Many employees believe that wages should, at a minimum, rise annually to adjust for inflation, work efforts notwithstanding—even if their employers don’t.
Couple that with more than two years of nonstop labor as a result of blurred work-life boundaries, and you’ve got yourself a solid rationale to ask for a raise. Here’s a round up of the best ways to approach that conversation, regardless of your role or title.
Why you should feel motivated to ask for a raise
It’s no secret that the cost of, well, everything, is shooting upwards at an alarming rate.
From the rising costs of living from apartment rental and home buying economy, to inflated gas prices, groceries, and basic living amenities— stagnant salaries are no longer something to be complacent about.
Although wages should naturally increase to reflect these costs as well as honor an employee’s work efforts, such a concept has fallen wayward as the bottom line for many businesses declined significantly.
Layoffs and job offers being rescinded are the talk of the town these days, but that doesn’t mean every company is struggling. In fact, many organizations, especially in the technology sector, are seeing record highs when it comes to revenue generation.
You shouldn’t fear asking for a fair compensation adjustment, as long as you are contributing and demonstrating impact to the organization.
Things to avoid before formulating a strategy
Before dividing head first into a 1:1 with your boss, prepare for the conversation with tactical evidence of your impact on business objectives.
Here’s an example of how not to start that discussion:
Boss (B): Hey, noticed you put this calendar invite on before our regularly scheduled chat. Is anything wrong?
Employee (E): No, nothing’s wrong. I just wanted to talk to you about a potential raise. It’s been about 11 months since I first started with the company. I think I’ve been doing pretty well. Is it possible to receive more money?
B: Ah, we’re in a bit of a bind right now with our finances. Besides, you’re still fairly new and I can’t justify a raise.
E: Yes, but –
There are a number of glaring red flags in that scenario.
First: Never begin a serious discussion about compensation by directly asking for more money. With that approach, the foundation of the discussion suffers a power imbalance. Always approach a negotiation with the goal of having a conversation.
Second: Your boss should have some sense of the topic of discussion ahead of time. Be cognizant of not leaving them in the dark, and alluding to an agenda before sending that calendar invite.
Third: Be prepared to bring your wins to the table. Regardless of the outcome of the conversation, employees should set a strategy with key points regarding their work output in order to justify the request for a higher salary.
Constructing a compelling argument
Setting the foundation for a potentially sensitive conversation requires an understanding of how to navigate the direction of the conversation–that is, to shift it in your favor.
You never want to back your manager into a corner or make them feel trapped in this type of discussion. Don’t leave your manners at the door: be kind, respectful, considerate, and above all—confident in your skills.
It’s important to consider what you’ll be asking for when it’s time for the talk.
- Is it more money?
- Is it an increase to your total compensation?
- How can you make a fair case for yourself?
To prepare, ask yourself these questions to consider your true value to your boss, as outlined in a previous Fast Company story:
- Am I measuring by the company yard stick? You may be a hard worker, but your particular area of expertise may not be a priority for the company. Assess the needs of your organization and determine how to generate the results your higher ups want in order to build a case for yourself.
- How much of the bottom line is mine? In this area, definitive metrics are key. In order to justify a raise, keep track of specific achievements, such as whether you directly saved the company money and if so, how much?
- What does the market say? Although salary ranges can vary based on skill set, geographical location, and industry, it’s critical to research the industry to get a sense of ballpark ranges.
- What’s my total compensation? Maybe it’s not more money, but something else that your company can offer you that will keep you happy.
- Are there constraints beyond your control? In many cases, companies have restrictions around what they can offer employees based on internal structures. In this situation, it’s best not to go into negotiations with a hard and fast number.
- What is the best time of year to ask? Get a sense of your company’s critical quarters and cycles to learn when the best time to pop the question is.
Put your best foot forward
Before you begin the conversation around salary, develop a list of work achievements to bring evidence to the door.
Think about your most recent milestones and conduct a self-assessment of your work and most meaningful contributions. Consider your relationship with your manager and past conversations.
- What have they revealed to be a priority for them and the company?
- How have you invested your work in those areas?
Although asking for a raise during the pandemic may seem a bit strange, according to Karen Coffey, a career advisor and coach who works with executives and employees, it’s important to be transparent with yourself and understand which aspects of your work translates to setting yourself up for more money.
In a Fast Company story on how to ask for a raise during this challenging time, she posed this question:
“You have to look at yourself first and ask, ‘Do I deserve a raise? Have I met every standard and expectation?'”
“This is not the time to arbitrarily go in and ask just because you’ve been with the company for a few years and think it’s the thing to do,” she said.
Keep track of your projects and ways in which you have improved the business in your area of expertise in the format of a 30-60-90 track record; that way, it is easier to map your work and attribute it to specific work projects or activations.
