Are You Happy With Your Salary?

Knowledge workers around the world are not happy with what they earn. You won’t have to look far to find evidence. Even if you are perfectly comfortable with your own salary – and let’s face it, you probably are not, try asking your colleagues and friends. You’ll almost certainly find many of them will consider they are worth considerably more than they currently earn.

Personal anecdotal evidence of this nature is useful, however, in the name of objective well-researched journalism I decided to dig up some objective research on the subject of pay satisfaction. In the past, a good source of data has been in the US edition of ComputerWorld. Over a number of years this trade newspaper conducted an IT worker salary satisfaction survey.

In 1998 the editorial report on the survey carried the headline “The Pay Still Stinks?” As you’d imagine, that year’s survey showed across the board salary dissatisfaction. No doubt the question mark is designed to cover the handful of workers who are happy with their income. Nobody was really happy, but the people nearer the bottom were the least satisfied.

IT industry workers at different were asked about salary satisfaction. There was a direct correlation between the employee grades and answers. On the lower rung, in this survey programmer/analysts, only 22% reported satisfaction. While at the top of the heap 50% of CIOs and vice-presidents of information systems said they were happy. ComputerWorld’s 1999 survey ran under an equally unhappy banner: “The Pay Ain’t Enough” with similar themes.

If there was a 2000 salary satisfaction survey, I couldn’t find any reference to it online. However, I did find a ComputerWorld story written only last week that quotes a different, but recent, job satisfaction survey revealing that 50% of US IT workers feel they are adequately compensated and 12% are ‘very’ dissatisfied with their current income.

People in computing related jobs might feel hard done by, but compared with other knowledge workers they have it relatively easy. In fact, it might be said that the fact anyone bothers conducting a salary satisfaction survey is a clear sign that American IT workers are comparatively pampered. You’ll have difficulty finding any pay satisfaction surveys for scientists, engineers, academics or media professionals. For that matter, you’ll also have difficulty finding Australian salary satisfaction surveys.

Salary dissatisfaction isn’t confined to knowledge workers. In some ways we might actually be a little more content than the general population. A poll in Newsweek magazine, found that some 61% of American adults believe they are not paid what they are worth. Newsweek discovered that, on the whole, management level and professional workers were less unhappy than people lower down the scale, but there was one major exception.

Many knowledge workers said they knew of friends, or erstwhile colleagues, who had become extremely rich in the past few years. Generally the wealth came from stock options. In most cases they said there was no apparent reason why these people should be plucked from the ranks and showered with money: they were neither smarter nor harder working. And these people hadn’t achieved more than there erstwhile peers. It almost seems random. Being Americans, they don’t resent the fact that their friends are coining it, however they are angry that they aren’t making similar sums.

Of course, these angry people don’t see the flip side. For every worker who got rich through stock options schemes, there will be a dozen or more who never realised any financial gain and others who narrowly missed getting their allocations. Of the people I know in Sydney who were on stock option scheme, most ended up with nothing. And in many cases they would have had mediocre salaries, with the options designed to make up the difference.

But, options aside, there are people who appear to know exactly how to play t

he salary game. One key is to arm yourself with knowledge about the job market.

Few people know what they are really worth to employers. It’s extremely rare for employees to have an opportunity to test the upper limit of their earning potential and, in Australia anyway, at the low-end government fiat rather than market forces determine pay rates.

A good place to start is by looking at what other people performing similar work in a similar geographic area are earning. Until now this kind of comparative information has always been quite hard to get in Australia. Yes, there have been salary surveys. Many of them are highly specific. In some cases you have to pay money to view them, in other cases you have to be a member of the relevant organisation. For example you can, if pushed, learn what Oracle professionals earn in Sydney or Melbourne and how much technical writers are paid.

There are many surveys available online. In most cases the information is a tad out of date in many high tech areas data that is more than six months old is almost worthless, but in other areas any surveys conducted in the past 12 months will be useful. Another way of accessing this data is to approach a recruitment consultant, many of them can give you figures on what people with similar skills are earning elsewhere. It can be a good idea to discuss salaries with a consultant before negotiating with your current employer. They are well placed to tell you what you should be earning and, although the transaction won’t earn them any income in the short term, they may be happy to help in order to build a relationship with you for the future.

One recruitment company has taken this idea further and has launched a Web site to help Australian IT professionals keep touch with market rates for their skills. Surprisingly, Candle Recruitment’s SalaryZone web site doesn’t ask for too much in the way of personal information, but the site works best if you are prepared to give a little, anonymous, information about your own salary. The great thing about Candle’s approach from our point of view is that it remains up-to-date. From the company’s point of view it’s a great marketing tool.

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