Are you going to get a raise this year? If not, are you going to ask for one?
You can quit laughing now. I'm serious.
I realize times are tough, but I got to wondering as we watch the stock market recover, if some of those profits will translate into better pay for all that hard work we've done in the last year. It's an issue I explored for my latest Gannett column:
In an effort to help employers remain financially afloat, many employees have accepted furloughs, reduced hours and pay cuts in the last year. But as time goes on, the question remains how many employees will leave their current job in an effort to regain their lost wages – and how many of them will never get back to previous pay levels.
“There’s no question that as things get better in the economy you’re going to have people who are going to get nervous about their pay and jump ship to make more money,” says Warren Cinnick, a director with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Chicago. “But the reality is that it’s still an employer’s market. The average person has the lowest leverage in the job market right now than in the past 25 years.”
The Conference Board reported in its recent annual survey of salaries that the median salary increase for 2010 for all employee groups is expected to be 3 percent – the lowest since the group began forecasting salaries 25 years ago and down half a percent from the previous year. Even top brass will take a hit – their median salaries are expected to drop two full percentage points, from 3.5 percent to 2.50 percent, the report said.
For employees like Amy Lee, 27, the denial of a pay raise for the last two years, coupled with the increased work load because half her co-workers have been laid off, is partly what prompted her to begin looking for other opportunities.
As a university academic counselor in California, Lee says that even though she received a “stellar” performance evaluation, she was told by her boss there was no money for raises this year when she made the request for more compensation.
“That made me start looking around,” she says.
Another employer soon offered Lee a job, along with a 33 percent pay boost. When Lee told her boss, she was immediately offered an 11 percent raise if she’d stay. “To be honest, I wasn’t happy when they made that offer. When I had asked for a raise after getting that great performance evaluation, they immediately said, ‘no.’ They weren’t even going to try.”
The issue of pay is cropping up at all levels in organizations. Recently, General Motors Co. had to rescind white-collar pay cuts made last spring because it said its pay scales were no longer competitive and employees were leaving to work for other automakers and manufacturing companies. While the pay cuts initially saved the company money, unhappy and demoralized employees were leaving at a time when the company needed to retain key talent.
Cinnick says it will be the “pivotal” employees who will have some leverage in negotiating increased pay, although it will also depend on the industry. Those companies that are strong globally, for example, will be in a better position to reward workers and offer pay raises, he says.
“For employers who want to remain competitive, they may do extraordinary things to keep some workers,” Cinnick says. “I’m talking about the super sales people. The employees who give the ‘ah-ha!’ answers. They’re going to be the ones who can ask for more money from companies.”
Still, Cinnick cautions employees that the pay cuts in some industries may never recover to the levels they were before the recession hit. He says that asking for more money – from a current employer or a new one – will take some planning. He advises when negotiating for pay, you should:
- Time it right. “Ask for more money when you’ve completed a successful project, or you’ve gotten some verbal recognition for your work,” he says. “Wait a couple of days, then go see the boss.”
- Show your worth. “When you’ve had your job duties expanded, or gotten new ones, then you can talk about how you’d like to be compensated for them,” he says.
- Keep records. “If you take a pay cut for the company, they usually send out an e-mail or some kind of notice. Keep a copy. Then, when you go to interview at another company, you can show that you took a pay cut and what your previous salary was,” he says. “You want to negotiate from your original salary.”
- Stick with the facts. “Whenever you ask for money, always base it on some data. There’s tremendous information about salaries online. Make your estimate of salary based on what you’ll bring to the company. Make it a fact-based story. Compensation should not be an entitlement statement or a make-them-feel-guilty-statement.”