Raises used to be automatic. Sometimes they happened at negotiated points, like every six months or once a year, and at other times they were tied to annual performance reviews.
For many workers, though, raises have been hard to come by. In fact, total wages and salaries for civilian workers in the United States have only gone up by 2.5% for the period that ended in June, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). And the trend has been getting worse. Glassdoor's Local Pay Reports showed that wage growth has slowed, with July's 1.2% increase representing the slowest pace of growth in three years.
That means that for a lot of us, wanting a raise and even deserving a raise do not mean getting one. To get an increase it's important to show your boss that your performance exceeds expectations, and ideally that it creates value for the company.
Do you deserve a raise?
Before you make a plan to approach your boss, it's important to do some self-evaluation. If you can't honestly make the case that you deserve a raise then you should not bother approaching your boss about it. So, before requesting a meeting, ask and answer the following questions:
- Did you meet or exceed all agreed-upon goals during the past year?
- Did you create revenue or savings for the company for which you were not compensated for?
- Do you regularly outperform other people in the same position?
- Did you have any discipline issues?
- Did anything about your responsibilities change in a way that justifies added compensation?
- Are you paid below what the company pays other people in similar positions?
In general, how you answer these questions acts as a truth check on whether you actually deserve a raise. It's not an all or nothing thing, either: if you performed adequately, not great, but came up with an idea that made the company a lot of money, you can still plausibly argue for a raise.
That's also true if you are a good, not great, employee being paid below what the company pays others in the same position. Of course, just saying "But he gets paid more" may not be enough. You will want to be prepared to justify your own value and make a case for a raise on merits beyond fairness.
It's not just about time passing
While I used "the past year" as a time frame, it's important to note that raises may not be strictly tied to the calendar. Having a year pass is a milestone that may make approaching your boss easier, but it's not the only time to ask for a raise.
If you create sustainable value for your company or take on new responsibilities it's appropriate to ask for more compensation. In some cases that should happen immediately, and in others it's reasonable to negotiate a time in the future to discuss getting paid more so you can have some results to back up your request.
Be confident and flexible
If you determine you deserve a raise, prepare your case and make an appointment to discuss the situation with your boss. Go in with realistic expectations, but be prepared to negotiate.
If, for example, your boss does not agree that your performance has been stellar or questions whether a success you had will have staying power, negotiate a time (30 or 60 days) to revisit that specific issue. In other cases, your boss may agree you deserve a raise, but have budgetary limitations preventing you from getting one.
When that happens, try to be creative. That may mean agreeing to defer a raise until a new budget period or fiscal year kicks in. In some cases it may mean asking for non-financial compensation in the interim, like added time off.
Of course, sometimes you will earn a raise, make a great case for one, and still not get one. The company may not have the money, or it may not value its employees properly. When that happens, don't get mad -- get your resume ready and begin the process of finding a job that will pay you what you're worth.