can you negotiate a raise if your boss knows you won’t leave if you don’t get it?

A reader writes:

Is it possible to negotiate a raise at the one-year mark if your manager knows you won’t leave the company over not getting it?

I started at Company 1 in 2019, my first job in my new field, and was promoted in 2021. In 2022, a recruiter I know personally contacted me with an amazing job/growth opportunity at Company 2. At the time, I was being told my salary was going to be raised to a certain amount and the offer from Company 2 was slightly above that, but truly the money was not the object and it was the learning.

I made my reasons for leaving clear when I left. Cut to starting at Company 2, and the head of department left unexpectedly just before I started. Now the work plans are changing significantly, the close mentorship I was promised went out the window, and my role looks a lot different than what I signed on for. Once again, I feel like I’m not growing fast enough or broadly enough in my new career. At least at Company 1 I could occasionally stretch into new projects.

Long story short, I spilled my woes to someone at Company 1 who I knew and considered a friend and mentor before either of us worked there, he asked around, and both my direct manager and the CTO welcomed me back with open arms after I’d been at Company 2 for about four months. I was prepared to return at my previous salary, but they brought me back with a higher title and a pay bump equivalent to what I was making at Company 2. Since then I have been thriving and involved in a much large scope than before.

It’s now coming up on one year since I’ve been back, and along with that a one-year review. I feel like I deserve a small raise because I’ve taken on a lot more responsibility and initiative since returning (although I wanted to do exactly that). Also, not relevant to the company but just the facts: my partner is out of work with no job in sight, our rent is going up next month, and financially we’re going to be cutting it close on my existing salary. At the same time, Company 1 has already been so generous, and I’m definitely never leaving unless it’s forced financially, which at this point it isn’t (barely). Should I even ask at all? If so, how?

Yes, you should still ask for a raise if you think your work warrants one!

A raise is recognition that your contributions to the company have increased since the last time your salary was set — you’re better at your job now, have taken on new responsibilities, or so forth. That’s the case even when you were happy to take on those new responsibilities, and even when you specifically asked to take on those responsibilities. Your salary should reflect what your work is worth to the company and the market, not how glad you are to be doing it.

It’s true that raises are retention devices (a method to ensure good people don’t leave for better pay elsewhere) but that doesn’t mean that companies see no use for them if they don’t think you’re likely to leave. Well-run companies want to compensate people appropriately, so they don’t have their loyal star performer earning less than others just because they know she’s not going anywhere, and also so salaries throughout the organization are part of an overall structure that makes sense across roles and levels of performance. Plus, they know that “not interested in leaving” doesn’t mean you couldn’t be tempted by an offer that fell in your lap for more money somewhere else, even if you didn’t actively go seeking it.

I think you’re thinking of this as, “Well, they knew I really wanted to come back and maybe they’ll think I should be grateful they let me, and asking for more money will make it seem like I don’t recognize the history.” But that’s not how salaries work, and it’s really unlikely your manager will think that.

And speaking of gratitude … Company 1 didn’t hire you back at a higher title and with a pay bump as a favor to you! They did it because it made business sense — they wanted you to come back, they thought you’d do well in the job they offered you, and they bumped your pay because it was a higher level role (and your salary at Company 2 gave them some data on the market). I’m sure they like you — managers don’t generally hire people back if they don’t like them — but they weren’t doing you a favor or giving you a gift, even if it felt like that to you because you were so glad to get out of Company 2.

So you don’t need to approach this any more delicately than you would any other raise request. All you need to say is, “As part of my review, I’d like to talk about adjusting my salary to reflect the work I’ve been doing.”

{ 33 comments… read them below }

  1. ina*

    Company 1 brought you back, not out of generosity but because you have the skills, institutional know-how, and inside references. You would have been a great candidate had you just reapplied and no one held grudges. It’s not charity here; it’s business.

    I would ask if your work warrants it.

    1. Ray B Purchase*

      The company itself also likely benefits a lot from having a boomerang like LW! Even if she has to be trained to her new role, the training time and budget Company 1 doesn’t have to now spend giving someone new institutional knowledge is not nothing.

      In general, even if you feel grateful, you don’t owe your employer gratitude. You just owe them work at the quality level you’re being paid to do. If your quality level has increased then your pay should.

    2. another Hero*

      not just that, but they knew op’s work and thought she was worth that. plus, the fact that they offered an increased rate means they’re a company that will do such a thing. op is in a good spot to ask imo

  2. e271828*

    Although it’s good to enjoy your work and workplace, language like “I’m never leaving” is dangerous to the employee, generally. Tell the employer you like working there, give positive feedback about the job and coworkers, but never put “I’m never leaving” on the table, even in your own mind. It’s a job. You will probably leave someday, because you will need to leave for a good reason. Don’t give your employer that much power.

