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Want a raise? Here are the best ways to ask, according to experts

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When asking for a raise, it's tempting to acknowledge the elephant in the room - the surging cost of living brought on by inflation and interest rate hikes that have hammered household budgets.

But that's not what employers want to hear when discussing pay, said Alan Kearns, founder and managing partner of CareerJoy, a national HR services firm.

Employers might be expecting requests for raises due to all those issues, he added, “but it's also not the employer's responsibility.”

“There is a responsibility to pay fairly, but it's not their responsibility to maintain a relationship with the economy based on costs.”

After all, companies of all sizes may be facing the same headwinds, said Stacy Yanchuk Oleksy, CEO of Money Mentors, an Alberta-based non-profit credit counselling agency.

“Depending on the type of business, there are costs everywhere else that could be going up as well,” she said. “And that's when you want that person who - before they speak to their boss - goes in with an informed perspective. You know, if my business is declining, and we are having troubles covering off expenses, this is not the time to ask for a raise.”

But if the timing for the company is reasonable, asking for a pay bump is a legitimate career move. The key to the approach, Kearns said, is turning the meeting into a discussion about your performance.

“The two sides of any employment relationship is a business contract, right?” he said.

“You provide services, they pay you for the services - so the fundamental question you have to ask is: 'Am I providing value for service currently?' You can't just go in saying, `Because the cost of bananas has gone up, you need to pay me more.”'

This is a time to brag. Bring a list of some recent wins that have either brought in more money, saved money, or streamlined a process, Kearns said. Explain the value you brought to big projects or clients. Use the meeting as a “growth opportunity” for your role in the company and your career in general.

“You have an opportunity to sit down and talk about performance and what you've done and bring it to light,” Kearns said.

This conversation about your contributions is smarter and more strategic, he said.

Ideally, he added, you should be in the top 20th percentile of performers in the company if you're expecting a good outcome for this request.

And don't mention other staff members' pay, or recent raises if they've received them. While bosses should expect their employees to talk about money, Kearns said it's not a topic for this meeting.

Good employers should already give annual pay raises of around two or three per cent to keep up with inflation, Yanchuk Oleksy said.

Larger organizations in particular will likely have a certain time of year when budgets are determined so it's smart to request a raise close to this time.

If you're requesting a significant increase, say 10 per cent, you have to make a business case for it, she added.

“Have you proven your worth? Are you adding that 10 extra per cent of value to the organization?” Yanchuk Oleksy said. “When I'm asking for something, I don't want to go in looking desperate, I also don't want to go in looking entitled, either. I want to go in as a professional.”

To sweeten the deal, asking for a major raise can include offers to take on more responsibility or work, she added - effectively a promotion.

Financial reasons might keep an employer from granting a pay increase, but worthy workers might see other perks added to their compensation package, Yanchuk Oleksy said - time off or other benefits.

In general, if it's done right, there are few risks associated with asking for more money. Worst case scenario, the boss says no - and now you might have to decide if it's worth leaving for something better, she said.

If you are a high performer who just made a solid case for advancement, Kearns pointed out, you're well suited to test the market anyway.

But whether you stay or go, the exercise itself has been a valuable one. At the very least it's been an upgrade in your negotiating experience, Yanchuk Oleksy said.

“I think, you know, having a good conversation with a boss just builds skills, right?” she said.

“That's a great skill to have. And it's worth talking about yourself. I think it's always worth bringing that forward. Just act as a professional, if you're going to do it.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 20, 2024.

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