How to ask for a pay rise

  • July 08, 2022

Is it time for you to get a pay rise?

One of the most sensitive issues to tackle in the workplace is the question of when it’s appropriate to ask for a pay rise. It’s a question of balance – making sure that you are rewarded for your hard work to an extent that you’re happy with, and not appearing ungrateful for the job that you have. 

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to ask for a pay rise; employers would see that your productivity is increasing, or that the quality of your work is surpassing that of when you were employed, and offer increased remuneration without further ado. The real world is more complex though; employers are often snowed under, they may not keep track of individual pay packages (especially in larger firms) and they may simply not be eager to actively spend more on wages.

Identifying whether it is an appropriate time to ask for a pay rise is part of what makes the process so nerve wracking. You may not have friends in the same field, and even if you do, money isn’t always a subject people are open to talking about, even close friends. One way of researching what an appropriate pay bracket is for your position is to look on Glassdoor and Totaljobs Salary Checker. 

These tools are by no means exhaustive resources, but can give a very good indication of what similar positions pay. Not only does this give a good idea of what you can ask, but it provides potential leverage and a fall-back option, should you need it.

Whilst it doesn’t constitute a pay rise in the traditional sense, for many workers it is also worth making sure that you are currently being paid minimum wage. The brackets change every April, and are dependent on your age, so it is easy for employers to make mistakes. If you have been paid under the minimum wage, notify your employer and it is their duty to back pay you the difference. HMRC can also be notified, but this should be as a last resort, having already entered into dialogue with your employer.

Unfortunately for workers, since the financial crisis in 2008, pay rises have seen a sharp decline. Much of the public sector has seen pay rises capped at 1%, and only 17% of UK workers have seen an annual pay increase of more than inflation which stands at 2.5%, meaning that in real terms only 17% of the population has seen a pay rise exceeding the rising cost of living.

While those figures may seem disheartening, and the process a little nerve wracking, you have nothing to lose by asking for a pay rise. The law states that your employment cannot be terminated for asking for a pay increase, and it is highly unlikely that an employer would wish to do so anyway. While there is little to lose, there is much to gain. There are numerous ways to substantially increase the likelihood of your request being accepted, methods which this article goes into more detail below.

10 ways to ask for a pay rise

1. In face meeting

The best way to broach the subject of a pay rise is face to face with your manager. That way, not only will you probably receive an immediate answer, but you can actively gauge their response and answer any concerns they may have. You’ll be able to negotiate in real time, answering their queries as they arise. It also places you on the front foot; you should have prepared all of your arguments and demands prior to the meeting.

On that note, it is important to write down what you plan on saying – not only will it help you remember, it will also allow you to compartmentalise and strategize your thoughts more effectively. It is unlikely that you’ll receive a pay rise immediately, numerous factors have to be taken into consideration, but it is certainly a good way to open up the dialogue. 

Whilst perhaps the scariest way of approaching the subject (an email being the least scary perhaps) you’ll know where you stand straight away, eliminating the nerve wracking wait for a response. As a bonus, your boss will probably appreciate the straightforward nature of your request, and thus may be more likely to accept.

2. Time it right

Some times are more appropriate than others to ask for a pay rise. One particularly apposite time for requesting higher pay is after an annual performance review. Obviously, the review has to have been a positive one; negative performance will seldom be rewarded. 

However, if your performance has been praised, this is a very good time to request a pay rise. If you are queried on why you believe you deserve the pay rise, you can cite the performance review, showing the official record of your stellar performance. 

In addition to the time of year, the day of the week that you make your request may make a difference. A study by the recruitment firm Office Angels found that managers were most receptive to requests concerning money matters which were made on a Wednesday. 

The study, in which 1500 bosses were interviewed, found that a significant 78% stated that Wednesday was the best (most receptive) day to ask about financial matters – the same study found that 64% thought a Monday afternoon was the best time to ask about holidays. 

There are countless psychological studies which have been carried out on ways to increase the probability of a positive outcome in business discussions. It is certainly worth researching if there is data that can help you meet your demands, such as the study cited above.

3. Know your manager

Statistics and data derived from studies are both incredibly useful, however they will never be able to inform you on the nuances of your exact situation. While it may be best to ask 78% of bosses for a pay rise on a Wednesday, your boss could very well be in the 22% - you might know that they regularly get a late night on Tuesdays for example, which could leave them tired and irritable for your big meeting. 

