Skip to main content

Asking for a pay rise

Written by: Jo Faragher
Published on: 22 Jan 2013

Asking for a pay rise

Approaching the subject of a pay rise is never easy to do and, if done badly, can lead to tense relationships in the future. However, if you approach it in the right way you can get the remuneration you deserve.

A study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research highlights some of the issues that asking for a pay rise can bring up. The study used real adverts for an administrative assistant role and explained that the wages were negotiable. Based on observations of 2,500 people, the researchers found that female workers were unlikely to even request a higher salary unless their boss specifically instructed them to. Male workers, on the other hand, were more likely to open negotiations and therefore "reap a disproportionate amount of the surplus wage".

Gender differences aside, the study emphasises how awkward having a conversation about your own monetary "value" in an organisation can be. The situation can be doubly sensitive for HR professionals, as they are often privy to information about salary levels across the organisation and any financial issues their employer might be experiencing.

Timing and tone are key

One of the most important things to remember in approaching your manager to ask about a pay rise is to ensure you get the timing right.

"These conversations will sometimes come at a natural point - for example, at the start of the year or around annual appraisal time," explains Sarah Rozenthuler, leadership development consultant and author of the book Life-Changing Conversations. "Make sure you get the right amount of airtime with your boss. This shouldn't be a corridor conversation."

Perhaps you have just completed an important project, she suggests, and this would be a good time to highlight your involvement and contribution to the company.

Your tone in the meeting is all important. Too resigned and your manager will be led to believe you're not engaged, too aggressive and you could destroy not just this opportunity but future promotion routes within the company.

If opening the conversation makes you feel nervous, Rozenthuler advises rehearsing your first sentence: "If you can get this clear, the rest of the conversation can flow from there."

Give supporting evidence

When preparing for your salary negotiations, think about any evidence you can use to support your request for more money. This could be both hard and "soft" evidence - perhaps you have led a major HR transformation project that has saved the organisation a substantial amount of money, or you have received good feedback in 360-degree surveys or employee engagement polls.

"Show what an asset to the organisation you are, with lots of examples of how you made or saved the organisation money, improved quality or averted disaster," advises careers expert Corinne Mills on her blog.

It is also important to be aware of what those in similar roles in other organisations earn, in addition to benchmarking your salary internally. Look at a recent salary survey, such as this one from XpertHR, and consider how you might present this information to your manager if they require further evidence that you should be paid more.

You may well meet with some objections; it's important to have considered these before you go into the meeting.

"Come into the meeting having thought through these scenarios, and with a 'plan B'. What could the organisation offer you instead, if a pay rise is out of the question? Perhaps you could be put forward for a leadership development course, or do some work shadowing," says Rozenthuler.

And if the response is an outright "no", then don't be too downhearted. Ask if it is possible to review the situation in an appropriate amount of time, and how you could improve in your role in order for the answer to be more positive next time. Keep a record of your meeting and what was discussed, as it may be useful to bring up in a future appraisal or progress review.

Keep communication open

When closing the conversation, Rozenthuler says, the important thing is to keep the lines of communication open for the future: "Be gracious even if you're disappointed with the outcome, as you can process your disappointment offline." 

Threatening to walk out because they won't pay you as much as another company simply demonstrates your lack of commitment rather than how valuable you are in your current role.

Whether your negotiation is successful or not, emphasise your commitment to the organisation and the aspects of your role where you bring specific skills that the organisation would struggle without. Even in this climate, employers find it costly to recruit and your manager will be wary of losing you to a competitor. And while this time your request might not be granted, it won't hurt to have your achievements reviewed and logged for a future opportunity.

If you're planning the next step in your HR career, see the roles we have available today.