    In fact, if Company 1 turns down the raise and makes clear that there won’t be another salary review till next year, you might well feel compelled to start looking in six months or so, if your financial situation is precarious.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Honestly, OP should feel if not the opposite way, maybe inverse or converse. Empowered and in control, not trapped and grateful.
      OP, you know you have marketable skills and knowledge. You clearly interview well and people like to work with you. The hardest part is over. You left the comfort of a steady job for a new job. It didn’t work out. You cut your losses, looked at your options, made a decision and moved on…not back.

  3. Boof*

    I mean, in theory if they end up with pay disparities based on a protected class they could be in trouble too, so in theory it’s worth it for a company periodically evaluating and adjusting salaries beyond strictly retention! And in theory keeping everyone with good morale and feeling collaborative, rather than in a “squeeze every bit you can / everyone for themselves!” relationship with their employer is good, helps prevent “quiet quitting” (I hate that term, but people usually know what it means) and/or doing the bare minimum to keep employed. Which is all to say, yes, ask for what you think your work is worth, just have good supporting evidence, a good company will want pay to be equitable even if you aren’t a high flight risk

    1. Green great dragon*

      I was nodding along to your comment, and then I realised this cuts both ways – LW might be a young white straight man. And then I realised how strongly female the letter reads to me and I don’t picture many men being so hesitant, and feeling tied to the company forever, and talking about generosity and gratitude.

      So, my own mental stereotypes aside, I would say to LW that many people would feel much less obligated to the company than you, you’ve thoroughly earned your salary for a year, and as long as you don’t go storming out in a huff if they say no then they really shouldn’t hold it against you.

      1. Zephy*

        Point of order, treating young white straight men differently from people who aren’t any or all of those things is also discrimination and also illegal – age/race/sexuality/gender are themselves the protected classes.

        1. Green great dragon*

          Fair point. But I suspect there aren’t a whole lot of companies with systematic pay disparities in favour of women, PoC, queer people etc.

  4. Moriahrose*

    Am I the only one wondering if OP is comparing their role now at company 1 to their previous role at the org when they say ” I’ve taken on a lot more responsibility and initiative.”
    Like you absolutely deserve a raise I you are working beyond your role and job description, but your promotion probably also came with the expectation that you would be taking on more.

    1. kiki*

      Yeah, I think that is an important note to clarify here for OP. What are the baseline expectations for the new role? Has OP taken on additional responsibility and initiative beyond that baseline? Will their annual review say that they’re exceeding expectations in most categories or just meeting them? Because if LW is comparing their responsibilities to their old role, their new salary when they re-joined the company reflects that.

    2. Evergreen*

      I think this is important as well. In my industry one year in a role is just not enough time to judge if you’re exceeding expectations to that level.

      Though, I also don’t think it’s unreasonable to float the idea; in fact even if it’s a no this time, you’re setting the expectation for next time.

  5. Sloanicota*

    If it helps, I consider it to normal to regularly ask for a raise (when I feel it’s deserved) and try to consider it good practice for myself. Just accept that you won’t get one every time, and that’s okay, but be proud of yourself for asking calmly and directly. Do some work to make your case – look at comp salaries, document the extra work you’ve taken on and try to quantify what value you’re bringing to the company, and then do your best. If not every year, then every other year.

    1. LCH*

      yes, this. i asked one time because i kept getting feedback that i was killing it. and was denied. but given one 6 months later. so it was something they continued to think about. you never know.

  6. Capt. Liam Shaw*

    Unless the job duties are more than what was understood day 1 when you hired back, I don’t think a considerable raise is really warranted. You were given a raise and a title bump when brought back.

    I think you should push for any cost of living or one year review bonus though.

    I get you wanting more money because you need it, but you are not entitled to it just because of that.

    1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      This is a misreading of the letter. For one, she said “small” raise and she is asking because of her greater responsibilities and initiative, not “just because” she needs it.

      1. Capt. Liam Shaw*

        I addressed your point in my second paragraph.

        I don’t think it is clear how much more the LW has taken on since being rehired. I am not the only person who has made thad point either.

        1. Fikly*

          Asking for a cost of living increase is very different than a small raise for greater responsibilities and quality work.

          Other people echoing your point doesn’t make you less wrong.

  7. Fikly*

    Also, don’t use the word “deserve” – it does you a disservice. Use earn, instead. You have earned a raise, based on your work duties and quality.

  8. Cat Lady in the Mountains*

    You absolutely can ask! From the manager side, I would MUCH rather know a strong employee thinks their work merits a raise before they think about leaving than after they’ve already decided they will. In a perfect world, you’d never need to ask – but in a realistic world full of busy managers who still want to retain great employees but may not be tracking each person’s pay tied to their anniversaries, asking is genuinely helpful. (Plus, at least in my org, being able to say “they asked for $x” makes a stronger case to HR than “I think they should get $x”. And if you have a higher number in mind than your employer does, it’s also helpful to have that discussion before your manager makes decisions on their own.)

  9. NoOneWillSeeThisComment*

    It feels like OP fundamentally doesn’t understand raises. The point of them isn’t solely to “bribe” people in staying, and asking for one is not meant to hold your employer hostage. At the same time, asking because it’s been a year, isn’t how they work either, but OP could articulate why things have changed in that year to justify the increase.

