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NextGen Magazine


Does Asking Your Boss for a Raise Make You Feel Like This?

N. Sheree Saunders
Published Date:
Jul 2, 2015

NextGen - Asking for a RaiseTime to ask your boss for a raise? If you freeze up at the thought of initiating salary talks, you’re not alone—for most professionals, negotiating pay increases is one of the hardest and most dreaded workplace tasks. So hard, in fact, that some skip it altogether: According to a survey of 31,000 employees released this January by the compensation data and software provider PayScale, Inc., just 43 percent of workers said they’ve asked for a raise in their current field. Of the 57 percent who haven’t, 28 percent admitted that angling for more money made them uncomfortable, while 19 percent said they were worried about being perceived as pushy. The remaining  respondents were lucky enough to have gotten a raise before they even needed to ask.

The survey touches on a real concern for professionals, according to Marie G. McIntyre, Ph.D., a career coach and the author of Secrets to Winning at Office Politics: How to Achieve Your Goals and Increase Your Influence at Work. Some people, she said, see being assertive about compensation as being akin to bragging or self-promotion. “So, they just avoid the topic and hope that, eventually, someone will take note that they’re worth more—which, most of the time, companies don’t do.”

There may also be generational and gender differences at play. The PayScale survey found that Millennials have a particularly tough time asking for more money, as do baby boomers—the former due to inexperience, and the latter out of fear that they’ll lose their job to younger workers. Women, according to the survey, are also more likely than men to say they’re uncomfortable negotiating salaries—some 31 percent of females vs. 23 percent of males said they have trouble making the ask.

But you’re not doing yourself—or your boss—any favors by staying silent. “People who feel they’re being underpaid can become resentful,” McIntyre said. And if that resentment bleeds over into your job performance, “it can actually get you into career trouble.”  

The crazy part, she added, is that your boss actually expects you to go for more money. “Most managers expect people to ask for a raise or, at the [very] least, are not surprised when they do,” McIntyre said. “They’re not going to mind your asking—if you do it in the right way.”

Here are a few do’s and don’ts to help you.

DO make the business case for why you need a raise.
“First to yourself, so that you’re confident,” McIntyre advises, “and then to the boss.” A business case means just that—business, so steer clear of any personal details the higher-ups don’t need to know about. For example: Your manager won’t care that you just bought a new car or want to make a down payment on a condo and could use the extra dough. “Companies aren’t paying you in order to make your life comfortable,” McIntyre explained. “They’re paying you based on the value of your position and your contribution to that position.” Bottom line: Limit talks to concrete achievements and any hard data that illustrate them.

DON'T get emotional.
“If you go in thinking, ‘I’m entitled to a raise, and it’s owed to me,’ that will shine through in the way you ask for it,” McIntyre said. And the last thing you want to do is turn your bosses off by sounding arrogant and irritated. Whining is also another no-no—you’ll get labeled as a complainer. “Anything you do that conveys to the people above you that you don’t have the right attitude, temperament or judgment can affect your career,” she said.  “The appropriate attitude is, ‘I’m worth it based on my contribution here.’ You have to consider two things: what your position is worth and what you’re worth in the position.”

DO time your ask correctly.
The best time to ask for a raise, McIntyre said, is after you’ve have had some noteworthy accomplishment—for example, if you’ve exceeded a goal or solved some challenging problem. But you also have to pay attention to what’s going on around you. “If your manager is in some political hot water or having a bad day, that’s not a good time to ask for a raise,” McIntyre said. “And if business isn’t doing well, nobody is likely to get a raise. The best time to ask is when things are going [smoothly].”

DON'T forget to check your company’s compensation policy.
No matter what your company’s size, “it helps to understand what the increase cycle is,” McIntyre pointed out. You can get that info by talking to HR or checking the employee handbook. A lot of people wait for the employee review period to ask about pay raises, she said. “But in many companies, raises are determined before the review is given. You want to get the request in shortly before those decisions are made.” She does note, however, that if you’ve recently had a change in title or a significant increase in job responsibilities, you may be able to get a raise outside the regular cycle.

DO have a Plan B.
It’s possible that if you make the ask, the answer will be “no” or “not now.” That doesn’t necessarily mean that “you’re being rejected or that it wasn’t appropriate to ask,” McIntyre said. Still, you should have a follow-up plan. For starters, ask your manager if there would be a better time to discuss the raise, say, in six months. You might also ask what it would take to get a raise and if there are criteria your manager would like to see you meet, so that the next time you sit down to talk about it, you can make sure you’ve reached whatever bar has been set.

DON'T threaten to quit...
...unless you mean it. “For sure, the best way to guarantee a raise is to be someone who’s very highly valued and has another job offer,” McIntyre said. But threatening to leave without really having another offer is just an empty threat, and empty threats make you look silly. Worse, it could “look like extortion,” McIntyre warned.

DO leave your co-workers out of it.
It’s rarely a good strategy to refer to what a colleague makes when asking for a raise. For one thing, McIntyre said, management won’t talk to you about other people’s salaries. But you also run the risk of looking immature or unsavvy.

DON’T forget to say thank-you.
Usually, when a person gets a raise, it means that his manager has gone to bat for him. “It’s not just up to your manager,” McIntyre pointed out. “Most of the time, someone higher up will have to OK the request.” In that case, it wouldn’t hurt to show a little appreciation in return. This doesn’t mean you have to suck up, McIntyre said.  But you can thank your manager in person or shoot her an email. She’ll appreciate your appreciation.