employee wants a higher raise than she earned

A reader writes:

I have an employee whose yearly review I am working to wrap up. After the initial review, we usually discuss a raise, based on what was discussed in the review. We typically would expect a 2-5% raise for this person. I got an email from her requesting a 13.15% raise. I don’t understand why it ends in .15% (it won’t make her hourly rate an even number) and she would be paid more than other folks in this role. Her work is good but not great, and she has bounced from a few teams in the last year or so. Her long-time duties at the front desk have not changed. I am not sure what to tell her since this feels so out of left field.

I answer this question — and three others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • I accidentally sent a highly personal email to an employee
  • Is it rude to ask about my potential boss’s own experience?
  • Asking people to apply without making them think the job is theirs

{ 128 comments… read them below }

  1. ArtK*

    I wonder if the employee meant 13% to 15% rather than 13.15%. Still way out of line but makes a touch more sense.

    1. Dinwar*

      I don’t think it’s out of line. How the employee responds to it is what will make it out of line or not.

      You miss every swing you don’t take, and there’s a LOT of career advice pushing people to advocate for themselves with pay raises. As long as the employee handles being told “We can’t afford such a raise for this position right now”, I don’t think there’s a problem with asking. If they respond with hostility, resentment, or the like–as if the boss is taking something away from them, rather than “We negotiated, I didn’t get what I wanted, it happens”–THAT would be out of line.

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        13% is so widely out of the norm that it is not worth trashing your reputation over.

        There’s taking swings and there’s being wildly unrealistic. Taking a swing would be, 4%. But 13% is a HUGE raise that is not normal. If you are changing jobs, yes. But your annual raise is highly unlikely to be that — especially if nothing has changed in your job duties.

        1. bamcheeks*

          It’s high for an annual raise if you haven’t taken on any new duties or performed exceptionally. But it really isn’t uncommon for people to be underpaid for their role by 10-15%, so I would want to know if the employee’s reasoning is that they are significantly below the market or corporate rate for what they are doing.

          1. Quill*

            Also it depends on what you’re being paid! If you’re being paid $20 per hour, a 5% raise is $1 per hour. Asking for another $2 to $3 per hour after reviewing either cost of living in your city or the pay rate in your industry is not so wild.

          2. Dek*


            I got curious and did a little math, and realized that the “pay adjustment” they gave us last year to get us to slightly less poverty-level wages was actually an over 15% increase in pay for me. It’s, y’know. Still not enough to comfortably afford rent on my own. But when I see a number THAT big, my first thought is that she’s trying to get her pay adjusted to a more fair/market-based rate, not that she just thinks she deserves a massive raise.

            1. Antigone Funn*

              Yep, that’s what I thought too. I got all excited about a 5% raise one time, only to realize it came out to something like 60 cents an hour. Not even a whole dollar. Even at my crappy previous job, I could count on 80 cents an hour more *every year* instead of once in five years. I asked for a 15% raise at that job and was denied, so I left and made twice as much at my next job.

              Someone who wants a 15% raise most likely believes they’re being seriously underpaid.

        2. Michelle Smith*

          Unless they’re simply responding to the reality that across many jobs in many industries, 3-5% raise is fundamentally a decrease because of how much cost of living has skyrocketed in the past few years.

          1. GladImNotThereAnymore*

            I was going to say something similar – they employee may just want to see a raise in actual usable income – cost of living plus a moderate raise, rather than just falling more slowly behind rising prices.

          2. Myrin*

            The letter is originally from 2019 so current inflation can’t really have influenced the employee’s thinking (you’re right in general, of course, since something like this could just as easily happen right now).

          3. BatManDan*

            Yup. Any firm that isn’t awarding performance raises ON TOP OF C.O.L.A is not realistic about their ability to keep talent. If I were working for someone else, I’d want my pay to be increased by 10% just for COLA; the government numbers are always lower than the real thing.

            1. LJ*

              Employers will pay the market cost of labor. That’s influenced by the cost of living, perhaps, but it is not the cost of living. To suggest that everyone’s getting 10% COLA increases over the last couple of years is not reflective of the reality.

            2. Dek*

              Man, I wish. Last year our COLA didn’t even cover the percentage that our employer-sponsored healthcare increased.

        3. My Useless 2 Cents*

          I don’t think it is out of line to ask for a raise to keep at a competitive market rate. If front desk wages in the area have raised about 13% from what employee is currently making, the company is going to need to pony up that extra 13% when employee leaves for greener pastures. I don’t get why companies refuse to acknowledge that when giving incredibly tiny raises (that don’t necessarily keep up with inflation) instead of actually looking at current market rate.

          The question shouldn’t be what has been the percentage company has historically given for raises and whether or not that aligns with what the employee is asking for. The question needs to be what is the current market rate for this job and is the employee ask congruent with that?

          1. Love to WFH*

            I also wondered if the company is paying 13% below market rate. If that’s the case, they need to consider giving everyone a substantial raise, or expect to lose people.

