what not to say when you ask for a raise

When people ask for a raise, they often go about it entirely wrong — building their argument around things that have nothing to do with whether they deserve a raise:

“Joe makes $10,000 more than I do.”

“I just got my masters.”

“I meet all my job requirements.”

… and more.

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about things you shouldn’t say when you’re asking for a raise. You can read it here.

{ 35 comments… read them below }

  1. just another hiring manager...

    Re: 6. “I just got a degree in (insert a subject that doesn’t relate to your job).”

    Even if the shiny and new degree relates 100% to your job, employees should really be talking with employers about their education in relation to their jobs before starting/while in school.

    As a supervisor, I would want to give my employees a clear idea of what a new degree means in terms of pay and potential growth, even if that means letting them know that it won’t make a lick of a difference.

    1. Mike

      True, but they just invested a ton of time, effort, and to a varying degree finances in obtaining the degree, at that point if your not willing to invest in them and “let them know that it won’t make a lick of a difference”, then they are going to go somewhere else where their investments in their degree does make a difference. So what your essentially saying is you may be fine with people leaving their job as long as you don’t have to compensate or invest further in their hard work and future. This speaks a ton toward your ability as a manager in terms of employee turnover, wasted employer investments (getting to that point), productivity loss (comes with turnover), and just the plain fact that you are employing and throwing money at somebody that you don’t even truly value for the organization, which means your already wasting expenditures on labor that should have been cut off long ago when it was first realized. That’s some horrible management.

  2. HR Gorilla

    I have a question about point # 5. If an employee’s workload continues to be onerous for an extended period–say, a year after layoffs–wouldn’t the employee have a case for an increase? After all, the employer has saved the laid-off person(s) salary and benefits costs, and is benefitting from the remaining employee’s increased productivity.

    1. D

      I was wondering the same thing…. I had always thought that taking on additional responsibilities was a good case-builder. I get that in tough economic times this might happen with layoffs, but if it continues?

      1. Charles

        “You just don’t want to say it in the immediate aftermath of layoffs.” Especially since you were one of the “lucky” ones who got to keep her job!

        Also, twice in my career I have found out what others make. Rather than being ticked off that I was paid less, I simply used that information to know what the company was willing to pay. The one time I waited until review time.

        The other time I actually approached my manager within a couple of weeks of “my discovery of co-workers salary,” after I had cooled off. I then explained to my manager what I had accomplished, what other projects were in the works, and I also stated how much I thought this position should be worth (rather gusty, even for me). I gave a figure a little above my co-worker’s salary. I’m sure that my manager guessed that I somehow or other knew what I knew as I was given a raise that matched her salary exactly.

        So, the moral of the story is “don’t get mad get even.”

      2. Anonymous

        #8 – I agree, although it’s important to draw a distinction between “my workload has increased” and “now I’m doing my old supervisor’s entire job, too.”

        In a perfect world, a layoff would only ever really be a reduction-in-force. In this world, a layoff might be a cost-savings measure or a right-sizing… orrrrr it could be a cop-out from management that wants to gently let go of overpaid, ineffective, or disliked employees. We’ve all read this blog long enough to know that this -shouldn’t- happen… but we also all know that somewhere, it does.

        If it’s a real layoff, management has identified the vital and crucial duties and responsibilities that need to be distributed to remaining staff. Anything that isn’t crucial is put on hold. In that case, an employee might expect to see an increase in number of projects and maybe a couple of duties.

        But in the second kind of layoff, it’s not unusual for an unassuming employee to suddenly realize that she is now doing her job and her old boss’ job. That’s a promotion without a raise.

        I’d say if you’re absolutely positive that you’re in the second situation, there’s nothing wrong with asking for a raise after a layoff. I’d advise waiting 2-3 months to prove that you could handle the extra workload. Nothing is worse than asking for more money to do a different job and then being completely unable to do it.

