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Yes, you should still ask for a pay raise this year


The conventional wisdom is that you should ask your manager for a pay raise every year. Yet fear of rejection can be enough of a reason to avoid raising the question. During a pandemic it seems even harder to think such a request would be welcomed.

But does this mean we should forgo negotiating and asking for what we’ve earned this year? Absolutely not.

Data from the International Labour Organization show that the Covid-related job losses are already depressing wages, with women often being the worst hit. It’s true that many companies spent the first half of 2020 cutting costs wherever they could. So it’s easy to understand why anyone may hesitate to ask for more compensation right now.

But here’s the thing: Employers will still pay for top talent.

I was laid off at the end of March this year and found myself job-hunting in the U.K. at a time when tech jobs were hardly abundant. But what I found interesting was that the open roles I discovered were willing to pay at the top-end of market rate. For full-time offers I received, I negotiated up as usual and met no resistance. The same is true for the consulting work I took on while I was job-hunting.

The fact that I was able to successfully push back on companies offering work showed me that even in these trying times, employers are still willing to spend on securing talent. U.K. companies legally required to report gender pay data have an extra incentive to ensure that women aren’t underpaid relative to men.

But it matters how you go about negotiating. Creating a convincing case is crucial, and there are a few things you want to keep in mind as you prepare.

Leverage your increased responsibilities. I’ve spoken to a number of professional women in the U.K. who have been able to leverage pandemic-induced changes, such as their roles evolving to include more responsibility, to negotiate a more senior job title and even a pay bump. They made the case that in order to excel, they would need to be compensated accordingly. Perhaps they were the lucky few, but these examples are helpful case studies of what can be achieved.

Lots of us have found ourselves trying to do more with less in our jobs. While companies are doing their utmost to serve customers and achieve ambitious goals, we the employees are putting in the work to turn targets into reality.

Don’t let that work go unnoticed. It will serve you well to create a compelling narrative about how you’ve responded during the pandemic. Take your increase in responsibilities and greater ownership in stride. Make it clear you’re committed to continue delivering — and that you should be compensated the market rate for what you deliver. Articulate that a pay bump will guarantee increased motivation and results.

Make a habit of discussing comp during your annual performance review. Many people don’t bring up money during their reviews. But this is the time to present results you’ve achieved and to demonstrate where you have added value. Fair compensation should be part of the conversation.

So don’t hesitate. Tell your manager as soon as you can that you’d like to find time to discuss your performance and compensation. Send them an outline of your achievements and request for a pay bump before you meet, so they can gather their thoughts and connect with HR to gauge how feasible it is. Then approach the conversation as a collaboration. After all, your line manager will be facing folks higher up to make a case for you, and you want to make it as easy as possible for them to get a yes. Even if they object to your request initially, show your appreciation for their input and support.

Prepare for a ‘no.’ Carefully consider any objections that your line manager puts on the table. Take a collaborative not combative approach: Try to understand if the push back is because it would be a tough ask for them to take higher up (maybe they have bigger fish to fry right now), or if there’s truly no budget there.

If it’s the former, seek advice on an effective strategy. When would be a better time to raise this? On the latter, push for greater transparency about how the company wants to reward performance. For many companies, most 2020 spend is actually budgeted for in 2019 with companies putting money aside to reward performance. This means “no budget” actually means “reluctant to spend what’s left of the budget”. Ask your line manager to help you understand their resistance and use probing questions to get specific answers.

Get creative. If the reality is that salaries are staying flat across the company and there is really no way you can increase your cash compensation, think creatively. What else do you value that could keep you motivated to keep growing in your role? Perhaps you could ask for a budget for training and get a new qualification. Or you could push for more paid leave and flexible hours.

The pandemic has sent our careers into directions we couldn’t have imagined. But for a fortunate few, it’s also created opportunities for growth in our roles and our paychecks.

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