What to do if your raise is cancelled due to COVID-19

Last week, I got an email with a great career conundrum from Leigh from Vancouver:

Last fall, I had a bi-annual goal check-in with my boss. During this meeting, I started the conversation that I’ll be asking for a job title change, along with a decent salary increase of about 10 percent. She was incredibly receptive and started the work to gain approval for this changed come into effect this spring. But fast forward to where we are now, and all annual reviews, bonuses, and raises have been cancelled and we have a company-wide hiring freeze.

I acknowledge that I’m already grossly underpaid for the work that I’m doing and I’m feeling heartbroken and undervalued. I know there are positions out there that allow me to grow and reach my career and salary expectations and have been contacted recently by a recruiter. But I also love the mission of the organization that I work for.

In this current climate, I can’t help but feel a little bit selfish when I think about restarting this conversation again with my boss and to share just how important it is for me to get to that promotion and raise we discussed. Otherwise, I will consider other jobs that allow me to reach these goals.

How do I even begin this conversation with my boss while omitting the fact that I’m actively job searching?

There are so many elements to this career conundrum.

Given the current climate, it is a wild, wild West kind of world out there and a lot of different employers are handling things widely differently.

Here are five things to consider to find a clear path forward with your career during this crisis.

Consider your industry

First and foremost, when you’re thinking about how to ask for a raise, you’ve got to consider the industry specifics. If you’re in higher education, for example, you’re going to be less likely to just turnaround and get hired by another higher education institution right now. You might have no choice but to stick it out and wait for your long-awaited pay rectification.

Your option of whether to stay or go has to be compared to your best alternative and that is very different now, given that you’ve already been contacted by a recruiter. It’s safe to assume that you’re in an industry that’s not completely crumbling right now. In which case you have got to explore your options.

Consider your options

It is very difficult to threaten to leave an employer without an actual written formal job offer on the table. In this case, if you need to persuade your higher ups to deliver on what was promised to you verbally, you’re going to have to rattle the saber a little bit louder than just alluding to how important the raise is to you.

It’s a very assertive move, and it is a very understandable one, but don’t search for jobs just to search for an offer to use as a as a chip on the bargaining table. You have to search for jobs you would actually be willing to leave your job for and truly understand that your employer has options and you have options. That is always the case.

Getting clarity on what your best alternatives are is a key step here, because it’s really a lack of clarity in terms of what your next steps are and what your options are that leads to this frustration and this negative feeling of being heartbroken and undervalued. It’s important to try to assume that people have best intentions here.

So have that conversation with your boss. Tell them how frustrated you are.

Try to empathize with them and say, ‘I understand there’s a lot of uncertainty right now. Can you give me any sense of timeline? Because for me, this is a very scary time as well. And I have to do what’s best for myself and my family.’

Have the empathy of what your boss may be going through because you don’t know whether mass layoffs are coming or not. Try to get a sense of clarity from them as to when and whether and how they see their personnel plan playing out in the coming months and year and then be clear with them what’s going on with you.

Ask for something else

Now, after considering your options, if your employer comes back to you saying, ‘I have no idea. We’re taking things one day at a time. We’re taking things one month at a time. I can’t make any promises right now,’ that’s a real situation that a lot of people find themselves in right now. You might want to consider asking for something else that would mean a lot to you, like professional development funds, or flexibility, or added PTO, something that would have less of a direct financial cost to the organization, but would still help you derive a sense of progress and forward momentum in your career.

At the end of the day, you have to really think about what this promotion, raise, or bonus means to you. Is it about financial need? Is it about savings goals that you have? Is it about being bored at work, frustrated at a lack of progress in your career, deriving a sense of identity from your work and wanting to feel valued, wanting to feel challenged, wanting to feel that forward momentum? Because once you can identify what the raise promotion or bonus really means to you beyond the money component, you can go about thinking about creative ways to get that need met elsewhere.

So perhaps you want to derive a sense of forward progress in your career in life by developing auxiliary professional skills. That’s why a lot of women are joining our LEVEL UP program right now. Our six-month leadership accelerator, which prepares themselves for making the case for that next raise or that next promotion into management. But if it’s really about financial need, think about asking for the time you need to pursue income elsewhere in the form of contract work in the form of a side hustle.

Consider what a raise really means to you

If your employer can’t give you what you want financially, maybe they can give you back what you need, a.k.a. time, to go have that need met elsewhere. So it’s really a time to get creative with problem solving. Put the problem in front of you and your employer to tackle together, not between you and your employer, as though it’s two enemies battling out to the death with one winner and one loser at the end of the day.

To be clear, getting another job is probably an option for you, especially if you’ve been contacted by a recruiter. I wouldn’t default to staying where you are out of a sense of loyalty or otherwise satisfaction, because this is a big part of job satisfaction is how much you feel valued and not heartbroken, as you say.

Through our job search accelerator program, HIRED, I’ve seen many women landing offers right now. If they’re in industries that haven’t been completely devastated by COVID-19, they’ve been getting competitive offers and even negotiating those job offers. The sad reality is that one of the fastest ways to get a raise is to get a new job, and employers who are smart have been more willing to play ball to retain their people.

And you really don’t know how willing they are to do that until you’ve had another job offer and bring it to the table. You might benefit from going that route, so that you can actually and truly explore your options because you might be able to make $30k somewhere else. That might be a no brainer for you, or you might still want to stay where you’re at and bring that offer to your current employer and say, ‘Listen, I would love to stay, but this is an offer I can’t refuse, especially during this troubling time. I have to do what’s in my my best interest. Is there anything you can do to match this, so that I can turn this down and continue on here?’

Know your legal rights

The one final caveat I want to include is the difference between a promise and a written formal offer. Now, lots of employers right now can claim an act of God, as in this contract is null and void because of force majeure clauses in most people’s contracts, which basically say, hey, there’s been an act of God, a global pandemic that none of us could have seen coming. So this offer is now void. This promise of a promotion is now void.

However, check your paperwork. It sounds like, in your case, Leigh, this was a discussion, not a formal written offer of a raise.

If you have scheduled raises that you are ‘eligible for’ that is not the same as a formal written promise that is enforceable via contract. If you do have a formal written contractual raise offer or bonus, as many people do have bonuses, double check. The legal fees around that talk to an attorney if you need to. Because employers can’t just retract offers without reason, without cause, if they have a force majeure clause in their contract. Then the Coronavirus absolutely fits the bill.

You do want to check your legal rights and make sure you’re advocating for yourself as needed. This is a tricky situation. You are not alone. These are tough circumstances for everybody. And employers have tough choices to make here. But I have to admit, you have every right to judge the hell out of your management and out of your company for how they are dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic. And there are plenty of people coming through our doors here to bust up who are saying this is the final straw that broke the camel’s back.

The way that they’re treating their employees here, myself included, is the reason why I’m looking for a new job right now. So if this is a moment for you, if this is a deal breaker for you, I would listen to your gut and go out and try to find something better. Remember, every employer has options. They can lay people off. They can take out a loan. They can defer raises.

These are all creative financial options that companies have to get through this mess. And you as an employee have options, too. But it is incumbent upon you to explore those options, to be as persuasive as possible when talking through your options with your current manager or boss and to keep in touch with us right into crowdsource with this community and to lean on one another and figure out a path forward that’s best for you without apology.

I encourage you to go forth with that sense of confidence in your worth. You have skills that are worthy of fair compensation. Let’s not martyr ourselves even amidst a global pandemic. This is not a good time to adopt a martyr to mindset, but to go out there and advocate for what you need to be sustainable and to not be heartbroken and to feel valued.

This article first appeared on Bossed Up.