should be. After the annual appraisal, you see your colleagues all smiles. And you simply assume that others have got a better deal. “It may be that they too have got exactly what you have,” says Singh. “But they are putting a brave face on things.”

Besides, there are people who pretend they have been more than adequately rewarded. That seems to give them an elevated position in the eyes of others. A conveyed image of having been highly rated may give you an edge in office. It could be self-fulfilling too; the next year, with a little bit of effort on your part, you will be rated higher.

The perpetual grumblers do not provide the counterpoint to negate these “boasters”. People do complain about the meanness of their bosses. But it is seldom that they quantify such meanness.

In an earlier age, when companies doled out cash to their staff, there was some scope for spot comparisons. Today, with most payments being by cheque — and some going directly to bank accounts — salaries are shrouded in greater secrecy.

Some companies have tried openness. They do 360 degree surveys and even reveal percentage increments (within a range) that have been given. “It doesn’t help,” says Singh. “If you have that sort of a mindset, you will convince yourself that your colleague has a higher travelling allowance or reimbursements.”

The problem has been compounded by the salary surveys that have become so popular these days. You read about the average increase in your sector and level being 18 per cent. And you turn up your nose at the 10 per cent you have got.

But the operative word here is “average”. Every sector and company will have a few high fliers, who may get a 100 per cent increment (particularly, when performance bonuses are factored in). If you leave out these stars, the average increase could easily be 10 per cent, which is what you have got.

The second issue is that HR managers tend to club all staff together. They look at the cost to company the previous year and the current year. Some don’t even factor in the increase in the number of employees. The end result, the hike looks higher than it is. (Nobody is checking back on the numbers HR provides to the surveys, and there is some sort of ego boost in claiming to have given higher raises than you actually have. Your company never gets identified, so there is no downside there.)

The bigger issue here is that new hires are clubbed with the old. The new get higher salaries (they would not be joining otherwise). If these salaries are clubbed with increments, the official hikes look higher.

But the real truth is that some people are unhappy with their salaries because they are born moaners. In today’s environment, if you are not content, you can ask your boss to take a hike. Your next boss will give you one.


When negotiating for a raise:

• Do not count on your employers automatically giving you a raise when they realise how good you are.

• You cannot know your market value without testing it.

• Find out what others in your position are being paid, but do not use the information as an argument in itself for a raise.

• Avoid comparisons to named colleagues.

• Do not make references to your outstanding performance. After all, everyone is supposed to perform well.

• Do not threaten to quit unless you are prepared to do so.

• It is not enough to mumble something about wanting a raise. State a specific and realistic figure.

• Do not let it get too personal. Practise being able to handle a no.

• If asking for a substantial raise, you will be better off explaining that an unexpected situation has put you in dire need of money rather than pointing out that you have been underpaid for ages.

(Source: Sanne Udsen, European Project on Equal Pay)