Tom Hollander and the Amazing Salary Gap

The actor was shocked when his agency sent him Tom Holland’s million-pound bonus by mistake. How do you react when you discover a coworker earns more?

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

Finding out that your colleagues are being paid more than you is always an awkward situation. But when it happened to Tom Hollander, beloved British actor and star of White Lotus, he discovered the discrepancy was higher than most. Millions, in fact.

Chatting on a US TV show, Hollander revealed he had once been sent a bonus intended for Avengers actor Tom Holland worth, as he tactfully described it, “seven figures”.

Most of us don’t tell our coworkers how much we make. But what happens when you discover someone earns more than you? What if it’s someone who’s less experienced than you? We take a look at what your options are for dealing with salary envy.

What is *whisper it* pay disparity?

Pay transparency is a big topic at most organisations. But most workers still feel uncomfortable about revealing how much they are earning to colleagues.

Such secrecy can lead to pay disparity (used to describe an unequal distribution of wages between people doing similar work). If discovered, pay disparity can lead to shock, anger, and resentment towards the employer – as Hollander experienced.

Chatting to US talk show host Seth Meyers, Hollander revealed he received Holland’s bonus after picking up an acting job that would pay him £30,000.

“I was thinking, ‘Well, this is marvellous, I'm very prosperous,” he recalled self-deprecatingly. But his elation ebbed when he opened an email titled ‘Box office bonus for The Avengers’.

“It was an astonishing amount of money,” the actor said flatly. “It was more money than I'd ever [seen]. My feeling of smugness disappeared.”

What do I do if a coworker is outearning me?

Obviously, Hollander’s and Holland’s case is special; a bit like comparing Hollywood to the home counties. Very few of us will discover that our clients or employers are awarding other employees millions of pounds more than us.

But when a colleague is in a similar job role to you, a difference of a few hundred pounds can have a big impact on a staff member’s confidence. Employees might question what they’re doing wrong; and what their coworker is doing right, brewing workplace conflict.

Gender disparities and ethnicity gaps are also a concern. The gender pay gap still persists in UK workplaces, and median hourly pay for full-time employees was 7.7% less for women than for men in April 2023.

Meanwhile, the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that Black British employees earned almost £1 less per hour than white employees in 2022.

Upskilling

If you discover a colleague is earning more, the most important thing is not to throw a fit. Pay disparities are not always due to unfairness or discrimination, so react professionally (ie. don’t start demanding the department’s monthly pay slips).

For one, your colleague may be outperforming the rest of the team, unbeknownst to you. Outside of tangible metrics like output, they may display better soft skills than you, such as good teamwork or strong leadership.

Consider your coworker’s experience and skill level. Is it possible their credentials and qualifications might have warranted a higher salary? Employees who have been with a company for longer will also typically earn more money than newcomers.

After these steps, the reason behind your colleague’s higher pay may highlight gaps in your own resume. Use this information as motivation, and seek out learning opportunities to become more employable in 2024.

Plenty of learning and development (L&D) courses exist to help employees develop their talents and improve in areas that are also beneficial to their employer.

Likely, you’ll find that taking a course in a sought-after area like an AI course, or other digital upskilling, helps strengthen the business case for you to receive a promotion or raise.

Should I ask for a raise?

If you’ve evaluated your coworker’s CVs and still aren’t satisfied they deserve a fatter wage slip or bonus, then it might be time to ask for a pay rise.

Set up a meeting with your manager or HR department. Come prepared: do some research to find out the average salary ranges for positions using industry benchmarks.

If you’re planning to request that your salary matches your colleagues, be sure to gather performance-related metrics like sales figures, KPIs met, or positive client feedback to demonstrate the value you bring to the company and how it compares to coworkers.

Be prepared for the answer to be no. After all, it’s unlikely you’ll know when or why the colleague’s pay was raised. While companies are still planning to raise salaries in 2024, the current economy means staffing budgets will probably be capped.

Prepare several remuneration options you would accept so you can negotiate if turned down. These might look like alternative employee benefits or a phased salary increase, to help firms adjust to the new spend.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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