The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “How do you ask for a raise?” is written by David Sturt, executive vice president at O.C. Tanner.
An employee walked into my office with an unusually nervous look on her face. She was avoiding eye contact, and I could immediately sense this is not going to be a typical meeting. We exchanged small talk until she finally got to the reason she asked for the meeting: She wanted a raise.
I¹m sure most leaders have been in my position, and can’t help but sympathize with the employee and the high stakes nature of asking for a raise. You can sense the questions going through their minds: “Is this risk worth it?” “What if my boss says no?” or worse, “What if this damages my career?”
I’ve been asked for a raise a number of times by those I’ve managed over the years. I know what’s compelling, what’s off-putting, what swings the pendulum in the employee’s favor, and what ruins the conversation. From over two decades of experience managing employees, here are some tips on how to navigate asking for a raise:
Don’t make it an ultimatum
Asking for a raise doesn’t need to be confrontational. The ultimate nonstarter is feeling like someone is putting a gun to my head. If an employee approaches and tells me to give them the raise they want or they’re walking, it doesn’t land well, as the ultimatum usually indicates there are bigger issues at play. In these situations, I often find they are not connecting with the team or company, are frustrated with their job, or perhaps simply lack career maturity. In these cases, agreeing to the raise only delays the inevitable and costs the company more money in the interim.
Is it the pay or the job itself?
If you are asking for a raise, be honest with yourself about what this is really about. Do you like your job, team, manager, and company? Or is your frustration over pay simply a lightning rod for your broader dissatisfaction? If you genuinely like your job, make sure you discuss with your manager specifically what you like about it and why. As the manager, I want to know that this is the place you want to be, so that fighting for the extra raise is going to be worth my time.
Know your value
With rapidly changing job markets and an increased war for talent, managers may be unaware of market salary increases occurring in your role or field. Throughout my career, I’ve seen jobs that were once fairly easy to hire for surge in demand, which drove salaries up and good applicant pools down. If your position is experiencing such a market surge, you may discover that you’re getting paid below what you’re worth. Instead of thinking that this is an intentional way for your company to take advantage of you, it may just be that your manager is unaware of these market forces. Talking about the pay gap in a transparent and non-emotional way provides a great opportunity to open the dialogue with your manager about your increased market value and the business case for a raise.
It’s also critical to look objectively at the difference you are making on your team. Understanding your value will help you have a much more productive conversation with your manager.
Work with your manager
Early in my career, after a year of tons of extra hours and delivering everything we set out to do, I received a surprisingly low bonus and raise. I felt this pay wasn’t reflective of my performance, or the praise I had received from my leaders and peers, and I couldn’t hide my deep disappointment from my manager during my review. I drove home that day seriously considering leaving the company. When I got home that evening, I received a phone call from my boss. He apologized and told me to tear up the check I had received. He had already received approval from the CEO to give me a new raise and higher bonus the first thing in the morning.
I realized then that companies have raise budgets, targets, and ranges. If a manager is not thoughtful and deliberate, averages can be automatically applied in ways that may not be aligned to your contribution. Your manager may think the world of you, but has limitations or hurdles to increasing your compensation. A healthy dialogue can head off inaccurate assumptions and build a relationship of trust and transparency.
If you feel your performance and value merits more money, the job market is heating up, and you’ve had an open conversation with your manager, the odds are in your favor for a raise—if not right away, then sooner rather than later. Asking for a raise doesn’t need to be an adversarial fight against the corporate machine if you approach it with the right frame of mind.