  10. EA*

    “they brought me back with a higher title and a pay bump” – it sounds like they hired you for a slightly different job than your original, so maybe in their eyes it isn’t a pay bump, but rather the fair salary for your new position which has more responsibilities. It’s worth asking for a raise based on your strong performance though.

  11. Lily Potter*

    Allison’s reply and the comments above are spot on.

    Just one more thing to add (and from your letter, I suspect you already know this): Do not breathe one word to your employer about your personal financial situation. It’s none of their business and them knowing it could weaken you. Besides, no normal employer is going to give you a raise because your SO is out of work and your rent is going up. Those are your issues, not your employer’s. Keep the discussion focused on them paying you fairly for your contributions.

  12. Andor*

    You got a title bump and a pay bump when you returned, so you should expect to be taking on more responsibility than you had previously. That’s the nature of title bumps–there is a higher expectation out of a person with a higher title. If you are going to ask for a raise, make sure you pitch your work not just as higher than when you were there before going to Company 2, but also as higher than expected for the pay and title they brought you back at.

  13. Budgie Buddy*

    This is kind of the flip side to “my employee is a good person but can’t do the work. Am I allowed to fire them?” The employer should make decisions based on what works for the business, and the employee should make decisions based on what they deserve for the work being performed.

    If OP has taken on even more responsibilities in the past year then she can make a case for why she should get a raise. Feeling happy at the company and grateful for the fair way they have worked with her in the past don’t negate her contributions or mean she can’t ask for what she sees as appropriate compensation.

  14. Corelle*

    I wouldn’t be too quick to assume your boss knows you would never leave. I rehired someone two years ago who left the company for better opportunities and more pay. I rehired him (at a higher title, with more pay) seven months after he left. He got a 10% increase not long after he came back (the company increased salaries for everyone in our field to adjust to the market.) He got another merit increase early this year. Six months ago, he started asking about promotion and growth opportunities and I told him they were limited. I knew then he might leave and he did just leave recently. He’s absolutely fantastic and I would rehire him again, and I’d know next time he might leave again. Two times might be my limit but I said once was my limit last time so who knows.

  15. Qwerty*

    One thing to bear in mind is whether the additional responsibilities you have were intended to be part of your current role. There’s a couple ways of reading the comment about how you are taking on more responsibility, so I’m going to address some that would change the advice to not asking for a raise. (If they don’t apply to what you mean, then great!)

    1. Don’t compare your current workload/responsibilities to what your previous position at Company 1 had. They brought you in a higher title/salary so that you would do additional work

    2. Most employees start out on a lower workload when they are new hires because it takes time to get onboarded, even for boomerang employees. I would expect every person on my team to be doing considerably more at the 1yr mark than they were at the 3month mark.

  16. Lizy*

    At what point is a raise in addition to COLA? Or rather – when should one approach their manager and say “I’d like a 50% raise – 5% for COLA and 45% for the rest of my awesomeness” (made up numbers, obviously). Or should one take in to consideration COLA when asking for a raise?

    1. Capt. Liam Shaw*

      Nesting fail that first time.

      I think it really depends on how the company handles raises. Also you need to make a case for the raise. What new things have you taken on for the company to justify paying you more

  17. MassMatt*

    I agree with Alison that a discussion of a raise seems warranted based on the nature of the work you are doing. And right, a FUNCTIONAL company will not look at asking for a raise at this point as a point of ingratitude. Sadly there are many dysfunctional organizations and managers that will view it as exactly that. Fortunately this doesn’t seem to be the case here, where they took the employee back and give a title and salary bump.

  18. Capt. Liam Shaw*

    I think it really depends on how the company handles raises. Also you need to make a case for the raise. What new things have you taken on for the company to justify paying you more.

  19. Facepalm MO*

    I could have sent this exact letter, approached by recruiters who are personal contacts, couldn’t and wouldn’t lead them on just to get a (very) higher offer for leverage to stay at actual job. Was transparent and was promised a bump and promotion (long due). Nothing happened on my August pay. The envelope was used on people threatening to leave…

    Their plan B is getting me to all the conferences and corporate training happening, which is money yes, but I need the dough, the money. Not more work! It adds to the effort/compensation discrepancy that’s already there. my babysitter accepts cash, cheque, but not nice to have soft skills.

    And turns out, the official MO is threatening to leave or quitting…you’re not good enough to be paid more, but they’d rather not have you working at competitors.

  20. Michelle Smith*

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being grateful for the job and grateful that Company A took you back and also acknowledging you feel you deserve more compensation and wanting to ask for it. I don’t see those things as mutually exclusive.

    I think it’s fine to ask, just be careful not to insinuate that you’d leave if you won’t and to leave your personal reasons for needing more money out of the conversation with your boss. Just stick to the business reasons, be polite and respectful rather than demanding, and let whatever happens, happen. You’ve got this!

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