          2. Festively Dressed Earl*

            That was my thought as well; the employee looked at her current wage vs something like the average wage for her position. In the company? In the area? An overall wage audit would hurt but it might be time.

            1. Dinwar*

              My view is, never turn down an opportunity to make sure you’re doing the right thing. Maybe his employee is simply wildly out of line and making an absolutely absurd request. But even if they are, taking some time to occasionally review pay rates to make sure they are both competitive and attractive for the employees you want to hire and retain is not a bad use of a manager’s time. The conclusion “We’re doing everything fine, this is just one person who got some bad advice” is always a possibility; but in my experience you usually find that even if THIS instance is fine, these other six instances aren’t, and that handful of borderline cases could use some further investigation. And maybe you annoy this employee, but by taking the time to review pay scales and raise protocols to make sure they’re competitive and attractive you’re going to generate goodwill among the rest of your employees. I mean, how do you think “Jane, we reviewed pay scales recently and found that you should be making 4% more, we’re giving you a raise starting next pay period to bring you in line with industry norms, don’t worry this won’t impact raise considerations during your annual review” is going to come across? In my experience, Jane is going to be quite happy with the company–and, more to the point, the people who see the company make the correction will as well. Even if I don’t get a raise, knowing that the company is willing to do so in order to keep our wages competitive is good to know (if nothing else, it removes a major incentive to jump ship!).

              1. watermelon fruitcake*

                The overly specific number (13.15% – assuming the LW didn’t mishear “13-15%”) made my mind go to that! The request could have been based on an existing offer.

          3. AngryOctopus*

            But “I don’t make market rate” is separate from “I want a raise of X”.
            My old company used to rebenchmark salaries every 3 years. So we’d get a merit raise and then also a salary adjustment. They’re not linked (because even if you did a crap job the year before, you were still going to get the adjustment to market).

        4. Dinwar*

          If asking for something trashes your reputation, I don’t think there’s any way to save it. A person who is willing to consider your reputation trashed over a single incident like this is going to find other means to do so.

          Further, HAVE duties changed? We only have the boss’s side of this, and the employee’s perspective may be very different. Technically I’ve had the same job title for ten years, and technically the work is the same, but if you look at specifics the work is so wildly different (think going from managing artisans crafting teapots to managing large-scale factory generating teapots) that it bears little relation to what I originally started doing. And while mine is an extreme case, such scope creep is not unusual. If the employee sees their job as expanded beyond the original scope sufficiently to warrant a new salary, and the boss doesn’t, it’s worth sitting down and hashing out some sort of compromise.

      2. ferrina*

        You miss every swing you don’t take, but you also look like a fool if you swing before the pitcher even moves.

        Okay, the metaphor needs some work, but the thing is that sometimes the ask alone says more than you want it to. If I am trying to negotiate for 2x market value and I can’t provide justification as to why, people are rightfully going to suspect that I don’t know what market value is and/or don’t understand what high performance looks like. If it’s coming from a new grad, I’m pretty understanding because they don’t have much experience to understand how to calculate these things. But if it’s coming from someone senior, I’m worried. What they ask for and how their reasoning plays out tell me how this person thinks, which has professional ramifications.

        On the flip side, I’ve impressed several bosses by showing that I understand business principles and our internal cost calculations when I was in a role where I didn’t need to. That got me pushed into higher level projects and roles where an understanding of business was necessary.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          THIS. If you ask for a raise that is out line and cannot show a business justification for it, you are being unrealistic. The business doesn’t care about your living expenses, how much inflation has gone up, anything like this. You better show you understand business norms before you get a lot more money than normal.

          1. Phryne*

            -The business doesn’t care about your living expenses, how much inflation has gone up-
            Only if it is a really short sighted business. A well functioning one that cares about retaining staff will care about this a lot.
            If this experienced and well functioning employee can get a 13% increase by switching to another employer because, due to inflation and col raises this is what an employee costs at market rates, then that is the only understanding of business they need. And their employer can either pay them what they need to stay in this job or watch them go and find a new employee for that position at.the.current.market.rate…

        2. Dinwar*

          Ten years ago I’d be 100% on board with this, but these days I’m not sure it holds true. Junior staff in particular have a different way of looking at things, and I can easily see some of the folks who’ve worked under me ask for a raise like this on the premise “Why not? They may say yes.” Good workers otherwise, just a different way of looking at work.

          1. Stardust*

            They definitely could be thinking you don’t hurt anything if you ask, or maybe they are thinking along the lines of trying to ask for 13% hoping that they get half that, 6%?

    2. Caramel & Cheddar*

      I was wondering if maybe the 0.15% part was some weird negotiation tactic recommended by someone giving her (bad) advice, like it somehow shows gumption to ask for an oddly precise amount because it suggests you made some very detailed calculations and landed on a not-very-round number.

      1. cosmicgorilla*

        Caramel & Cheddar, I was thinking the same thing. I heard somewhere recently that you should ask for a very specific %. Like not a common figure like 5%, 10%, or 15%, something that’s a clear multiple, but you should ask for something that will stick out more, like 7%.

