How do you avoid the feeling of being ungrateful at work?

I saw the following post below from a community I belong to, please take a moment to read, and then I would like to dig deeper into the topic that caught my attention.

I have been struggling with how to handle my promotion raise and wanted to see if anyone had advice on what to do.


My boss called me yesterday to tell me that I was being promoted. Yay! Raise is 8% (which I think is really good) and when he gave me the exact salary amount, I asked if the number was based on my base salary or base salary + regional pay differential. Because I live in a big city, I get an extra 15% that I will lose when we move next summer so I really focus on the base number to make sure I am staying competitive. He said my raise was based on my base pay alone and that the amount I was offered was based on what my peers at that level are making at base salary as well. Then he stated the number that they used to look at my base salary and it was my base pay plus regional differential pay. When he said the number, I thought it was higher than my real base pay, but I figured I was mistaken and just not remembering my salary correctly. I did research and found that the salary he quoted me would not be my base, but my base + regional pay. So here is my concern, my peers mostly live in a state where pay is lower and if they are comparing my base + regional pay to their base only pay then I feel like I am getting a bad deal. Right now you can call it fair, but a year from now, I will be underpaid compared to my peers. Overall, I did get an 8% increase in base pay and I don’t want to sound ungrateful because I know 8% is a lot. I just am worried that if I don’t push back, my salary will never be where it should be. I don’t think my manager had ill intent, I am the only person on his team that does not live in the same state and so I don’t think they ever come across this situation. I am also concerned about coming across as ungrateful. I was thrilled when I got the news and I really think that an 8% raise is good, it is just the numbers comparison part that is throwing me off and causing me to be concerned.

 So, I need advice. How do I push back without sounding ungrateful? OR Should I not pushback because 8% is still really good?

I am honestly just trying to make sure that I am being paid fairly for all the work I put in.

What caught my attention is the concern in the employee’s voice to sound as being ungrateful. For one, I believe that we (as employees) do not owe the company (we work for) anything. We render the work we are hired to do; we are then compensated for what we deliver and bring into the table. So, if it was me, I will not consider the situation as a push back. Rather a clarification of the process and the circumstances, with of course acknowledgment that the pay raise is appreciated.

I am sure that at one point in our professional lives, or even several times, we have had the same internal conversation, “Should I say something but I don’t want to appear as ungrateful?” we asked ourselves. In short, we want to avoid being “that kind of employee.” Perhaps this same self- doubt also appears in other social settings not just in the office. We sacrifice expressing our opinion or ask clarifying questions out of fear to be looked upon differently. A classic example, and I know I have been guilty of it, more than once – when a job offer is extended. You know how this story unfolds…you have been on this kind of situation before. Remember?

Yes, that moment when you are so excited that you have been picked for the J-O-B! Then you hear the salary and in split second, your mind argues with you, “What?! That’s it? I was expecting a bit more.” But then, you simply utter the words, “Yes, I accept, I can start in two weeks.” to the HR representative. What just happened? We pulled back from being our own advocate because we are just grateful that we got the job! I repeat we are just grateful that we got the job. However, when we get home, we ask our spouse, partner, or close friend, “Should I negotiated for a higher rate?”

Being grateful to be offered a job should be secondary. The primary emotion we should feel is a triumph, our value to a company had just been validated! But no, we revert to ‘playing it small.’ I am sure the salary negotiation did not cross our minds during that initial moment! However, if we must rise as women in the workforce, as professionals, we must acknowledge our value proposition to an organization. Like in business, knowing your magic number is crucial – it tells you when you just made enough to cover all your expenses, or you are barely made any cent to pay yourself. Sadly, if the situation is the latter, we will end up quitting our entrepreneurial dreams and look for full-time employment instead – because the system just beat us down and that’s exactly what your mother or Aunt so and so said so!

Not that I do not support entrepreneurship. I advocate having multiple income streams and taking creative pursuits that pay well. Ultimately, having a side hustle or a side gig that we enjoy doing or passionate about will deliver a monetary value that is not limited by what our employer dictates. Plus, it helps us bridge an employment gap should we have to temporarily leave a place of employment due to a relocation.

Liz Ryan’s Forbes article indicated the “mental model” or “frame” as a lowly rank-and-file employee that we have internalized – the boss has the ultimate power. For our purpose, we will refer to the boss as the company or our employer. Liz is spot on with her statement, “You are as powerful in your career as you give yourself permission to be.” This is the affirmation we must repeat each day, a reminder that we are still in control of our career path, our promotion, our pay raises, and even salary package. Most importantly, how we earn the respect we deserve in the workplace.

Time to step up our game. To show up on how we want to be treated, and how we want to be valued in the world of work. After all, if not for ourselves, who will initiate the all too important conversation of how to be sufficiently compensated?