But make sure you concentrate on your own work and salaryQuestion: if you think one of your co-workers is making more than you are for doing similar work, should you ask for a raise?
Finding out - or even suspecting - that someone is earning more money than you for doing work similar to yours can be galling. And unfortunately, there isn't an easy solution to the problem.
Several weeks ago I wrote two columns on how and when to ask for a raise. One of the readers who responded to those columns asked for advice about a particularly tricky situation.
"This past February a new employee was hired to work alongside me," the reader wrote. "Overall this person has the same qualifications as I do. At the time of his interview I was asked to talk to this person and I was given his resume along with a cover sheet which stated the salary requirements he was looking for.
"I had a review in April. After my merit increase (my performance was considered to be above average) I am still making a few thousand dollars less than what I have to assume this new employee was hired at. Do I have grounds to approach my boss and say that I think I should be making at least what this new employee might be making? After all, I have been working here for over five years and believe I am currently more valuable than he is."
I can understand why it's tempting for this reader to simply demand a raise comparable to what the newer worker is making. The reader's assumption that the new employee is making more may well be correct: in some companies, newer hires are frequently brought in at higher salaries than similar existing employees, if that's what it takes to get them on board.
However, there are a number of reasons why it may not be a good idea to approach your boss for a raise based on your suspicion that salaries aren't fair.
First of all, in most private companies you aren't supposed to know what your co-workers are making. This means that you would have to open your conversation with your boss by explaining how you came to have confidential information. The reader who wrote to me hadn't done anything wrong to learn about the salary history of the new employee. But this still makes an awkward beginning to a conversation.
And if, as in the reader's case, your confidential information isn't really solid information but rather suspicions, that's riskier still. How will the conversation play out if it turns out that your company isn't paying the newer worker as much as you after all?
It's much better to take the approach I suggested in my earlier columns on this subject and have the conversation with your boss be strictly about your work and your salary.
You may realise that others in the company are making more than you are for similar work, which will give you the incentive you need to start doing the research and making your case. But this knowledge shouldn't play a part in your negotiations with your boss.
Another reader responding to my earlier columns on asking for a raise brought up another point to consider: because teamwork is such an integral part of today's business world, it may be difficult to quantify your individual contribution to the company.
"Individuals are part of a team, and it is a rare person who single-handedly produces significant value," wrote the reader, who manages a technical team. "I make no bones about it to my folks that while I appreciate their incredible talent, they have to respect each other's skills and work together. If they can't, I'm better off without them."
This reader advocates learning how to sell your boss on your team contributions.
"An individual who can get a bunch of touchy techies and surly users working together is more valuable than the latest and greatest Java guru," she wrote. "A technical lead who can mind-meld a gaggle of programmers to produce a quality product is more valuable than someone who can find bugs in the Standard Template Library."
This reader makes a good point. How do you sell your team skills to your boss - or a potential new employer? If you're a manager, what combination of individual and team contributions would make the strongest case for giving someone a raise?
Margaret Steen has worked as a high-tech journalist since 1994. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org