everything you need to know to ask for a year-end raise

If you’re hoping that the new year will bring you a new salary, time is running out for you to make a case to your employer for a year-end raise. Here’s everything you need to know about raises, including how to ask for one, how much to expect, and what to do if your performance hasn’t been great this year.

Is employer required to give you a raise? No law requires employers to give raises. If you have a contract or a union agreement that specifies particular raises at particular times, your employer is bound by that, but otherwise it’s purely up to your employer’s own discretion.

What if your employer normally does year-end raises but you still haven’t heard anything about getting one? If you really just want to know whether your employer is doing company-wide raises this year, you could just ask that (“Does the company plan to do year-end salary increases like it has in past years?”). But the stronger move is to put together a case for a raise for yourself and present that to your manager. In fact, in general it’s smart not to passively wait for your employer to offer you a raise, but instead to proactively open the conversation.

What’s the best way to make the case for a raise, or for a higher raise than what’s initially offered? First, spend some time reflecting on your achievements in the last year and the impact you’ve had on your team and organization. What have you received especially positive feedback about? What results are you most proud of? Where have you made the biggest impact? Then, put together a short case for why you’re now contributing at a higher level than when your salary was last set.

How do you kick off a conversation about a raise? Be straightforward! You might simply say something like: “I’ve really appreciated the chance to take on new responsibilities and more challenging work over the last year, like projects X and Y. In light of accomplishments like A and B, I’d like to talk about adjusting my salary as we go into next year to reflect this higher level of contribution.”

What kind of raise is reasonable to expect? It depends on your company norms. Some companies only do cost-of-living increases that are pegged to inflation or have fairly rigid schedules that control how much your pay will go up each year. Others give managers one pool of money for raises and leave it to them to figure out how to distribute among their teams. Some companies do small percentage increases of 1-3% (in fact, 3% is the national average raise). Others are more generous, sometimes significantly so. It can be helpful to talk to colleagues to get a sense of how your company approaches salary increases so that you can calibrate your expectations and have an idea what parameters might be possible.

Can you still ask for a year-end raise if your performance hasn’t been strong this year? If you’re not performing well and you’ve had a lot of critical feedback from your boss – and especially if you had a mediocre or worse performance evaluation – you probably shouldn’t be asking for a raise right now. Raises are recognition that you’ve been contributing at a higher level than when your salary was last set. If you’re not meeting expectations at your current level, you’re not in a position to make a convincing case for raising your salary. You’d want to have about a year of high-level performance before you could credibly ask to have your salary increased.

What if you were promised a raise but it hasn’t shown up in your paycheck? First, make sure that you know when the raise is supposed to be effective. For example, it’s pretty common for year-end raises not to go into effect until January 1. But if you know that you should have seen it by now, then before the next payroll is next run, say this to your boss: “I haven’t see my salary increase show up on my paycheck yet. Is there someone I can talk to in payroll to make sure they have everything they need to get it on my next check?”

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 32 comments… read them below }

  1. Am I asking for too much?*

    What if you asked for a raise and a promotion and you got both in in the summer, but now you still think you should get a raise because one of your coworkers is working from home and you get stuck doing her job on the day she works from home. Can I ask for a raise even though I just got one?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’d rather see you take on the core issue — that when your coworker “works” from home, you’re stuck doing her work. Can you raise that with your boss?

      1. Am I asking for too much?*

        I actually raised this with my manager this morning. I’m not sure he understands that my coworker’s job inherently requires her to be here. There is a lot of face to face interaction for her job and when she is not here, people expect me to help them with paperwork and such (the main part of her job is to explain how to fill out paperwork and then review that it has been filled out correctly, she then sends it off somewhere else). For now I’ve been told to simply tell people to come back on the days she is here. This feels super inefficient and inconvenient (there is also no way to call her during her working from home). Despite the inefficiency, since we are dealing with contractors, my manager says he doesn’t care how they feel about the inconvenience. So, I guess maybe I’m just to ignore the customer service part. It still kind of feel unfair though.

        1. pieces of flair*

          That sucks, but I don’t think you can ask for a raise for doing tasks you’ve been told not to do.

