Updated: May 18
I asked for a raise with the fear of being shot down. More than one time I worked up the courage to petition for the raise I deserved, the promotion I was ready for, the transfer I worked hard for, and the tuition reimbursement that helped the business move forward. Each time was not easy. BUT without those conversations, I would not have achieved the career I wanted at the speed I was pushing for. Having worked in HR at the senior management level, I want to share with you some ways to have this conversation successfully with tools that will make you confident.
Can you think back to a time when you knew you were being underpaid, undervalued, underappreciated, under-fill-in-the-blank? Maybe this time is right now. Maybe you have been feeling this way for the past few months or even years. Whatever the timeframe, it is never too late to advocate for yourself.
When advocating for yourself you must keep a level head and stick to the facts. That sounds impossible when you talk about pay because this is your livelihood. But it makes all the difference. I have been in this position many times. Earlier in life I found myself both underprepared, emotional, and scattered. Later in life, I found myself overprepared, level-headed, and focused - I would choose the latter, every time.
Here's what happens if you don't have the conversation...you become entirely distracted. When you spend your day thinking about the raise, the promotion, the transfer, the blank opportunity you are not thinking about work. You are not thinking about home. You are entirely distracted. Among financially stressed employees who are distracted at work because of their finances, 56% spend three hours or more per week at work dealing with or thinking about issues related to their personal finances.
Being distracted at work is one large consideration but it also makes you distracted at home and in your personal life. It is like a tether that holds you to a future impossible outcome with no end insight. It weighs on your emotional and physical well-being as well.
Holding off on having this conversation also creates a negative, bitter attitude toward your employer, boss, and potentially your co-workers. Have you ever had a co-worker be recognized or promoted and it leaves you thinking what about me? You're not alone. But your co-worker's success does not give you a reason to be jealous or upset if it means you can do something about your situation.
And lastly, holding off means your career and your advancement are delayed. Imagine if you had said something about your pay or that promotion 3 months ago. Or Imagine if you had been transferred to your dream job a year ago. Of course that isn't helpful at the moment except it helps gives you perspective. Do you want to go another 3-12 months without making your move? What would your life look like in 12 months if you had this conversation now?
Things we tell ourselves (Don't talk yourself out of it)...so we don't have to have the conversation. This is just a bad time. My boss is under a lot of stress with the merger, the big deadline, that Jane just quit, with blank reason. This is a bad time because of this economy, of course, I won't get a raise now when the entire world is in crisis mode. Or, I just got a raise, and yea, I know it isn't enough but it is 3% and that's what everyone else is getting I think. How about, I'm new to the company and I lack seniority.
Don't let that negative self-talk or external conditions hold you back from improving your situation. You will continue to think about your situation until you advocate for yourself.
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." - Eleanor Roosevelt
What your boss doesn't tell you.
When you approach your boss to have this conversation they are not usually prepared for the conversation. They may see subtle hints this is coming if you appear unhappy or disengaged at work. Or they may see it coming if you had the conversation in the past. But most of the time your manager does not necessarily know this is the conversation you will want. Which gives you an advantage and opportunity.
#1 Replacing you in any economy but especially this economy is costly. Companies do a little exercise to assess the ROI of the position and rate of pay you are advocating for. For instance, if you are looking for an increase in pay of 10% they will do the math. So make sure you do the math too. The cost to replace, suggested by SHRM, is suggested to be as high as 50% - 60% of an employee's salary. This could be upwards of 90%-200% to replace.
For example: if you are making $60,000 per year then it costs an average of $30,000 - $45,000 just to replace you in your current position. It is important to know that going into the conversation. Because if you are looking for a 10% increase on $60,000 that is $6,000 which is clearly less than $30,000 at the bare minimum to replace you.
This is a great bargaining chip to use. Do the math and lay it out in front of your boss. What you are asking for is reasonable considering the potential offset cost. Of course, you don't want this to look like an ultimatum but you do want to present the facts.
