can I ask for a raise if I wouldn’t leave over salary?

A reader writes:

I like my job but I’m very underpaid. Can I do anything about it?

It’s not like I would leave if I asked for a raise and they didn’t give me one, so I feel like there is no leverage.

You can ask for a raise even if you won’t leave if they say no. People do that at all the time!

First, your manager doesn’t know that you wouldn’t leave, and you should keep it that way. Whenever you ask for a raise, there’s always an underlying subtext of “I might go somewhere else if you turn me down.” That generally works to your advantage by making your manager take the request seriously. That doesn’t mean they’ll say yes, of course — sometimes they’re already paying you all they’re able or willing to pay, and sometimes they’re okay with it if you decide to leave over that — but the subtext is there regardless, and often give you some leverage.

Second, you’re allowed to ask for things that you want and especially for things you’ve earned, even if it won’t be a deal-breaker for you if you don’t get them and even if you don’t feel you have any special leverage. That’s true of all kinds of requests — salary, more time off, more work-from-home days, professional development funds, a snow cone machine in the break room, whatever it might be.

In general, a good employer wants to know how to keep you happy … and a good manager won’t want you to stay quiet about something that’s making you unhappy just because you’re not at the point of leaving over it.

Third, employers don’t always realize someone is underpaid until it’s pointed out. They should, but they sometimes they don’t. And sometimes they do realize, but they think it’s not a problem because you haven’t said anything about it. If you lay out a case that you’re underpaid for the market, you can end up getting a salary bump. (And that’s always true, but it’s especially true right now in this market, where most employers are acutely aware that they risk losing people if they’re not competitive on salary.)

And last, if you’re still hesitant, consider this: You might think you wouldn’t leave over money right now, but what if a friend contacts you about a much higher-paying job at their company next week? You’d presumably be pretty open to that offer — so it’s to your manager’s advantage to hear that you feel underpaid now and be able to fix it before something like that happens.

A good manager wants to know.

So please do ask for a raise. You might get it! Here’s advice about how to do it. (Exceptions: if you’ve only been in your job for six months, or if you haven’t been performing well. Otherwise, ask.)

Read an update to this letter

{ 53 comments… read them below }

  1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    You’ll learn a lot about your company and your manager just by asking. You don’t have to act on it now or ever, but it will be good to know.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I agree with this. If nothing else, you’ll have more information.

  2. I should really pick a name*

    Pretty much echoing what Alison is saying, but don’t think of asking a raise as some adversarial situation where you need leverage.

    You’re telling them that you believe that you deserve more money. Their response might be “okay, here’s more money”.
    Does your job regularly give raises on their own? If not, it’s even more important for you to ask, as they’re probably just assuming that you’d say something if you had problem with the status quo.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      ” don’t think of asking a raise as some adversarial situation where you need leverage”

      Yes. It’s so hard not to think of your relationship with your employer as an ongoing battle of wills, because so many are, but a good employer won’t function that way. It’s always best to start from a place where you assume you’re dealing with reasonable people.

    2. Sloanicota*

      Yes, this! And if the process is too daunting, I’d suggest at least asking in your next performance review “What would it take to get my salary more in line with Z?” The trick is to actually spit out a number or at least range – then, in six months or a year you may have set yourself up for this conversation more naturally. At least you did something. I’m not sure I’ve ever asked for a raise out of nowhere but I have gotten big market adjustments without adding more duties by asking.

  3. anonymous73*

    And if you’re doing well in your role and deserve a raise and/or are underpaid and they say no, you SHOULD consider leaving for a company that provides what you deserve. Sometimes other benefits can make up for the fact that you aren’t being paid as well as you could be paid elsewhere, but that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t look.

  4. Jessica*

    Speaking as a manager with no budget or power to give raises, I still want to know! It will help me advocate for my staff if there’s any opportunity, and also prompts me to think “well, X deserves a raise, which I can’t give them, but what CAN I give them? Is there anything else they want that might lie within my power?” You’d probably rather have the raise, but getting something else you want is better than nothing.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Yes, exactly. Our salaries are set like three levels above my head, but I can offer other development opportunities of varying types, and I can (and do) make sure the people up the org chart from me know how awesome my team is (both collectively and the specific individuals who go above and beyond) every chance I get.

    2. The Dude Abides*

      I’ve recently(ish) been on both sides of this – I asked for a raise/title bump about 18 months ago, didn’t get it (CFO blamed the union contract), and ended up taking a promotion out six months later.

      Seven months after that promotion, I replaced the person who tried to get me the raise, and now I’m in a position where one of my best people will likely echoing what I did, as she’s at the top of her pay band. The union contract is up next year, but I don’t see her sticking around that long.

