The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in several unprecedented shifts in the way businesses operate. Working from home, changes in socialization, and compensation have been and continue to be significant concerns.
Facebook, for example, announced in spring 2020 that pay cuts would occur depending on the remote worker’s location starting on January 1, 2021, and other Silicon Valley companies have since followed suit.
With companies large and small cutting costs—including pay—in the fallout of the pandemic, and over one-third estimated to have trimmed their salary increase budgets for 2021, is it the right time for workers to ask for a raise?
Before proposing the question, there are several factors to consider.
Can (or Should) You Ask for a Raise?
You should look at your overall performance to date and ask yourself if you would give yourself a raise. You could hinder your chances of a pay increase if you are requesting one without understanding where you stand:
- If you’re underperforming, you may want to consider how you can raise your performance level. Gain clarity about the expected goal and work with your boss to improve performance.
- If you’re unclear about how you add value to the company, then asking for a raise will be awkward. Your boss may not be straightforward either, and the conversation may work against you.
- Suppose you come across as unaware of the company’s COVID-19 challenges and any instability it has experienced since the beginning of the pandemic. In that case, your boss may think you don’t care as much about the company or its employees. You don’t want to come across poorly at this point by asking for a raise.
When You Should Ask For A Raise
Although many businesses enacted layoffs and budget cuts as a result of the pandemic, others have thrived. It would be helpful for you to do some market research and network with those in your industry regarding growing trends. In addition, ask those in your network about salary adjustments.
Employees from competitive companies can offer insight to help you gauge whether you can make a case if industry peers are receiving more money than you currently do. Conversations with industry peers can help you understand the state of the industry at large, and doing so can help you decide the timeliness of asking for a raise.
In an email interview with The Balance, Kwame Christian, an expert in negotiation and conflict resolution, and founder/director of the American Negotiation Institute (ANI), said that there are certain situations in which asking for a raise can be appropriate:
- A growth period: If you work in a growing industry and you see your company increase hiring and/or your responsibilities, now would be a good time to ask for a raise. But don’t forget that window could close if you allow too much time to pass.
- Good performance review: Christian said that another ideal time to capitalize is when you receive a good performance review, and your boss is showing you appreciation and commending your work. This situation provides an opportunity to ask, “What’s your vision for me in the future of this company? Where do you see me going?” These questions can hopefully, in turn, open the door to a more in-depth conversation in the moment.
- Positive financial health: When good financial news is announced by managers, in company newsletters and annual reports, or even by the media, the timing could be auspicious and bring the desired result if you’re asking for a raise while these announcements are being celebrated.
When You Shouldn’t Ask for a Raise
If it seems like your company isn’t growing, or the industry is lagging, or if there are non-verbal signs where senior management is quiet about how the company’s performing financially, consider it untimely to ask for a raise. Here are some other circumstances in which the timing may not be right:
- A hiring freeze: Your company initiates a hiring freeze due to business slowing down or has to pivot operations during a pandemic in an effort to conserve staff.
- Staff cuts: Your company announces layoffs and furloughs due to the pandemic.
- A negative review: Christian warned that a negative performance review can hurt your case in asking for a raise. You should refocus your efforts to improve your performance. Also, keep qualitative and/or quantitative proof of your achievements before discussing a potential salary increase.
How to Appropriately Ask for a Raise
There isn’t any scenario in which demanding a raise is appropriate, but a request can be successful depending on your approach. As stated, timing is of the essence, awareness of the goings-on within your work environment is key, and leveraging positive feedback on your performance can be crucial.
Keep in mind that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced uncertainty on businesses and how they will operate now and in the future. Even if your company is thriving now, it may be concerned about how it conducts business in the weeks and months ahead.
What to Do If Your Request Is Declined
As your company continues navigating COVID-19, it’s possible that a “no” to your request could actually mean “not yet.” So, don’t get too down on yourself thinking that your opportunity has passed.
If you feel the rejection was performance-related, be strategic about forging your path to getting a raise.
Work with your supervisor to pinpoint where you fell short. Then, collaborate with them on a list of performance expectations. Next, create a game plan for meeting or exceeding them. Finally, set a timeframe for when it’s appropriate to revisit the raise conversation.
How to Showcase Your Worth
Being denied a raise provides an opportunity to plan and demonstrate value to your employer. Along with your supervisor, set benchmarks to identify what would be considered if you were to be awarded a raise. In an email interview with The Balance, career expert Damian Birkel, the CEO and founder of nonprofit organization Professionals in Transition, said that you can also use formal documentation to make a case for a raise, including:
- An overview: This document allows you to “reframe” your performance so that your boss can see how effective you have been as an employee, both pre-pandemic and during COVID-19. This sets the stage for the “Current situation” report.
- Current situation report: This document provides a review of your performance metrics related to specific goals and how you have been able to pivot to meet the needs of your boss and business.
- Additional accomplishments: This document lists any other measurable benefits you’ve provided, covering areas such as productivity and efficiency.
- Next steps plan: This should serve as a guide for when you’re ready to “pitch” your boss for a raise.
Consider Negotiating Other Perks
A pay raise is not the only negotiable benefit you should strive for, especially during a time of health and financial crisis. Remote work, for one, has become the norm during the pandemic. In the process, it has saved people time and money normally reserved for travel and other expenses. Working from home, even part-time, will likely continue to be standard for many businesses. Having work flexibility—and the financial benefits and improved work-life balance it could potentially provide—should be a negotiation priority.
According to Christian, it can also be valuable to negotiate other non-monetary intangibles, such as having access to people in leadership. He recalled that with one company he worked for, he negotiated to have a mentorship program with the CEO of the company. Christian said, “If I knew if I was close to her, that puts me in a better position to excel and move forward throughout the company.”
Another intangible, the expert noted, is negotiating for information, which could lead to a raise in the future. Christian suggested that you can create an if/then proposition by saying to your boss, “If you see these specific metrics, then would you be comfortable giving me a raise?”
The Bottom Line
Your approach and timing in asking for a raise could either build a bridge to the future or damage the relationship between you and your boss. The communication bridge will create more opportunities for dialogue and value moving forward. However, a demanding demeanor states an unwillingness to collaborate and can stifle current and future opportunities.
If you’ve been turned down for a raise, either due to bad timing, your company’s financial hardships caused by the pandemic, or because of your performance, it’s best to use the rejection as a way to build a stronger relationship with your boss and business. And be patient. Getting denied even when you’ve done everything right may simply mean, “not now.”
By maintaining an optimistic outlook and continued enthusiasm for performing despite the circumstances, you can make positive impressions on your company’s decision-makers and reach your goal when the time actually is right.