Why don’t Millennials negotiate pay?

Millie Neil
Why don’t Millennials negotiate pay?

There are two things I enjoy asking friends and acquaintances about, both of which are considered incredibly rude. One is: “Who did you vote for at the last election?” The other is: “How much do you get paid?”

Weirdly, it’s rare that someone refuses to answer. In the first instance, I am merely interested: the answer likely won’t surprise me and, because I’m a nerd, it comforts me to know people around me are politically engaged.

In the second instance, knowing what people my age, with similar qualifications and experience, are getting paid allows me to better plan for my financial future. It is the simplest, fastest, and most accurate way to work out whether I’m settling for less in my current job (in which case, time to keep an eye out for a new one) or whether I’m doing OK for my age and stage, but need to be mindful of staying on track, money-wise.

I don’t know if it’s a generational thing or a cultural thing, but young Kiwis are, by and large, uncomfortable discussing money. And there’s perhaps no more squirm-inducing scenario than negotiating pay when you’ve been offered a new job.

I have a slightly older, much wiser and more successful friend who I met in my industry, who has gone on to work in government, both as an employee and a contractor. When she entered the workforce, she – like many people I know – was merely dead grateful to be offered a job she actually wanted. Few millenials in her position even consider negotiating, she says now, having worked with and managed innumerable bright young things. There’s a knee-jerk reaction to just accept the offer, no further questions.

However, she says: “It’s become quite clear to me, over my successive jobs, that of course an employer is never going to come to you with their top offer. Why would they?”

She has discover there are always more biscuits in the tin. “Literally all you need to do is ask for it.”

People who aren’t used to negotiating may fear presenting as demanding, even greedy. In fact, negotiating shows you value yourself: you’re more expensive because you have the skills and experience to nail the role. And, you’re prepared to stand up and say so. It’s not as though the employer will retract the offer. Worst case scenario: they say “no”.

“Then you're in no worse position than when they made the offer anyway.”

The notion of “need” is another reason we don’t ask for more, my friend reckons. She’s encountered underlings who’ve applied for new roles and told her, “I’m happy with that offer.”

It’s one thing to be happy with the offer, she says. It’s another thing to get paid what the employer thinks the role is worth. Why pass up a few more grand for want of an admittedly uncomfortable conversation? It’ll be the easiest few grand you’ll probably ever make. And the self-confidence that comes from successfully squeezing more money from a boss is, frankly, priceless.

People new to the workforce sometimes believe that their employer will, in six months, realise what a brilliant hire you’ve been and acknowledge that by throwing a few more dollars your way. In fact, it’s much harder to get a payrise than it is to get that cash at the outset.

“You’ve never got more power than when they’ve decided they want you, but you haven’t said yes,” says my unnamed successful friend.

My friend suspects women are more susceptible to this: “The gender pay gap comes from somewhere, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that it starts right from the start, if women aren’t asking for more. You can try and catch up but you aren’t going to, you’ve started on a lower rate.”

Next time, I’ll be sharing tried-and-true tips for exactly how to go about doing this. In the meantime, start asking your friends some nosy questions. The answers might surprise you.

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