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How to negotiate a pay rise at work

Jade Bremner
·9 min read
Asking for pay rise at work is not easy, but if you don’t ask ... (Getty Images)
Asking for pay rise at work is not easy, but if you don’t ask ... (Getty Images)

Many of us have experienced it: we've been at a company for a while, our job and responsibilities have grown but our salaries have not and we’ve felt underpaid and undervalued. Or maybe we’ve got wind that other colleagues in similar roles are being paid more? Now, there are simple tools to help increase the chances of fair pay.

Meggie Palmer founded PepTalkHer after experiencing pay inequality at work. She initially developed the app to help other women get a pay rise in their jobs, but says everyone can use it to track their employment successes and build confidence and a strong case for a pay rise. Meanwhile, fashion and luxury headhunter Catherine Broome, from Odgers Berndtson, has helped with the needs of employers and staff for more than a decade and offers some sage advice, from a recruitment perspective, on how to get a raise.

Read on for our experts tips on securing a larger pay packet …

Know and own your value

Believe your own hype and understand what you are bringing to an organisation. “If you don’t believe it, no one else is going to,” says Palmer. “Why are you really great at your job, and how can you move the needle for the company?” Then it’s about doing your research, and finding out how much similar roles like the one you already have, and the role you want, typically pay.

“Speak to headhunters and look on Linkedin ads, so that you are very clear what the market rate is for what you are doing or what you want to be doing,” says Broome, who thinks we should be realistic with our expectations. “I probably wouldn’t ask for more than a 10-15 per cent pay increase at any given time,” she says.

Getty Images/iStockphoto
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Track your success

Physically keep track of your wins. Broome calls it “hard data”, and this might be KPIs, bringing in a new client or even organising a Christmas meal for your team and increasing staff morale. “It’s almost too late to prepare the day before a pay-rise meeting,” says Palmer, who reckons you need to be tracking your work successes on a weekly basis. “Reflect on the wins and successes you’ve had, the positive feedback you’ve had, and you need to be keeping track of that.

That’s why we built the PepTalkHer app. It’s free and it will prompt you to reflect on the week that you’ve had,” she says. Her app can track emails, or praise from your boss when they’re thanking you for your work that week. “Screenshot it, you can upload it to the app, you can write data in, whatever it is. If you’re doing it every week or every two weeks you’re going to have 50 or 100 things that you’ve done throughout the year.

When you have that data, it becomes a lot easier to advocate for yourself. It is easier to put a price tag on your role within the organisation. You’ll have a dossier of success to present and back up your conversation on what you are worth.”

Prepare for the meeting

You’ve got to put in the work before a pay-rise chat with your boss. But context is important. Not only do you have to be really good at your job, you have to prepare and make sure the timing is right. “If the company has just laid off 200 people or if your boss is going through a divorce it might not be a good day to ask for a raise,” says Palmer.

The broader context of the global economy might be a factor too, but despite a recession, Palmer says pay rises do happen every day. “It’s tough, but it’s not impossible to get a raise right now … if you are performing well and adding value you are always within your right to ask the question.”

Getty Images
Getty Images

Ask for a raise

Don’t expect your boss to simply offer you a raise, it’s your responsibility to ask for one. Put a time in your boss’ calendar to discuss your performance and your compensation moving forward. “A pay raise costs the company money, sure. But, do you know what else costs the company money? You quitting,” says Palmer. “You take institutional knowledge, you eventually might take clients, and you cost them time. It costs time to recruit people and find the right person, it costs time to do a handover. It takes time to make a client feel happy.”

Don’t give up if your boss say no

Your boss may well say no. But perhaps there are non-monetary benefits that you can negotiate. Could you negotiate a four-day working week? Could you start at midday on a Thursday because you’d like to pop in and see your grandma? Can you have them pay for an online course, can they give you a title increase? Can you schedule a meeting in three-months’ time to revisit this conversation? Can you negotiate commission? Will they let you bring your dog to work, which will bring you joy?

“We need to take responsibility for our own career happiness,” explains Palmer. “We need to be creative. A thing I’ve always negotiated in my career is extra annual leave – that was important to me. Money is great, but I like to travel and visit my family. That doesn’t cost them anything – it’s quite easy for them to say we’ll keep that week off the books.”

Know your wish, want walk figures or conditions

The wish figure is the crazy number that you feel sick saying out loud, but you’d be so stoked if you got it. Your want figure is a number where you think you’ll be reasonably compensated for the work you’re doing, “that is a win for both sides,” says Palmer.

The walk figure is if your manager can’t meet a certain amount of money or any of the conditions you’ve outlined – this is the point where you are willing to leave the company. It may be that you haven’t found another job yet, but you will start to look and accept another job offer in the future. “If you’re really clear in your mind on those three points it gives you confidence,” says Palmer.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Be comfortable being uncomfortable

It doesn’t come naturally to negotiate and ask for more money. “Some people feel sick and anxious about it, but you’ve got to think – if I don’t ask how does that affect my bank balance and my retirement savings?” says Palmer. “You’ve got to find the motivation to ask the question.”

One way to do this is to get used to feeling uncomfortable. Rehearse your boss saying “no” by role-playing with a friend or a colleague you trust, and play out all the different scenarios of a pay rise meeting. “If you feel confident walking into that situation you’ll be negotiating from a place of strength, rather than a space of fear and anxiety,” says Palmer. “We know that when we are calmer we can stay on message and can be clearer in what we are asking”.

Palmer suggests an experience to yank us right out of our comfort zones: go into a shop and ask the cashier if they would be open to giving you a 5 per cent discount on something you want to buy. “It’s so awkward, but the purpose of that exercise is – what’s the worst that can happen? The worst that can happen is they look at you a bit strangely and say no. And you say ‘OK, no worries, that’s fine I just wanted to check’. You’re training your brain that it’s ok to ask. And strangely, people sometimes say yes.”

The power of silence is another good thing to use. Say your piece and let your boss respond. “Particularly women feel the need to fill a silence to make people feel comfortable. You have to be comfortable with awkwardness,” says Palmer.

Put yourself in your boss’ shoes

Managers are real people with budgets, pressures and many obligations, and no one likes to be screwed over. “It’s not nice to walk into your boss’ office and say ‘I need any extra £5,000 or I’m walking’,” says Palmer.

It’s important to consider what they need and what they want, and how easy it is to achieve this. “Your boss wants you to feel fairly compensated and they want you to feel happy to get out of bed and work really hard for them. If you’re working on the poverty line it’s hard for you to do 40 hours a week with energy and excitement, but if you’re paid fairly then sure, you’ll come to work and you’ll open that email on a Saturday.”

Talk about salaries

Companies are incentivised for you not to talk about your salaries, and recruiters like Broome, plus those in human resources, usually advise against this, instead recommending people to look at the external market to make comparisons.

But Palmer believes in kicking the pay transparency door wide open at work: “Conversations about salary are some of the best things we can do,” she says. “It’s one of the easiest things we can do to close the gender pay gap and the racial pay gap. There are all sorts of gaps that exist.” She advises talking about your salary with people you trust in your organisation, and says women should be asking the men in their company.

However, this is also an uncomfortable conversation to have. “A way for you to frame it is: ‘I’m going for this new job, they’ve offered me in the range of £25,000-28,000 – does that feel about right to you?” says Palmer. But it’s also important to note that some companies have a clause in their contract that forbids staff from talking about their salaries. “If you’ve got that clause in your contract that probably tells you a lot about your company,” says Palmer. In the latter case, you will need to be cautious and over-prepare when negotiating a pay rise.

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