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THE QUESTION

I've been with a company for four years and I'm now covering a second maternity leave. The first time I made $42,000 a year and outperformed ‎the job holder who was making $60,000. I received a $5,000 bonus, but I felt undervalued because there was such a big discrepancy between my wage and that of the role I was covering. Now I'm making $47,000 and covering the maternity leave of a woman making $70,000. My new boss may pay me a few bonuses, but if the bonuses ‎are rather lacklustre, how do I politely address this? I'm grateful for the opportunity but I don't want to be taken advantage of.

THE FIRST ANSWER

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Doug Nathanson

Chief human resources officer, Canadian Tire, Toronto

Employee salaries are determined based on a number of objective and subjective factors, some of which are market driven while others are more individually based. As a result, there are frequently differences between colleagues' pay, so be cautious when comparing.

Before approaching your manager to discuss your pay, make sure you have thoroughly and candidly thought through your circumstances and the timing of your request. Assess your credentials, skill set, tenure, job security and performance history, while also considering how the company and industry are faring. Your primary focus should be on the value you are adding to the enterprise and whether, based on an unbiased and holistic perspective, you merit additional compensation for your continuing contribution.

Approach the discussion in a professional and constructive manner that is centred on your accomplishments, using specific examples, and your drive to continue to achieve results. Discuss not only your current successes but also your career path and what additional responsibilities you are ready and willing to take on; do not make it all about the money. Be open to feedback and be prepared to accept your manager's response. While it is important to raise compensation issues when you feel it is appropriate, these discussions cannot dominate your interactions with management, especially if you are generally pleased with your current employment.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Greg Conner

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Vice-president of human resources, League Financial Partners, Victoria

It appears that your employer is pleased with the work you do, given that you have had two opportunities to perform at a higher level, with some additional compensation. Having said that, on the surface it does not appear to be equitable.

The most important thing is to determine whether you are performing the full scope of the duties of the person on leave. If you are, you have a strong case for more than a promise of a "few bonuses" over the course of the assignment. Since your organization appears to be transparent about salaries, I would suggest the following:

Let your new boss know you would like to discuss your compensation. Have the numbers to show your boss both the reasonableness and the "rightness" of your position. If the way you are outperforming others is measurable, make sure that is on the list. Ask for something reasonable, say in the range of 85 to 90 per cent of what the incumbent makes. Suggesting that the company pay you part of the money as an immediate increase and part as a bonus is a great option for a manager to feel like he or she is in control.

Knowing up front what you will make is ultimately much more satisfying than being disappointed at the end. Keep in mind these positions are just stepping stones, and soon one of those higher-paid jobs just may be yours.

Are you facing a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that minefield? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com. Confidentiality ensured. Weigh in with your view at tgam.ca/careers. Check out past columns here.

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