Illustration: Ashley Siebels
For most of us, asking for a raise is awkward. We want to believe that our bosses recognize good work and don’t need to be badgered to do the right thing. After all, that’s (usually) the way professors mete out college grades. It’s jarring to realize that most workplaces don’t function that way.
About 40 percent of workers tend to ask for raises every year, and they generally get them, according to PayScale data. As for everyone else . . . in too many cases, the quiet vigil for better pay yields nothing.
What can you do about it?
The challenge is especially intense if you are the liberal arts go-getter who started out with an unconscionably low salary. You should be getting hefty raises to bring your pay in line with industry norms. Unfortunately, most managers’ own metrics tend to reward them for keeping costs down and productivity high. From afar, the injustice of your situation resembles good management.
The remedy, of course, is to ask for a raise anyway. Take a tip from Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, who, in her book Lean In, offers a five-step approach to getting better pay without seeming self-serving. She wrote for a primarily female audience, but her advice transcends gender.
Cite other people’s comments about your effectiveness. Remind your bosses of the gap between your current pay and industry pay norms. Let go of any bitterness about your treatment (at least for the moment), and look for ways to portray yourself, your manager, and your organization as a harmonious trio destined to promote one another’s best interests.
I’ve got two more points to add. First, start the pay conversation a little earlier than you think you should. Research shows that male/female disparities in pay can be attributed in part to the fact that men ask for raises more often—and more bluntly. Begin your hunt for a raise when a few months of corporate inertia about the decision won’t infuriate you.
Finally, muster as much confidence as you can. If the strains of being judged by a wary boss seem unbearable, imagine that the real you is staying at home today, reading a book in a cozy armchair.
The person doing the negotiating is your doppelgänger, equipped with a dossier that explains why you deserve a raise. Let this sci-fi clone do the hard work. He or she is an animated advocate on a simple mission: to champion your ingenuity, your hard work, and your impact.
Even if you don’t see yourself as a domineering, corner-office personality, embrace the idea that you can have a bigger impact—and a more fulfilling job—if you’re helping to set the tempo. Experience and good judgment can make you an effective leader without forcing you to adopt a radically different personality.
Don’t forget about stock options, guaranteed bonuses, restricted stock—and all the other perks that can come from moving into management. The class divide between skilled workers and low-level management may have narrowed from the 1950s to the 1970s, but it has been widening ever since.
Relatively low-ranking managers can quietly add as much as 20 percent to their overall earnings by participating in various stock-based compensation programs that are reserved for the bosses. As a result, the economic rewards for leadership have never been so attractive; the financial penalties for lingering too long without a promotion have never been so severe.
Adapted from You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a “Useless” Liberal Arts Education by George Anders. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown and Company. Copyright (c) 2017 by George Anders. All rights reserved.