  2. Going Anon*

    I received a 3% raise, even though I was hoping more for 9% (I didn’t think it was overreaching considering the tasks I’ve taken on this year, what I’ve accomplished, etc. The powers-that-be granted said if I wanted to get the other 6%, I’d have to create benchmarks to meet, and in 6 months I’d be re-evaluated. My role’s duties can be quantified/measurements, BUT I’m severely overworked (which management knows fully — they acknowledge there should be 3 people handling this workload), and my work gets sidetracked daily with emergency work that may or may not relate to my job duties. I’m afraid that if I set benchmarks, management will not consider them rigorous enough to warrant the rest of the raise OR I won’t be able to accomplish them without killing myself/going crazy.

    What would you do?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Put it in the context of the workload and highlight what you’ve achieved despite management’s acknowledgement that there should be three people handling the work (in case that’s not clear, use the italicized portion here as an explicit point you make).

  3. heather*

    Is there a graceful way to say you would prefer a title change to a raise? The director of my department recently left, and I absorbed most of his work, which came with a small increase in pay but was denied a title change.

    For more context, I previously worked as a manager for 8 years, took a year out of work before accepting this position as a supervisor, but quickly had the opportunity to “own” the department and have been doing manager-level work again for about a year. I’m paid fairly, and would strongly prefer a better title over another nominal raise.

    1. BRR*

      Your employer might have a rigid title structure. I have worked at places like that where you can’t just get a different title. It would overwhelm the system *shakes head*.

    2. Comp Professional*

      I think this depends a lot on the size of your organization. Generally I don’t think trading a title for the wage is a strong strategy. If the ‘actual’ work you are doing follows the job description for the Director position you should make that case to your manager on its own merits. Job titles should reflect the duties of the jobs performed and many companies (especially larger organizations) tend to be inflexible on their titling structure. Any pay raise due should be due to performance/additional responsibilities taken on and ideally kept separate from title structures.

      1. heather*

        The biggest obstacle is that the company I work for was acquired by a much larger company about a year ago, and we aren’t fully integrated, but they have final say on any changes to titles. The work I’m doing falls into a “Senior Manager” title based on the set descriptions for them, but when we broached the subject a few months ago, they said they weren’t interested in making any title changes at that time.

        The company is well-known, and the title change would be a significant coup on my resume, if I could get it. I’m already paid at the manager-level, based on industry standard, so I wouldn’t be trading a title for a wage – I’m pretty over-paid for my current title.

        1. Comp Professional*

          Ahh the acquisition honestly explains a lot of this (well, depending on how recent it was). Generally when we acquire a business quite a bit of time is spent analyzing current structures and job descriptions and how they integrate with our current positions. I think the good news is that eventually they are going to want their titles to be meaningful and similar across the larger enterprise, it just takes some time to do that correctly. Until then, if I were working with your business unit, I would recommend carefully document how your work fits into the Senior Manager position versus the current title you hold and that we would revisit the subject in the future when we have had time to fully integrate.

          Good luck!

          1. heather*

            Yeah, I figured the acquisition was a part of that – BUT, my boss was promoted from Manager to Director just 4 months ago (about 2 months before he left), so it’s frustrating how quickly they changed their tune. I am documenting and I’m ready to make the case when I have the opportunity :)

  4. ali*

    Writing my end-of-year performance evaluation right now, this is very helpful because I do plan on asking for a fairly significant raise. My issue is that while my manager gave me a great rating in my mid-year review, he has since left the company. The interim manager doesn’t know me at all and just copied my old manager’s mid-year comments as his own (which is good for me, since they were good comments), but I won’t have the actual performance review until the new manager is hired, who is coming from external in the company, so I will somehow have to convince this new person that I deserve a raise. Not quite sure how to handle that, so hoping my old manager’s comments carry a lot of weight.

  5. anonanonanon*

    I wish we could negotiate our raise. Everyone gets the same 1% regardless of whether they’re going above and beyond or slacking off. It’s pretty disheartening to know that executive management doesn’t give the department enough for more than 1%, which doesn’t even cover cost of living (it doesn’t even come out to one month’s rent for me). Or that your workload doesn’t determine your raise.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You may know that for sure, but if you haven’t tried asking for more and making a case for more, it could turn out that you can actually get more.

