August 23, 2013

How to Ask For a Raise Without Getting Fired.

Photo: Ethan Scholl on Pixoto.

Yes, these are tough economic times.

The job market always seems to be tight. But if you’re like most people, you’re working hard in your job and often long hours.

And, assuming you are good at what you do: are you being paid what you’re worth? Would you like to make more money? Do you have a salary review coming up?

Here’s some information you need to know to get the raise you deserve.

Let’s begin by acknowledging the reality of the world most people work in.

There are various corporate political games that are played in most companies and organizations. One of the most important to you: the raise game.

Many of us have the naïve notion that business and industry pay their employees wages based on skills, experience and superior performance. Unfortunately, this is all too often not the case. Raises are to a great extent based on subjective evaluations of the individual whose salary is being reviewed.

Generally, most jobs have a salary range that is used to guide the manager who is reviewing staff members. Within this range, it becomes a game.

I personally have sat through salary review meetings where I and other department heads submitted our requests for our subordinates’ raises, to our boss—the vice-president—for his stamp of approval.

The conversations at such meetings often went like this:

Manager:  “How about Joe Adams? He’s been doing a heck of a job for the department.”

Vice-President:  “All right. Let’s give him $1,500.”

Manager:  “Are you kidding? He would consider that an insult. He just bought a new home. I know he’d never be happy with that.”

Vice-President:  “Well, can we get away with giving him $2,500?”

Manager: “Yes, that should make him happy.”

Another Manager:  “I’ve had a few discussions with Steve Stone, and I know he’s looking for a $3,000-$4,000 raise.”

Vice-President:  “Look, I know he’s a good man, but let’s give him $2,000 now and promise the rest in six months.”

Another Manager:  “Listen, Gloria Jones is due for a raise. But I think we can get away with $1,000 for her. She’s thrilled with her job; besides, she’s single, with no responsibilities. My real problem is George White. He’s looking for a $5,000—$6,000 increase. And, he wants it all now.”

Vice President:  “All right, don’t worry. Let’s go through the rest of the raises and see how much money is left.”

If you’re getting the idea that these managers are ignoring their employee’ true worth and, instead, treating the whole review politically—as if there were a big money pie that they were about to split—you’re absolutely right.

You are just beginning to understand how subjectively raises are given in most companies throughout this country (and in the world).

For this reason, if you’d like to get your fair due at salary review time without incurring the ill will that could get you fired, not only must you be aware of the game, but you must do your homework (researching what competitive salaries are in your industry), and you must be assertive in standing up for yourself.

Photo: donjuaninc.com

There is no substitute for being assertive (i.e. honest and direct, in an appropriate way), when asking for a raise. Generally it’s aggressive people who are fired over salary negotiations. They give ultimatums that put the boss on the defensive—ultimatums the boss either cannot or will not concede to.

Indeed, in the face of an ultimatum, the boss may decide the aggressor deserves even less—simply because he has a poor attitude or because he acts in a threatening way.

Similarly, being nonassertive (i.e. passive and indirect, hoping that others will realize that you deserve a raise) will get you nowhere: management seldom will give you a raise voluntarily.

You should know that, when it comes to raises, the full arsenal of management tricks, ruses, feints and faking is brought into play. Here are some important tips to keep in mind when you decide to play the “raise game.”

How to Win a Raise

Blow your horn when you do well, and compile a list of projects and accomplishments to take into your salary review. You may even want to send your boss a written copy or e-mail just before your scheduled meeting.

Make sure before your review comes up that the boss knows what you expect. When you casually mention the figure, exaggerate it by 50 percent or more. Be sure your boss knows what amount you would consider an insult.

Present yourself as a results-oriented, capable professional who gets the job done and who knows what she’s worth. While you don’t want your boss to think you are financially overburdened (he might try to use your financial dependence as a leverage), do let him know that you have additional expenses in such luxury items as travel, sport cars or club memberships.

Feel free to complain if you are not satisfied or, especially, if you feel important factors were not considered or accorded enough weight.

Ask for a reevaluation.

Figure out what you’re worth. Never go into any salary review without a clear-cut salary range in mind. It should be based on what your industry and company pay people in that position for the kind of experience and competence you bring to that same job.

Remember to check what the competition pays its star professionals.

The information is usually available on an Internet search; or by calling an executive recruiting firm for information. Remember, too, that women on average earn about 70 cents to each man’s dollar.

Don’t think that, if you ask for a raise and are denied, this is grounds to quit. It’s grounds for a reevaluation.

Never hand down ultimatums.

As I noted previously, it only puts your boss on the defensive. Remember that you’re really bartering your demonstrated performance against the company’s to fill that position in the corporate hierarchy—not necessarily with you.

If your work is valuable and competently done, most managers would rather talk money than hire and train a newcomer who may or may not work out. If your work is not valuable or well done, an ultimatum won’t help.

Remind your manager that the high cost of recruiting, hiring and re-training your replacement will far outweigh the raise you’re requesting.

Good timing pays off. While there are periodic schedules for official reviews, there’s nothing etched in stone that should prevent you from asking at any time. The best times are either when the company is doing particularly well, or when you personally have been performing particularly well.

For instance, if you handle a project superbly, reach and overcome a sales objective, or save the company a great deal of money, that’s the time to move fast and arrange for a salary review discussion.

Don’t take on too many extra responsibilities without remuneration.

Doing a different or enlarged job is grounds for a promotion and accompanying salary upgrading—a change in salary range—not simply a raise.

As you can see, salary ranges in the big leagues are as dependent on need as your performance.

Don’t let this dishearten you.

In fact, your best bet is to take advantage of both worlds. Needing money should have no influence on the raise you get—but in reality it does, so let your boss know you “love” money.

Similarly, how much money you need to run your life should have no bearing on how much you ask for—ask for what your work contribution is worth, even if you think it’s worth $10,000 more than you need to pay your bills.

Most important, keep in mind that getting a raise isn’t a game to play once or twice a year. Let your boss know throughout the year that you re capable professional who wants to be paid what you’re worth.


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Ed: Catherine Monkman

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