Our paychecks aren’t big enough and that’s stressing us out.
For the fourth year in a row, American workers told Neilsen our low pay is our biggest stressor. That makes sense because most of us haven’t had substantial raises in more than five years.
When you’re struggling to pay the bills, typically the padding is gone that gives you the leeway to better balance your work and family life. Who can afford a babysitter when food and gas prices are going up and our paychecks aren’t.
So what can we do about it? Fortunately, it looks like there may be some hope of raises or a better paying job in the near future. Here’s what some experts shared in my Miami Herald column this week:
Workers at all income levels are frustrated that their workloads have increased but they haven’t seen a raise or hiring of more workers. Even as revenues have improved, for the past two years pay raises at private employers have hovered at around 2.8 percent and are expected to be only about 2.9 percent in 2014, according to global services firm Towers Watson. At the same time, the cost of living has gone up with housing, gas and food prices rising.
Career experts suggest we get aggressive and creative to fatten our paychecks. For skilled workers, the best route may be a new job. “One factor has decreased: the fear of being fired or laid off,” says Wendy Cullen of Everest College. “Now that there are more jobs, people aren’t afraid to start looking, but there is still a big question as to whether it is better someplace else.”
This may be the time to find out. “Slowly, companies are starting to compete for talent again and add to their headcount,” said Matt Shore, president of Steven Douglas Associates, a South Florida executive recruiting firm specializing in finance, accounting and information technology. “People who are in stagnant jobs are starting to look around and, in some cases, the market finally is telling them they can do better.”
For those stressed by low pay because of underemployment, negotiation may be necessary. After losing his marketing position at a bank, Jorge Espinosa saw his finances fray as he spent month after month in a job search. Now in a job that pays much lower than his previous one, his credit card debt has piled up. Espinosa says he has begun a new search but notices job ads reflect far lower salaries than what he previously earned. “It’s stressful to think I may be locked into a lower salary for another few years.”
Rather than get discouraged, one CEO suggests having a conversation with your boss. Most employers still have the mindset that workers are fortunate to have a job, admits Michael Rose, CEO of Mojo Media Labs, a Dallas Marketing Agency. However, Rose says certain arguments could justify a raise: “Come to your boss armed with information. Maybe you’re doing more than what is in the scope of the job description. Maybe you just got a certification. Maybe you can work on project or learn new skill set that will allow you to start in a new role that pays better.”
Even if negotiations don’t pan out, there is hope. Recruiters say salaries in some occupations are creeping toward pre-recession levels. Terri Davis, a Miami recruiter for a global software company that specializes in IT solutions for the travel industry, said that in her industry, job offers are about 20 percent higher than two years ago. Davis says job seekers also have a little room for pay negotiation: “When an employer extends an offer, they are evaluating it, and if they don’t feel it’s competitive enough, they are questioning the potential for a bonus — and getting it.”
All of us have some control over our paychecks, depending on how much we are willing to invest in ourselves, by adding to our skills, Cullen says. “I don’t think you can ever eliminate all the factors that cause workplace anxiety, but as individuals, we can definitely create a plan of action to improve our careers and change our lives.”