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How to Talk to Your Manager About Fair Pay and Earning What You Deserve

HerMoney Staff  |  May 20, 2022

Employees are in the driver’s seat but asking for a raise can still cause anxiety. Here’s how to overcome that and get the pay hike you deserve.

Asking for a raise can be anxiety-inducing, even in the best of times — including today’s environment when more employees than ever are in the driver’s seat. According to the 2022 Compensation Best Practices Report from Payscale, 50% of companies say they are adjusting their pay strategy or structures for this year, and 92% of organizations are giving base pay increases in 2022. (Plus, 66% of organizations say they have a pay equity analysis planned for 2022—a 20% increase over last year.) 

But even if you know you deserve a pay raise, asking if you can have one can still conjure up feelings of dread. After all, what if your ask is greeted with a hard no? 

Those feelings are understandable, but not insurmountable. Gaining the confidence to ask for what you deserve is made easier if you understand the why and how of compensation at your company. “Generally, companies don’t set pay by putting their finger in their air. There’s normally a methodology behind it,” says Ruth Thomas, Pay Equity Strategist at Payscale. “As an employee you want to understand how your company pays people, and why it pays people that way.”

Without pay transparency, you won’t know for certain if your request is possible, and it may make honest conversations about your worth more difficult. In general, a lack of pay transparency can create friction which could lead to high turnover within an organization.    

Companies Slowly Embracing Pay Transparency 

Most companies today are still reluctant to share pay data. According to Payscale’s 2022 Compensation Best Practices Report, only 40% of organizations give employees a total rewards statement. That means when you ask for a raise, it’s going to be more difficult to determine where you fall in your employer’s payment range given your experience and years with the company.  

If this sounds familiar, it’s up to you to do salary research before broaching the subject of deserving a pay raise. That’s where online research comes in. “So many places aggregate data based on years of experience, job title, and where you’re located and give you benchmark ranges,” says Octavia Goredema, author of PREP, PUSH, PIVOT. “Some companies pay at the top of the market, right in the middle of the market or at the bottom of the market. Lots of other factors come into play. It’s smart to analyze as much salary data as you can.” 

If possible, talk to people in your industry who are at your level, and who are more senior than you (who may be making salary decisions themselves) to get a sense of the going rate for your role and level of experience. In addition to checking The Payscale Salary Survey and receiving your personalized salary report, you can also look to recruitment agencies and professional associations that can  provide salary information you can use in your research. “It varies based on the size of the company and where you’re located. Online tools cut and dice that data,” says Goredema.

Don’t Blindside Your Manager 

Once you’ve gathered salary data for your job, region of the country, and level of experience, compile a list of your accomplishments and list the ways you’ve added value. This will come in handy when you make your pitch. When seeking a raise, you want the meeting to be successful for both of you, which is why giving your boss a heads up that you are interested in discussing pay is encouraged. Be clear in advance that you want to have a conversation about a promotion, pay raise, or change to your pay rate based on accomplishments or your added value. Even if it’s because you suspect or know that people in the same role are making more than you, try to give your manager a heads up so he or she can prepare. (Your manager will need to research salary data, potentially speak to HR, and make several other moves to ensure they’re ready for the conversation as well.) “You definitely want to set up your manager for success,” says Goredema.

During the meeting, ask your manager for details about how your pay is determined. Ask if there is a pay range for your position, and where you fall on the pay range and why. In other words, you want to understand the data your employer used when they gave you your salary, and what their pay structure is like. Ideally your manager will be able to offer clarity around your pay rate, based on your skills, experience, and performance. (Just keep in mind that they may not have an answer for you immediately; they may have to kick things back to HR for more clarity.)

If your supervisor is unable to explain your pay, then, show him or her the salary research you’ve compiled. Particularly if you are below where you think you should be, present evidence for why that is the case, and use data from all your salary research to support your position. “If you’re not paid in the right range, you need to understand why your employer is paying you the way they are,” says Thomas. 

Make sure you indicate what you think you could get on the open market, and that if the organization has to replace you, what they will pay to do that. This can be an effective tactic when the concern is budgetary. If the concern is that you haven’t built the skills you need, then the conversation turns to performance and how to grow into the pay you want. ““It’s important you know what is expected to progress your pay. You want your employer to give you specific, concrete ways to do that,” Thomas explains. 

If Your Boss Says No, Wait Before Reacting 

While you want your request to be successful, there’s no guarantee your manager will be supportive of your request for more money. One of three things can happen: your manager can say yes, they can be non-committal, or you get an outright no.

With that said, the most likely reaction you’ll get in the first meeting is that your manager will need to take your information back to HR and see what is possible. In a subsequent meeting, you’ll get your “official” answer. 

If the salary increase offered is less than you want, then it’s time for you to decide if you want to stay with the organization, or look for another opportunity elsewhere. If you choose to stay with the organization, this is a good time to discuss when your next opportunity for pay increase might arrive, and seriously evaluate if THAT number could get you to where you want to be. 

If you don’t get the answer you were hoping for, try to avoid overreacting or doing something you may regret, Goredema says. The best way to do that is to prepare responses to all possible scenarios, and look for ways to keep the dialogue open. “Get as much feedback as you can, ask what the next steps are, then take time to reflect on it,” she says. “A ‘no’ doesn’t mean an end to the conversation.”


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