While it may be good to catch some managers unawares, it is more probable that surprising your manager with a pay rise meeting out of the blue will result in a knee jerk negative reaction, whereas ample warning (asking to have a meeting in, say, a week, about a potential pay rise) could give them time to reflect and appraise your performance. 

Ultimately, you’ll know who you work with infinitely better than any online guide. The information you can glean from articles is absolutely priceless, but needs to be picked and used with reference to your exact situation. As with everything, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to achieving a pay rise, however the information in articles like these will help you develop your own personalised approach.

4. Plan what you’ll say and how you’ll say it

Pursuant to the advice on preparation, there are ways you can structure your argument, and elements that are beneficial to include to get the result you want. Enter the meeting with confidence and specificity – you want to illustrate that you’ve done your research and that you know how much you’re worth. It isn’t necessarily a bad idea high ball a little (still staying within your appropriate pay band of course) so that you can be knocked down and still be happy, but be realistic – your boss will be more impressed at you knowing the market and your worth than you exaggerating your expectations.

While you need to display confidence, don’t be arrogant – show your gratitude and enthusiasm for staying with the company. Asking for a raise can be a way of showing how you plan to add to the company in the long run, a chance to show commitment. Make the point that as you help your department achieve growth, that growth should be reciprocated. 

If you’re stumped on what to say, there are scripts available online – it’s perhaps not the best idea to use one verbatim, but they can offer a very good structure on which you can base your own.

5. Be open to alternatives

If you’re earning ‘enough’ to live on and your boss can’t offer you money, they may be willing to offer other alternative incentives. While in some situations – having a dependant to look after for example – a pay rise may be necessary for you to afford your lifestyle, other options such as company funded training or other work-related benefits. 

These could include a company vehicle, health benefits such as gym membership or a comprehensive health insurance plan, increased work-life balance perks such as increased holiday or work from home options, the list goes on.

The important thing to note is that money isn’t the only thing your job can offer you. Training, for example, can further your career far more significantly in the long run than even a 10% pay increase, and will open the doors to further pay rises and promotions. 

Any qualifications you earn may very well increase your appropriate pay bracket and increase your employability to other firms, and if you can get your work to fund that training, it’s a win-win situation.

6. Be realistic

Before you properly entertain the idea of asking for a pay rise, self-evaluate. Are you indispensable to the company? Are you performing better than your colleagues? How well do you manage your responsibilities? Is the company you work for doing well, or in a time of financial turmoil? All of these are important questions you should be asking yourself, and the first three have answers which are in your control. You’re dispensable? Make yourself indispensable; take on additional roles, additional responsibilities, all while working to a standard above that of your colleagues.

Pay rises are to be expected, of course, in line with inflation. To receive no pay rise is in real terms to slowly be paid less and less, as the cost-of-living steadily increases. But to receive a significant pay rise, you need to have earned it – you shouldn’t consider a pay increase to be an inalienable right. By asking yourself these questions, you can make yourself worthy of a pay rise, thus making it harder for your employer to say no. 

If you’re contributing more to the company, it’s likely they’ll be more inclined to increase your pay.

7. Lay out your goals

The conversation, no matter whether you achieve a pay rise or not, can be a productive one. A conversation about a pay rise is a conversation about your future at the company, which should be determined by both yourself and by your boss. Make sure you clearly lay out what you want to achieve, and ask your boss where she wants you to be in a years’ time. 

Ask them for feedback on things that you’re doing well and things that you can improve on – based on that feedback, you’ll be able to ask for a pay rise far more confidently next time around having met your new goals.

Keeping track of your goals and targets is also excellent long-term preparation for the conversation. People like to see progress in numbers, data is far easier to pin down than simply saying you’ve ‘taken on more work this quarter’. 

In the back of your mind, you should always be tracking your career development, making sure it doesn’t become stagnant. If you find that you are plateauing, then perhaps a training course is a better thing to ask for than a pay rise; this will prep you for a salary increase at a later date. 

8. Share your successes

An approach that a lot of people will take is recording their successes and saving them up, then dumping them on their boss when they ask for a pay rise. This approach is far less effective than the alternative – sharing every significant success you have as they happen, with your colleagues and bosses. 

This will change their mentality towards you, prepping your superiors psychologically for rewarding you with a pay rise when you finally ask for it. This has to be done with care – don’t become the office boaster, this will not endear you with anyone. Rather, proactively communicate your little and big wins as they happen.

