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Paycheck envy in New Job

Dear Office-Politics,

I am about to start a new job.

I have been told I will be earning more than one of my contemporaries who has worked there for over two and a half years. They also know this and they are not happy about it.

I have been told that my job is slightly different to theirs so it is worth more, and also that I am worth more.

That’s great, but I feel like I am treading on peoples toes before I have even started.

I am also dreading a possible frosty reception from his person, and possibly other people as well – the person is in a relationship with someone else there so it is likely that the whole office will know by the time i start – just over a week.

How do I deal with these negative feelings/reaction towards me and is there anything I can do to reverse them?

Thank you for your help.

Lucky Newbie


dr. rick brandon
dr. marty seldman

Dear Fortune-nut,

OK, we’re feeling frisky today so our salutation is flip, but you might BE a bit nutty to be upset about gaining fortune! Our first caution is to be sure that you are not “catastrophizing” and “awfulizing” the future when many in your shoes would be celebrating their being recognized and rewarded.

Please don’t think us insensitive or discounting of your concerns, since you would not be the first newcomer to be “set up” by circumstances to be a lightning rod for envy and resentment through no fault of your own, as we’ll address in a moment. But we still want to invite you to find some balance, calm, and even peace of mind by realizing that

(a) you may be jumping to conclusions that are not actually true,
(b) you might be under-estimating yoiur future colleagues by assuming that your contemporary’s anger is toward YOU versus management (he or she might, after all, be mature enough to be not scapegoat you for a compensation decision someone else made),
(c) even if your unhappy contemporary IS trashing you to your new teammates, THEY may be mature enough and less “hooked” ego-wise to cut you some slack and not blame you, and
(d) finally, even if they ARE already down on you, you need to relax and walk into the situation knowing that you’ve done nothing wrong. If all of this fails and your new work community does feel alienated and distant or upset with you, here are a few ideas:

You can only control YOUR half of the relationships you cultivate, so just do your best to remain poised and hope others will see your competence, dedication, expertise, contribution, and goal to work collaboratively for mutual success. Send the message through your openness and sharing of ideas, through how much you share credit versus taking it unduly, and how you help others save face versus making yourself look good that you are on everyone’s side. Also, attend social and business networking events to build relationships and good will so people let go of any concerns. If, after all these efforts, a few people still ostracize you, so be it. You’ve done your homework. Let it go and focus on the postiive alliances you do build.

You can’t please all the people all the time so spend energy learning who the positive power holders (versus abusive command and control bosses) are, so that at least if a few saboteurs try to badmouth you, they cannot hurt you or may even think twice about messing with you.


If you really have narrowed down the potential difficulty, consider (weigh out the potential risks and rewards) approaching that contemporary BEFORE you phase in, or shortly afterwards to build good will, express your excitement about working together, and your desire to team in positive ways. While you are rapport building, try to get a feel for whether it would be savvy and safe to sensitively surface the possible sore spot about relative, equitable pay. Invite him/her to trust you when you share your awkwardnessness, that you certainly did not lobby for anything with the goal of creating tension or sense of unfairness, nor did you know anyone’s salary (if this is true).

So the covert message to the individual is to grow up and lay off, realizing if the tables were turned, they presumably would be happy for whatever pay they earned and would appreciate others’ welcoming them. You might consider a little comment to help them save face about being so crass or immature (our words, not yours to use!), such as “If I were in your shoes, I can’t say I wouldn’t feel a twinge of upset if I thought it was inequitable decision-making on management’s part, but I hope you’ll not pin it on me since I had no idea what the pay range or specifics were for others and I still don’t.”

This naturally does mean you’re blowing your cover and “naming” the issue, slightly accusing them of behaving unfairly towards you, so do this only if the person directly expresses the envy or resentment, or if you can truthfully reference evidence about how the information came to you. This tactic also forces you to be honest with yourself about being wrongfully attacked, circling back to our first caution about reality checking your Self-Talk.

We wish you well!

Warm regards,

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.


Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. Co-authors,
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success

cover of Survival of the SavvyRick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. are Co-authors, Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success. Dr. Rick Brandon is CEO of Brandon Partners. He has consulted and trained tens of thousands at corporations worldwide, including Fortune 500 companies across a variety of industries. Dr. Marty Seldman is one of America’s most experienced executive coaches. His 35-year career includes expertise in executive coaching, group dynamics, cross-cultural studies, clinical psychology, and training.

  1. One Answer to “Paycheck envy in New Job”

  2. I have one thought to add to Rick and Marty’s terrific advice:

    It’s common knowledge in the IT industry that new workers are often paid much more than existing staff. Why? Because hiring is so competitive! Software firms need to up the ante, and pay the ‘going rate’ in order to snag the good talent. My subtle message to your envious coworkers would be to remind them of the ‘bidding wars’ out there — and tell them that if they want to get paid more they should consider moving to another firm. If they really believe they are underpaid, they should test their value in the marketplace.

    By franke on Oct 21, 2006

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