How to ask for a raise in an economic downturn

Negotiating a pay increase can be extra challenging in times of economic uncertainty. Make a compelling case with this practical strategy
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The economic situation since the pandemic has not improved, thanks to supply chain issues, inflation, continued jolts in the stock market, and the prolonged Russian-Ukraine conflict. Given the grim circumstances, organizational leaders are preparing for tougher times ahead.

Right now, leaders are looking to cut costs. This can include reductions in everything from exiting leases to putting long-range projects on hold. Luckily, given the current hiring challenges, many employers are trying to avoid cutting talent as a way to cut costs.

In this environment, it can be challenging to ask for a raise. But if your company is tightening its belt, chances are you are working longer hours and harder than ever. It’s only fair that you are fairly compensated for the additional workload.

7 tips for requesting a raise

Devote ample thought and planning as to when and how you make your request. Research what comparable employees in your position earn to understand where you rank in compensation.

Consider these seven tactics:

1. Pick a quiet time to ask

Timing is everything when it comes to asking for more money. Ideally, you will catch your supervisor during a quiet time and set up a time to have a discussion.

[ Also read IT careers: How to figure out what’s next. ]

Example: Entering the building together at the start of the day and before you both dive into all your to-dos can be a good time to approach your boss. Keep the tone light and non-confrontational. “Hi, Margie. I was wondering if you had a few minutes for us to chat today.”

2. Make the case that you are indispensable

You have a bargaining chip if, by applying your specific talent to delivering its products or services, you add to the company’s value. Bring proof of your value, including your track record solving problems and any laudatory emails you’ve received.

Don’t assume your work will speak for itself. Provide hard data showing how you’ve saved the company time and money. Are you able to problem-solve or make systems more efficient? Give your supervisor proof. Position yourself as key to generating profit.

Example: “I’ve just extended the contract with my top client for another year, which demonstrates my contribution to the department and the overall bottom line.”

3. Provide evidence of your increased workload

Show that you’re a team player in your willingness to put in the extra effort when needed. But also make the case – using concrete examples – that your increased workload deserves added compensation.

Example: “As I think you know, I’ve been burning the midnight oil to increase our output and pick up the slack for the hiring freeze that went into effect this last quarter. Here’s a spreadsheet that shows my hours worked and the increased production I’ve achieved to meet fulfillment demands.”

4. Demonstrate how you've grown in your job

Acquaint yourself with your organization’s schedule for providing raises before approaching your supervisor. Generally, you must have endured a probationary period before you become qualified. Appearing over-hasty could work against you. However, if you’ve exceeded the published time period without any bump in salary, it’s time to advocate for yourself.

Example: “Since I started in my position early last year, I’ve hit my stride and am able to be more efficient and productive in my work. Last week, I completed 40 orders, compared to the average 33 by staff overall.”

5. Emphasize your loyalty to the organization

While others quit during The Great Resignation, you have stayed on. Instead of leaving for greener pastures, you have put your efforts into helping the organization weather the difficult times. Your allegiance has been a motivating influence on team members and a driver for overall excellence.

Example: “I’ve seen what a loss it has been to have had some of our talented staff move over to our competitors, but I’m more interested in staying put and helping ensure our company continues to deliver on our promise to our clients.”

6. Make the case that giving you a raise is less costly than hiring from the outside

Employers spend an estimated six to nine months of an employee’s salary in finding and training a replacement. Share how you are an asset because you already know the company’s mission, understand the company’s process and procedures, and are familiar with the players. Additionally, if the company had to onboard a new employee for your position it would set the team back significantly.

Example: “The bump in my pay is much less costly to the organization in terms of time and money than having to recruit, hire, and get another person up to speed.”

7. Consider your options if the response is no

Request a timeframe for re-addressing your raise if your direct supervisor says no. Try to arrange a date when you can revisit your request. Also, if the raise isn’t in the cards, have an alternative request in mind, such as a plum assignment or lateral opportunity, that will allow you to advance in new ways and give you more ways to show your worth.

Example: “If a raise is out of the question right now, would you consider letting me play a part in the interdepartmental initiative that’s now starting? I would love to be exposed to some of the top staff working in other areas of the company.”

Show gratitude for your job

Even as you make a plea for more pay, let your boss know that you’re still passionate about your role in the organization. Maintain a positive demeanor regardless of the outcome of your conversation. A positive, upbeat attitude will make you more likely to seem deserving of a raise as the organization begins to recover.

It also wouldn’t hurt to ask for feedback on the job you’re doing. An intimation of humility will serve you well, even as you attempt to sell your outstanding work ethic. Even if you don’t like what you hear, thank your boss for sharing her feedback and promise her that you will work to improve. Then draft some action steps you will take to keep your promise and share them with her.

It’s important to be perceived as poised and professional, not desperate and clamoring. Prove that you deserve a raise by ensuring that you’re a vital cog in the wheel for your company.

[ Check out essential career advice from 37 award-winning CIOs! Get a variety of insights on leadership, strategy, and career development from IT executives at Mayo Clinic, Dow, Aflac, Liberty Mutual, Nordstrom, and more: Ebook: 37 award-winning CIOs share essential IT career advice. ]

Vicky Oliver is a leading career development expert and the multi-bestselling author of five books, including Bad Bosses, Crazy Coworkers & Other Office Idiots (Sourcebooks, 2008), and 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions (Sourcebooks 2005), named in the top 10 list of “Best Books for HR Inter