  6. Anon for this*

    This is perfect timing for me! I have been in my position for almost eighteen months and have taken on even more responsibility than was originally intended, not to mention even more responsibility that I will have when we go above 50 employees this spring. I have two questions: I plan to ask the company owner for the raise. He is one level above my boss, and has the say over wages and raises. Here’s the problem: he is based at our other office and is also frequently out of town. I have seen him in person exactly twice in over eight years! I would like to make my case via email. I communicate much better via email, and he will be able to read my email and think about it at his convenience. Good idea or bad?

    The other issue is that the owner’s nephew became a manager about ten months ago. Even though he is known by everyone (including the owner) to be a poor employee, he is making over $6,000/yr. more than I do. I believe that I can justify a raise to what the nephew is making. Not only is there nepotism involved, but the owner is sexist and pays women less than men. We had a woman successfully use gender-based wage inequality to get a salary at the same level as a man doing the same job in Sales. The nephew’s position and mine are not the same but are at the same level of management. Pros & cons of bringing up the wage disparity? (PLEASE do NOT derail this into a general discussion of sexist wage disparity, as I don’t believe that is the intent of this thread.)

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I don’t think the nephew should be brought into the discussion at all. Even if you are at the same management level, it doesn’t mean you should be paid the same. We have department managers who are technically at the same level, but if one has 30 years industry experience and one has 20, they don’t give the 20 year person a raise to be on par with the 30 year person. Managers will also be paid less because their previous technical background and career track paid them less than the other person’s. It sounds like you should be paid more than the nephew in this case, but I don’t see how you can use him as a data point without sounding bad. The OWNER is paying the worthless nephew too much, and pointing out that you don’t agree with his decision probably won’t be favorably received.

      I’d use industry data and compare yourself across multiple peer managers and employees if you can do that, as well as using your own performance record to make the case.

      1. BRR*

        Also if the same level managers are in different departments, each department’s field might pay differently. The director of IT and director of communications are likely to be paid based on IT and communications market rates versus both being directors at the same company.

    2. BRR*

      I’m curious why you wouldn’t bring up the issue of a raise to your boss who would then ask the owner? It might not go over well to go over your boss’ head. I would try and do it in person. You can write out what you have accomplished and give that to them as a reference.

      I also wouldn’t bring up nepotism/sexism. I would keep the focus on your accomplishments. Bringing up negative traits as you’re trying to get someone to say yes to something like this isn’t a strong negotiation tactic.

      One more thought and I’m just throwing this out there and am not at this point leaning in any direction; if you ask for a raise now are you going to want another one when there are more than 50 employees (not sure how many employees there are now and how your job is impacted by the number of employees)? Just something to ponder.

  7. AnotherAlison*

    Our raises are determined long before we go through performance reviews in Nov/Dec., and then we don’t receive them until April. You don’t find out what you’re getting until March. I suppose you could bring up the discussion at your mid-year review, if you were really unhappy with your previous raise, but otherwise there aren’t really during-the-review-period opportunities to influence the raise discussion. I’ve always felt fairly paid, so I haven’t worried about it. I know a few people who are outliers on the high side, but I wouldn’t expect to be brought to their level.

  8. Lisa*

    I just want market rate, which is 27k more than I currently make. I’m not prepared with another job lined up offering me that yet, so I don’t feel like I can ask to be paid properly.

    I hate being a woman.

  9. Mark in Cali*

    Does anyone have experience at larger corporations where raises tend to be tied to a performance eval score and an unexplained algorithm that manager’s hide behind to say, “Sorry that’s what the system said you get. I can’t control it or negotiate.”

    How long do you think you need to be in your position or with the company before you start challenging that notion and saying, “I would like to continue working here, but I find the system for pay increases contributes to making it harder to stay.”

