Q. I really need a raise, so I discreetly asked several of my co-workers to tell me their salaries. I'd like to use what I learn to get a raise by letting my boss know that I know I'm paid at least $2 an hour less than anyone else. Will he be upset with me for asking around?
A. Although your boss can't legally retaliate against you or your co-workers for discussing salaries, your plan creates potential repercussions -- and may not get you what you want. After all, your boss may have valid reasons -- such as your co-workers' performance, experience or longevity -- for paying others more than he pays you.
Further, your co-workers might be upset if you out them in an attempt to increase your salary. If your boss does mind that you've asked around, you've thrown your co-workers under the bus for helping you.
If you want a raise, make a case based on your own merits. Here's how to prepare.
What does the marketplace say?
The Alaska Department of Labor (live.laborstats.alaska.gov/wage) provides salary information for many positions. Employers generally want to pay as much as or more than other employers so they can retain their employees. Are you paid comparably to others in similar positions -- though not necessarily your co-workers, who may have different responsibilities or tenure?
As you research, exercise caution. Many well known salary sites publish erroneous information gathered by individuals with a vested interest in posting inflated salaries. Bad information can undercut your case.
Approach the situation effectively.
Approach your manager as if you and he share a goal. You want to keep your job and earn the right salary. He wants to pay you fairly and have you work hard.
Treat your salary discussion as a business negotiation. The best negotiators start by asking questions to feel out the other person's views. Ask your boss what he thinks about your work. If you receive promising answers, make your best case for a raise.
If you receive problematic answers, listen and learn. Your boss may see you differently than you see yourself, which leaves you three choices: shape up, ship out or educate your boss so he sees your performance as worthy of a raise.
Make a case.
Base your request on your worth to your company and not your personal financial need or how much your co-workers make -- unless you and they have the same positions and similar experience, education and accountability.
Make a list of your achievements on the job, including how you've helped increase profits or productivity, satisfied customers and generally performed above and beyond expectations.
If you've worked extra hours to meet an urgent deadline, improved systems or processes, or trained newer employees, include them.
If your boss feels you've earned it, you have a good chance of getting the raise.
Be reasonable and creative.
Employees who ask for too much take a risk. An employer who can't meet an employee's stated needs may consider such a disappointed employee a short-timer. If your boss says he can't give you the raise you want, ask whether he would consider offering other benefits, like more paid time off.
Why aren't you paid what you feel you're worth?
Does your boss take what you do for granted? If so, view this discussion as a first step toward educating him and eventually winning your raise.
Have you taken a good look at yourself? Sometimes individuals with good skills undercut their chances for a raise or promotion with problem behaviors such as venting, missing deadlines or frequent texting. If so, and you want a raise, make changes.
Perhaps your boss can't afford more money for you. If your manager tells you he can't pay you more because he's just making ends meet, he may be telling the truth. As an employee, you can count on making a certain amount of money per hour. Your employer, however, pays you along with all his other overhead expenses and cannot count on making a profit or even breaking even.
A wise boss gives raises to employees who earn them. Help your boss understand that it may cost the company more to say no than to say yes. Finally, don't give your boss an ultimatum, unless you have a plan B and are prepared to follow through on it.
Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at email@example.com.