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What should I consider when asking for a raise or bonus?

Do not simply knock on your manager's door and ask for a raise, especially if you are not prepared to list the reasons why you deserve one. Prepare beforehand as if you were going in for a job interview and be mindful of your employer's business cycle.

Most employers conduct performance reviews at the end of the calendar year. This is when you are likely to be offered a raise, bonus, or promotion. If nothing is offered or discussed, this may be a good opportunity to broach the topic.

Depending on the personalities involved, the day of the week or even the time of day may be key considerations. Consider avoiding Monday mornings or opting for later in the week if your boss is more receptive closer to Friday. Gauging when your boss may be the most amenable to discussions about compensation can make the conversation go more smoothly.

Most of all, you need to be honest with yourself and consider why you actually deserve a raise or bonus. Simply being a long-tenured employee may not cut it. Most raises or bonuses are based on performance and overall value to the company.

What information should I prepare before asking for a raise or bonus?

Many companies conduct structured annual performance reviews based on measurable goals, often called key performance indicators or KPIs. Some companies use a less formal review system, or none at all. In this situation, you will need to prepare your pitch for why you deserve a raise. Keep in mind that the amount you need is not your boss's concern, so make sure you focus on your value as an employee.

If you are making valuable, quantifiable contributions to your employer, then you may feel confident about asking for a raise. Avoid vague statements about your value and focus on your KPIs or other performance data, specific accomplishments, or feedback from colleagues. Point out how you met or exceeded goals, helped others in the company achieve theirs, or assumed greater responsibilities. Always use objective data whenever possible.

Many companies have a somewhat rigid salary structure. In these companies, raises and bonuses may be limited to a certain percentage of your base salary and only offered at a certain time of year. In some cases, each department is given a lump sum for year-end bonuses and must determine how best to divide it among the team. Understanding your company's salary structure and approach to raises and bonuses will help you manage your expectations.

What is an acceptable raise or bonus to ask for?

Generally, you might consider asking for a raise of no more than 10% of your current salary. Of course, there are certain exceptions. For instance, a startup with limited cash flow may be able to offer equity or perks instead of a salary increase. Alternatively, if your salary is much lower than comparable roles in your location, you may want to make the case for more than a 10% increase.

An online search may be useful for determining the average pay for a particular role in a given geographic location. Certain websites provide salary information broken down by factors such as years of experience, education level, location, and more. You may also consider asking for a promotion, which typically comes with a raise, if you strongly believe you are ready to take on a new challenge.

If you receive a raise or bonus offer that you believe is too low, you certainly have the right to negotiate. If you ask for too much, so long as you are respectful, the worst your boss may do is deny your request. Still, you may undermine your credibility if you ask for a particularly high raise or bonus and are unable to back it up with equally impressive performance metrics.

What should I avoid saying or doing when asking for a raise or bonus?

When you ask for a raise or bonus, you need to strike the proper balance between confidence and humility. In other words, you should know your value and be ready to explain why you believe you have earned the extra money without acting entitled or making demands. This is primarily a matter of attitude and tact. It is often advisable to not talk about deserving or needing a higher salary. At the same time, avoid sounding apologetic when you ask for what you believe your contributions are worth.

You may also want to avoid:

  • Complaints about your workload or stress level.
  • Threatening to quit.
  • Being unprepared or unable to quantify your contributions.
  • Discussing what others in the company earn.
  • Bringing it up at the wrong time or with the wrong person.

If you believe a gender pay gap exists, you may want to discuss this with a lawyer or your company's HR.

How do I respond if my boss says "no" or "maybe" to a raise or bonus?

If you strongly believe that you have earned a raise or bonus, hearing no or maybe in response can be a major blow to your confidence. The last thing you want to do in such a situation is let on that you are upset or frustrated since this is unlikely to work in your favor. It does not mean you need to be happy with the rejection, but it may be in your best interest to stay cool and keep your cards close to your chest.

For example, maybe you have been a top performer for a while now, but your employer simply will not loosen the purse strings. If that is the case, then you may want to consider employment elsewhere. By staying on good terms with your boss and other colleagues, you may be better positioned to ask them for professional references and maintain a positive professional reputation.

There may be other reasons why your employer is unable to give you a raise that have nothing to do with you in particular, particularly if the answer is maybe. Perhaps your boss agrees that you have earned a raise and is trying to figure out a way to make that happen.

Whatever the answer may be, thank your boss for their time and consideration, avoiding demands or assumptions. You may not always get the raise you believe you have earned, but you can always regroup and try again. If you have specific questions about a workplace incident or potential legal matters, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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