    3. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yes, this. I can’t give raises, but I can sometimes arrange bonuses if we have end of the year funds and I can do other things, so tell me! I will do by best to keep my best people.

  5. Claudia*

    I know the advice is not to ask if you’ve only been there 6 months. If you’re VERY underpaid and have been doing a good job id still ask. I asked when I’d only been at a job 4-5 months. I had a really positive 3 month evaluation and was underpaid by about 5k/yr. I asked my boss if he could look into moving my pay up to par for the position and got it.

    1. Not A Girl Boss*

      I asked for a raise after 6 months. I took a demotion for the job because the company and location appealed to me, and because I wanted a lower-stress job with more reasonable hours.
      Within weeks, it became abundantly clear they actually wanted me to perform at a senior level, with tons of work above and beyond the job description. I was working 60-80 hours every single week (they’d been ‘hiring’ for a second person for my role since I was hired, but never made any progress on it). And I was getting lots of positive recognition for my work!

      Anyway, I went to them with a redlined version of my job description and asked for a pretty significant bump (10%). Not only was the answer no, but I got hauled into a meeting with my grandboss who gave me an ‘how dare you’ lecture.

      And I really wish I hadn’t asked for the raise. It totally destroyed how I viewed the company and made me bitter, which made performing well under the pressure even harder. Within a month I was going from praise emails to nagging emails about things left undone (I refused to work more than 40 hours after that).
      And I was really stuck. Because I wasn’t prepared to leave after only 9 months – I didn’t want to look like a job hopper (my previous job I had jumped to to get through COVID, so it would be 2x 1-year jobs). And I couldn’t keep up the positive facade long enough to get the raise they dangled as a possibility at my one-year review. And my grandboss clearly thought less of me after that. And they never did hire the second person, so I just keep getting nagging emails…

      1. A Simple Narwhal*

        That sucks so much! And honestly 10% isn’t a really big ask for what they were demanding of you. I would probably have left sooner, two jobs during COVID times and one of them being a bait-and-switch wouldn’t have been too damning, but I understand that’s super easy to say from the outside. Good on you for refusing to put in extra effort or hours. If they want a senior person, they need to hire and pay for a senior person, not just dump it on you.

        Are you still there? If so, you really should try getting out, they’ve really revealed themselves to be awful and at this point you can at least say you’ve made a good faith effort of trying to make it work.

      2. CM*

        That’s a tough situation! Although it sounds to me like the problem wasn’t you asking for a raise. It was them having unreasonable expectations and getting mad at you for complaining about it.

      3. Excel-sior*

        You shouldn’t feel bad at all! Your job isn’t what was advertised, you’re underpaid for what you’re being asked to do and you have every right to ask for a payrise in this situation. The only people who should feel bad are your grandboss and the company. And I’m sure any reasonable company, any company you actually want to work for would understand you leaving this employer on this situation.

    2. River Otter*

      I brought up my compensation as soon as I realized that I was severely underpaid, which was maybe 6-7 months, but I didn’t put in the ask for a raise until I had been there a little longer. The delay is bc I was gathering data. My boss’s reaction when I first brought it up was that I should have negotiated better (not a good reaction). I wrote an email to HR with my data, the retention case for giving me a raise, and my desired salary, and a few months later, I got an ~18% raise, which translated to ~$25k. I had asked for a little more, which I think was warranted but they obviously didn’t.
      The takeaway is that you always need a case for a raise, and some raises need a better case than others.

    3. Tumbleweed*

      This is good to hear…I’m in a similar position, had very positive four month review/evaluation, underpaid by a similar amount to you (though in a different currency) I think so planning to bring it up quite soon. And, they are struggling to hire further people at my level so I’m hoping they might go for it.

    1. Decidedly Me*

      My partner legit works somewhere that has a popcorn machine, along with several kombuchas on tap and other things like that. No snow cone machine yet, though….

      1. The Dude Abides*

        At my first “real” job, there was a popcorn machine in the break room. On Fridays, teenagers with developmental disabilities that resided at a local school dedicated to such people came in and popped/bagged popcorn to be handed out to customers. They had paper time cards that the teachers helped them complete, were paid an hourly wage and treated just like other employees.

    2. Web Crawler*

      This comment made me stick some ice in a blender to see what happened, and guess what? It’s exactly the same texture as a snowcone. Thanks to you, now I do have a snowcone machine in my (home) break room!

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        The things we learn on this site, amiright? It’s pretty awesome.

        1. Web Crawler*

          I went with lemon, which was just lemon juice because I didn’t feel like adding sugar.

          My partner went with salt and vinegar, because she’s a gremlin (and I love her for it).

