How to request a pay rise


It’s a brave employee who bursts into their boss’ office and demands a salary rise right there on the spot. The outcome is both inevitable and universal: no one ever gets a pay increase this way. Guts and determination are an explosive cocktail that, whilst admirable, can lead to disastrous consequences if left to rule the mind. What’s required is a more strategic, calmer approach, where employees are prepared to play the long-game to get the rise they feel they deserve.

To accomplish this ‘softer’ approach to requesting a pay rise, employees should consider how to prime their boss with reasons and stories that justify the increase. Respect both the influence of context on a given situation and your ability to curate the right context. If you are too blinkered in your approach, focusing only on the rise and the injustices of someone paying you so little, it is unlikely you will have developed the sort of sophisticated argument that moves another person – namely your boss – to act on your behalf. People typically only focus on the request itself and – for the lucky ones – the subsequent negotiations, believing that they can convince their boss to change their mind and give in to the demand. They put all their effort into the reasons, playing out the negotiations a thousand times in their head, that they can’t imagine the boss will ever say no. To a few, this approach might be successful: they might have the social skills and a level of conviction that can’t be argued with. Yet this doesn’t apply to everyone. Most people should not only plan the negotiation but also plan to groundwork leading up to the negotiation.

Another common mistake made by the employee is to over-promise on delivery on the condition that the pay rise is awarded, such as ‘if you pay me x, I promise to increase your revenue by 5%.’ Not only does this inadvertently introduce the risk element in the discussion but it also leads to the question: why aren’t you doing this already? Leading the boss to assume that you are holding things back from your performance and therefore cannot be fully trusted. Over promising is a flawed negotiation tool.

The more you focus on money and injustice, the greater your tunnel vision. Rather you would be better served taking stock of your current role, responsibility and output and thinking about how you add value to the business through a range of contributions.

Don’t lead with money; lead with job development and how you can add additional benefit to the business if your role was expanded or if your skills were repositioned in the business. Speak with your boss about your vision and plans, explaining not only how it will increase revenue or save costs, but also how it will work operationally, and the impact on colleagues. Try to minimise overall disruption.

Yet don’t be too intellectual about it all. Indeed come up with detailed plans and ways of making change happen, but understand that you will struggle to convince if you remain on an intellectual footing. Don’t underestimate the impact of emotional influence that you could tap into when creating the narrative for change and the benefits that it will deliver. Inspire you boss to give you that pay raise.

Listen to your boss and colleagues when they talk about business development and ambitions. More importantly, show that you have listened by assimilating your own plans with your bosses ambitions. There is no point coming up with a grand plan to restructure your role if it lacks coherency with the business’ own plan for growth. It has to make sense and you have to show yourself as a team player. Research has shown that people are six times more likely to get what they want if they are likeable. Use this to your advantage and appear likeable, which might mean tempering your passions and ambitions and listening a little more. If you are too rigid or think that appearing tough will get you what you want, like a pay rise, think again.

Similarly, when it comes to discussions and negotiations, don’t ever try to put your boss on the backfoot, such a threatening to quit if you don’t get your own way or suggesting that you have an attractive offer of employment from a competitor. Your boss hasn’t got into the lead position by always being a nice guy or pushover. They know how to navigate a negotiation and making them feel threatened will only backfire on you. Even if they don’t suggest you take up the rival offer, they will probably harbour resentment for some time after the discussion. Rather than taking a step forward, you’ve actually taken two back. Maintaining good relationships is critical for success.

Ultimately, don’t give in, even if you don’t get your pay rise. That doesn’t mean rally and cry about the injustice to colleagues, but rather try to show your boss they misjudged you and your plans. Demonstrating endurance and resolve could eventually win them over, and it does your reputation no harm.

If any of the issues raised in this article affect your business, please give us a call to discuss your options. We are happy to advise and find a solution that works for you and your business: 0800 912 7152