#2 There is room to negotiate. When you approach your boss for this conversation many times they may say things like there isn't room in the budget for the increase. And sometimes that may be the case. But many times, there is room in many ways, especially if you are willing to get creative. Be very specific about what you want out of the conversation. For instance, you want a salary increase of 15% (you would be happy with 10%), you want a VP status title, and you want education reimbursement for your BA in the amount of $15,000 (you would be happy with $10,000) in the form of a bonus. The more specific you are the better the outcome. And as you could see, I suggest that you shoot high in your request.
#3 It isn't personal, it is business. Think like a business person throughout the conversation. It may sound harsh but it is the truth...employees are assets to the company just as much as a liability and expense. So when you approach the conversation think of the position not you, personally. Think the way your boss will in this conversation. Of course, you may think well my boss likes me and we have a good relationship. Right? They know me better than most people do at this point and they respect me.
This conversation does not have anything to do with whether or not your boss likes you. It has everything to do with competence, your request, what this means to the company, and how can each party benefit. Do not get caught up in a popularity contest. Office politics do matter but we are approaching this conversation about overall value. Which we will address in the next section.
#4 Your boss doesn't always have the final say. Do you know what happens after you have this conversation with your boss? They take it to their boss, and their bosses boss, and the CEO, and the CFO, and the HR department. There is usually an entire group that must be considered when a decision is made on this substantial matter. Most departments only have the room to give a raise with no prior approval of up to 3% or whatever is set for their department budget for wage increases.
So be prepared that your pitch will go to a board of executives or upper management for consideration. They will deliberate and deliver a response to you, usually with a member of HR and or the next level of management. Tip - don't let this catch you off guard. This is why it is important to pitch your raise, transfer, or promotion in a business fashion. You will lose ground and credibility if your boss delivers your request with a lot of personal cries for help. Keep it professional and backed by facts.
Ultimatums and how to navigate them. Ultimatums don't usually work well in your favor. BUT sometimes if you have an amazing offer from another company, you can use it as leverage. This is successful if handled with care. DO NOT seek a new position only to come back to try to give your employer an ultimatum. This will burn a bridge between the company you receive the offer from and your current employer. Recruiters and HR folks can see when this is happening. Although there is nothing illegal about this it can appear to be in poor taste and you can lose traction with what you are trying to do.
Instead, if you are given a true offer by a company you truly want to work for but don't want to leave your current employer, you can have an honest and authentic conversation with your employer. But again, stick with the facts. Don't make it personal.
How to prepare for the conversation - know your value.
1. Start by asking yourself the following questions:
Why do I want this? Raise, promotion, transfer, opportunity, fill in the blank.
What will life look like after I have achieved this accomplishment? Take into consideration your position within the company and at home.
List the top 10 reasons you need to have this conversation. Take into consideration your career and personal goals.
List the top 10 strengths you bring to the table. Include accomplishments, continued education, projects, etc.
How do you help the company achieve its mission every day?
2. Take all of these and write a proposal. Your proposal will want to include a strong business reason argument. This is not the opportunity to make an ultimatum. You will attract more bees with honey. Focus on the ROI of your position. What problems do you solve by being proficient in your position? What is your background? What is your education level? What are some major accomplishments?
3. Do your research on a compensable pay rate. Show your findings. Use the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) to research equitable wages. Present this and where you currently fall and where your position should fall.
4. Be prepared for your boss to tell you things that will second guess your reasons for the conversation. Be prepared for potential gaslighting, manipulation, and potential ways to disengage you. It sounds horrible, but it is so true and can happen. Be prepared with sound responses like, I understand your viewpoint and I'm asking for you to consider what I have carefully put in front of you. Please take the next couple of days to make consideration for the proposal and let us reconnect on Thursday at 2:00 pm if that works for you.
Not every situation will be the same. You know your boss and workplace best. Take into consideration these options to have this conversation. Remember your value. Leverage your value for a higher salary and compensation package. Be flexible in the negotiation process and remember to stay rooted in your "why". If you get "shot down" consider your long-term placement with the current company. Consider your options and make the decision that feels best for you.
"Life is tough but so are you" - Unknown