        Although adding the .15 is taking that advice a bit far.

    3. ElizabethJane*

      it could also be a whole number raise. I know the OP said it doesn’t get the employee to a round number but maybe she’s asking for a $2/hr raise or something like that.

      1. Annony*

        I’m wondering if it gets to a round number for yearly salary and she worked backwards to the hourly rate.

    4. Warrior Princess Xena*

      I was wondering if it might be linked to COL or inflation in the area. I’d love to know the reasoning though!

    5. H3llifIknow*

      That was my first thought, too. I’m betting, having managed many employees and had to determine merit and CoL raises (painful. just always a PITA), that she read somewhere what the average raise or income in her area was for X years of experience and/or what raise would be required to keep up with CoL and decided that that’s what she should be asking for. Whenever one of my team would do something so outside the norm like this, unless they had obtained an advanced degree, received a promotion, or earned an industry certification, the reasoning for it typically boiled down to “Well, I read/heard that…..”

    6. Also-ADHD*

      It’s unlikely in the current market, overall, but 13-15% is less than what many people were getting for a jump in 2021 so more employees started asking for those kinds of jumps in the past few years. Raises have often not kept up with inflation, and 2-5% fairly meh, though the current labor market is not fantastic so I’m sure many folks are getting that or less this year.

      1. OMG It's 2024*

        My company is on a govt contract with a 1.8% salary escalation built in for each year. That’s it. And in my 25 years as a govt. contractor that’s not far off the norms. The assumption that raises do/should = inflation and increases in CoL don’t translate through a LOT of organizations. The ONLY times in my career I’ve received over 10% was when (as H3llifIknow said) obtaining a promotion, advanced degree, or desirable certification. Not to say it doesn’t happen, but it definitely is NOT the “norm” to give those large of raises across the board.

        1. Gd*

          Never got raised less than 10% per year. Would probably have quitted in the spot if such raise was proposed. Don’t have any employee now that I don’t raise for more than 10% a year. If they are not good enough to get at least a 10% growth per year then they are not good to work for me

  2. Artemesia*

    the email. Years ago an email I sent to my boss has a more personal email appended to it. I have no idea how this could happen; it has to be some software glitch as there was the body of the note to the boss and then below it this other text. It was embarrassing (not humiliatingly so, but still embarrassing)

    You handled this as well as you could. I hope your employee is trustworthy but you might have a response in your head in case he does share it or embarrass you with it. I think most people understand.

    1. Jessica*

      For real, the only people who haven’t done something like this are the ones who haven’t done it yet.

    2. Cordelia*

      I’ve been the recipient of a very similar misdirected personal email from my boss. I read the beginning, thought “oh no! Clearly not for me!” stopped reading and emailed back to say I’d received it by mistake, that I had stopped reading when I realised, and that I had deleted the email now. My boss sent me a mortified apologetic email, I emailed her back promising that we need never mention it again, and we never did. People understand, OP.

      1. cindylouwho*

        My first name is the same as someone in my workplace that handles very sensitive information (our last names are wildly different), and I get so many emails meant for them, it’s actually almost a weekly occurrence. It happens to lots of people I think!

        1. H3llifIknow*

          I, my husband, my son, and my daughter, as well as several others with our unusual last name all work for the DoD. We are all in the same GAL. At least once a week, I get a misdirected email asking me about something in one of my family members arenas (work related, not personal). Funnily enough our roles are similar enough at times I’ve been able to respond, “I think you meant this for my son Ebenezer, but here are a couple of resources that might help you out in the meantime,” etc…

          1. DannyG*

            Same experience: I am a professor teaching on the medical campus of a state university. My great nephew started undergraduate at the same university a few years ago. We, too, have an unusual (eastern European) last name, but his first name is alphabetically before mine, and the university’s email convention is last name first initial @state u. He got dozens of emails for me at the start of each semester as students would search the first few letters of our last name and pick the first one (him) that came up. He was a great sport and would forward them to me, but often times there was a lag as he was traveling with the marching band some weekends.

      2. Bruce*

        In both cases to have the recipient reach out to the sender to alert them is a good sign! My company has a huge internal contact list and I have exchanged email with a lot of people outside the company, so my To: list has been wrong more than once. Recently our email system has started alerting when we are copying people outside the company, that helps a bit. We also have a strict rule about no personal email at work, this has helped prevent me from crossing wires over that boundary :-)

  3. Artemesia*

    It feels really awful to be solicited to apply for something whether a job or an honor of some sort and then be rejected. It is really important when asking someone to apply to cushion it as Alison suggests with some words about ‘competitive pool’. and you expect lots of applicants.

    1. Just Thinkin' Here*

      Quite frankly, this is why I’ve stopped reaching out personally and asking certain folks to apply. I’ve had really experienced people get screened out by HR and then not make the candidate list – managers fighting to get these candidates on the list – etc. The egg ends up on my face. Instead I post openings on my LinkedIn and other social media pages and let the rest happen organically.

