How to ask for - and get - a pay rise

Published by on 21 April 2010.
Last updated on 10 November 2016

pay rise

In an ideal world, using the 'oliver approach' would automatically gain you the pay rise you deserve. In Charles Dickens' book, the young orphan oliver timidly approaches Mr Bumble begging "Please sir, I want some more" with his bowl in hand. That simple approach occasionally works when asking for a fiver off a toaster, but is highly unlikely to convince the boss to offer you more money. It didn't work out too well for oliver, either.

According to Charles Cotton, performance and reward adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, there are some jobs where an individual pay rise is not feasible. "Many pay deals within the public sector are dealt with centrally, with unions negotiating a deal on behalf of employees, and others may be dealt with independently by a pay review body."

However, not all are dealt with this way, for example "some local authorities use performance-related pay, so if you are deemed to be a high performer, you'll get a higher pay award," says Mr Cotton. Within the private sector pay scales can vary.

Are you a high performer who exceeds others in a similar role? Or are you underpaid for the job you do? It is important to realise the difference between 'wanting' and 'deserving' a pay rise. If it is more 'want' than 'deserve', perhaps delay your request and establish what you can do during the next six months to change this.


Highlight your success

If you deserve one, do bosses realise the great job you do? Think about your current profile. Do you quietly get on with your work, with your success going largely unnoticed? If so, you may want to subtly change this, making sure that the right people appreciate your valuable contribution. It doesn't need to be overtly done; sometimes it's just casually mentioning your contribution to influential people or encouraging line managers to communicate your successes to the boss.

Asking for a pay rise should be treated like a negotiation and the great news is that the majority of work is done prior to entering your boss's office. Think of the negotiation as a pair of scales – one side is 'getting a pay rise' and the other is 'not'. Your job is to tip the scales unequivocally in your favour with only circumstances outside of your control preventing you getting a pay rise.

Do your homework. Although one of the cardinal sins is to quote what 'Alice in accounts' earns, it is important you and your bosses realise your worth by researching similar roles within yours and other organisations.

"You can find information from recruitment agent surveys, online polls, job adverts, trade press and newspapers," says Mr Cotton, as well as asking friends. Don't just look at pay in isolation; research the benefits employees get (for example, holidays, pensions and flexi-time) so you get an idea of the packages on offer.

While they may be sympathetic, your employer does not want to hear personal reasons for a pay rise, such as "I'm broke, I can't afford the vet fees" or "My fuel bill has risen by 10%".


Alan, a UK sales director who wishes to remain anonymous, recommends preparing "a cogent argument that sets out in simple terms why you merit a pay rise. The request should also be framed in such a way that by improving the level of remuneration for you it will also be beneficial in the long term for the employer."

Write down your invaluable contributions, innovative ideas or how you have contributed to the organisation over the past year. Efforts that went over and above what your job specification requires should be top of your list and any successes that showed a true return
of investment because of your actions. Keep the list concise but powerful.

After you have done your research and fine-tuned your successes, you need to establish what you are going to ask for as the boss may want to know the increase you are thinking of. Know what you want to achieve: an ideal amount, within the realms of possibility, and justifiable; as well as an acceptable amount.

But does it have to be just an increase in salary or is there anything else that would be equal or of even more value to you? Would more holiday, flexi-time, starting later each day or a paid-for qualification be acceptable? These may also be more feasible from the company's perspective.

Understand your manager

In most cases it would be wise to let your boss know what you want to discuss in advance, as they may feel defensive otherwise. Knowing the type of manager and their style allows you to converse with them in the best possible way. Are they quite direct, talking about the 'bottom line', or are they more focused on teamwork and how that has helped build the business? Establish what they like and build your conversation around this.

They say it's all in the timing and with salary increases this is very true. Avoid approaching them when they are likely to be preoccupied, for example, before an important board meeting or after a poor one. You want them to be in a positive mindset. This would be perfect if it can be timed when you had just completed a very successful project or task.

Look at it from their perspective

Assess the atmosphere. Is the jobs market buoyant? And how is your workplace doing? For example, have there been a series of redundancies or a staff freeze? Are they struggling financially or have they come out the other side and are doing well? All of these factors are vital to consider before making a judgement on asking for a rise.

Time your request well. "Organisations tend to have pay review cycles," says Mr Cotton. "They often do this in January or April, so you can't go to your boss a few days prior to the announcement of the annual pay review asking them for more money." If they are setting them in April they are likely being discussed in December, so this could be a good time to approach your line manager.

When you have your meeting, create the right atmosphere. The tone of the conversation needs to be polite and friendly, with you emphasising your commitment to the company. Use your prepared information to good effect.

Are there objections that they could have to your proposal they may or may not vocalise? Could you be easily replaced or would the costs of recruiting and training another person far outweigh any increase you are asking for? Would giving you a pay rise set a precedent that could set off a wave of individuals asking for one? Whatever concerns they may have, if you can overcome them your case will be stronger.

Do you have skills that are in short supply? If so, include these. Would it be worth saying there would be no mention of any increase outside the room if you were awarded a pay rise? Or would taking on more responsibility help them to justify offering more money?

Waving another job offer in the employer's face and threatening to leave rarely reaps rewards. Alan suggests "this is a short-term win for the individual but will no doubt count against them in the long run as they appear to only have their own interests at heart and are sacrificing any goodwill and longer-term opportunities".

If you have been offered another job, approach the matter with sensitivity rather than being threatening. However, re-emphasise your wish to stay with the company as you enjoy working there, but say you need to discuss the package you are on. They may need time to think about your request or even justify it to their seniors, but try to agree a date for a follow-up meeting rather than leaving it in the air.

Plan your next step if it's a 'no'

What if they say no? Within negotiation there is the need for a 'best alternative to a negotiated agreement', so if the request for a pay rise fails you know your next step.

If you want to stay irrespective of their answer, it may be good to ask what you need to demonstrate in order to get a pay rise, giving you an objective.

Resigning without a job to go to is unwise, and the idea of 'taking your foot off the pedal' and working less hard is an ill-thought-out one, as this could have a de-motivating effect on you. As Mr Cotton says: "Even if you don't get a pay rise this time, at least it will give you an indication of what the organisation values, which gives you an idea what you need to achieve."

Work hard and continue to prove your worth, which opens up possibilities including a potential future rise. However, if staying is not what you want, put all the work you've done to justify a pay rise to good use and use it to get a job you prefer in another organisation.

Top tips for getting a pay rise

1. Research the packages offered elsewhere for similar roles
2. Make your case - why do you deserve a raise?
3. Know what you want to achieve
4. Look at it from the boss's perspective
5. Understand your manager
6. Time your meeting well
7. Have your answers to their potential questions or objections
8. Avoid threats
9. Have a plan B
10. Always give your best

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