How to ask for a pay rise

Asking for a pay rise can be intimidating. A 2019 survey by Reed Recruitment revealed that over half of UK employees feel there’s something in the way of them asking for a pay rise. Some people were afraid of looking greedy, or of being turned down, and 12% specifically said that they were ‘scared’ of asking. Given that talking about money is a topic that makes a lot of people uncomfortable already, it isn’t surprising that so many people struggle with the idea of not just talking about it, but asking for more of it.

Salary negotiation is particularly fraught for women. Research by Totaljobs in 2016 found that while 44% of men felt comfortable asking for a pay rise, only 25% of women did. This might sound gloomy, but fear shouldn’t stop you from asking for what you deserve, so we’ve put together a guide to help. From the best time to ask for a raise, to solid strategies for approaching the conversation, here’s your full guide to asking for a pay rise.

When should I ask for a pay rise?

Depending on where you work, there may be natural points to ask for an increase in your pay. For example, at performance reviews or designated points at which your company reviews salaries. If you know when your company makes decisions around pay adjustments, you can make any requests for a raise to your manager around the time when those calculations are being made. Even if your company doesn’t have a clear process for reviewing pay, there are some natural triggers for talking about your compensation.

If you take on significantly more responsibility for example, particularly on an ongoing basis, that would be a good opportunity. Such as if somebody in your team left and wasn’t replaced, and you took on a lot of their workload in addition to your own. A significant, long-term increase in your responsibility or workload warrants taking another look at your pay.

If you find out you’re underpaid according to market rate*, or within the pay structure of your company, that’s another reason to ask for a raise. We’ll talk more about how to know if that’s the case in just a moment.

*To get you started, you can check the average pay for your role here.

You may want to ask for a pay rise if you’ve just had a big win at work, perhaps bringing in a big client or successfully pulling together a great project. While this can form a useful basis for a conversation about your pay, you’re better off if you can point to a strong, ongoing track record of success to make a case for a raise. Use that headline success item as the jumping-off point for the conversation, while also highlighting the consistent value you bring to the company.

When shouldn’t I ask for a pay rise?

There are some times when it’s not a great idea to ask for a pay rise. If the company is struggling financially, they’re less likely to be able to increase your pay. If there have been any recent issues with your performance (in the last six months to a year, depending on the severity of the issues) you’ll need to build up a strong track record of good work before you’re likely to be successful asking for a raise. And asking for more if the company has just assigned pay rises, for example, to keep up with inflation and increasing cost of living, may not be great timing as they might have already allocated all of their budget for salaries.

In that last example though, it could still be worth talking to your manager about your current compensation and laying out your case. If there is still room to negotiate then you can go ahead, but even if the window has passed, they may be able to give you information about the best time to bring the issue back to the table.

How do I ask for a pay rise?

The first thing to do if you know you want to ask for more money is research. A 2016 report on Gender Differences in Negotiation in the UCLA Women’s Law Journal recommends that women, in particular, are likely to find pay negotiation easier when armed with relevant data. Start by looking at how your pay compares to the market rate for your role, and the typical range for the role within your organisation.

You can use sites like Glassdoor, Reed, the salary checker on Totaljobs or Linkedin (see above link) to get an indication of the market rate for your position. They’ll often let you search by region as well to give you a more precise idea. There can be a lot of variation in the actual roles, so check the job descriptions if you can to make sure you’re looking at positions that roughly match yours. Of course, be wary of resting your whole argument on information from sites like this. You may also want to reach out to contacts in your network, for example through LinkedIn, for more information.

It can be tricky to work out where your pay stands relative to other people you work with – as people typically do not discuss money and pay openly. If you’re in a company or department where people talk openly about their salaries, that obviously makes it much easier for you! If people don’t generally tend to talk about it, you can try to ask people that you’re close to how their pay compares to yours. You can also ask HR for general salary information, although specific company policy may dictate how much information they give you.

If any of this research shows you that you’re being underpaid for your role and level of experience, that’s a strong start point for requesting more money. And of course, if it turns out you’re at a similar pay level to other people, you may be able to make a case that you’re worth even more!

It’s worth taking the time to write down your points in advance, to make sure you’re clear on your argument. Be as specific as you can, and back your points up with metrics wherever you can; ‘I’ve made a lot of sales’ doesn’t sound nearly as convincing as ‘I’ve maintained the highest sales numbers on my team, surpassing my quota last month by 14%.’ You may want to rehearse the conversation with a friend so that you feel confident that you can articulate your points clearly.

Have the conversation in person, with your manager, if at all possible. You can make a request over email, but that will be easier to turn down, and a face-to-face meeting will also allow you to gauge your manager’s reaction to the request. Follow the meeting up with an email, thanking your manager for their time and summarising your points. Chances are, your manager won’t have the authority to hand out a raise themselves, even if they agree with you. This gives them something to refer back to if they’re taking the request to their own managers.

How high should I go?

When deciding how much to ask for, go with the highest figure you can make a compelling case for.

One argument is to go even higher than that, anticipating that you might be negotiated down. While the logic may seem sound—surely the worst they can do is say no—it can have unhelpful consequences. An unrealistic request is likely to be viewed as naïve, which could cause questions about your judgement and hurt your reputation in the long run.

It’s also a good idea to look at the typical raises that are given out in your company, to the extent that you have access to that information. You don’t necessarily have to use that figure as an absolute limit, but it gives you a sense for the kinds of pay increases the organisation is comfortable with.

With all that said, women typically ask for and expect less from pay rises than men, so bear that in mind and feel free to name a figure that feels ambitious! As long as you can make a reasonable argument for why your work is worth that much to the company, there’s no risk to your reputation.

What if they say no?

If your request for a pay rise is rejected, it’s worth asking what your manager thinks you would need to do or demonstrate to make a future request successful. They should be able to come back to you with specific criteria for seeing an increase in your salary.

If the answer is that your contributions are highly valued, but there isn’t any budget for pay rises, consider what other compensations you could ask for, from extra holiday time to more flexible work hours.

And, of course, if it seems your pay won’t increase for the foreseeable future, it may be worth investigating opportunities at other companies. The easiest time to negotiate more pay is at the job offer stage, after all!

Asking for a pay rise can be intimidating, but it’s too important to just avoid forever

Asking for a pay rise is a vital part of making sure you’re fairly compensated at work. Although a good company wants to pay its employees what they’re worth, you have the ultimate responsibility for advocating for yourself. So, gather your data, rehearse your points and schedule that meeting. You’ve got this.


Laura Buckley, freelance writer

Laura Buckley

Laura Buckley is a freelance writer, and a frequent contributor to Yellow Eve.

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