      1. Enai*

        Why is HR even able to screen out candidates that managers _fight_ to get on the list? I assume it’s not “Well, we’re contractors for the government and Han Solo may be an exceptional courier, but he’s also actually wanted for aiding the rebellion, so Grand Moff Tarkin would have our entire planet turned into a wasteland of radioactive glass at best if we employed him. No can do.” Sounds like your company has to pass on a lot of potentially great people that way.

    2. AGD*

      I really appreciate the part about a personalised note to follow up. That would have helped me so much about six years ago when I got specially invited to apply to a prestigious job on short notice, said I absolutely would and got a nice response, called several references to warn them that they’d probably be contacted, navigated my way through a complicated application with lots of moving parts and interlocking elements, submitted it, and then never heard anything at all.

      While I’m aware there are no guarantees, it was the only time I ever received an invitation like that and one person mentioned a rumor that they’d written the ad with me in mind. Evidently not. It shouldn’t have seemed like a slap in the face, but it did.

      1. samwise*

        Yeah, I had one where the hiring officer ghosted me because they were embarrassed — as I found out when one of my references called to see what happened.

        My (unspoken, of course) response was, OMG grow up!

    3. PieforBreakfast*

      When I have reached out to people like this I make sure to note that I am only part of the hiring team, and that I know others have also reached out to potential candidates they see as a strong fit for the role.

    4. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      I’m watching this play out with a colleague. She has been strung along for over a year about a new role being created, how it’s perfect for her, the hiring manager’s grandboss went to her boss to talk about how to transition her over to the new role…and then my coworker found out they’re running an open search and the hiring manager has 2 external candidates she’s really excited about. My coworker might still get the job, but it’s really soured her on the whole organization and I wouldn’t be surprised if she ends up leaving either way.

      1. Reluctant Mezzo*

        Especially if they hire a less experienced guy for the slot and he’s over her. That *never* happens, right?

    5. Non non non all the way home*

      I remember the organizer of a university’s annual conference for women reaching out and begging me to apply. I was overwhelmed with work but agreed to apply.

      After I did, she followed up to say that the committee would need a specific type of proposal from me about what I’d be speaking about. I had just assumed they were expecting me to speak about the topic from my newspaper column, which she’d told me was the reason they contacted me.

      Again, I tried to decline, saying the timing didn’t work for me to prepare a formal proposal (plus, they had reached out to me!) Somehow I let myself be talked into preparing the proposal they wanted.

      I’m sure you can guess the outcome: they rejected me as a speaker for the event! I’m still salty 25 years later.

  4. Falling Diphthong*

    OP2, apologizing and then dropping it was the right move. The apology lets the person know that you understand what went wrong and take responsibility for it.* The dropping it lets them move on, which they can’t do if you keep apologizing.

    * And unless you blamed her for the medical problem, then it really is a case of the recipient thinking after the first few lines “This is clearly meant for a dentist, and not me,” and politely emailing back to let the person know that the dentist remains unaware of their transgression, and a person to whom they didn’t mean to confide their dental issues now knows about them.

    1. Annie*

      Yeah, I think it might help the mortification level in these kinds of scenarios to remember that most (many?) people will quit reading as soon as they realize they’re not the intended recipient. It’s likely the employee only read the first couple of lines.

      1. HonorBox*

        I remind my children all the time that our anxiety and mortification over what we perceive to be huge missteps is far greater internally. The person witnessing the misstep we make is not likely to remember a week from now.

  5. Dinwar*

    13.15% makes me wonder if one of two things are happening.

    First, what’s the average rate for this position in your area? I’m wondering if the worker didn’t look at the average rate (or some adjusted average to account for their perception of their experience and skill levels) and calculate what it would take to get their pay to that range. If that’s the case, it may be worth working with the employee to get their pay to industry standard. A related issue may be that they’re looking at a promotion, and want to get their pay to line up with that of the position they’re bucking for. I’m going through that now, with the help of my manager; the idea is that it’ll be easier to get my promotion approved if there’s no increase in cost to the company.

    Second, was there something that changed in the employee’s life? A sick relative they now need to care for, or a new baby on the horizon, or something? They may be calculating what they need to make ends meet. In that case you’re on firmer ground refusing–you’re running a business, it’s not your job to manage your employees’ finances. But it’s worth asking about.

    1. Bast on a Phone*

      I had some of the same thoughts, but in the other direction– I was wondering if perhaps they were severely underpaid for the role. There are some companies that do drastically underpay their employees, so perhaps employee has done some research and is asking for a more market appropriate rate? There are some employers who genuinely think they are paying a “good” wage but aren’t really caught up with the times.

      It is also possible employee, of course, is looking for pay that is the average for someone more senior or in a different city with a higher pay rate, or employee has a skewed idea of what their work quality is.

    2. ETB*

      I was wondering about the raise being linked to inflation. In many places i the world things are significantly more expensive than they were a year ago!

    3. Mo*

      Also, the cost of living has gone up far more than 2-5% this year, especially for someone who is younger and renting. Companies also aren’t realizing that a lot of fast food places and such have significantly raised their wages. Someone may be realizing that they aren’t making that much more than a relative in a field where wages have been much lower until recently.

