In June, I committed to asking for a raise. Well, I finally did. The result? I just need to do the paperwork and I should see my yearly income go up by 15%. Not a jackpot, but certainly better than the usual 2 to 4% we can get for good performance.
The whole experience of asking for a raise hasn’t been simple, but I’m glad I’ve taken the steps forward to getting paid what I feel my work is worth. It has me thinking that there are probably many people out there complaining about being undervalued, but not doing anything about it. If this sounds like you, I hope these top 3 reasons to ask for a raise motivate you to take the plunge.
1. You probably deserve it.
We all want to make more money. But most of us don’t think to ask for a raise until we start to feel that the value of our work is worth more than we are being paid. When I was making minimum wage at an ice-cream stand in high school, I didn’t think to ask for a raise because I knew that my skill-set and experience level (nil) matched the work requirements (scooping ice-cream and accepting payments) … minimum wage seemed fair.
A few years later I was working at a retail chain store for just over minimum wage when I was switched from stocking shelves to being the store’s sole shipper/receiver. To my dismay, this change did not include a bump in my paycheck. I knew the additional workload and responsibility level did not match the low wage I was being paid, so I approached my direct supervisor and then the store manager to request a raise. My request was denied, but I knew I was justified in asking. More on this below.
Flash forward to my current career. I’ve been working for my company for ten years and have received 3 decent promotions in that time-frame in addition to a leadership award. When my job changed drastically last year (I was given more responsibility, more staff, a larger budget and greater decision-making authority), I assumed it would come with a bump in pay. I was wrong. I won’t go into the details of the rationale I was given, but basically I was told the change was part of restructuring and I should be happy with the new role and opportunities it provided. I was happy… but not satisfied.
Over the past 12-months, my resolve to ask for a raise was strengthened through the knowledge that if I left the position, the company would have a very difficult time to find someone to take on the role for the level of pay and classification they were offering me. Yes, they can replace me (we are all replaceable, no matter how much we like to think we aren’t), but that doesn’t mean it would be easy to do. So, for my performance review last week, I detailed the many reasons I deserve a raise and straight out requested one. My boss’s reaction: full support (now we just need to do the paperwork).
So, when that voice in the back of your mind starts to tell you that your skill and/or level of responsibility is worth more than you are being paid, it’s probably right and you should listen to it.
2. You’ll never know until you ask.
For as long as there has been an employer/employee relationship, there has been the dance of worth. Employers aim to spend the least amount of money to get work done and make a profit, and employees aim to make as much as they can to support their quality of life. The good, the bad and the ugly exist on both sides. This is where unions and contracts came from – they maintain mutual understanding and keep things fair.
Most good employers will pay employees fairly for their work, but it is usually up to the employee to determine what that worth really is and to ask for the salary to match. This is especially true of jobs that require higher levels of talent, skill and experience. It can be really hard to put a price tag on these things, and most employers know this.
Asking for a raise can be especially difficult because it can feel like you are going back on a ‘deal’ or promise you made when you were first hired. The thing is, most people (hopefully) build expertise and take on additional responsibility within their organization over time. Unfortunately, not all employers have a process in place to recognize this growth, or the process is a ‘one-size fits all’ approach that sees the slackers being rewarded to the same extent as top performers. This is part of why millennials have a reputation for not staying loyal to any one organization for very long- we know we can get better and faster results by looking elsewhere. (On a side note: most of us want to get paid more not because we feel ‘entitled’ to more money, but because having crushing student debt until you are 40 is not a great feeling… but that’s another rant for a different day).
Special note to you ladies: many of us continue to have a difficult time determining our work’s worth, and even more difficulty asking for the income to match. The reasons for this are many, including that our work has been traditionally undervalued or, in some cases, deemed valueless (women’s traditional unpaid roles in the home still do not factor into the calculation of GDP… but I digress). According to Statistics Canada, Canadian women are paid 75 cents for every dollar earned by men… we are ranked 8th in the world on this front so we have it pretty good (?) compared to other countries, but this stat still sucks. The wage gap widens for women who are Indigenous, living with a disability, racialized or newcomers. The Canadian Women’s Foundation has lots of info if you’re interested in learning more about the wage gap.
Bottom line: good work can (and often does) go unnoticed and/or unrewarded. Even with the best of bosses, you won’t get paid more until you ask for it. I was listening to an Afford Anything Podcast the other day where contributors were telling stories on what scared them. One speaker told a story about being scared to speak up and the advice given to her by her father, which was: what’s the worst that can happen? They aren’t going to yell at you, they aren’t going to punch you, and if they do, I’ll punch them right back. I think this logic can apply here (note that I am not advocating violence). The worst that can happen when you ask for a raise is that they will say no. If they yell at you (or punch you), well, that’s a whole other HR nightmare on their hands isn’t it? Either way, at least you will have an answer.
3. It will help to determine your next steps.
This brings me to my third and final point. You need to ask for a raise so that you can decide what your next steps are. You can:
- get the raise and be happy about it;
- not get the raise, keep working and either be content or miserable about it;
- get the raise and realize the money wasn’t actually what was bothering you about the job after all, and go about finding something new; or
- not get the raise and use it to light a fire in your belly to find a job that pays you properly!
The shipper/receiver job I had is a good example. I had been working at that retail store for 2-years during University. When I graduated in the spring, I didn’t have anything lined up right away, so when they offered me the shipper/receiver role for the summer, I took it. When I learned that it didn’t come with any extra money, I quickly began looking for something else. I ended up finding a higher paying job in my field of study. In hindsight, getting a ‘no’ to that raise request was probably the best thing that could have happened to me at the time… my University degree had nothing to do with retail work and if I had been given that raise, I think I could have easily kept working away and not forced myself to find something else. Everything happens for a reason.
I get the sense that many people stew on the idea that they are underpaid at work. They let it build from a small feeling of unfairness to a massive burden that grows resentment and eventually burns them out and kills productivity. I’m sure you’ve heard it: “why work harder? It won’t get you anywhere. It’s all pensionable time. Just show up for the paycheck.” This is a crappy way to go through your career and your life.
We work to live, not live to work. Life is too short to feel unhappy and undervalued with something you put a lot of time and energy into. Over the past year I had started looking for something new. But, I love my work and the people I work with. Having previously spent time in a toxic workplace, I know that a positive work environment with positive people is worth a million bucks (in emotional currency anyway), so my desire to stay with my current company far outweighed my desire to move on to the unknown (even if it were to come with a big pay-hike). All in all, I’m glad I took the leap and asked for the raise and I’m content with the outcome.
If any of this speaks to you, take some time to reflect on your own work and its worth, do some research on how to negotiate a raise, and take the plunge! I’m willing to bet you’ll be happy with the outcome (raise or not) too.