A reader writes:
I’ve been at my current job for almost a year now with a gross salary of (redacted at letter-writer’s request, but close to national average). I also started grad school 2 months after employment, so I haven’t been the strongest performer at work and my relationship with my boss is tense. At the same time, I like the job and I really really try to do a good job, except that the company itself is a small business and there is no HR policy about anything whatsoever. To cut it short, I’ve asked for an evaluation from my boss and he said yes. I fear his feedback would be negative, but I plan to learn from it.
In case his feedback isn’t great and I improve on the areas he tells me, how soon after this evaluation is it a good idea to ask for a raise? The main reason is that our taxes were increased, so my paycheck was cut by another $200/month. It just seems unfair after a year of employment and lot of hard work, to start making less, not more! What do you think?
Also, we have an informal policy to go to lunch all together (there are only 10 people in the office) every Friday. It’s not mandatory but at the same time… it is. You can’t really make excuses all the time not to join the group. So, there is a fixed expense of $40 – $50 a month for these lunches. This is not compensated by the company. Now I’ll be making less each month with this new tax increase. Should I raise this at my evaluation meeting with my boss, and ask the company to cover this lunch expense for me? I’m really annoyed by it, I don’t want to have to pay for it every week and now be making less money. What would you advise?
If you’re not performing very well and you get a relatively critical evaluation, you really shouldn’t be asking for a raise any time soon. Raises are recognition that you’ve been contributing at a higher level than when your salary was last set. A weak evaluation means that you’re not meeting expectations at your current level. That’s a serious thing — that has to be fixed and your performance brought up to the bar set by your manager before your job can feel secure at your current salary. From there, you’d need to perform at a higher bar than that — over a sustained period of time — before you could reasonably ask for a raise. You’re looking at something around a year of high-level performance before you could credibly ask to have your salary increased.
You say that you know that you haven’t been a strong performer and you have a bad relationship with your boss. Those are not the conditions that lead to raises. You have to earn a raise through your performance, so that’s where your focus should be this year. Revisit this in 12 months.
As for asking the company to cover the cost of your weekly lunches with coworkers, no, don’t do that. They’re not going to cover it for you without covering it for everyone, and if you ask, you’ll come acrosss if you don’t understand business norms and possibly as if you have an inappropriate sense of what you’re entitled to from your employer. However, if you don’t want to spend the money on these lunches, why not suggest less expensive alternatives to your coworkers — either going less frequently, or bringing food from home, or not holding it against people if they opt out?
Regarding the taxes … Don’t raise this as a negotiation tactic. The amount your company pays you for your work should be based on the market value of the work you do, not your tax situation, and the amount you pay in taxes is between you and the government. I’m assuming that you wouldn’t have been okay with your employer lowering your pay when taxes were cut in the early 2000s, right? Similarly, you can’t expect your employer to raise your pay now that taxes are going in the other direction.
Ultimately, what I’m hearing in your letter is a bit of a disconnect between what you want and the reality of the situation you’re in. You’re probably not in a position to be making any financial requests of your employer. When you’re not performing well, you don’t have any leverage to ask for more money. If you want more money, you need to first earn it.
Right now, it sounds like your focus needs to be on proving to your manager that you should have the job, to say nothing of more money.