    4. Just Thinkin' Here*

      Echo the other responses in this thread – probably a combination of underpaid and raises not keeping up with inflation.

  6. FoolMeTwice*

    The letter from the person who had two bosses in a row that did not understand the difference between design, IT, programming and content made me seize up at my desk. I, too, had that experience at two separate jobs before I learned to just start asking directly who is responsible for those tasks on the team I would be joining. UGH. So many times that led to blank looks and, “um, well that would be you of course” when the job said something like “Comms Manager.” I became very comfortable with the phrase “thank you for your time” in that era of my career. I hope that letter is 15 years old and jobs no longer do that, but I’m guessing they do, and that is specifically jobs in an industry that rhymes with Bon Moffit.

  7. Richard Hershberger*

    LW4: Believing oneself to be a shoo-in after being asked to apply is naive, but no irrational. This is particularly true the more the person making the request is the person making the final decision. I was a bit surprised by the follow-on to an acquisitions editor recruiting me to write a book. Once we had the initial discussion, my next task was to write a book proposal. I later figured out that the editor’s next task was to pitch the book to the committee that made the actual decisions. Once you know the process, it makes sense.

    In the case of job recruitment, it is reasonable to take the invitation as a vote of confidence in your ability, but the recruitment process is about finding the best candidate. These are not quite the same things.

  8. HushedGalaxy*

    Honestly when I see 13.15% my first question is how long as this employee been with the company and what sort of COL raises the company gives in addition to merit increases.

    Example- inflation from Jan 2020 to Jan 2024 has been 19.5% per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If the employee only got 2% raises each year they functionally would be making 13.4% less in buying power than when they got hired.

    1. HushedGalaxy*

      Though of course that could be dependent on how far in the AAM archives this was. But generally I know a lot of places have not been keeping up with inflation in their raises the last couple of years so I wouldn’t be surprised if more people start requesting larger and larger raises in future EOY discussions to make up that gap;

  9. HonorBox*

    LW1 – I think the advice to ask them what led to the number is perfect. It will open the door for you to understand why they’re thinking that number in particular, and give background to why they may feel they deserve/need that increase. You may learn that you’re seriously underpaying this individual and others. Or you may learn that they have a much different sense of what they’re bringing to their role. I think it goes without saying that going into that conversation it is in your best interest to be totally willing to hear them out. Perhaps 13.15 is a very outrageous expectation, but going in with an open mind will lead to a better conversation. You’ll probably need to explain what your business’s pay increases look like for their context going forward. But it’ll be helpful for you to understand what led to that particular request.

  10. Emily (Not a Bot)*

    Unless someone has gotten feedback that they’re not performing well, I don’t think a pay raise request should ever really feel “out of left field.” You pay people to do a job. At any given point, they have other options for things they could be doing, and they also have more information about those options than you do. And most employers don’t regularly assess peoples’ salaries in a broad way.

    Given that, it should be totally normal to try to negotiate a raise! If the work doesn’t warrant the increase, you don’t give it, and that’s also fine and normal.

    1. Dinwar*

      There are some definite “How dare you!!” vibes in the comments section. Which is weird, considering the fact that no one’s disputing the facts presented here (many companies pay below industry average, many companies have policies that forbid real raises, employees are job-hopping because of this, we don’t know that the employee hasn’t taken on extra duties, etc).

      Normally this comments section has an anti-management bias. It’s strange to see it tilted so strongly the other way in this instance.

      1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        I mean, half of companies pay below industry average, but the other half necessarily pay above average. It’s possible OP’s company is in the low half, but a bit much to assume so.

      2. Enai*

        Yes, it’s not like the employee asked for a 100% raise or anything. Low double digits after a few years without any raise amount to “Whew! You’ve again reached the same buying power you had when you started this job! Go you!”

        In 2019, it might even mean they’re marginally more comfortable than at the start. That isn’t a sin.

    2. Your Mate in Oz*

      I see it as generous from the employee side, especially if it’s “you’re paying me less than I can get elsewhere”. The precise number makes me think that this could well be a request to match an offer that has been made.

      I’m so used to this in software roles that I’ve often shortcut the process by not bothering my employer with my arrogant demands, I’ve just accepted the other offer and moved on. Look around the place you work, watch what happens to people who ask for pay rises, especially the ones who get offer matches, and think about whether it’s worth it.

      FWIW I’ve twice had unsolicited rises of more than 20%, and once got 50% to match the offer a departing coworker left for. I’ve left for 20%+ rises several times. I’ve also been told that a 10% rise was completely out of the question by someone who acknowledged that that would still leave me underpaid (underpaying was a point of pride!) IT pay is wildly variable.

      1. sabik*

        It’s pretty standard advice not to mention an offer, instead just ask for the raise, isn’t it?

        If she’s got an offer in her pocket for 10-20% over her current wage, asking for a 13-15% raise would be entirely unremarkable.

