How to Ask for a Raise

Last week, I wrote about how aligning your work priorities with those of your workplace can do wonders to help you feel more satisfied at work. But you know what makes work even more satisfying? Getting paid appropriately, bitches!


It would be great if your boss simply showed up with one of those money shooters from Nailed It and started showering you with extra scratch just because, but it’s likely you’re going to have to ask for a raise, which is understandably uncomfortable. But there’s a bunch of things you can do to improve your chances of getting a yes.

We all need a money shooter

Here’s how to tackle the raise question without breathing into a paper bag at any point in time:


Talk About How Much You Make


Talking about money is one of the last great cultural taboos. Chatting about politics, religion, or sex can often be more comfortable than talking openly about money. But this particular cultural no-no often means you are leaving potential income on the table.


That’s because when you don't know what other people with commensurate skills and experience are paid, then your employer always has the upper hand in salary negotiations. This is called "information asymmetry," wherein one party in a transaction has more information than the other. Without an understanding of how much someone in your position is typically paid, you are vulnerable to getting low-balled by your employer.


Information asymmetry also helps to entrench the gender wage gap. You might recall how shocked Jennifer Lawrence was when she discovered that her male co-stars in the movie American Hustle made significantly more than she did. She only became aware of the pay discrepancy because of the Sony email hack. Had she talked to her co-stars about compensation, she would have realized that she had accepted a low offer and could have requested parity. The filmmakers had no reason to share that information with her, since her lack of conversation with her co-stars saved them money.

Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle made significantly less than her male co-stars

The only way to end this kind of information asymmetry is to talk openly about salary with your colleagues and friends.


This may sound overwhelming, especially if you’re imagining just sidling up to Dana over the water cooler and asking her point blank how much she makes. Or you may worry you and Dana will both get in trouble with your employer for discussing salary.


Rest assured it is perfectly legal for you to talk about compensation with a co-worker. In fact, it is illegal for private employers to prohibit employees from talking about wages. (The only caveats to the law allowing you to discuss salary are for supervisors, agricultural workers, and domestic employees. So make sure your salary discussions are limited to your peers). However, even though you have the law on your side, that does not stop some workplaces from discouraging the practice. So it’s understandable why you may feel uncomfortable chatting with Dana about the issue at work.


But it can be a little less intimidating to talk about these issues if you do so outside of work. For instance, at the airport on a work trip, Melissa broached the question of salary with her traveling co-workers. Away from the office, it was a little easier to be transparent. She also started the conversation by being upfront about her own compensation, and that helped get the ball rolling.


If you are truly worried that your work culture will frown on salary discussions, consider creating a mastermind group. A mastermind is a group of five to fifteen individuals in similar lines of work but different workplaces. Mastermind groups can meet up regularly (or simply set up a Facebook page or Slack channel) to talk shop, ask advice, and share salary information. This can help you reduce information asymmetry in your salary negotiations without making you feel uncomfortable at work.

Create a mastermind group to discuss work issues

Discussing salary is a way of providing yourself with as much context as possible in wage negotiations. It gives you the information you need to make sure your priorities are met.


Take Your Time


You may be on fire to ask for more money once you’ve had a chance to chat with co-workers and peers, especially if you have learned that you are earning less than they are. But rather than barge into your boss’s office demanding more money, it pays to slow down.


For one thing, it takes time to honor and let go of any feelings of resentment, anger, or embarrassment you might feel about your current salary. Simply jumping into the asking-for-a-raise part will not give you a chance to sit quietly with those emotions and accept them. Allow yourself to feel hurt about any pay disparity.


Ignoring your feelings will likely lead to mindless or disordered behavior since you will be attempting to solve an emotional problem without dealing with the emotion itself. Feeling the negative emotions and then letting them go will also put you in a better emotional and mental state to negotiate with your employer. You will not be carrying your resentment into your boss’s office with you.


Acknowledge your emotions and then feel grateful

It’s also a good idea to spend some time feeling grateful for your current salary. Though you may not be earning as much as you want or as much as you believe you are worth, the money you have been receiving has been an important part of your life. It has allowed you to do many things that you should feel proud of. Thanking your current salary for what it has provided you so far will translate to a sense of gratitude for your job, which your boss will certainly pick up on. That will also help you negotiate from a stronger emotional and mental state.


Do Your Homework


Once you have decided to ask for that raise, you still have some work to do before you schedule a meeting with your boss. First, you need to find out the answers to these important questions:


· How much are other individuals in your field making?

· How much are your specific qualifications worth?

· What is your company’s policy for raises?

· How financially healthy is your company?


While your salary discussions may have helped you answer the first two questions, it’s smart to do some further research to make sure you know what your specific background is worth.


Arrange to meet with our boss at the right time

Understanding your company’s pay and raise practices can help you work within the system to improve your chances of getting a yes. You would hate to sit down to a meeting with your boss to ask for a raise only to discover that your company only offers raises at specific times each year.


If you cannot determine your company’s pay and raise practices from the company website or the human resources material you received when you were hired, schedule a meeting with your company’s HR director. Helping employees to understand the company compensation policy is part of their job.


Finally, you need to be fully aware of your company’s financial fitness before you ask for a raise. If your employer is struggling, now is not the time to ask for more money, and knowing those financial facts in advance could stave off an awkward conversation with your boss.


Know Your Boss’s Preferences


Does your boss like lots of data in order to make a decision, or is she more likely to prefer bullet points and cutting to the chase? You have observed your boss day in and out, and you should have a sense of the types of requests that appeal most to her, so you can tailor your raise request to suit.


Gather Evidence


No matter how great a relationship you have with your boss, it’s likely she does not remember off the top of her head that you were the individual who landed the big account or that you stayed late every night for a month to meet a deadline. That’s why it’s so important to provide several examples of your stellar performance when you ask for your raise. Think of this as the same kind of self-promotion you did to land your job.


Gather data to help present your case

And just as you want to highlight your accomplishments during your big ask, you also want to point out the ways your skills and expertise will help with upcoming projects. Your boss needs to know that you are looking toward the future and not going to rest on your laurels once you get the raise.


Know What to Do with a No


Deciding ahead of time what you will do if you get a no will give you a chance to prepare a response so you are not reacting mindlessly in the moment. How you respond will depend on the reason your boss gives you.

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If she says no because of your performance, be prepared to ask what needs to change for the no to become a yes. Ask to revisit the question in a few months after you have had to time to make changes to your performance.


On the other hand, if the no is financially driven, knowing your work priorities can help you determine ahead of time what benefits you would be willing to accept in lieu of a raise. For instance, you could ask for a one-time bonus, stock options, more vacation days, more flexible work hours, the ability to work from home, or a new office.

If you feel the no is proof that you are unappreciated in your job, this conversation might prompt you to dust off your resume. Being ready for that possibility gives you the equanimity to handle your boss’s refusal calmly. You can then set about finding a job that better aligns with your work priorities and will financially value you more.


Get the Compensation You Deserve


Asking for a raise is never comfortable, but like anything else, the more you practice the easier it gets. So get in the practice of asking for a raise. Just make sure you ask mindfully and with careful forethought, so you can overcome your nerves and your boss’s hesitation.

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Milwaukee, WI

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© 2020 by Emily Guy Birken