    3. Work Treats*

      My boss put in a cotton candy machine in our work kitchen. Every time she uses it, it sets off the smoke alarm. It doesn’t stop her.

      1. Mrs. Pommeroy*

        I like your bose! xD Even though I am concerned that she manages to set of the smoke alarm with a Cotton Candy Machine, of all things?!

    4. BubbleTea*

      We’ve been canvassing (not entirely seriously) for an office cat for several years.

  6. Healthcare Manager*

    I asked for a raise after three months and I got it! The caveat was my evidence. The work was a lot harder and complicated than expected and it also required skills that were a level higher than the role I was hired for. I didn’t tell them I was going to leave if they didn’t, and I wouldn’t have. I just made my case.

    I suggest doing your research and have evidence to argue your case and you never know.

  7. Workfromhome*

    in most cases (not all there are some companies ha do their salary research) if you dont ask you dont get. How many times do we hear about an employee putting notice and all f a sudden here comes the counter offer with a raise. he raise was there but they had no reason to bother because no one asked.

  8. Anonymous for this*

    I was in exactly this position. Told my newish (at the time) boss that I had not had a merit raise since X year, between then and now I’d done A,B, C and won awards for A and B. I was unlikely to leave, which of course I did not say. But several other people had left fairly recently, and they couldn’t afford to lose anyone, much less a highly skilled employee with huge amounts of institutional knowledge.

    I got a raise.

  9. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    Especially if you are underpaid for the market. Most of us have other reasons for staying in this job but we routinely send our manager postings about similar jobs showing that our office is severely underpaid. (She asks for this because she knows we are underpaid and is trying to fight the system to do something about it).

    It might not get you a raise now, but it helped us adjust a little bit at the budget review cycle. Still underpaid, but a little less underpaid.

  10. Amber Rose*

    You can ask for anything, leverage or not, as long as you’re prepared to accept a “no” with grace. For best chances of success, come up with a couple reasons why they should say yes.

    I got some of my WFH days back this way.

    1. Anon for this*

      “as long as you’re prepared to accept a ‘no’ with grace” is really important. I’ve been struggling with a report whose attitude has plummeted despite the fact that we got him the best raise we could; it wasn’t the (frankly ludicrous) amount he requested with weak evidence, so now everyone gets to suffer.

  11. Sunny*

    What if you are paid well for the market and got a COL adjustment but no raise (and are performing well)? Would it still be a good idea to just ask?

  12. Now In the Job*

    I got a raise back in March, about 7%, and an equity grant. I knew I was underpaid and the raise wasn’t “enough,” but I was still happy here and wasn’t planning to leave. A friend’s company was hiring for my position and she asked me to go for it. The place turned out to be awesome, I loved the boss and the team, and the role has some upward mobility compared to where I am now. I wound up getting an offer…for a 45% raise and 5x the equity. That’s not an offer one easily turns down, even if not planning to leave!

  13. Banana*

    Does the wider availability of remote work change the conversation at all? I’m in a low COL area. I’m underpaid for what I do anyway, but fully remote similar jobs for companies in other markets are probably $20-30k more than local market.

    1. ecnaseener*

      It certainly factors into the “employers know they will lose people if they’re not competitive on salary” part — people have way more options overall if they’re not limited by commute, and some of those will be higher-paying options.

    2. Mirve*

      The meaning of “market rate” is becoming pretty fuzzy if you have a national market due to remote work. Pay market rate for the employee’s local market or for the company’s local market? Is there such a thing as a national market rate?

  14. Spearmint*

    Late to this, but I’m curious: how appropriate is it to bring up inflation when asking for a raise or when determining how much to ask? Should employees just tack on 7% onto whatever they are asking for due to inflation? Or will brining up inflation not be helpful?

    I ask because a raise of, say, 10% might have been solid in previous years, but now feels modest given rising COL.

  15. MyySharona*

    I asked for my compensation to be brought to market value and provided several examples, including info from a recruiter at a competitor for the same job, industry, and city that was almost double what I’m making now. Which I guess implied that I would leave, but I do like my job and company very much. In the midst of this, someone has also looked at the salaries of the team I manage and some of them have gotten raises too!
    Mine is still in the works, but my stance is that it can’t hurt to ask. And if there ARE consequences for asking, then that seems like a larger, different problem.

  16. A Detective*

    Is it in bad form to ask about a raise, accept a raise but then leave shortly after? I’m in the middle of this shuffle right now and I think there’s a decent chance of getting a decent raise, but I’ve since been interviewing elsewhere and I doubt my employer will match what I’m hearing from other employers (assuming I get the position of course). I worry that it looks tacky.