  11. Alex*

    I always ask about my interviewers’ background, unless it is with an HR rep or something. It is a great question to ask because it makes them feel like you are interested in them, which usually is a positive, and also gives great information to you. What people did before can give you an idea of the culture–what other people did in the past informs how they think about things and how they operate, what kind of knowledge they have, etc. One of the biggest reasons I took my job now was because I felt that there was a range of different experiences, some of which matched mine and some not, that lead people to the organization and I really liked that.

  12. Just Thinkin' Here*

    OP#1 – I know some of these letters are older (pre-COVID), so the time period may make my response moot. But U.S. core inflation has been 5-9% YoY for the past 3 years. If your company is averaging raises of 2-5% (assuming the 5% is given to the top performer(s) only), then your employees have essentially taken a pay cut for the last 3 years. I’m guessing the 13% came from trying to ‘catch-up’ with some industry average or cost of living metric. You have to decide a) do you wish to keep this employee and b) how far off are they from the local labor market and c) can you make up the difference, and if not d) can you replace this person with someone who will not expect the higher salary the current employee is demanding? It may be that your company pays below market by design or you are someplace where there isn’t much job competition and you can afford to keep salaries lower than average.

    1. Nephron*

      And there were cities that had high inflation before the COVID inflation numbers. This letter is pre-COVID inflation, but that does not mean the employee was not making up for inflation issues.

  13. Rivikah*

    An employer offering a 2% raise isn’t even keeping up with inflation these days, never mind offering anything for their employee’s growing skills and experience…

      1. smile :)*

        That’s what I got this year, I cried in a supply closet, wiped my tears and set my LinkedIn status to “open to work” and started applying elsewhere.

        1. justanobody*

          I’m with you on this. Last year was the first time I got less than 3%. It felt like a slap in the face.

      2. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

        Stay away from higher ed and other state-funded jobs then. You’re lucky to get any raise, let alone an entire 2%.

        1. Orv*

          Been there, done that. Eventually you’re capped out and the only way to get a raise is to find another position.

      3. Gumby*

        Depends on the year. According to the BLS the annual inflation rate was
        0.8 in 2014
        0.7 in 2015
        2.1 in 2016
        2.1 in 2017
        1.9 in 2018
        2.3 in 2019
        1.4 in 2020
        7.0 in 2021
        6.5 in 2022
        3.4 in 2023

        So 2% was keeping up with inflation, roughly, for more than half of the past decade. However, I find that government-reported inflation for the country as a whole generally fell at least a little short of the cost increases I was observing in my daily life.

        1. Lady Sally*

          Thank you. I‘ve been hearing a lot of “if you didn’t get a 10% raise, you effectively got a pay cut” (not just on this site) and I know based on actual inflation that’s not necessarily true this year. (I also agree that it feels that way with a lot of bills, so I can sympathize with the sentiment!)

  14. Lucia Pacciola*

    “I am not sure what to tell her since this feels so out of left field.”

    How about, “we typically give raises of around 2-5%; here’s why I’m recommending you for a raise in that range”?

    The direction of her field, and her distant location in it, is for her to process, not you.

  15. Decidedly Me*

    I had an employee once tell me after giving him his raise that he had expected a 100% raise… He was not underpaid at all and was actually paid higher than typical for his role and location, but wanted the pay of people in a much higher cost of living area (I had a global team). It was an interesting conversation.

    I had another person who assumed her annual raise ($ amount) was a monthly raise (despite being told otherwise). She hadn’t been with the company for long (I think a little over a year at this time) and was having performance issues. Her starting salary was on the higher side of the starting range, which was set after thorough benchmarking, so it wasn’t an issue of being underpaid and wanting to come up to market rate.

    All this said – sometimes people have an incorrect view of what they should be paid. Everyone wants to be paid as much as possible (myself included), but people can struggle understanding what they should be paid (in terms of the market). It can really help to be clear about why pay is set where it is and why you’re giving the raise you are. If you are doing benchmarking – share that! If all raises fell within a certain range, explain why a person fell in the level they did. Etc

    1. Emily (Not a Bot)*

      OK, but employers also sometimes have incorrect views about what employees’ options are and believe themselves to be paying competitively when they’re not. I would go into this with a narrow “let me tell you about our companies’ specific processes for setting salaries” and not assume an employee is broadly ill-informed about what they should be paid.

  16. DisneyChannelThis*

    Our annual raises are 3% non negotiable yearly. So it’s not that out of touch that OP’s company does similar. It does suck compared to inflation.

    1. I Have RBF*

      Inflation in my area has been 5% or more for at least the last five years. The utilities are regularly raising their rates 10% a year – garbage, water, power, internet. The extra money is going to someone, so it needs to come from somewhere.

      This 2% (up to 5% for star performers) bullshit means that “job hopping” is the only way to keep up with inflation. If companies want lower turnover, they need to have the base raise keep pace with inflation. People aren’t stupid, they know that if their pay doesn’t keep up with inflation, they are losing ground.

