How to ask for a pay rise
Do your research so you know the numbers behind why your employer should give you the pay rise you’re asking for.
Asking for a pay rise can be daunting, especially if you’re not used to workplace negotiations or advocating for yourself. Many employees would probably prefer their employers offered pay rises as part of a proactive retention effort. Unfortunately, even for organisations with those kinds of performance review processes in place, there’s still an element of employee initiative. In other words, the employee is expected to make the first move and ask for the pay bump.
The good news is that there are things you can do to make your case politely yet convincingly.
It’s important to start the process off with the right attitude. Before you even ask for a meeting, you’ve got to be in the right frame of mind.
The first thing to realise is that there are lots of different reasons to ask for a pay rise. It is not ‘greedy’ to ask for a salary or bonus structure that fairly represents the value you bring to your organisation. You also aren’t obliged to share your reasons for asking for a pay rise with anyone else. Despite what you might have seen in certain media (cheers, Hollywood), you don’t need to have a ‘selfless’ reason to seek a pay rise, such as providing for a dependant. It’s perfectly OK to ask for a raise because it’s fair (bringing your salary in line with others doing the same job to the same standard in the organisation), because you could do better elsewhere, or just because you want to.
Asking for a pay rise in Australia doesn’t have the same social implications as it does in other parts of the world. For example, we don’t have the cultural burden of not setting yourself apart from the employee group, for fear of looking self-centred. As a (theoretical, at least) meritocracy, in Australia, it’s about getting what you earn and ask for. In fact, more of your co-workers (or colleagues in your industry) than you might think, secured their salaries through negotiation and asking for what they wanted. Several private-sector surveys suggest that at least half of all workers negotiated to reach their most recent pay offer. Some groups are more likely to negotiate than others, but that’s a statistical discussion for another time.
The other thing you should be clear on is what you’ll do if your boss says no. That’s because a lot of your bargaining position is based on your ability to leave and no longer do the great job you’re doing for the same pay they’re giving you now. This position could be damaged for future negotiations if you show that you’re actually willing to accept the same salary you’re on. Having a plan for what to do doesn’t necessarily mean being prepared to quit on the spot. Rather, you might think about:
- Making alternative offers, such as requesting a raise over time, or linking the extra pay to extra performance.
- Asking what you can do to be ‘worth’ the pay you’re asking for: what level of performance, seniority or knowledge would get you there? This is where you might find out the hidden rules and
- Values your organisation uses to make these decisions.
- Asking what would need to change in the internal or external environment for your pay rise to be feasible.
- Applying for transfers within the organisation.
- Applying for other jobs outside the organisation.
- Once you’re feeling confident with these two aspects, you can request a meeting and start prepping.
Getting a meeting
It’s a good idea to start by looking up your organisation’s official processes and procedures for performance assessments. Formal performance reviews are often the main opportunity to ask for a pay rise. They are generally held either at a specific time of year for all employees, or on the anniversary of your employment start date. Your employer may ask you to wait for your performance review time, unless there’s a special exception. This might not necessarily be a bad thing; your boss will be better prepared to talk pay, and may be less likely to give excuses such as needing to wait for more information or a different budget period. If you have a performance review coming up, you don’t even need to request and secure a meeting – just get ready for it.
If there are no particular performance review processes in place, follow your organisation’s communication protocols to request a meeting with the responsible manager. It’s generally a good idea to make this request in writing (email) so there is a record of the communication, and the manager can automatically be reminded. In your email, you don’t necessarily have to say that you will be asking for a pay rise. Think about the tone you’re setting; for example, you might say you want to talk about your future at the organisation, and how much you’re looking forward to contributing in the future.
Preparing for the meeting
The most important thing you can do to prepare for the meeting is to get data to back up your request. You’ll want to be able to ‘prove’:
- Why you deserve the pay rise (the value you bring to the organisation)
- Why the organisation should give you the pay rise (their alternatives if they don’t)
- How they can afford it (if available, information showing there is room in the budget)
It’s a good idea to at least prepare written notes to support what you’re going to say. You may wish to keep a list of links that you can send to your manager after you meet, to back up the statistics you claim. For example, you might save links to official statistical pages or job ads. You may wish to save copies of reports or take screen shots of ads, just in case the pages are archived.