  3. Curious

    re: #7: When I started here I was a temp on behalf of an outsourcing agency which provided Customer Service expertise for a bank (confused yet?). When I was offered the position, the salary was handed to me without a negotiation: “We’re offering you $X/hour. Take it or lose the opportunity.” I understand that I found this job through a rather round-about way, but I’m curious as to whether it would be acceptable, when my three month review comes up next month (after working on behalf of this company & location for a total of six months) to propose a raise. I’ve been collecting feedback (electronic & otherwise) that basically says “He’s awesome! We love him!” and our vendors that I use for catering consistently rave about me (to the point where they wish that I could teach their other clients how to order). I’ve started to take on more responsibility than was originally described in the role and I’m still succeeding. I don’t want to jeopardize my employment by asking too quickly, but honestly I feel like I deserve it, especially since I’m receiving almost weekly praise for something I’ve done. Would I be out of line asking for a raise using this information above to support my request?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Kind of — you basically agreed to the salary three months ago when you took the job. You agreed to the do the job for a while at that salary. I’d wait until some more time goes by.

  4. Lee Zaruba

    I agree with (and recognize) most of these. However. As a manager, I strongly disagree with so easily dismissing the first scenario: “Joe makes more money than I do, but we do the same work.”

    If Bob and Joe do the same work, and Bob has a good performance rating, Bob should not *have* to come to you to ask for proper compensation. In that case, you already failed as the manager. You’re just getting called out on it.

    You are already risking the loss of a valuable performer due to an artificial inequity. In fact, some companies have HR policies which require market based re-leveling occur every 1-to-2 years. This ensures higher performers are incented properly in terms of both performance bonuses and base compensation in relation to their peers. This includes peers both inside the company, and, outside of it.

    (Let’s not even get into the aspects of sexism and equal pay for equal work).

    Frankly put: Unless you are dealing with an under-performer, part of your job as a manager is to ensure employees of similar roles and performance are receiving roughly similar total compensation. Otherwise the failure isn’t the employee’s. It is yours.

    1. Anonymous

      This is one of the major reasons that some people advocate for openly published salaries.

      Unfortunately, not all managers are good managers… and even good managers have blind spots. The “Joe makes more money than I do, and we do the same work” can elicit any number of reactions.

      “Jane is just being petty; she’s always in my office complaining that Joe spends too much time in outside meetings. Those coalitions are really important to us! Now she’s complaining that he’s making more money, too?”

      “Jane is questioning my decision-making abilities. I know what she makes and what Joe makes. Joe makes more because he has been here longer. But I shouldn’t have to explain myself to Jane.”

      “They do the same job, but there was money in the budget when Joe asked for a raise. There’s no money now. Now Jane is making me uncomfortable. I’ll tell her I’ll look into it. Maybe she’ll forget.”

      I think the more important reason to avoid the “Joe makes X and I make Y” argument is that it ends up putting the manager on the defensive. It’s never good to have a conversation about salary with someone who is on the defensive. Even if you win that go around, it could come back to haunt you. Framing the conversation around industry standard rates and your accomplishments gives it a more positive spin. Even if you’re right – you deserve the same pay, and the manager should have known that – this conversation can turn ugly fast.

  5. Sara

    I know you always say that another person’s salary is not a compelling justification for a raise for someone else, but what about at a company that specifically instructs supervisors to consider this information?

    In my company’s guidelines for promotions, the supervisor is instructed to consider “the recommended salary in relation to internal equity with the other employees.”

    It goes on to elaborate on “internal equity” as follows: “Internal equity does not mean that every employee is paid the same. Top performers should be paid more than others in comparable roles with comparable experience. It may also be appropriate to pay employees with more experience higher than those with less experience if they are given different levels of assignments and different expectations.”

    I have never asked for a raise to address internal inequity of this kind, but it does sound like my company specifically *does* consider such information. Would it ever be appropriate in this case to ask for a rasie on these grounds? Or do you think these guidelines are just meant to discourage raises from being given that would interfere with internal equity?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Hmmm, depends on context. Normally I’d say that you still shouldn’t raise it because you risk hearing, “Well, Bob makes $10k more than you do because he’s far better than you at X, Y, and Z,” which derails your raise request — it’s better to argue for a raise on your own merits. But if you’re absolutely sure (keeping in mind that people are often really bad at self-assessing this) that you’re contributing as much or more than Bob, then I could see mentioning it, specifically tying it to the company’s guidance on that.