      “Benchmarking” salaries against other companies also doing the de minimus 2% raises is really unfair to your employees. “That’s what the industry pays” is a shitty way to tell people that the work that they do isn’t even worth keeping up with inflation.

      Sure, you can “benchmark” my job against somebody in the middle of nowhere, but it isn’t realistic.

    2. Dinwar*

      Rules like this are why people go from job to job. If the annual raise is 3%, but you can get 5% by switching companies, you end up with people switching companies every 2-5 years. Which is expensive for the business and prevents you from generating institutional knowledge.

  17. Software Engineer*

    What is the definition of “good” and “great”? As someone who earned a Masters’ and earned the gold-standard cybersecurity certification in 2023, yet was given just a 2% raise and no bonus for “mediocre” performance, I now believe that many “poor performers” are actually just poorly utilized employees that are managed by people who shouldn’t be in leadership positions.

    1. Seahorse*

      Fair point. If I really go above and beyond, I’m potentially eligible for up to a 1% merit raise. If I just do my job, I get the same across-the-board 2-3% as everyone else. Trying to prove that I worked extra hard every single year is getting tiresome, especially when the net payout is like $400.

      Aside from some nebulous sense of “work ethic,” why should I go out my way when my employer clearly doesn’t value that? There are other places I’d rather spend my energy.

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        I swear I just scanned an article about this concept at lunchtime today.

        There’s very little to no reward for busting hump…as you measure, its $400 in your case. I’m assuming that $400 is excessively little for the amount of energy you’d need to expend to “earn” that $400. And it explains why there is an overarching sentiment of “nah….”

        I’m hoping that these annual reviews that they’ve started implementing are not going to shove us into the trap of “only 1 person can exceed expectations” because my whole department has had NO choice but to exceed all reasonable expectations for the past two years. Well, I guess we have had a choice – fail, or succeed. And our corporate rewarded that success and well. If it were only one person could exceed expectations? Mutiny. They’d have a mutiny.

        1. I Have RBF*

          At my company HR makes the manager damn near write a novel to get anyone above the “average” performance band. They deliberately make it hard for anyone to be monetarily recognized for extra effort. So of course everyone here just phones it in except on high visibility jobs.

          What they measure and reward is what they get. If the only review score that anyone can get without a herculean effort on the manager’s part is “meets expectations”, then that’s all they will get.

      2. Software Engineer*

        Yup, agreed. My managers dismissed my work and ideas because of my relatively low title (which they emphasized while doing so), so when performance review time came around, they said that I had no major accomplishments to speak of. I wonder why!

        I’m now revamping my entire portfolio, and thankfully a non-profit that I volunteer at is looking to bolster their security posture. If I can’t use my skills at work, I’ll just use them elsewhere.

    2. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      Well, OP is the leadership position. Seems a bit much to say she maybe shouldn’t be in leadership.

    3. allathian*

      I generally enjoy my job and my employer’s pretty decent in many ways. I have a lot of vacation in comparison with US employees thanks to our generous collective agreement, and my employer’s gone above and beyond the collective agreement in terms of work-life balance and flexiblity. I have a decent boss and grandboss who have my back, and I really enjoy working with my coworkers. My salary isn’t particularly competitive for my field but the benefits and flexibility are great.

      That said, the merit raise side of it is disappointing to say the least. Merit raises are determined by our departmental budget, and if there’s no room for merit raises in the budget, performance evaluations get a meets expectations across the board, even if the employee deserves better. A former manager even went so far as to modify my scores in front of me during my 1:1 performance evaluation to ensure that my salary hit the no raises band, and was offended when I showed my disappointment. Apparently she was miffed that I wanted a raise as proof of a job well done. I didn’t make a fuss or burst into tears or anything, but I wasn’t exactly in the mood to discuss my performance goals for the next year, either. I basically told her to put what she wanted and I’d sign off on it, as it clearly didn’t make any difference for my salary prospects (I wasn’t worried about my job because that minor pushback didn’t even merit a warning, my job description has an atypical profile in a niche field and it took them six months to find me when my predecessor left and they started hiring as soon as she resigned with a month’s notice). I doubt I was the only unhappy employee, the following year my org decided to separate the performance evaluation and goal setting to two different meetings.

      It should come as no surprise that according to our employee satisfaction surveys the vast majority find our mandatory performance evaluations and goal setting meetings an exercise in futility and that most employees are very disappointed in our so-called merit raise system. What’s the point of going above and beyond if you don’t get rewarded for it? I’ll sometimes do it anyway if doing so means that I get to work on a particularly interesting project, but generally I just try to meet expectations. Apparently my efforts are good enough because I get consistently great feedback from both my internal customers and my manager, so I’m probably coming across as more cynical here than at work…

  18. Abogado Avocado*

    I’ll never forget my first fulltime job after university. It paid a wage only slightly above the qualifying line for food stamps. At my six-months review, where I was praised for my attitude, skills and production, I got a raise — a whole 5 cents an hour — and, as I must have looked downcast, was told it was a “good” raise. All I could do was wonder was what a `bad’ raise looked like. So I began looking for another job and was hired three months later at a unionized (open shop) place that also was a step up in my profession. My take-home pay tripled on day 1 and, on day 2, I joined the union.