Depending on how things are done at your organisation, or what you feel comfortable with, you might also prepare a short presentation. This could mean a slide deck or other visual presentation to showcase the information you’re presenting to support your case.
Current job market
Get as many examples as you can of current job ads, vacancies, or reports by recruiting organisations indicating that your pay rise request is within the fair market range.
Make sure the job description either matches your current official job description, or that it matches up with what you actually do, and that you have proof of what you actually do. Make sure that you have accounted for total salary package when you’re lining up examples. For example, if the ad or report specifies a total package, be aware that that may include superannuation, bonuses, and benefits. Make sure your actual pay rise request still fits in the range.
You can get job market information from:
- the Australian Bureau of Statistics: official stats on average pay for certain positions (make sure the report series is relatively recent up to date)
- the Labour Market Information Portal: reports on the labour market in different areas, or for different industries
- local, state and federal government careers portals
- major job ad websites like SEEK
- professional networking sites like LinkedIn and industry association sites
- recruitment companies’ media/opinion/information pages; look for reports on your industry or specialty
- competitor companies’ career pages
In some circumstances, you may also be able to request information from recruiters, high-level managers and industry experts within your networks. This might be appropriate when, for example, you have a highly specialised job that is not frequently advertised for.
Your contribution to profits
In some roles, it’s relatively easy to make a strong and direct link between the work that you do and the improvement in the organisation’s income and profits. For example, sales people can point to their sales results. Marketers can point to analytics demonstrating increased leads and sales. Operations managers can point to the savings they make against budget targets.
In other cases, the link isn’t as clear. For example, front line customer service staff, administrative staff, or others might not be able to demonstrate their direct contribution. In this case, it’s about showing that you meet or exceed your KPIs. If you can show this, you can show that you have done your part to contribute to the team’s achievement re: top line growth.
Either way, get as much information as you can. Preferably, get objective data on how you are solely (or primarily) responsible for those good results. If this isn’t possible, or if it’s hard to draw a direct link between your work and organisational objectives, it may be appropriate to include other sources. For example, if a client has sent an email praising your work on a project, or a colleague has thanked you for solving an ‘impossible’ problem, or you have received an industry award for outstanding work, these can all support your case.
The organisation’s financial health
Depending on your organisation and its reporting or transparency rules, you may or may not be able to get information on whether they can afford the pay rise you’re asking for. Information to support the suggestion that the organisation is in a position to pay you more might come from:
- departmental budgets
- weekly or monthly sales reports
- quarterly or annual general financial reports
- financial reports to shareholders or funding bodies
- financial information streamed or published on an intranet or dashboard
Your manager will have (or will be able to get) this information to support their decision. It can make their decision simpler and quicker if you can point them in the right direction. Also, remember the information isn’t conclusive – there are lots of reasons why the organisation may not be able to afford a raise in future, such as different business priorities. However, it doesn’t hurt to look into it and have the information ready to discuss if you can.
Making your case
Once you’ve got your case in writing (whether it’s your own notes or a presentation), you can focus on preparing for other aspects of the meeting. Think about:
- your attire and presentation (you want to look professional, but also feel confident)
- your body language; how you will maintain open, relaxed and confident body language
- the starting point for your negotiation (hint: it’s common to ask for a certain percentage more than you actually want, so your manager feels like it’s still a win when they ‘negotiate you down’)
- how you’ll respond if the manager challenges your assertions and statistics you present to support your case
- how you’ll keep your cool if the manager ‘pressure tests’ you by taking an aggressive approach (this partly comes back to your plan for what you’ll do if they say no – see above)
- how you’ll keep your presentation simple and concise, and avoid repeating yourself too much
- if the answer is no, how you will set the next action item: will you ask for a date to revisit the issue, written reasons for the ‘no’, or a resource for improving performance to the required level, etc.?
You might even consider doing a bit of practice, role-playing your presentation or negotiation approach with someone you trust. This could be a friend or family member, or a professional mentor.
Prepare, have a plan, maintain the right attitude, and you’ve got a good chance of securing the pay rise you ask for.