  6. OMG

    I just had my annual review last week and everything was extremely great. My manager kept saying how much she loved me and how much I changed her life. I told her I had a bit of a concern with my pay since I was hoping I’d get more raise (than what I got). She told me I’m at 63% of my salary range so there’s a lot of room for more raise, but the only thing is, it has to get approval from her boss. She told me for next year she’ll definitely give me the maximum, which is still much below the salary cap and less than I’m expecting to get. I’m not asking to get to the cap, but how do I ask her to give me a higher raise??

    1. Anonymous

      I have a question related to this post. I’ve never worked for a company that has official salary ranges or a cap for a position. In those cases if you reach the maximum of the salary range or the salary cap does that mean you will never receive a raise of any sort (merit or cost of living)?

      1. Anonymous

        It really depends.

        -Your organization may adjust salary ranges each year to take into account changing market conditions/cost of living, in which case, COLAs could be awarded.
        -Your organization may have different steps/grades/levels for each position. For example, Administrative Assistant II would have a higher salary cap than Administrative Assistant I.
        -Your organization may give out any merit increases that would cause you to exceed 100% as bonuses or lump-sum payments.
        -Your company may have a published salary range cap but allow smaller merit increases over that cap. (If you’re at 80% of the cap, you can have up to a 6% merit increase each year. If you’re at 100% of the cap, you can only have up to a 2% merit increase each year.)
        -Your organization may give out nothing. You’re at 100% of your salary range. You’ll need to get a promotion or get another job.

  7. Sarah G

    Hey commenters — I don’t want to overstep in saying this but I believe Alison has mentioned it before in relation to her columns on external sites…
    If you post the comment on the original source (i.e. U.S. News), it could make a positive impression on the publisher since they’ll know her column is eliciting discussion. You could always duplicate the comment here if you want to. Just a thought.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Thank you, Sarah! That is so nice of you!

      I’ve gotten a bunch of reports that US News’s commenting system is a little buggy, so I’ve stopped encouraging people to comment there (although they’re welcome to!), and I think US News cares most about traffic anyway. But I’d love to have people leave comments at Intuit QuickBase when I post there :)

      1. Sarah G

        You’re welcome — just want the publications who hire you to know what a rock star you are. :)
        So hey everyone, if you comment on one of Alison’s Intuit Quickbase columns, post in over there please; if you want to comment here too (for the sake of the scintillating discussion that often takes place), it just takes an extra second to duplicate.

  8. Sarah G

    What comes around goes around!
    This occurred to me long before you (gently) mentioned it recently in a comment, in regards to Intuit I guess, but I never say anything b/c it didn’t feel like it was my place. On the same note, I imagine it feels a bit awkward for you to ask readers, whose readership and comments you appreciate. Anyway, hope it helps! Btw the new job is going well — I’ll have to send you an update soon!

  9. Anonymous

    My salary negotiation skills are bad. As far as I can tell, my salary is much lower than other people earned in this job and in comparable jobs, but I’m in an industry with a poor outlook and corporate squeezes us continually.

    On the other hand, I work for a part of the company that is consistently profitable, yet we haven’t had raises for 5 years. I know that they won’t give me a raise even if I ask, but it is discouraging to hear that arguing that another employee earns more for the same work isn’t a fair argument. That seems to contribute to unfairness in the workplace, particularly if job descriptions are comparable.

    I also have gotten pretty intolerant of people who complain to me they live on a fixed income. My reimbursements were taken away or reduced, so my income has actually gone down. A couple of my elderly relatives weren’t happy with my lack of sympathy about their fixed income situations.

