What to Do If You’ve Been Passed Over for a Raise

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Have you been passed over for a raise? What can you do if you ask for a pay increase, but don’t get it? There are many reasons why your employer may not give you a raise, including performance-related concerns, the timing of your request, or the company's general financial health.

It's a challenging time for many companies, and compensation advisory firm Willis Towers Watson's 2020 North American Compensation Planning Pulse Survey found that 35% of employers have reduced their projected 2021 salary increase budgets.

About 16% of employees won’t receive a pay raise in 2021. For those companies providing raises, employee groups other than executives are projected to receive salary increases of 2.6% in 2021, while executives can expect a 2.5% increase.

How to Handle Being Passed Over for a Raise

It could be that your company is one of those with financial constraints, and nobody received an annual salary increase. That can happen, especially during challenging economic times, but what if you’re the only one who didn’t get a raise?

The National Labor Relations Act makes it unlawful for employers to prohibit you from discussing salary with other employees, but the company isn’t required to share salary information with you.

It’s hard to argue based on information you received unofficially, and you don’t want to get into a difficult discussion with your manager. That's why it's important to be careful how you approach being passed over for an increase.

Even if your coworkers got a raise—and you didn't—it's a better strategy to focus on yourself rather than other employees.

Try to determine why you didn’t get the raise, then work on what you can do to resolve the situation.

Reasons Why You Didn't Get a Raise

Here are some of the most common roadblocks that may have prevented you from getting a raise.

The Timing Isn't Right

When you ask for a raise, timing is important. Did you request a raise in June, when the general company policy is to make decisions at the end of the year? Maybe you asked too early in your tenure or made your request soon after the company had a recall, poor quarterly report, or other bad news.

That's not the only timing problem. While your manager's bad day shouldn't affect your raise, a meeting scheduled on a stressful day could be the reason your request was turned down.

Next Steps: Ask human resources or coworkers when raises are typically given out and time your meeting for a low-stress time of day and week.

Lack of Company Resources

Sometimes, the reason you didn’t get a raise isn't related to you at all. It's possible that your company doesn't have room in the budget to give you a raise.

Next Steps: How important is the raise to you? And does it seem as though the company finances will turn around? The answers to these questions will determine whether you stay put, or use this as a cue to begin a job search.

Your Performance Needs Improvement

Are you exceeding expectations, or only doing the work outlined in your job description? At many jobs, in order to get a raise, employees need to go above and beyond the basic requirements. If your work is competent, but not stellar, this may be why you didn't get a raise.

Next Steps: Talk to your manager about what they would like to see from you. Consider how to transform from an ordinary employee into an exceptional one. Keep a list of your accomplishments and any praise you receive, and highlight them the next time you request a raise.

Your Boss Doesn't Know About Your Accomplishments

On a day-to-day basis at work, do you mention your achievements? You should offer evidence for why you're deserving of a raise at the moment when you make the request, but also lay the groundwork in advance.

While it's good to be self-promoting, be cautious about excessive self-promotion, or stealing the spotlight from deserving coworkers, which can work against your request.

Next Steps: In one-on-one meetings with your manager, and over email, highlight your accomplishments. Be careful not to overdo it—you don’t want to be too modest or overly boastful.

You Ask for Personal Reasons

For most companies, salary is an unemotional calculation, based on the employee's qualifications, geographic considerations, and competition. If you asked for a raise citing factors in your personal life—increased rent, family-related concerns, etc.—instead of professional reasons, your manager might feel sympathetic. But that doesn't mean you've presented a valid argument for a higher salary.

The same logic applies to requests based on a coworker's salary.

Next Steps: Frame your raise request around the value you provide to the company. Rather than detailing your own expenses and needs, point to ways you've saved money or added to the company's revenue.

You're a Difficult Employee

This sounds harsh, but if you're a challenge to work with, a downer in meetings, or a frequent complainer, you may be a problem for your manager, making him or her unwilling to make the case to superiors that you deserve a raise.

Next Steps: Evaluate your attitude. How do you present yourself in meetings and on everyday occasions around the office? Consider whether your complaints and critiques may be overshadowing your good work.

