Cost of living crisis: how to ask for a pay rise and get paid what you deserve


Inflation and the rising cost of living has brought conversations around pay to the forefront in recent months. What is ‘adequate pay’? What should constitute a ‘living wage’? Who should drive these conversations — employer or employee?

Steep economic downturn with more uncertainty on the horizon isn’t the only factor. During the pandemic, many companies put a freeze on pay reviews until things “got back to normal”. The problem is, two and a half years later, some employees are asking when that will be.

So how do we talk about pay rises in a realistic, productive, and fair way? Right now, it seems to boil down to three options: threat, wait or work for it.

For the majority of public sector workers, strikes seem to be the most common tactic. The UK has faced dozens of workers’ strikes this year alone, between railway staff, teachers, postal workers, and even members of the NHS – some with much greater justification and support than others.

In the private sector, squeezing your employer is less of an option. In fact, any level of ultimatum is a risky trade-off. However much we’ve all fantasised about downing tools, storming out until we get what we feel we’re due, it’s not exactly a precursor for career success and you will probably be handed your P45.

Saying, “I’ve found another job and it’s paying much more than this one” might be a common way for some employees to seek more money, but entering a bidding war can prove detrimental.

If you’re not OK with the potential outcomes, your decision is essentially taken out of your hands. If you are offered the salary you want, it’s possible that your employer will hold this against you anyway, and your future loyalty may be questioned.

On the flip side, opting to wait it out could result in taking a hit on both your short and long-term earnings, finding it harder to catch up to where you should be. I certainly hear this with the gender pay gap and women who haven’t had the confidence to come forward and ask for a pay review, are left behind compared to their male counterparts.

Meaning you’re left with one option: working for it. Here’s how to approach the topic to actually get what you deserve.

5 steps to the perfect pay rise negotiation

Start with ‘why’

Why do you deserve a pay rise? Why are your contributions to the business so valuable? Why are you a crucial member of the team? Unfortunately, your living costs or rising childcare prices aren’t enough for a business to form a commercial decision over. So, have your proof points at the ready – the targets you’ve achieved, ROI, client feedback, management or mentorship you’ve given, you name it. Even if they seem obvious to you.

Know your worth

Look at market averages inside and outside of London, check out job boards, speak to a friendly recruiter or your network. Gathering realistic insights into what others at your level are making (plus benefits) will help you determine your ideal increase, provide rationale, and equip you with reliable information for negotiations.

Think about what’s fair

Think about what you really would like, and what you would settle on. It’s a negotiation, so you should expect your line managers to try and lower your asking point. Knowing the bracket of what you’d happily accept will help you keep a steady head throughout the discussions and maintain what’s realistic and what might not be.

Schedule a meeting

If you don’t have annual review slots or feel you’ve been overlooked in the last round, request a meeting with your manager. Be clear – let them know you would like to talk about your rewards package, that you are very committed to the company but feel it’s time for a review, and you would like to discuss this with them. They’ll appreciate the clarity upfront and it will set the right tone for you and the meeting.

Practice your pitch

Heading into a meeting with combative energy or divulging all of your proof points at once won’t do you any favours. Practice your elevator pitch to – briefly but accurately – summarise why you’re looking for a pay rise of XX amount. Think about the questions they may ask, the proof points you can offer, and keep your cool. Confidence is key.

Be patient, but persistent

Chances are, you won’t see results after that first conversation. If this is the first management has heard about a pay rise, you might need to have two or three meetings before an outcome. Make sure you’re keeping communication clear and regular, but also understand that the larger the business, the greater number of people they may need to go through to seek sign off.

The bottom line

With a shortage of good talent in the market, it remains an employees’ market right now – so if you aren’t being paid what you are worth then start having those conversations, but remember to keep the uncertainty in the economy in mind to protect yourself and remain fair to your employer.