Want to ask for a raise? Here’s what you shouldn’t do

Dear Joan:
I really enjoy and respect your column in the paper every week. I have a few questions that I would appreciate your advice on. I recently started a new position in May, after being downsized from a large manufacturing company. Now, I work for a small business. The questions that I have are these: When is it a good time to ask for a salary increase? And, how much do I ask for? I really love my boss and co-workers. I chose this job over a higher based salary because of the family-oriented environment.

I bring a lot of experience and skills to this position. My work ethic and attendance is excellent. I work in a fast paced environment that includes a variety of tasks. The company I work for used to employ a part-time person to assist me, however, that part-time individual has since left the company and will not be replaced. At this time, I feel the salary I make should be increased, to something that I could live on and to compensate for the experience and extensive workload I do on a daily basis.

Most people feel that they should get a raise but, unfortunately, they go about it all wrong. In your case, you seem to have a rationale that you can sell to your employer.

To prepare for your request, let’s first examine what you don’t want to do.

1.      Don’t expect a raise just because you’ve got a big workload. Most people today are paddling as hard as they can, since companies are short-staffed. Work volume is not a sound rationale for asking for a raise. It is, however, a good reason to increase staff or explore other options such as outsourcing.

2.      Don’t expect a raise solely because of your experience level. Although experience helps to determine your salary when you get a job, once you’re on the job it’s less of a factor. For example, let’s say you used to be a supervisor in your old job but the job you have now doesn’t include any supervisory duties. It’s unrealistic to expect your new employer to compensate you for experience that you don’t use extensively.

3.      Don’t expect every company-both large and small-to pay comparable wages for a similar set of skills. Although most companies try to pay fair market value for comparable jobs, it can be difficult to keep abreast of what the going rate is. If a small company doesn’t participate in salary surveys or doesn’t have a seasoned human resources specialist they may either under or over pay for a job.

4.      Don’t expect a raise just because a colleague across town got one for a similar job. Today’s jobs are less structured than at any time in history and they can be quite different from one another, even if they have the same title. Job descriptions become blurry as more hats are worn. For instance, if you’re on a number of committees and special task forces, your job description will bulge. If the "bulge" in responsibilities shrinks, you would probably lose the case for a salary increase.

5.      Don’t expect a raise because of things such as being dependable, having good attendance or having a good work ethic. These things are expected on a job (even though we all know they are increasingly hard to find). Although these attributes can contribute to a merit increase, they still need to be connected to the bottom line results you produce.

6.      Don’t expect a raise because of your own living expense needs. Companies can’t use your monthly bills as a reason for giving you a raise. Some jobs warrant more pay than others do, but it is strictly based on what the skills are worth to the organization. Some people feel that their company owes them a "living wage." Can you imagine the mess there would be if people were actually paid that way? (What’s your definition of "living wage"? Is it similar to the person next to you, who has all the credit card bills?)

Your best approach is to focus on how much responsibility and authority you have and how much it has grown since you were hired. If you can say that your job size and scope have enlarged significantly, you will be on firm ground when you ask for more money.

Since you are now doing the work of the part-timer who left, you might be able to make a case for getting some of the former employee's wages. However, if he or she did the same work you do, or was at a lower level, your case isn’t strong enough. It will be much more solid if you can show that your level of authority and responsibility has grown.

If you suspect that your company is paying less than market value, call others in the same-size companies who have similar titles. Often, you can get these names from membership directories of professional organizations in your field. When you call these people, explain that you are doing an informal "salary survey" and that you will be happy to share what you learn with them later. Most people are only too happy to find out if they are being paid fairly, too! Describe the duties of your job and then ask them what their employer would pay for a similar set of skills and responsibilities in their companies.

Also, ask about other perks and benefits. This information will be useful when you negotiate later, since your company may not have the money but they may be able to give you other non-cash "compensation." This will give you solid data on which to base your salary request and will make your conversation much more business-like and a lot less like an ungrounded demand.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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