Employers Fear a Wave of Requests

Many companies can be hesitant to give out raises, since granting one request could lead to others.

Next Steps: This puts you in a tough position. You can mention that you'll be discrete about your raise, and also make the point that your increase should be evaluated on its own merits. However, if this is the response you get, it may be a sign that it's a good time to kick off a job search.

Your Salary Is Already Market Rate

If you didn't do research on the typical salary range for your position before requesting a raise, your manager could decline the request, reasoning that you're already getting the amount you deserve.

Next Steps:
Do some salary research at sites such as Glassdoor, PayScale, or Salary.com, and take a look at the data on average pay raises, so you know what you can expect.

You Didn't Ask for a Raise

While it's certainly possible that a raise will appear in your paycheck before you request it, that's not often going to be the case. PayScale’s Raise Anatomy Survey reports that only 30% of employees received a raise before they asked for it, that only 37% of employees have asked for a raise, but 70% of those who asked for a pay increase got it.

If you believe that you are deserving of a raise, ask for it.

Next Steps: Learn how to request a pay raise, and schedule some time with your manager.

What Not to Do When You Don’t Get a Raise

When you don’t get the salary increase you expected, don’t panic, try not to take it personally, take a deep breath, and consider your strategy for moving forward.

  • Don’t Quit. Unless you have another secure job offer waiting for you, it's probably wise to avoid quitting in a huff. (In fact, think carefully before resigning dramatically even if you do have an offer.)
  • Don’t Make It Personal. Don't get personal or insulting in your response. Sometimes, managers or companies are under financial constraints. State your concerns about the decision professionally.
  • Don’t Slack Off. Don't change your day-to-day work habits in the weeks and months following your raise request being turned down. Being frustrated by the decision doesn't negate your responsibilities to the job, and you don’t want to lose your position because you’re unhappy. It’s better to leave on your own terms.
  • Don’t Be Negative. Gossiping with coworkers, slowing down work, or having a bad attitude will not endear you to colleagues or managers, and could make it even harder for you to get a salary increase in the future.

What You Should Do When You’ve Been Passed Over

  • Evaluate Your Request: It's not easy to ask for a raise—even if you put in solid prep work. It’s possible that you could have timed your request better or phrased it more effectively. Consider how you made the request, and remember that some of the common reasons companies decline raise requests may be totally unrelated to your performance.
  • Use the Feedback: Treat the feedback you received from your manager or human resources department about why your raise request was declined as a blueprint for your next steps. If you did not receive helpful feedback, schedule a time to meet again.
  • Gather Information: Ask direct questions about what types of benchmark you'd need to meet to get a raise. You can also request a timeline or schedule a follow-up meeting. Ask questions non-confrontationally. Your objective here is to get practical information about why you did not get a raise and where you need to improve. 
  • Consider Your Next Goal: As you evaluate the feedback and information you received, consider what next steps you'd like to take. If you feel that you will not receive a raise but deserve one, starting a search for a new job might be your next step. Or, you might want to establish a timeline for when to ask for a raise again.
  • Switch Strategies and Seek Non-Salary Benefits: A raise isn't the only way to get ahead at work. You could also request a bonus in lieu of a raise, or additional vacation days, for example. Or, consider non-financial benefits, such as being able to work from home a day a week, a flexible schedule, or reimbursement for work-related classes or training.

Key Takeaways

It May Not Be About You. There are many reasons companies don’t approve raises, and your request may have nothing to do with your skills and job performance.

Research Before You Ask. Prior to asking for a raise, take the time to learn about company policies regarding salary, and research salaries for someone in your role to learn what you can expect.

Keep it Professional. Even if you’re upset that your request was declined, be sure to be professional (and calm) in all your conversations with your manager.

Article Sources

  1. Willis Towers Watson. "One in Three U.S. Employers Trim Projected Pay Raises for 2021, Willis Towers Watson Survey Finds." Accessed Oct. 29, 2020.

  2. The National Labor Relations Board. "Employee Rights." Accessed Oct. 29, 2020.

  3. PayScale. "How to Ask for a Raise and Get it." Accessed Oct. 29, 2020.