    For the record, I’m happy with where I’m at for the most part. I’m told I perform like the job grade above me yet, I’m scored and kept in the job grade below, but I know it’s due to how the staffing is set up and the budget. I’m just curious if others have experience in these kinds of systems.

    1. 42*

      I have something like that at my company. This will only be my 2nd review cycle, so unfortunately I don’t have any helpful suggestions to share at this point.

      But I’m gonna piggyback on your comment, because it made me think of my last evaluation. We’re evaluated on a scale of 1-5. I was told that “NO ONE gets ‘5’” (then why have it?). I very often receive positive and appreciative feedback spontaneously throughout the year, I’ve taken on more specialized projects than my peers, and I carry a higher workload than many of my peers.

      That year was my first year (had worked for 8 months), and I got rated at a “3”. My manager said not to worry; that most people, including him, was rated a “3”. So I asked him – looking forward to the year ahead – what a “4” would look like in my role; what could I be doing differently? And he said “Nothing really, just keep doing what you’re doing!”


      1. Mark in Cali*

        Same story here: “4’s walk on water and 5’s make the water.”

        I get it. Kinda. They need to create that nice bell curve because performance is all relative for the most part. But yeah, it’s frustrating that they tease us with a more or less unattainable goal of a 4 or 5.

    2. Comp Professional*

      I think a lot of managers tend to hide behind this as it is an easy excuse. Large organizations usually do offer guidelines on increases based on where you are in your current range and your performance evaluation score, but again it is usually a range and I have never seen this be non-negotiable (and often see increases outside of the range offered) by a manager willing to fight for her employees/talent. I think there is nothing wrong the next time she says that in asking what exactly you would need to do in order to get X% increase (or whatever you deem fair). Additionally, if you are being told you perform at a job graded higher than your current ask what you would need to do to be promoted into that position. Sometimes managers need to be pushed and challenged (as unfortunately not all managers are great) by their employees.

  10. Comp Professional*

    I really enjoyed this article. As a compensation professional this time of year can get extremely hectic with reviewing salary structures and managers fighting for more money for their departments. As Alison states the key is to focus on your accomplishments and how you have excelled in the position. On that note, a bad strategy that we tend to see extremely often used to negotiate a pay increase are blind claims that you need x amount of money to be paid at ‘Market Value’ (both employees and managers tend to make this argument). The problem is that most people do not have the information to truly determine what the ‘Market Value’ is for their positions and base it off of anecdotal evidence or a friend in a similar role. Unfortunately unless you have collected, analyzed, and compared ACTUAL market data, this strategy is very ineffective.

  11. Brett*

    “Raises are recognition that you’ve been contributing at a higher level than when your salary was last set.”
    This is actually something we have been discussing at work lately. Our reviews are pegged to our previous year’s performance. You can have a few years of fours and fives, but it is extremely difficult to maintain that in the long run without a many years of mostly threes. This is expected; someone new to a position will get a lot of max raises their first five years or so then settle into mostly minimum raises from about ten years on. Typically a three average gets you 3%, four 4% and fives get you the max (5%, but as high as 15% in the past).
    We have had salaries frozen since 2007. We already know the freeze is continuing next year, but it is expected to end by 2020.
    With that long of a freeze, we have all had a few “five” years, but at this point most of us are getting “three” reviews because it is difficult to keep expanding your role for years on end.
    So, although none of us are considered to be performing at a high level anymore, we are also all performing at a considerably higher level than we were when salaries were last increased. When raises come back, do we ask for raises above the minimum, or consider all those high performance years as a lost cause?
    (Our organizations official policy was the latter. We no longer have any policy on this now for obvious reasons,)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ideally, you should measure performance not against “our expectations for this particular person at this moment in time” but against “our expectations for this position.”

      If you measure them against what you can expect of the person, you end up lowering expectations for not-great employees and penalizing exceptional employees. So you figure out the expectations for the position, regardless of who’s filling it (and how senior they are), and then measure against that.

  12. Smazzed*

    How does one bring up the subject of merit increases when there is no annual review?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You just schedule a meeting with your boss and bring it up yourself! As in, “I’m hoping we can talk about my salary because I think my contributions have increased significantly since it was last set.”

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