In January we launched our #PostThePay campaign. Every California job applicant has a legal right to know the pay of the position they’re applying for. When employers post pay information in job announcements, they save themselves time and promote fair wages in the mental health field. But how can you help ensure fair wages if you’re already employed? What if you know the pay of a position, but aren’t quite satisfied about it? Here are some ways you can advocate for better pay in therapy and counseling jobs.
Unless you work in HR or work directly for a government agency, it’s typically safe to discuss your pay with coworkers. (Many employers put pay-secrecy clauses in their contracts, but discussing pay with colleagues is generally protected by federal law, so those clauses are not enforceable for most employers. If an employer does punish you for discussing pay, you can file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.) If you learn that someone else with the same credentials is making more than you, speak up!
Lots of facilities hire undergraduates to fulfill roles such as residential counselors and case workers. If you see that your pay is the same as theirs when you have more education, it might be worth pointing out. With your education and clinical training, there is a good chance you could argue that you meet higher qualifications and thus deserve higher pay.
Check the job postings online for similar job descriptions. Is your pay comparable to that? With inflation and the rise of minimum wage, you may find yourself in a situation where your pay falls behind that of newer employees. If you current place of employment is hiring, it’s good to know what they list as the starting pay. If you see that other places of work are hiring for your job description at a higher rate, it might be beneficial to inform your employer so that they can remain competitive.
Do you offer more than the average employee at the workplace? Maybe you’ve been to continuing education workshops. Maybe you speak other languages or have additional certifications. Even when employers have a “standard” wage, if you notice that your extra skills have been useful, it is worth bringing up in an employee review.
Are you in debt? Do you have kids? Medical bills? Transparency with your employer may help them be able to advocate for you to receive a pay increase, or find funds to better meet your needs. Even if a direct salary increase isn’t an option, perhaps there are other employee benefits you are not receiving that would help you feel that you are better compensated.
Administrators and HR managers are people too. Their understanding and empathy may not pay your bills, but if they see your work as valuable and want to keep you, their understanding and empathy can position you well for better pay in the future. If they like you and appreciate your work, they may be willing to go out of their way to help you.
A lot of employers have annual reviews. It doesn’t hurt to ask for a more immediate review at the quarter or six-month mark. Employers want feedback from their employees so that they can keep their business running as effectively as possible. Calling for your own review or “check-in” meeting with your boss can show that you want to contribute to the business thriving (with adequate compensation in return). It would be promising to them in regard to their turnover rates.
Not only is it beneficial to advocate higher pay for yourself, but it helps break the pattern of overworked and underpaid psychotherapists. Our field is made up of empathetic people who want to help our communities. We still deserve fair wages for our work.