It’s been three years since you first set foot in the office. You love your job and your colleagues love you back. You’re a consistent sales performer who averagely clocks in 12 hours of work a day.
Lately, that has become 14 since you’re ‘temporarily filling up’ for a colleague who left the company six months ago. You’re happy with your work but you also think you deserve more for what you’ve been contributing. You want a salary raise.
The rule is simple: if you are getting paid way below what the rest is receiving, you have a case for asking an increase.
Asking for an increase is no doubt a sensitive and awkward conversation with your boss or the HR (human resources) department, especially when you plan to stay for a long time. Companies today don’t regret squeezing the most out of their workers, and you can be a victim of today’s legitimate “underpaid–overworked” culture unless you start talking.
How should you speak up? Here are five key tips to nailing down a successful negotiation:
1. Know your worth
Your journey to a successful increase starts with finding out your market value: how much is your industry averagely paying for your position across companies? This benchmarking exercise is important because companies (especially in information technology, manufacturing and real estate) ensure that their compensation schemes are competitive to attract and retain good talent.
Check out payscale.com, getraised.com or salaryexplorer.com which give a reliable breakdown of salary levels based on position and seniority. If you have skills to scoop for information without invading privacy or breaking ethical rules, you can also benchmark your compensation versus your co-workers’ discreetly.
The rule is simple: if you are getting paid way below what the rest is receiving, you have a case for asking an increase. This is regardless whether your situation was a result of oversight by an HR manager, or a deliberate strategy to keep the company’s overhead costs low. On average, it is reasonable to request for a 10–25% adjustment of your current salary.
You have nothing to be ashamed of when asking for what is rightfully due: to be compensated for what your expertise is truly worth. There’s no such thing as free lunch in this world, and the least that we want is to be taken advantage by an employer who thinks it can get away with ignorance of its employees.
2. Prepare your case
What if your pay is the same as the rest of the industry but you still believe that you deserve more? You, therefore, have to defend a case: why should the company spend more money on you? Everyone must be busy as you are, so what’s so special about you?
Ah yes, balloon wrestling - one of the great futureproof skills.
You have to demonstrate your indispensable value as a worker (versus your colleagues who are not asking for a raise), your unique contributions to the company, and the potential of what you can bring to the table once your raise is approved.
Answer the questions below to make your case:
- Is the quantity of your workload the same as the one promised to you when you signed up for the job? Or has it evolved significantly that it mimics the combined jobs of two to three employees? Do you suspect that the company is taking advantage of your ability to stretch additional workload?
- Apart from the volume of work, is the quality also the same as the one promised in the job advertisement? Or has it evolved to a scope that physically or financially risks your conditions? Are you now covering a different time shift? Are you traveling for work too often? Are you more susceptible to overtime that is not accounted for by the company because the work doesn’t happen in the office?
- What have you contributed to the company in the past 6–12 months? How indispensable are these contributions vis-à-vis to what your colleagues have contributed? How consistent will you be in delivering these contributions moving forward? Explain them in either financial or social gains for the company.
Before you channel the ‘Harvey Specter’ in you, remember that you’re not asking for a bigger role in exchange for a salary increase (tip: that’s called a promotion). Rather, you are justifying that your current situation merits higher compensation.
“A promotion is caused by an expansion of your accountabilities reflected by the company’s recognition of your readiness and merit to take on a bigger scope such as managing a team. Meanwhile, a salary increase is a technical adjustment of your compensation to reflect your worth based on your current job role,” explains LA Cruz, who currently serves as AVP for HR for AboitizPower. In my experience across three industries, almost all types of promotions involve a salary increase, but not all salary increases mean promotion.
3. Execute with the right timing
When I was a teenager, I always waited for my parents to be in their best mood before asking for a school allowance increase (I did this often when the report cards were distributed and I know I did well).
This situation is no different with your boss. As you are asking something that involves money, ensure that you choose the right place (quiet and private), the right mood (is your boss grumpy or cheerful during mornings?), and the right timing (best to do it days after you nailed down a great presentation or hit your sales targets).
As salary raises are dependent on management’s approval and the company’s budget cycles, the best time to ask for one is during second or third quarters of the year. This is the “Goldilocks scenario” where the situation is “not too hot, and not too cold”.
You want to ask halfway through, like June or July to give your boss and HR ample time to evaluate your case, which averagely happens from two to three months.
Amy-Jo Onrubia, a talent manager from GlaxoSmithKline Philippines, quips;
This helps them decide by using your first and second quarter performances as reference. Moreover, this is the time of the year when they have clear visibility if the company’s budget can still cover for a raise, assuming it happens within a year.
Don’t keep it hanging too long either – asking for an increase in November or December may be late because your department’s budget has been set already (usually approved in August) and thereby fails to account for more money should your approved increase happens next year. For more security, check your company’s policies too for salary adjustments.
4. Negotiate beyond cash
Don’t just limit yourself to cash when asking for a raise. When negotiating for better pay, there are many non-cash benefits which may even work better to your advantage. If your company doesn’t have the budget to increase your salary, try negotiating for more days of vacation leave or inclusion of more dependents in your health insurance.
Large companies usually enjoy discounts for these expenses; hence, they can be generously flexible in this area. Some companies may even offer their rank-and-file employees access to bigger loans with zero interest – a benefit you can grab when it’s challenging for you to get a car or house loan from banks.
There are many resources that companies can increase for you without hurting their pockets, and all it takes is to be strategic in reminding or identifying these for them.
5. When it fails
Not all requests for a salary increase will be approved of course, so be reasonable with your expectations. Ensure that you know the very reason when your boss declines and contemplate if they’re controllable from your end or not.
A boss who thinks that your last year’s performance doesn’t merit an increase signals that you have to work harder (or show that you’ve been working harder) but a company that hasn’t been financially performing well for years also signals that your career is heading nowhere.
Bringing it all together
Take the rejection professionally and look at the silver lining. The benefit of this rejection comes with a gift: a clearer understanding of where you now stand.
Perhaps you can attempt to apply again for a raise in the next six months? How about aiming instead for a promotion? Is it still worth staying in the company, or should you start looking for greener pastures elsewhere? The results of your negotiation will shed more light into this.