  19. Echo*

    On question #4, I’m such a big fan of the “lay all your cards on the table” approach. I don’t think there’s any reason to hide the fact that you are reaching out to multiple people. I would directly use language like “I’ve been reaching out to several contacts whose skills and experience seem like a good match, and you were one of the first people I thought of!”

  20. DataQueen*

    Questions like #3 always irk me. It reminds me of the letter that said “I don’t respect my managers’ college degrees from 20 years ago” where he thought all finance professionals needed masters degrees and his bosses were “only promoted because they didn’t get fired.”

    As a manager, I’ve definitely had employees who think they should be my boss because I don’t know Industry Regulation 42A or can’t run their TPS reports, but can’t see the value a manager brings to the table. It’s frustrating and there’s really no changing people like that.

    Are there bad managers out there? Of course. But that’s rarely what this is about.

  21. Maggie*

    Wow, I would call 2-4% a cost of living increase, not a raise. And not particularly well-tied to cost of living at that. I think it’s time to be honest with her that real raises, ones that translate to any kind of increased spending power whatsoever, don’t exist at this company (or maybe the whole industry).

    1. Random Dice*

      Do you honestly get bigger raises than that? 2-4% seems pretty standard, if one stays at the same company.

  22. lilsheba*

    They are asking for this raise because 3 to 5 percent doesn’t cut it anymore! Costs of things are going up at a much higher rate than that!

  23. RaiseReality*

    I find this idea of a cost of living increase baffling, especially as something separate from a raise. I’ve never seen one. No one I know has ever seen one. If you want a significant raise go get a new job somewhere or (maybe) a promotion. Otherwise, if you get a raise – which isn’t guaranteed – it’ll generally be 2-3%. If you’re lucky. And, at some companies, only if none of your coworkers get a promotion or else their promotion will eat up everyone else’s raises.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      The company I work for, which is the largest in my state and has many thousands of employees (and influences pay in our industry) has both a yearly cost of living raise and a merit raise during evaluation season for all union employees (of which there are many represented by multiple unions). If you’ve never worked in a place with unions, maybe you haven’t seen it, but two separate raises isn’t a wild concept.

    2. londonedit*

      It’s the other way round where I work. We don’t do performance-based pay rises; everyone just gets a percentage at the start of the new financial year. I’ve been here a few years and it’s been anything between 2% pre-Covid, and 5% when the cost of living crisis was particularly bad. If you get promoted you can argue for a separate pay rise, but it’s not guaranteed.

  24. It's Marie - Not Maria*

    I can so relate to LW who has dealt with two Bosses who knew little to nothing about their job. I recently left my position for a once in a lifetime opportunity – which turned out to be a Bait and Switch. Not only was the position not what I was told it was going to be, my day to day Manager was not the person I was led it was going to be, it was a totally different person. Day to day Manager, while having some experience in the general field, appeared to have no background or experience in my specific job, and no interest in learning anything about it. They made decisions which negatively affected the program I worked for because they ignored input from anyone with experience (including myself), and made my actual job a nightmare. I brought my concerns more than once to Grand Boss with possible work arounds and training opportunities for day to day Manager, in hopes to help them grow and be successful. My concerns were ignored until they day I put in my notice. I ended up having to leave after about three months, simply because I felt I was unable to properly do my job with this person managing me. Not surprisingly, day to day Manager ignored all my efforts to coordinate a handoff of my job duties during my notice period and actually refused to speak with me during my notice period, probably because I specifically referenced their unprofessional behavior in my resignation email. I felt bad for the program and the people it served, but I wasn’t going to ruin my reputation and career because of her bad behavior. Karma is occasionally sweet though. In a program wide meeting we both were in the day before my last day, Grand Boss gave me a shout out for the great job I had done with the program, and mentioned the CEO of the company where we worked had received kudos for me from the Government Director of the Program on which I worked. Enjoy your unprofessional nepotism hire and have fun explaining why I quit.

  25. PivotTime*

    Apologies if someone has already mentioned this (there’s a lot of responses), but the .15% may be related to negotiation tactics. I’m currently taking a negotiation class and one of the techniques mentioned that if you give non-round numbers, it makes the number stick in the head more. Think 13.15% versus, say 13% or 14%. The idea is to get a number you want fixed in the other person’s brain so they operate off of that number (called an anchor point) to then talk you down. But I agree with many commentators that the number she’s throwing out is pretty large for an annual increase.

  26. Orange Bannanna*

    Odds are, she’s asking for 13.15% because she researched the pay for her position and found that your company is paying her far below the norm for her position. She’s asking for the 13.15% to bring her pay up to some national average for her position. Hence the odd .15 percent number.

    You said she has earned a raise. But, the “raise” you are offering her doesn’t even keep up with inflation. That’s not a raise.

    Letting her pay fall behind inflation is not a reward for hard work.

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