Asking for a raise: Risky business?

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By Victor Encinas

This might seem to be the worst time to ask for a raise. Most people I meet are grateful just to hang onto jobs, even menial ones they dislike, in the current atmosphere of economic doom and gloom.

Many employees have undergone severe increases in workload or major decreases in hours and/or pay to compensate for the layoffs and hiring freezes. Others have been forced to go from full- to half-time and look for secondary work to cover basic bills and necessities.

However, the layoffs and pay freezes that proliferated in the spring are easing at many companies, which begs the question: when is it too soon to ask for a raise?

It’s never too soon, if you do your homework. You should always go into such a meeting with your superior prepared, but even more so in the current economy. Here are some tips to consider:

Know your company: Your homework should first tell you if the timing isn’t right for your company. Are they still laying off employees? Too soon. Your name might be on that list, and your request might be construed as discontent, a sign you might be moving on.

At best, it would be seen as poor taste; at worst, as a sign of ignorance and an indicator that you have no clue what’s really happening at your work. If the company is public, your search could be as simple as the last quarterly report; if private, your job is trickier, and may depend more on the unpredictable company rumor line.

Know your position: Do you know what you would be paid at a similar position elsewhere? You might already be at the top of your salary range. Be aware of your company’s standing in your local market – if your city is flush with hungry construction workers, don’t give up your job as construction foreman, and wait to ask for a raise till you know your firm is hiring again, so you have a little more leverage.

If you are overdue for a raise but know your company is far from flush with cash, a good alternative in some cases is to ask for improved benefits. Companies are often willing to consider improved hours, telecommuting options, better healthcare benefits, or other non-monetary forms of corporate compensation that may be just as valuable to you as cold, hard cash.

Know yourself: Your company aside, take a look closer to home. How has your performance been in recent months? Will your request give your superiors a reason to examine unsteady performance, or have you continued going “above and beyond?”

Don’t depend on memory, collect data. If at all possible, show concrete reasons why keeping you is saving the company money. Have you taken on extra responsibilities? List them. Have you been working a lot of unpaid overtime? Count it. Be your own informed advocate.

Know your timing: How does your boss like to be approached? This is a time to break out the kid gloves. You don’t want to tackle a busy, stressed out superior right before lunch on Monday, for instance.

You also don’t want to come across too heavy-handed at a time that they have 20 resumes on their desk. Pick your time carefully, choose your words wisely, bring the appropriate data to help your case, and then – and only then – just do it.

Know your options: This is a critical time to examine this: do you have a job, a career, or a vocation? Are you just providing income (job)? Pursuing the same line of work for years (career)? Or is your position one that you consider fitting your life-calling (vocation)?

If you are seeking a raise out of discontent, then perhaps a raise is not the solution you need. Maybe a paradigm shift in the way you approach your work life and direction is preventing you from greater earnings. After examining your wealth of skills, abilities, strengths, and experience, you may realize it is time you took those into the free market as a consultant or entrepreneur.

Don’t waste more years slugging away in a j-o-b. Don’t cheat yourself and the rest of the world from meeting the amazing person that appears when you start doing what you were designed to do in this life. And give yourself a raise.

Victor Encinas is a Phoenix-based career coach. Visit

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