Raises have been minimal, or non-existent from 2010 to 2012, according to a survey from Mercer, a New York human resources consulting firm. Most raises have been in the 2.7 percent range this year -- less than the 2012 cost of living adjustment of 3.6 percent.
Clearly, the struggling job market is enabling employers in many sectors to keep raises low. (In-demand jobs, like engineering, for instance, are enjoying better pay.)
1. Become indispensable.
Pulling your weight is not enough. Employees really need to illustrate why they are exceptional at what they do.
Make yourself the go-to expert in your area and provide solutions to issues that are essential to the company success. If you can distinguish yourself as someone they cannot lose, your chances of being given hefty raises will grow significantly. If you need to develop additional skills or competencies, consider this an investment in your career future and ask for work that will help you demonstrate these skills visibly within your workplace. Being indispensable will also help make you less vulnerable when mergers, lay-offs, and right sizing occur.
2. Manage up.
Don't assume that your boss knows everything that you're accomplishing throughout the year. Unless you are doing a poor job, most bosses leave you to your own devices and rarely check-in.
Share your accolades and "wins" regularly. Send your boss a brief monthly report to outline the goals you have met and the solutions you provided that met the strategic plan of your company or department. Be specific because you are a building a case for a merit-based raise. These mini-reports for your boss will add facts to back up why you deserve a salary increase much more effectively than the generic annual performance review. Plus, it helps you keep track of what you have accomplished so you can talk about this effectively during your evaluation and beyond.
Don't assume your boss knows you want a bigger than 2.7 percent raise (or whatever the standard raise is in your company). Don't be passive. Ask your boss for the raise you want --and back up your request with comparative salary data and the list accomplishments during a given period. (You can check salaries on AOL Jobs' salary calculator.)
The fact that you took on more responsibilities is not enough.
Everyone is taking on more work; everyone's jobs are expanding. Everyone is learning new technical skills. What will make you stand out as a high contributor warranting a larger than average raise are specifics about how you contributed to the bottom line. Metrics are persuasive.
Also: be prepared to come to the discussion with a negotiating mindset. Which brings me to the last point.
4. Come to the bargaining table with a plan.
In this economy, it's common for a boss to say "You've done a great job this year but we just don't have the budget to give you a raise right now." Instead of sulking back to your office feeling deflated, ask your boss to plan for your raise in the next fiscal year or some shorter time period. Ask for a percentage that reflects your outstanding work so it can be figured into the line item budget for the next period.
Remember: "No" doesn't mean "no, forever" -- it simply means "not now" and it's your responsibility to follow-up and offer a plan which indicates your value-add to the organization and your desire to stay with the firm for the foreseeable future. Management is more likely to invest in you if they believe you will be sticking around.
You can also be creative and ask for a bonus, instead, to make up for the lack of increase to your base pay. These alternative incentives are often more affordable and easier to grant, so be creative and come to the bargaining table with multiple options.
5. Finally, think big.
Don't suffer from low expectations, set your sights high and be clear about what you want and why you deserve it. In this economy, you can't wait for a raise to come to you no matter how stellar you are at work. You must make the powers that be aware of your value-add, ask for what you deserve, and come to the negotiation with facts and a strong ability to negotiate.
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