  10. Jeanne

    I had a manager hire me when I was almost done with my master’s. Told me when I was finished I would get a raise because those with master’s were paid more there. When I finished I took in my diploma and he said no go he gave the raise to a coworker instead.

    1. Jeanne

      I also had a coworker who asked for and got a raise every time he got his wife pregnant. They treated the boys club well. Yes, I know there was a lot of bad management.

      1. Anon.

        I have a coworker who immediately got an extreme raise the day that she came to work and told us her husband had lost his job. This is 7 months after she was given a “you’re having a baby and your life is going to cost more money!” raise. She’s now extremely overcompensated for her position and those with job descriptions closest to her are not even remotely in the same ballpark. Obviously we should always give raises sympathetically…

  11. Danny

    I’m nearing a year with my company and within 5 months I was prompted to QC lab almost immediately I began solving problems and my efficiency compared to my predecessor who was there for over 20 years. my initial raise was 1 dollar but that just brought me over the $10 mark. since then I’ve taken over many responsibilities including ICP work and inventory scrap work along with the trust they gave me to handle my own over time hours, and they have even began to teach me some basic R&D work I make 10.50 and nearing my anniversary I was wondering what would be a fair increment to ask for?

  12. Rachel

    Hi, I was just informed that I would offered a promotion from a lead, hourly position to management salary position. As lead, I assist my manager with the day-to-day tasks relating to myself and the two other people just under me. As management, I will be replacing my manager (who is moving up) and managing my peers, six of them (YIKES!) At the moment I work, on average, 10 hours of overtime each week, earning overtime. As a salary employee I would be expected to work a standard of 45-50 hours a week. I was given a look at the range I would be starting at if I were to take this new position and it is almost $5k less then what I am earning now with the overtime! Due to the nature of what I specifically do, much of the work that keeps me late will stay on my plate. I am concerned that the company will hide behind the institution’s guidelines for the wage. On the one hand, I will be doing the management work either way, but having management experience will help me more in the long run. On the other hand, I can not afford the decrease in pay. The increase in hours will prevent me from getting a second part time job as well. What might be a good way to navigate this situation???

      1. Rachel

        That is what I was planning on doing. I was told though that I should avoid talking about “me” but instead talk about the trajectory of the department – increase in numbers but not staff, more demand on the staff that is there, etc. Using those numbers to justify my role and then my wage. I feel that is a very round about way to do this however and prefer to be more direct.

        Thanks for your input! :)

  13. Cruciatus

    Well crap! I was hoping that I’d have a leg to stand on but after reading about what not to ask, maybe I don’t. I’m interviewing at my current company for a better position as an administrative assistant. I know I don’t have the position yet, but I just want to make sure I’m ready for any talk about salary should it occur. I currently make $8.40 an hour, having started at $8.00 19 months ago. They offered a 2.5% “cost of living increase” the past 2 Julys. No one is sure what the AA position will offer, though people assume more than now, but probably not by much–maybe the $9-10 range. Right now I’ll take it though this multi-million-dollar-a-year company can afford to pay their employees more. Because I was overqualified for the position I’m in now, in my interview with the head honcho I asked for $10 an hour and she said “No. You’re getting benefits so it’s like $10 an hour.” If salary comes up at any point is it even worth asking for, say, $11 an hour for this new position? I haven’t done everything in this position before, but I am overqualified educationally (though apparently that is my problem, not my employer’s), I have a good work record and have only missed 1 day in 19 months, and this is working nights and weekends. I’ve done whatever I’ve been asked, and have to put up with frequent schedule changes during different seasons (often working 10 days in a row to make sure I get my 40 hours in when we’re scheduled to be closed on weekends, to flipping from nights to days one day to the next). Do I just take the pay that comes with the position? Do I have any leverage at all for asking for more money in a position that’s new to me and my education level is irrelevant?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Your leverage in any negotiation comes from how much they want to hire you. If they’d just as soon hire the next person if you turn them down, you might not be able to get them budge. But you can certainly ask for more, and you’ll be most effective if you can point to the market rate for the work.

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