If you are planning to have this conversation later down the line, be sure to keep a folder of highlights—whether that’s in the form of reports that track success metric or accolades from peers or senior level colleagues.
If you’re tasked with reporting on metrics for specific activations, be sure to email them to key stakeholders on a regular basis to generate awareness in advance. That way, a conversation about money down the line won’t catch them by surprise. “Don’t tell them you’re asking for a raise,” said Coffey.
“Once you can sit down with them, recap what you’ve done over the past 30 to 60 days. Then quantify what you’ve done, such as saving the company money, retaining a client, bringing in new business, or recruiting a key new employee. Then ‘calc up,’ attaching a dollar figure if possible. If your work has delivered big money, you’re asking a small fraction of what you brought to the company.”
Avoid these common mistakes
In every negotiation conversation, experts say they see members of the workforce make the same mistakes over and over. As reported in a previous Fast Company story, these are the five most common errors workers make when broaching the topic of a higher salary with their boss:
Failing to research and prepare for the conversation. You have to do your due diligence when it comes to seeing how your role pans out among competitors in your industry as well as in your region. You can always find this kind of information on websites like Glassdoor, PayScale, from peers in your network, forums like Blind, or even direct outreach to recruiters.
Asking for more money without considering the company’s bottom line. It’s not enough to say that you deserve a higher salary because of the number of hours you put in. How can you quantify that in a way that makes sense in regards to your role? For instance, if you work in a marketing capacity, demonstrate how your strategy has impacted demand generation, and find the KPIs to justify it. Did your work last quarter help increase the number of qualified leads funneled into the business as compared to the quarter prior? Use that in your argument.
Rambling on after you’ve stated your case. Once you’ve made your point, backed completely with the data, stop talking. You want to end on a high note and avoid potentially leading the conversation in a direction that might sway your manager’s opinion.
Not considering other areas of negotiation. Need more vacation time? Higher equity? For some, salary isn’t the only important thing. Consider which area you find most valuable and think about how you can include that in your points.
Setting an ultimatum. Even when you know your worth, putting your manager in a position where you demand more money or threaten to leave can leave a bad taste in their mouth. You always want to approach the conversation from a collaborative perspective.
Skip these reasons to ask for a raise
Generally speaking, one asks for a raise as a fair measure of honoring their contributions to a company and with evidence that they have gone above and beyond when it comes to serving the bottom line.
However, in many cases, people find themselves in a personal bind and feel inclined to ask for more money. In a previous Fast Company story, Jane Barratt of MX rounded up the worst reasons to ask for a raise, which include:
- Poor life choices. If you find yourself in trouble due to poor financial decisions, that’s no fault of your company. It’s one thing to ask for a fair compensation, but if you find yourself reaching out to your boss because your already-overpriced apartment’s rent skyrocketed, it’s time to rethink your own choices.
- Seniority. In short, the duration of time you’ve been with a company—whether two years or ten years—doesn’t justify a higher salary. It all comes down to your contributions and value, so leave that thinking at the door.
- Ultimatums. If you threaten to quit because your negotiation went poorly, be prepared to make your final exit, because nobody likes an ultimatum.
Checklist before making the ask for a raise
Do your research. Now is the time to dig into market data and gather intelligence on what you think the going rate for your role is, especially if you feel underpaid.
Build your case. Collect data on your own evidence and work output – not just in the past, but how you plan to make an impact in the future.
Talk to the right people. Find the people internally who are willing to go to bat for you, willing to be your champion, and even get involved in the conversation on your behalf, especially if you have a solid relationship with your manager.
Have the conversation
The day comes to push that long-awaited conversation forward. You’ve gathered your evidence, built a negotiation strategy, and have prepared for a compelling conversation. Now, the key is navigating the talk with your boss so it all goes according to plan.
This previous Fast Company story shared tips on how new employees can navigate salary negotiations, which is applicable to asking for a raise as well. This means doing the following:
Decide on the specific ask. Make a decision on exactly what you’re asking for—whether it’s base salary or more equity—and consider how one or the other will set you up for your bigger plan. Then simply declare exactly what you want.
Delve into the facts and figures. Doing your research and being the most prepared person—armed with market intelligence—can only benefit your point. In addition to the numbers, be sure to focus on yourself and what you can bring to the table. Your skills, enthusiasm, work ethic all apply.
Know when to walk away. This is a personal decision that comes down to what the employee priorities. Even if you’re fully prepared and build a solid justification for more money, things may not go as planned. In the event that it doesn’t, it’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth staying or walking away, depending on your role and whether you think you are being compensated enough to stay regardless of a raise.
Salary negotiations are never an easy conversation to initiate, and can be downright terrifying no matter what stage of your career you are in.
But if you play your cards right and remain honest with yourself and detail-oriented when it comes to measuring your achievements and its ROI on business priorities, and have done your research on the market and your role, then you should feel confident in asking for a raise no matter what the outcome may be.