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How To Ask for a Raise in This Economy

By Sarah Treleaven

Published February 22, 2023 • 6 Min Read

With rising inflation and high interest rates, Canadians have been asked to stretch paycheques further and further. At some point – perhaps while eyeing your grocery receipt or the chunk of your budget earmarked for living expenses – you might have caught yourself thinking: “A raise would be nice.”

Wait, can you ask for a raise in times like these? Asking for more money at work might seem like a tough proposition with so much talk about a recession and high-profile layoffs, but many raise-seekers have more going for them than they think. Just ask Kathryn Meisner, a career and salary negotiation coach. She shared with us how, even in today’s economy, the only thing standing between a worker and extra cash flow could come down to simply knowing their worth. Read on for her tips for communicating your value, finding the upper hand in negotiations, and – when you’re feeling confident – popping the question.

Tout your accomplishments

Being good at your job is important – but what’s most important when it comes to negotiating a raise is that the people around you know that you’re good at your job. “It’s great that you know what you’re contributing, but you also need to tell other people about that,” says Meisner.

This is the kind of information that can be underscored in strategic meetings with managers – ideally, a weekly one-on-one. If that’s not happening, look for other opportunities to update your manager on what you’re working on, which skills you’re sharpening and your broader career aspirations.

Find the upper hand

Making the case for more money isn’t just about being good at your job; you should also consider the circumstances of your position. For example, scope creep – when a role’s responsibilities expand without a proportionate bump in pay – is common, and can quietly take place over the course of months or years before you realize it.

Recognizing such a scenario can give you leverage. “You should be paid for the work you’re doing,” says Meisner. Make a business case for why you deserve to be paid more for taking on additional responsibilities, she says. And this isn’t just an opportunity to ask for more money. If the scope creep is substantial – and you feel confident you can handle the additional work – try pitching a new title or even whole new role to match your raise.

Lay the groundwork for future raises

Maybe you don’t feel like you’re going above and beyond, but you’re still a crucial team player. In that case, Meisner suggests reframing your perspective. If you don’t feel like you can make a strong case for an increase in compensation right now, start investigating what you need to do to make the case down the road. Which benchmarks do you need to hit? Which relationships do you need to cultivate? And which skills will make you indispensable? “Make this your to-do list for the next six months,” says Meisner.

Make it part of your annual routine

Many workers save salary negotiation for major milestones, like securing a new job or being offered a promotion. But Meisner suggests that asking for more money should become an annual habit, ideally associated with positive performance reviews. “Even if you get a ‘no,’ that’s still useful because you are practicing your negotiation skills,” she says. “You’re practicing being assertive, you’re practicing communication skills, and you’re often making visible some achievements or responsibilities that your manager may not know about.”

Know your manager

“Figure out what works for the person you’re negotiating with,” says Meisner. “I had a client who had a manager who preferred a PowerPoint sent to her in advance of the conversation of all the achievements, and I have had clients who have had managers who just have like a face-to-face conversation.” She also recommends talking to a colleague who successfully negotiated a raise to get the inside scoop.

Do your salary research

Meisner recommends doing substantial advance work to sleuth out the pay for comparable positions within the company. That means internet research, asking others in the industry, or talking to friends or former colleagues. “Talking about money is very difficult,” says Meisner. “But once people start sharing, they open up, and it can really help you realize if you’re being underpaid.” It’s also your chance to find out if you’re getting competitive non-financial compensation. Meisner recommends that women ask male colleagues how much they’re paid.

Consider your bigger financial picture

Meeting with a financial advisor can provide the spark you need to ask for more money, says Meisner. Even if you can comfortably afford your monthly bills, “you might realize that your salary doesn’t actually help you meet your financial goals,” she says. “You really need to figure out what your goals are and what you need to do to get there.” Putting together a financial plan can help you clarify your short- and long-term goals, and also give you a good sense of where to allocate the money when that raise finally comes through.

Don’t sweat the timing

You might be tempted to consider all kinds of factors before you ask for more money — your personal performance, your company’s financial situation, the industry outlook — but Meisner cautions against getting too hung up on the idea that there’s a perfect time for a raise. “What I find with most people is that, if they wait for the right time, the right time never comes,” she says. Managers will likely be candid if now is not a good time.

Have a Plan B

Speaking of which, you’re not always going to get the answer you want. But Meisner says that getting a “no” on a request for additional compensation isn’t the end of the conversation. “Employers don’t want to say ‘no’ too often, because it’s assumed that if you reject someone’s compensation request more than once, they’re going to start looking somewhere else,” she says. “Consider it the first step in the process.” Meisner recommends asking for direct feedback and revisiting the conversation in six months.

After a few tries? “You have to ask if you want to stay,” says Meisner. As a start, there’s nothing wrong with meeting others in your field to feel out what positions or companies lie beyond your role. “I’ve had clients that have switched roles into their dream salary.”

Financial planning services and investment advice are provided by Royal Mutual Funds Inc. (RMFI). RMFI, RBC Global Asset Management Inc., Royal Bank of Canada, Royal Trust Corporation of Canada and The Royal Trust Company are separate corporate entities which are affiliated. RMFI is licensed as a financial services firm in the province of Quebec.

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.

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Career Planning & Development