Is 2013 the year to ask for a raise?

Over at LinkedIn, Citi’s Women & Co Connect discussion group recently faced a question: what’s your career resolution for 2013? Of the 5 available options, the most commonly chosen (at the time I looked) was “Find a new job” (36%). The runner-up was “Learn new career skills” (29%) and then “Build my network” (25%). Only 2% of respondents resolved to ask for a raise.

I find it interesting that the number is that low. One of the reasons people look for a new job is to make more money, and one reason to learn new career skills is to boost your earning potential. Building your network can help bring in more work (and more money). So why is asking for more money directly so unpopular?

Partly because the economy is rough, and many people feel lucky to have a job (or multiple steady gigs). But also because it’s awkward. While our society is obsessed with money, there’s not much transparency about it. Unless you work for an organization with a salary scale, figuring out what people in similar positions earn involves a lot of intelligence gathering. We have lots of taboos about talking about money, but this serves to keep people in the dark. And when people are in the dark, we tend to revert to cultural assumptions. As I wrote in my post The Princess Problem, women in particular seem prone to believe that the company will choose what to pay us, and this is what we are worth. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to have a certain number they’d like to earn, and then view it as their responsibility to get an organization to pay that over time.

So what to do? I’m a big fan of professional networks in this case. I belong to the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and one of their services is regular paycheck reports that share what different publications pay. This can help in negotiations.

You can also be always a little bit on the market (or in the case of freelancers, be willing to say no). Nothing induces an employer to cough up a raise like the possibility of seeing a valued employee walk out the door.

There are also parallels to discussing other taboo subjects. Sexuality educators tell parents not to focus on one big Talk with their children about the birds and the bees, because this can be overwhelming and awkward. Instead, you work the subject into regular conversations so that it’s on the table. Likewise, any performance review can feature a conversation of what you need to do to earn a raise by your next performance review. Regular check-ins with a supervisor can focus on questions like “how can I best add value to this department? What do you see as most important?” This lays the groundwork for focusing on these things and then being able to show, directly, how you’ve brought in more revenue or saved your organization cash.

Have you ever asked for a raise?

In other news:

I had a column in yesterday’s USA Today called “New Virtual, Flex Workforce Stands Ready.” The gist is that labor force participation has been falling, but the line between workers and non-workers is less stark than it seems, and some people not currently in the workforce would be willing to work under other conditions (like telecommuting).

I enjoyed a post over at Strangers in Slippers on receiving an engagement MacBook Air — a much more useful engagement gift than a ring, if you think about it. (Hat tip to Jamie of Light and Momentary).

Cali Williams Yost’s new book, Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day, is on sale this week. It looks at how to make small changes (getting more exercise, building your career capital) in order to make work and life work better together.



11 thoughts on “Is 2013 the year to ask for a raise?

  1. I’ve used as a basis for salary comparison so I would have some data to back up a raise request. I negotiated my hiring salary and also asked for a raise once. In the first case, I got an increase upon hiring. In the second, I wasn’t given the raise but I did get a bonus for doing a project, something I wouldn’t have gotten if I had not asked. Oh, just remembered I did ask for a raise another time and got it, but it was simply to match the salary of someone who had the same position as I did and was getting quite a bit more. So my advice is definitely “asking doesn’t hurt” especially if you can justify with comparable salaries AND your value to the company.

  2. I really enjoyed your column on the virtual work force. I don’t think economists have a good handle on how to measure “work force participation” in the new economy. I view myself as “non-working” because I only work (and have demand for) 8-10 hours/week at the wages I’m willing to work for. But I pay taxes and would count as part of the labor force.

    1. @Taia- thanks! I think this is a subject that deserves a lot more unpacking than I could in what got cut down to about 700 words. It gets at the whole lump of labor fallacy, and the idea that people work or don’t, and there is no gray area in between. Sure, some 65-year-olds have no interest in doing anything work-related ever again. But if there were easily available jobs that paid north of $25/hour that you could do part-time and virtually? I think you’d see a lot more people interested in working. So that is a different question. Military spouses in particular are a huge opportunity. These are productive, educated people who often really want to work – there’s just no good way to do so.

      1. Exactly! The Fortune 100 companies I’m familiar with look at headcount, not full-time equivalents, and simply will not hire people for part-time work. This particularly hurts women.

        1. Oh, I hear you. I work part time at a large company and am constantly needing to “fight for” the arrangement. But with so many people willing to work the standard 45+ plus hour week in the office, there isn’t a lot of incentive for companies to hire someone part-time unless they know you’re awesome and have a specific skill set.

  3. I think one of the reasons it is hard to find good part time work is that it makes project (and program) management harder. We use a fair number of part time contractors at my job, and it is my job to project manage them. Simple things like scheduling project meetings are harder, and figuring out how to staff a project is harder. But our contractors are awesome and many of them just aren’t available full time, either due to other paying jobs or because they want more time at home with their kids, and so overall, the arrangement works well. However, there are a lot of bad project managers out there, and maybe they can’t make it work- and so companies “learn” that part time workers don’t work out.
    I’ve never asked for a raise, but I haven’t ever really felt I needed to do so. The only time in my career I felt underpaid, my boss gave me a raise before I asked for one. However, I’ve seen research that argues that even women like me are probably getting paid less than an equivalent man, and I suspect that is true. On the flip side, though, I’ve also seen studies that indicate that behaviors that are rewarded in men (like negotiating hard on salary at hire time) can actually come back and bite women… so I think it is a difficult calculation to figure out whether you are better of pushing for a raise or not.

    1. The challenge of meetings- especially those needed at short notice- and part-time work is a real challenge. Basically, the work part-time, a worker must still have full childcare coverage.

        1. You want/choose to have part-time workers. Most project managers will choose to select only from people available full-time and will only hire full-time employees.

          You are exceptional!

  4. I’ve never asked for a raise. For some reason it feels weird since we do performance reviews yearly and get an adjustment there. I don’t even know if there is a mechanism to do an out of cycle raise that isn’t tied to a promotion. Sigh – that’s not a good answer, is it?

    But right now I’m trading flexibility (part-time work) for $$/promotions so I don’t want to rock the boat too much. (Yes, I know, another bad answer.)

    I left my company a few years ago to work for a startup and when I came back, got a HUGE raise that I never would have gotten had I stayed there the whole time. There’s something wrong with that… (But maybe it’s because I did some negotiation for the return offer.)

    1. @ARC – leaving and coming back is often the secret to scoring a huge raise and promotion. I’ve heard stories of people leaving a department, going to another company for 2-3 years, then coming back as the supervisor of the old department. They never would have been promoted straight from the trenches, but there’s something magical about seeing the world, as it were. It used not to be this way – many major companies had general policies of promoting from within – but many things have changed in the world of work.

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