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How to Ask for a Pay Increase Without Feeling Awkward

Employers, Staff, Retention Strategies...

Salary negotiation is a source of anxiety and discomfort for most employees, and when starting a new role, many individuals find it difficult to negotiate a starting salary that they are comfortable with.

After several years of service and establishing a productive relationship with their employer, that gap between what they are being paid, and what they feel they should be earning, prompts a request for an increase.   But there is a “right” and a “wrong” way to go about asking for an increase, and our recruiters would like to share some tips to help you successfully navigate the uncomfortable task of “asking for a raise”.

Avoid Asking Verbally

The number one way to completely fail at requesting a salary increase is to schedule a meeting with your manager, and ask verbally, with no preparation.   Interestingly, many professionals feel that because they have a positive rapport with their immediate manager, that the process of requesting a raise will be personal.  Much like having a conversation with a friend.

This method backfires frequently with negative repercussions.  First, your manager is unable to arbitrarily decide pay-rate; scale and compensation are decided at the executive level, with review and administration by the Human Resources professional in your organization.   Second, your manager may feel blindsided without having the opportunity to prepare by reviewing past evaluations, peer reviews or other facts that summarize your performance.

Asking for a raise verbally is rarely taken seriously by an organization.  Creating a written, thoroughly researched proposal to request a review of your salary, is the best approach.

Create a Salary Proposal

One of the most successful approaches to asking for an increase in salary, is to provide a written proposal.  This professional approach shows your employer that you have put a lot of thought and research into your request.  Taking the time to write it in a proposal, and provide facts and data that help your manager and human resource team review it, reflects very well on the employee; whether the proposal is accepted or not.

What should you include in your written proposal?

  • An updated resume, including volunteering experience within, and outside of the organization.
  • Letters of recommendation or commendation received from customers, peers or other members of your team. You can include emails where your work is recognized for excellence.
  • A review of some of your most notable contributions to the organization. Sales data, marketing statistics, customer feedback and growth hacking data should be included here.   Remind your employer of 2-3 profile pieces that demonstrate exceptional work and innovation.
  • A selection of recent job postings with salary statements to determine labor market averages for remuneration. You can also research labor market salary data for your region online through your national department of labor, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics (USA) and the Office for National Statistics (UK).
  • A formal letter that requests a specific amount of increase by percentage.

How Much of a Raise is Reasonable?

Statistically, an increase of 1% to 5% is average across most sectors, on an annual basis.  That is not to say that every employee automatically receives a raise yearly; many companies (large and small) have instituted policies that freeze salary increases, particularly in difficult economic times.   Other organizations have instituted bonus structures that are based on achievement of key performance indicators (KPI’s) or profit sharing between divisions, department and employees in lieu of conventional salary increases.

Asking for an arbitrary number is an unsuccessful strategy, if you are not ready to demonstrate competitive salary data for other employees in your region, with similar education and experience.   This information should be provided in your written salary proposal.

Negotiating Your Increase

After receiving and reviewing your salary proposal, your manager and human resource professional will likely schedule a meeting to discuss the proposal with you.   Be informed of the facts and prepared to negotiate politely, and plead your case for a salary increase.

While negotiating, it is important for employees to assert that they are not “unhappy” with role within the organization.  Share your commitment to the company, and position your salary request to be a way to continue to grow with the organization.   The last thing you want to hear in your meeting is “We didn’t realize you were unhappy, we’ll start looking for a replacement right away.”

An aggressive negotiation can result in damaging an otherwise positive relationship with your employer. Ultimatums should be avoided, unless you are truly prepared to leave the organization, if your salary needs are not met.   If that is the case, employees should position themselves as seeking to grow their career and income with the company as a first preference.   Professional ultimatums (particularly for leadership or C-Suite executives) can sometimes work where the employee is innovative, high-performing or has skills that are in high-demand and short supply.