“Please sir, having achieved my quarterly target within operational parameters, may I have some more?”
Is it possible to get a pay rise in a recession?

Short answer: “No.”

Slightly longer answer: “There are still a large number of people who are gainfully employed in your sector. That means there are opportunities for advancement, both in terms of responsibility and in terms of remuneration. So … yes.”

There are a handful of factors you should start to chew over to increase your chances of success in asking for a pay rise:

1. Big, fat, recent visibility. Your boss needs to know who you are and what it is you have contributed that made his/her life easier recently. This sounds very basic and very obvious, but it is extraordinary how much assumption goes on around this. You assume your boss keeps track of your successes; you assume your boss understands what it is you do for the company; you assume your boss knows that Project X was outside of your purview and yet you took it on and made a success of it.

In an uncertain world, we have to make assumptions. Here are two relatively safe ones to guide your thinking:

  • Assume that your boss is too interested in his/her own problems to notice anything about you unless you spell it out in short, simple words.
  • Assume that your employer will take you for granted unless you give her/him a very good reason to do otherwise.

2. Know how much your contribution is worth to your employer versus how much it is worth to the market as a whole. Salary surveys can be useful in fleshing out this picture and providing you with empirical evidence to support your case about what the market pays for someone who does what you do.

Quantify the value of your contributions. Quietly but emphatically state the facts and drip-feed those contributions into your reporting up the line. When you start adding up all these contributions, large and small, over the course of the year; then you are in a position to say at appraisal time, “You will have noted from my memos that I cumulatively added an extra €75,000 to the bottom line this year, so don’t go telling me you can’t find €X,000 for me …”.

3. Timing. In most companies, the salary budget for the following year is agreed by senior management a long way in advance of appraisal time. So when you ask for that raise and your boss says her/his hands are tied, in many cases that really is the truth. “If only you’d let me know earlier in the year …” If you are looking for a raise and deserve that raise, get your spoke in early in the financial calendar and let your boss know you are expecting a significant number this year.

4. Knowledge. Asking for a raise in ignorance of what is going on in the company is rarely a good idea. In recessionary times, this is going to be less about timing (there is never going to be a good time to ask) and more about knowledge.

  • Knowledge of the market environment.
  • Knowledge of your boss’ standing within the company.
  • Knowledge of an new entrant, a new trend – knowledge of what’s coming down the road.

Most requests for a raise are based on the micro picture – your needs, your contribution, your ambitions. Get familiar with the macro picture. This is just smart career management and is something you should be doing anyway, but in these topsy-turvy times, asking for anything extra from your employer without knowing the wider picture is a bad, bad idea.

5. Ask. Really. Ask. If you have a case, make it; don’t expect your employer to wake up one morning guilt-ridden by how little he is paying you and hand over the keys to the safe. Build your case and ask.

Related posts:
Negotiating your salary when applying for a new job
Radio interview about asking for a raise
Managing your boss toward getting that raise
Jessica Hagy’s take on when to ask