How To Ask Your Boss For That Pay Rise

You’ve been working your butt off, slogging away after hours and taking on extra tasks. It’s totally time for that pay rise, isn’t it? Here’s how to make sure you don’t stuff it up.

People can be funny about money. There are those who have no issue breezing into the boss’ office and casually requesting a salary increase, and then there’s the rest of us, emotions ranging from politely awkward to sheer terror. But with wages in Australia growing by an all-time low of 2.3% in 2015, it’s important not to waste an opportunity.

We had a chat to two kick-ass bosses – Emma Isaacs, the Global CEO of multi-million dollar company Business Chicks, and Jade Mackenzie, the General Manager of digital startup Stackla – about getting the pay rise thing right: when you should ask, how exactly to ask, and the politics that accompany the discussion.

Timing is everything

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Image: StockSnap

You learnt this as a kid. Remember feeling like a diabolical mastermind when you figured out the perfect times you could cash in big on your parent’s love? Well, same idea applies. Think about what’s happening in the wider company – and world – before you go demanding a raise. You could have the perfect pitch ready to nail your pay rise discussion, but if it’s a terrible time to be asking, it’s wasted breath.

“In my experience, a good time to initiate the pay raise discussion is often towards the end of the financial year, as the previous year’s financial results are being reconciled and budgets are being built for the year ahead,” advises Mackenzie, who’s held plum HR roles at Fuzzy, Junkee Media and Saatchi & Saatchi in the past.

It could also (literally) pay to be aware of how the business is doing for itself. Isaacs – a serial entrepreneur who’s spent time with business visionaries like Sir Richard Branson, Diane von Furstenberg and Arianna Huffington – recommends evaluating the position the business is in to the best of your knowledge. “If the company is in a period of growth and hitting record sales numbers, those are great signs that there are opportunities to be rewarded,” she says.

The flipside is just as important to note, too. “If several people in the business have just been made redundant and sales are down, it’s probably not a great time to be asking for more money,” adds Mackenzie.

Timing also applies to how long you’ve been at your role. Mackenzie explains that, “Generally, your salary is likely to be reviewed on an annual basis.If you’re only three months into your role, have you really demonstrated enough additional value yet to warrant more money?”

Entitlement is the worst

Don’t be that person. If you want a pay rise, you have to make sure you really have been working hard enough, not think a raise is automatically rewarded because you’ve been employed for a certain amount of time.

Mackenzie lays it out clearly: “If handled right, pay rises are generally given to people who push for results or over-achieve in their role. Expecting a significant pay increase purely based on tenure is unrealistic and flawed, yet most people seem to think they’re entitled to it.”

It’s actually a logical process if you think about it: “If you haven’t really developed in your role or done anything above and beyond your general duties, then you’re most likely still doing what you’re already being paid to do,” she continues. “If you want to be paid more, shouldn’t you be contributing more?”

It’s a sentiment Isaacs shares. “A pay rise is something that each employee has to work at; it isn’t just about doing your job and your job only, it takes hard work, dedication and passion, which means more than just showing up on time everyday. If you have an appraisal coming up, realise that it’s an opportunity, not an entitlement.”


Get some perspective

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Image: Unsplash

Knowing what industry standards are for your role can either back you up, or calm you down. They’re helpful in keeping your discussion objective and fair.

“Look at other related roles in your industry to see if you’re on an equitable par with them,” Isaacs suggests. Comparative salary information is easy to find, and accessing benchmarks online is good to crosscheck when understanding what salary you should be aiming for.

But a little perspective goes a long way. Mackenzie believes it’s essential to think about that salary data in the context of the size of the business you’re in. “It’s no secret that huge, corporate multi-nationals can often pay top dollar. Small businesses in niche industries might not be able to pay highly competitive salaries, but there are generally other perks or cultural elements that make up for it.”

Mackenzie believes this insight allows you to think about benefits other than money, and “know your worth, but be realistic.”

Prepare for goal kicking

Now that it’s clear you’ve got to work hard for the money, start planning early.

“If you really want to maximise your chances, start thinking about the raise and moving towards it as soon you join a company or start in a new role,” Mackenzie says. “The further in advance you start to prep for your ‘next step’, the more time you have to develop in your role, and tick off the things that will position you well for the discussion.”

But what exactly should you be ticking off? There’s KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to work towards, but both Mackenzie and Isaacs agree you can take on and deliver against additional projects; create positive change; or improve on existing processes to justify your raise. This means thinking not just about your role, but the bigger picture. Mackenzie says to “find out what the organisation’s goals are for the year ahead, and then get crystal clear on how your role will contribute to the achievement of these.”

If you raise the roof, keep the proof

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Nice job, buddy. (Image: Unsplash)

Once you’ve started kicking goals, keep the evidence. This will be key in your discussion around what value you have brought to the company. Isaacs stresses the importance of saving the proof of going above and beyond, “Make sure you are prepared with examples of your achievements and build a strong case for why you deserve the pay increase. Highlight direct achievements around the KPIs you or your manager had previously set, and give examples of times when you have gone out of your way to ensure the success of a campaign, helped create additional projects or led tasks.”

When you sit down in front of your boss to tell them you’re amazing, it helps that it isn’t just according to… you. Isaacs suggests providing praise and recognition from others to back your case: “If you have emails from other employees or clients praising you for a job well done, take these and use them as testimonials.”

Don’t make it personal

We get it, sometimes there’s no better feeling than a good venting session about being underpaid. But that’s a big no-no. When it comes to salary discussions, it’s time to put your grown up pants on. Professionalism is key. Mackenzie says to “avoid the temptation of discussing your salary or your hopes to get an increase with anyone other than your direct manager or HR. Discussing confidential details like this with others in the workplace is never a great look.”

Sob stories might let you get your way with family or friends, but “telling your boss that you want a pay rise because you really want to move out of home, buy a house, save for a trip, or because Sydney rent is so high, probably won’t get you very far,” admits Mackenzie. “When discussions around development plans and salary increases are linked to meaningful business outcomes, they’re generally more effective.”

Isaacs agrees, “An employer wants to hear about the value you have brought to the business over the past six to 12 months and when you have gone above and beyond to achieve results – not your opinions on why you feel you should be paid more.”

This doesn’t mean your manager doesn’t care about you, but if you request a pay rise based on emotional or personal reasons, you’re kind of asking your manager to grant one on unprofessional grounds.

And if it’s a no?

Hearing a ‘no’ doesn’t mean walking away from the table empty handed. Use it as an opportunity to find out why they’re holding back and bolster your chances of success a little further down the track.

Isaacs has some advice for what to do next: “Depending on why the pay rise isn’t possible there are numerous ways to ensure you can strive to reach the raise. If the reasons fall around budgets and the company, then you should negotiate and create a compromise that works for you and your employer. If you aren’t getting the pay rise because of performance, work with your manager to put a strategy in place to boost your development – and set times to catch up and review your progress to ensure you are on track for your next appraisal.”

Mackenzie has found being up front is a great tack. “I’ve had the most luck in my own personal career when I’ve been upfront with my boss and asked ‘If by next year I want to be earning a certain amount of money, what do I need to focus on to make this happen?’”


#1 Get the timing right
#2 Know your worth, but be realistic
#3 Prepare well in advance
#4 Know what results matter to the business
#5 Demonstrate how you’ve added additional value
#6 If you’re unable to secure a raise, use it as a learning opportunity and either negotiate a compromise or develop a strategy

(Lead image via Stocksy)