It's one of those conversations you dread. Alongside breaking up with that needy partner who deploys the trembling lip and lone tear as they beg for a second chance, asking for a pay rise can hit the top spot on the awkward-ometer. We’re embarrassed to mention the “m” word. Worried we might seem greedy. Insecure about how much we’re actually worth.
Which is why we’re so bad at it. A OnePoll survey of 2,000 full time employees found the average worker believes they deserve £5,321 on top of their existing salary - yet more than half of us never ask the boss for more money. Fear of being "let go" or damaging relationships with our managers are frequent hurdles to popping the question.
Research also revealed a widening gender pay gap since the pandemic - an issue being discussed and hopefully addressed by the Fawcett Society’s national Equal Pay Day campaign, which falls today.
The fact that November 18 was chosen is no coincidence: according to campaigners, today marks the day when women effectively start working for free for the rest of the year thanks to the disparity in wages between men and women (the full-time, hourly gender pay gap has widened from 10.6 per cent in 2020 to 11.9 per cent today). If you can’t get your head around the numbers, that’s 30 working days of the year left in which women effectively receive no compensation for their work.
“The pandemic has had a tough and disproportionate impact on women, in particular women of colour, disabled women and mothers,” CEO of the Fawcett Society, Felicia Willow, said in a statement.
“And now in addition to this, a widening gender pay gap paints a worrying picture. The government needs to take bold action, from improving childcare provision, making flexible working available to everyone, and tackling the rising cost of living.”
First steps first. If you don’t ask, you usually won’t get, so make that pay rise conversation your priority over the 30 working days you have left before 2022. From knowing your value to facing your boss face-to-face, here’s how to do it.
1. Do your research
As a nation, we’re squeamish about salaries. It’s a good idea to get over that and discuss with your peers what you all earn. You may find you’re being short-salaried. You can also go to HR (or, in a small business, the boss) and request to look at anonymous pay data for the whole organisation.
To gauge whether your pay is fair for your industry, find out what you’d make if you were working for the competition.
2. Know your value
“Be prepared with the right data and document your achievements — especially all the additional activities you’ve been involved in,” says Pavita Cooper, co-founder of executive search firm ElliottCooper Partners.
“If your company doesn’t use a 360 feedback process [assessment that comes from an employee’s immediate circle], capture your own informal feedback from colleagues.”
3. Be brazen
Don’t hide behind a screen — a pay discussion should be face-to-face, never over email. Arrange a time to see your boss — and then cast aside any bashfulness.
“Don’t be shy — even if you feel that way,” says Helena Morrissey, chief executive of investment manager Newton and the founder of the 30 Per Cent Club, which campaigns to get more women into the boardroom. “I encourage women to see it less about money (which feels embarrassing) and more about valuing their worth.”
4. Be rational not emotional
The managing director of a medium-sized company once told me what he saw as the fatal error in pay negotiations: appealing to emotion rather than reason. Staff would say: “I’m broke — I need a raise.” “It isn’t about their personal circumstances — we’re not a charity giving handouts,” he said. “I need to see that they deserve it for their work, not that they need it for personal reasons.”
Get the tone right, too. “Being overly aggressive rarely works well,” says Sam Smith, chief executive of stockbroker FinnCap. “Be very careful about using another job or the possibility of resignation to force a salary rise as it might well backfire. Only do this if you really would leave.”
5. Forget about being liked
If you want a certain sum, don’t suddenly back down and ask for half that number because you fear the negotiator turning against you. They may actually respect you more. Many years ago, Morrissey recalls a discussion with a boss who said that a colleague would get most of the allotted cash because he was “focused on money”.
“I had to summon the courage to point out that perhaps this shouldn’t influence the decision on pay rises, and that it should be more about contribution and potential.” Her boss was taken aback but agreed — and she won his respect.
And yes, the company may well face financial restraints but in the same way your personal circumstances aren’t relevant to the boss’s decisions, the company’s problems don’t determine what you’re worth as a worker.
6. Be blunt and name your number
You can simply say: “In light of my performance, I deserve a raise of X.” Then pause — don’t fill the silence out of embarrassment. And when the boss comes back to you with a number, it isn’t always the final offer. If you don’t think it’s enough, say so.
7. Have a plan
“If you don’t get a rise (and you know others have) what will you do?” asks Cooper. You should work this out in advance. And it’s good to think about how you’ll react if you do get what you want too.
This depends on the industry. In some sectors, you should say “thank you”. In others, heed my favourite advice from a banker friend of mine. “Never, ever sound grateful,” he says, believing that’s an excuse for bosses not to give you more cash next time.
“I spend half an hour in the bathroom [before pay discussions] practising a curled-lip expression that says: ‘I’m worth so much more’.”