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Can You Still Ask For A Raise During A Pandemic?

Lindsay Tigar  |  August 11, 2020

Is it reasonable to broach the topic of a raise with your supervisor, in the middle of a global crisis? How to know if a pay bump might be in the cards.

There’s nothing about 2020 that has been predictable. As every industry — and nearly all countries — struggle to navigate a new normal, many professionals are doing the same. What is appropriate right now? Is vacation still a thing? What about a promotion? And what about salary adjustments? If you’ve worked at your company for many years, or if lately you’ve taken on additional responsibilities beyond your original job description, you may be aching for a raise. 

But, is it reasonable to even broach this topic in the middle of a pandemic?

Career experts say it’s always reasonable to expect to be compensated fairly for your performance — period. However, some key indicators could determine if your request will be approved or denied based on your past reviews and the current state of the business. Here’s a look at some of the biggest red flags and green lights that can let you know if it’s OK to ask for a raise during the pandemic, and what your prospects for a bump really are. 

Bad sign: Your company is on a hiring freeze

As we inch toward the seventh — yep, seventh! — month battling the spread of COVID-19, some companies have begun a slight rebound. Depending on how tremendous the impact was within your sector,  the fall may bring better sales or more numerous clients, and thus, more room in the budget to compensate employees. However, even if your company’s revenue is up, if they’re still on a hiring freeze, it’s unlikely they will add more zeroes to your paycheck, according to Christina Cruzvergara, career expert and the vice president of higher education and success at Handshake. Even if your diligence and dedication warrant a raise, your company may not financially be able to meet the ask right now. As difficult as it may be, Cruzvergara urges professionals not to take it personally. Instead, she recommends opening up the conversation about desiring a promotion and salary bump in the future, and setting quarterly check-in meetings with your boss, so you can make sure you’re on track. 

Good sign: Your company is in good financial health 

Some businesses have seen a boost to their bottom line since the pandemic began. Particularly, companies in the technology or digital communication industries may be having a ‘financially healthy’ year, says Cruzvergara. If this is the case for your employer, asking for a raise during COVID-19 isn’t out of the question, just make sure to do your homework before broaching the topic. “You might just be thinking about your job, but the people who run your company are thinking about the big picture of organizational health—that includes compensation and employee growth, but also long term financial stability,” she explains. And if they see you as part of their long-term vision, they should respond positively to your request. 

Bad sign: The company is still trying to rebound

Amanda Augustine, career expert for TopResume, says many businesses are in the “limbo” stage of the pandemic. They’ve started to see an improvement in their numbers, they have pivoted to respond to new needs and customer habits, and the numbers are inching toward the green. While this is certainly positive, just “doing okay” doesn’t pave the road for a salary increase for employees. She suggests digging into the data to determine if your employer is operating at full capacity, or if its revenue goals and other KPIs are still far below for the season. If this is the case, Augustine says it’s inappropriate to ask for more money. “Asking for a raise when the company is clearly still struggling to stay in business will only come off as tone-deaf,” she adds.

Good sign: You’ve received consistent recognition

The buzzword of 2020 has been “unprecedented,” and in any situation where no one has specific training on how to respond, there are always those who will crumble under pressure and those who will rise like a phoenix… If you’re in the latter category make sure you’re taking note of your recent achievements. And better yet: If you’ve been receiving consistent recognition from your boss, peers and skip-level managers, Cruzvergara says it could help to make your case in the raise debate. “If your work has been consistently acknowledged and your manager has openly discussed the prospect of you taking on more responsibility, then it’s appropriate to ask for an increase in pay,” she explains.

Bad sign: Your coworkers are still on furlough

To make ends meet and not shutter their doors, many businesses were forced to shut down operations, reduce headcount or employee pay, slash matching dollars for retirement accounts, or enact other cost-cutting measures. If some of your colleagues are still furloughed or if multiple open positions are going unfilled due to cost concerns, Augustine says it’s not a good time to request a raise. However, if you’re committed to your company and enjoy your gig, Augustine says it’s worthwhile to stick it out, over-perform, and then make a solid case when the clouds part. 

Good sign: Your company is opening new positions. 

Poke around your company’s career page. Are they posting opportunities? Did they announce the end of their hiring freeze? If so, Augustine says you have a green light to broach the subject of your next raise or promotion with your manager. Even if they can’t execute on the ask right away, you may have some wiggle room with other negotiations, like a title shift, additional paid time off, or a flexible work-from-home schedule that’s permanent. In a few months’ time, make sure you follow-up on any conversations surrounding a raise or promotion to ensure you’re always top of mind, Augustine urges. 

Bottom line

Repeat after Cruzvergara: It’s important to honestly assess your work and stand up for yourself in the workplace. The most important aspect of earning the raise you deserve is keeping a detailed track record of your achievements. Specifically, make note of how you may have adjusted to an increased scope of work and your ability to stay nimble during a crisis. You can also spend a few hours researching  what the “industry standard” may look like for your position. “Look at the current salary for your position as well as the outlined skills associated with the role — as it is today and how it might evolve,” she continues. “This will help you feel confident about making your request and also help your managers contextualize the contribution you make.”


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