Ann Bares has a great posting on Why Managers are Afraid to Praise Employees. One of the reasons is because they are afraid that the employees will then ask for a raise. Based on my own experience as an HR Consultant, this is a very realistic concern. I have witnessed first hand numerous occasions where a manager has complimented an employee on a particularly well done project, and instead of thanks she is hit with a request for money.
The request may be direct such as, "I'd sure like to see those words backed up with an increase in pay." Or it could be indirect such as, "Well I sure do a lot around here for what I'm paid" and "Hmmm. Words are nice, but something in my paycheck would mean more." While the indirect method is more annoying, both responses to a sincere compliment are frustrating to a manager and can lead to a fear of praising employees.
So how can you ask for a raise if you are certain that you are doing a good job? Let's look to the advice that the experts are giving the Managers, and see how you can use it to your benefit as an employee...
In response to a Manager's fear of praising an employee lest he ask for a raise, Ann says:
"A frank and factual discussion of how an employee brings value to the table, and what it takes to augment that value, is not something you can avoid by simply holding back praise."
In the original article Ann cites, Liz Ryan adds further detail saying:
[The argument for more money] "is easily countered if, when an employee asks about a possible uptick in pay, you share with him or her the financial drivers for your business. If you praise an employee and her response is "Thanks for the praise, now can I have a salary increase?" you can show her how the firm's operating expenses and its revenues tie together—and most important, let her know the specific results that would make bigger salaries possible. Those might include an increase in sales, a reduction in costs, or both. The more specific you can be, the more your employee will understand where the dollars in her paycheck come from, and what she can do to influence her earning power."
If your read my prior postings on asking for a raise and getting the salary you want you'll quickly recognize that the conversation has similar elements regardless of which side of the table you are sitting on. The secret for you as the employee to know is that many managers are not particularly skilled at having these types of conversations with employees. Don't believe me? Check out the comment's section on Ann's posting.
The key, then is for you as the employee to lead the conversation in a productive manner and help make it easy for your manager to talk to you about money. How can you do this?
- First recognize that timing is everything. A conversation about money is not one to have "on the fly." Plan it out.
- Second, don't expect "tit for tat." If your boss gives you a sincere compliment, give a sincere thanks in return and bask in the joy of doing good work. Don't respond like a first-grader with "so what will you give me..."
- Third, be realistic. People make more money when what they do for a company is a) mission critical, and b) hard to replace. If you are in a position where you can be replaced by a temp tomorrow, it's hard to justify higher wages. Also, be realistic about your company, your industry, and prevailing market wages for the work you do. It's a new world and seniority rarely pays any more.
- Fourth, closely related to #3, be prepared to demonstrate how you will contribute at a higher level in exchange for an increase in salary. A salary increase is about expected future productivity, not just a reward for past work.
- Finally, have an agenda for the conversation and share it with your boss. Based on #1 and #2 above, schedule a mutually convenient time to talk about salary. Have an agenda - maybe 3 or 4 bullet points - on a piece of paper, and give a copy to your boss at the start of the meeting. This helps ensure that you will mention the key issues that you have thought of in advance, and it helps your boss do a better job of responding instead of sitting on edge wondering what surprises are going to come up.
If you take a thoughtful, collaborative, business-focused approach to the conversation, you will have a much higher probability of success than you will with a sly comment in response to a compliment.
Best wishes, and please let us know about your experiences and successes in asking for a raise!