    1. Public Safety Executive*

      Ask! I have learned that one has to be one’s biggest proponent. Don’t worry about looking tacky.

    2. another Hero*

      Most practically, turning it down would look suspicious, plus you’d be shooting yourself in the foot if you didn’t end up leaving. If you’ve already given notice, they probably won’t offer you a raise – since raises are for retention. If you haven’t given notice, presumably that means something is still up in the air, and you should take the raise.

  17. Public Safety Executive*

    In my previous role, I was a senior level manager/director for a large regional organization and was initially responsible for just overseeing protective services at one location and offering support to the nearly 50 other dispersed locations.

    Among other things, that job morphed/volun-told into DEAI work (primarily because I am BIPOC), community relations, addressing cultural competence, brainstorming new operational improvements outside of protective services for a 900+ person organization, working with the local prosecutors, creating new roles, etc. As it was a 24/7 emergency management role on top everything else, I felt that my compensation was not in line with my grade.

    I truly enjoyed being a part of this organization and working with a talented group of professionals and really thought long and hard about wrapping up my career here. I was happy and content and did not want to leave just because of compensation, but the uncompensated increased workload was not fair. I shared this with my direct leader and their successor and asked them for an adjustment. I spent two years doing the research, providing the comparisons, benchmarking, etc. and sharing with my organization.

    I was told many things, but was led to believe that this would be corrected during the next budget cycle, the next organizational comp review, etc.

    I was subsequently told that my benchmarks were out of wack as I couldn’t compare my salary with others since some of those were in larger markets. I was told that I wanted too much money and there was no way that no other local employer would be able to pay that much.

    I felt that I had shown loyalty to this job and they showed me that they did not value me by not even coming up a single dollar. When the pandemic hit, I was told that I should feel lucky that I did not receive a promotion or raise since it would have resulted in a wage reduction any way.

    Within months, I accepted a promotional role as a director/VP in the same city in a similar institution. My base comp increased nearly 40%. I have a wide latitude for independent direction and contributions and have been told that if I wanted to work outside of my wheelhouse to go for it and that if I don’t, it would be okay also. There are challenges like with any position, but proper compensation for the assignment is a sign of respect by the organization in my opinion of their staff. That being said, I am okay any not actively searching at this point in my career since my current org has gone above and beyond to show me that they value me. In my less than a year tenure, I received additional increases to my base above a COLA.

    I gave my previous position an opportunity to counter the offer. They chose not to. Despite consecutive years of receiving the highest level of evaluations, my last one out the door on my last day rated me one level below the highest. On an unrelated note, an HR leader told me that I had to make the move since I made some lifestyle upgrades. It took everything in my soul to not go off – I settled for “That has nothing to do with whether or not you all are paying me what I am worth.”

    My story is not unique. A similar thing happened to my spouse. Compensation/promotions may not be everything right now, but it does make a difference down the line to your retirement and overall career trajectory. Making the right moves/asks will allow you to cherry pick your next job. Just today, I turned down a recruiter inviting me to a high six figure position interview – think about 250k. I do not think that would have been possible had I settled in my previous role.

    Apologies for the long winded comment. Know your worth and pay your people their worth. Good luck OP.

      1. Public Safety Executive*

        Correct. Keeping a roof over our heads and being safe was a lifestyle upgrade. Insane.

  18. IgnoreTheMarket*

    Ahh some employers rush to fix market rates, others dick around and push it off, then are shocked that people are leaving.

    Nope, not bitter.

  19. TG*

    I was promoted and no raise – I should have gotten it in writing. However I don’t want to leave so I am still working on ideas to make something happen; I don’t want to leave but I also want to continue to be able to grow my experience and skills so I CAN get it or I’ll be in a good position if I do decide to look.

  20. Ace in the Hole*

    Don’t forget that your company is probably getting more value from you now than they did when you were first hired. You have more experience, more institutional knowledge, better working relationships with coworkers/clients/stakeholders, you’ve had time to hone your workflow to be more efficient. You’ve likely been given additional responsibilities since you started. All of these things make you worth more to them now, and your compensation should reflect that!

    I recently asked my boss for a pay/title increase based on my job performance over the last couple of years. My willingness to stay wasn’t ever part of the discussion… I just showed him the new duties I’d taken on, pointed out that I was more than qualified for the higher title, and explained how long it had been since my last wage increase in spite of getting great reviews from management. My boss went to bat for me and got me the promotion even though we had a hiring freeze at the time.

    A good boss wants to do right by their employees, including paying them fairly. And a good boss also knows that if they don’t pay employees what they’re worth, the good ones will leave for something better. Maybe not right this second… but if you’re not happy with what you’re being paid, you’re much more likely to jump ship in the future.

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