So You Didn’t Get That Pay Rise? Here Are 8 Reasons Why

Oh, buddy. You thought hard about how to ask your boss for that pay rise. You put yourself out there. Good on you! But now your boss has knocked you back. What gives?

Sure, you might have done some things differently, but sometimes the cause of your knock back is outside your control – timing, the state of the industry, or even good old-fashioned personal bias.

Here are some things to consider as you lick your wounds.

#1 You didn’t go above and beyond

You might be absolutely nailing your current job, but this alone doesn’t entitle you to a pay rise – it just shows you’re giving good value for the salary you earn now. And time in the role doesn’t automatically entitle you to more money.

Compare your position description with what you’re actually doing at work. Have you been working at a higher level of autonomy and seniority? Have you voluntarily led projects, brought in new business or taken on extra responsibilities? If not, now’s your chance to do more of this stuff, to impress your boss over the coming months and show you’re aiming higher.

#2 You were too modest

It’s easy to assume you weren’t good enough. But what if you weren’t bold enough? Sometimes we hold back from asking for what we’re really worth, because we’re afraid people will think we’re greedy, arrogant, or exaggerating our qualifications and capabilities.

But sometimes, it’s only when you put a bold dollar figure on your skills that your organisation realises your true value. If you only asked for a modest raise, your boss might interpret it as a subtle signal that you’re not really working above your current pay grade. Next time, don’t be afraid to grab their attention and make it rain.

#3 You made it personal

Perhaps your car, fridge or computer is about to give up the ghost, or your rent just went up, or you’ve got credit card debts or sick relatives. But sadly, being a decent person who needs to catch a break isn’t a legit reason for your company to pay you more.

Next time, offer objective, measurable reasons for the pay rise. Exactly what did you do to add more value to the organisation? How much has your work contributed? And why were you the person most responsible?

#4 You’re a woman

Research around the world shows that women are less likely to negotiate boldly for pay rises, and are less likely to be successful – 20% of Australian men get their requested pay rises, while only 12% of their female colleagues do. Part of this is because women get further at work when they’re perceived as ‘likeable’, whereas they’re negatively stereotyped as ‘pushy’ and ‘aggressive’ when they speak up for themselves.

Unconscious bias around gender roles affects both male and female managers, who assess female workers more harshly than men in performance reviews. Successfully landing a pay rise often depends on proving how important you are to your employer; but women’s work is often described as “supportive”, “helpful” and “collaborative”, while men are seen as individually integral to the success of the business.

#5 You haven’t nailed consistency

In most workplaces, being seen to work consistently is just as important as your final output. Bosses don’t always reward people who mess around or take time off during slow periods, and then pull out the throttle to meet deadlines. You should have a consistent work ethic that’s reliable.

The consistency balance can also tip too far the other way. There’s no point in arriving early and leaving late every day – especially when that means there’s no one around to notice. But it also means that you lack the discernment to know when overtime efforts like that are actually required and contribute to a larger goal or team project.

Next time you ask for a pay rise, emphasise that you perform well week-in, week-out, but that you’re savvy enough to know when extra surges of effort are needed.

#6 Your timing was off

Every company has different procedures for handling pay rise requests: perhaps before the end of the financial year, when the next yearly budget is being finalised, or maybe tied to your annual review. And never underestimate how glacially an organisation’s decision-making can move. Your request might have become bogged down in internal processes. By the time the right people finally considered it, you’d missed out.

You’re also likely to get knocked back if you requested your pay rise during a busy period, when your boss is stressed and distracted. If you hear “not now,” keep the conversation going. Negotiate a specific time in the future to revisit the question, and hold management to it.

#7 You’ve got enemies at work

Unfortunately, office politics can influence pay rises – especially for women, who get judged as ‘cold’, ‘ambitious’ and ‘not team players’ if they’re strongly focused on their work. And if you shun office rituals such as footy tipping, Friday night drinks or coffee and cake mornings, you can sometimes find yourself locked out of crucial professional networks.

But there’s not much you could’ve done if a competitive boss or colleague sees you as a threat. It’s possible someone poisoned your pay rise bid by gossiping or concern trolling. Resist the temptation to respond in kind. Instead, cultivate allies in high places: senior colleagues or managers who can mentor you and endorse your future requests for promotion.

#8 The company couldn’t afford it

You may not realise exactly what’s going on behind the scenes at your organisation. Perhaps the extra salary they needed to lure that flash new CEO is being siphoned from everyone else’s promised pay rises. Perhaps a project is taking much longer than everyone expected and blowing out the budget. Maybe their clients aren’t paying them, so they can’t pass on the money to you. Or maybe every company in your industry is doing it tough.

Right now your boss is under pressure to economise, even if you argued persuasively for that pay rise. Even if they wanted to give it to you. Indeed, if you sense that your company is financially precarious, the preparation you did for your pay rise bid might serve you well if you decide to seek a more secure gig elsewhere.

Mel Campbell is a freelance journalist and cultural critic. She founded online pop culture magazine The Enthusiast, and is author of Out of Shape: Debunking Myths about Fashion and Fit. She blogs on style, history and culture at Footpath Zeitgeist and tweets at @incrediblemelk.

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