Success can take many forms – did you gain a new customer? Save an old but valuable one? Did you increase revenue? Increase profits through cutting costs? These are just a few examples of many; realise when you’ve done something well, no matter how big, and share it. Don’t wait for someone to ask you what you’ve done well, legitimise your self-worth proactively as you go along. 

9. Go for a promotion

Given the current economic climate, with public and private sectors having essentially frozen real term pay rises, an effective way to achieve a pay rise is to seek a promotion. This will require even more evidence of success than a pay rise. You need to demonstrate that you are taking on the types of tasks and a similar, or even greater workload than the role you’re aiming for. 

You must also demonstrate that in stretching yourself that far, your quality of work is not compromised. Quite the reverse should be true – demonstrate that your projects are run smoothly and efficiently, achieving greater results than your colleagues while using less resources. 

Collect and share positive feedback from customers, colleagues and superiors to demonstrate this, again toeing the fine line between boasting and illustrating your true worth to the company. Ultimately, if a role needs filling and you are able to step up to the task, it is far simpler for your boss to promote you than it is for them to hire an outsider. 

You can get on with the job at hand with minimal training, already being an active member at the company. Tell your employer this – make them realise how you can make their recruitment process simpler.

10. Deserve not need

Often, employees will approach their superiors and attempt to legitimise a pay rise by saying that they need one. Saying that your cost of living is increasing – that you have a new pet, want a new car, or really need to eat out more – is not a good way of arguing for a raise. Frankly, from your boss’s point of view, your expenditure is your problem, not your employers. At best it can be ineffective, worst it can sound needy and immature.

Instead, show why you deserve a pay rise. Using all of the tips listed above – celebrating your achievements, meeting your goals, taking on an increased workload – lay out an argument that shows why you have earned your pay rise, an argument that shows you are worth more to the company than you are currently being paid. This line of reasoning is far more likely to be effective than simply saying you want more money. We all want more money, however only some of us have earned it. Show your boss why, and they’ll have to accede. 

How often should I expect a salary increase?

Most jobs (90%, according to a study by Mercer) provide pay increases annually, often in January to coincide with the start of the financial year; 6 months is also not an uncommon increment, especially for companies aiming to achieve high employee retention rates in competitive markets. This can give another indication as to when may be an appropriate time to ask for a pay rise; if you’ve been with your employer for a year, it could be an appropriate time to broach the subject.

Pay rise inequality sadly exists within the gender pay gap as well. Women who are equally as qualified as their male counterparts, carrying out the same role, are paid between 10-20% less. 

With regards to asking for a salary increase, a study by the Harvard Business Review found that while women ask for one just as often as men do, their request is accepted 15% of the time, while men have their requests accepted 20% of the time. 

Estimates for how long it will take for the gender pay gap to close vary; the World Economic Forum in 2018 estimated 202 years, however the Coronavirus pandemic may very well have affected this timeline.

With start-ups achieving rapid rates of growth, it may be appropriate to ask for a raise sooner, or later; the timelines are far more fluid than with established companies. 

Many start-ups will offer comparatively meagre pay packages compared to more established companies, but rather base their attraction to candidates on the opportunity for rapid growth. This can be exciting, and if you end up in the right start-up, may lead to reaping incredibly high rewards. 

Make sure that your contract is favourable, and if you have a lot of faith in the future of the company, try to get an options package; this may result in a lower initial pay, but for a company that could someday be worth hundreds of times more than its value at the time you start working there, it’ll be worth it.

The public sector, as a result of austerity, has seen a long period of real-terms pay cuts. For the first time in years however, 2020 saw 900,000 public sector workers receive above inflation pay rises; schoolteachers saw the largest at 3.1%, with doctors and dentists receiving a raise of 2.8%. 

This was said by HM treasury to be in response to the ‘enormous effort’ made by public sector workers in managing the pandemic. 

The private sector was hit hard by the pandemic; it saw the lowest rate of pay increases since 2010, a staggeringly low 1%, less than half of 2019s 2.5% average. Now is generally not a good time to ask for a pay rise; a lot of firms are being propped up by the furlough scheme, which has been extended to September 2021 to try to avoid a flood of redundancies. 

Unfortunately, it is likely that the event has been delayed rather than avoided, but only time will see how industries recover post lockdown. 

Photo by Benjamin Dada on Unsplash