Asking for a pay rise can be difficult to navigate, but according to the experts, it’s all in the planning, research and confidence
With the power balance between employees and employers shifting in favour of workers, now could be the perfect time to ask for a pay rise. But what’s the best way to go about it?
With a competitive jobs market, rising inflation and record numbers of vacancies to fill (1.2 million according to Office for National Statistics data published in January), businesses are expected to offer the highest pay rises in over a decade.
According to a survey from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 64% of employers are anticipating facing problems with filling open positions over the next six months. As a result, many companies are looking to award pay rises to combat recruitment and retention difficulties.
This means that much of the negotiating power lies in the hands of the employee.
Career coach and employee engagement specialist Liz Sebag-Montefiore says: “The great resignation has created an employee-led market, so I think it’s a great time to ask for a pay rise.”
However this doesn’t mean it’s an inevitability. Although many employees are aware of their improved negotiating position, there is still some uncertainty over how to broach the question with a manager. Searches for the phrase “how to ask for a raise” increased by 133% in the UK between January 2021 and 2022 according to Semrush, a data research company.
Preparing to ask for a raise
So how should you approach the all-important question? Sebag-Montefiore claims that it all comes down to preparation. “Identify problems your promotion could solve and plan for how you would tackle those issues when you get promoted,” she advises.
Another key element of preparation is knowing how much to ask for. This should involve researching what others in your organisation, or in similar positions at other companies, are earning and gathering evidence to justify your pay rise. This could include any positive feedback you’ve received, recent achievements or awards.
Some people often say to wait a year or so before asking for a pay rise, evidence is a much more important factor in determining whether your request will be approved. Occupational psychologist Sonya Dineva says: “You need to have a decent amount of time in the role to gather evidence that proves you are of great value to the business. As long as you have the evidence, you don’t need to wait.”
It’s then a good idea to rehearse the conversation with a friend or even record yourself. “The more you practice it, the happier and more confident you’ll feel when you eventually have the meeting,” Sebag-Montefiore says.
It will then come to the point where you can ask your manager for a meeting. Building a rapport with the decision makers in the build-up to the discussion is vital, according to Dineva. She says: “Managers are just people and the decisions that they make are quite often influenced by emotion, even if they don’t always realise it.”
Ambushing them and asking them for a pay raise out of the blue is therefore not advised. “You have to make sure that the decision makers are not preoccupied with other matters,” she says. “If they’re currently dealing with another important issue, then your request may end up on the backburner.”
What to say during a pay rise meeting
The ideal outcome from pay rise discussions, is a scenario where everyone feels they’ve won – where the employee feels like they are getting the remuneration they deserve and the employer feels they are rewarding them for the hard work and skills they bring to the organisation.
Dineva explains that there are several techniques based on political theory that can be applied to discussions around pay rise, which will help ensure everyone leaves the room feeling like a winner. The first comes from nudge theory, which aims to use suggestion to influence the behaviour and decision makers.
She suggests that workers should go into negotiations with three outcomes in mind: an ideal one, which is usually unrealistic and where any conversation should start; a more realistic idea of what your pay rise should be, which shouldn’t be mentioned at the start of the conversation; and then the bottom line - anything less than which you should turn down.
“If you present someone with just one option, then the likelihood of them rejecting it is 50%,” Dineva says. “But if we suggest two different alternatives, you can influence their decision and improve the likelihood of them choosing the option you want.”
Other tactics to employ are inspirational appeal, which moves the discussion on to values and ideals, as these are much harder to argue with. Employees should therefore focus on the value they bring to an organisation, their personality and skills.
The third tactic is to present your manager with an open question, rather than just asking the yes/no question of “can I have a pay rise?” Instead, try asking: How much are you willing to give me?
It’s also important to remember that the conversation doesn’t have to be resolved in one discussion. In negotiations, sometimes people feel the pressure to conclude discussions quickly but this is a mistake. “During the initial meeting, all you need to do is to listen to the other party’s objectives and their position,” Dineva says. “Listen to them and then personalise your proposal to link it to their needs.”
She claims that this is much more effective as it will make your manager believe “you are indispensable.” Once they realise how much they need you they will then be much more likely to be convinced that you need to be paid accordingly.
What to avoid when asking for a pay rise
Finally, there are a number of faux pas that many people make when going into pay negotiations. One of the most common is to tell your manager that you already have another higher job offer.
This can make the pay rise seem like a demand, rather than a discussion, according to Dineva. It’s better to approach the meeting in a cooperative mindset rather than coming armed with a threat.
“When two people have a difference in power, threats usually don’t work,” she says. “I wouldn’t recommend people do this unless they’re happy to risk losing their jobs.”
Another tactic, Dineva explains, that can result in an undesirable outcome is entering negotiations as part of a group. This can make the employer feel like there is a coalition working against them and create resistance. Using a third party, such as a trade union, is much more likely to bring success in this instance.
Sebag-Montefiore has also come across several instances of bad etiquette when asking for a pay rise. “Don’t plead on emotional grounds or get confrontational because that route never works,” she says. “Keep the discussion focused on the business case, don’t say you need the money to buy a house, or because you have a baby on the way.”
If you’re lucky enough to secure the pay rise you want, remember to continue to prove that your manager’s decision was justified. Dineva says: “You need to keep reminding them of the benefits that this agreement will bring to them. They can then move forward and be convinced that this was a good deal for them too.”
Five-step guide to asking for a pay rise
- Be prepared
Research what other people in similar positions are currently paid and gather evidence to demonstrate why you deserve a raise.
- Rehearse your conversation
Record yourself speaking before the meeting or rehearse it with a friend. The more you practice it, the more confident you will be.
- Timing’s key
Choose the right time to approach your manager, you shouldn’t just ask for a meeting out of the blue. By giving the decision maker advanced warning, you can ensure they’re focused on your request and not distracted by other issues.
- Stay professional
Focus on the business case and what you can bring to the organisation, keep the conversation short and upbeat and be sure to thank them at the end.
- Prove your worth
If the outcome isn’t what you desired, make sure you leave the conversation knowing exactly what you need to achieve in order to get the pay rise you want.