Sensitivity to company's finances urged when asking for raise

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Question: My employer hasn’t given us pay raises for two years even though our company has had steady business. My family income has dropped and I need a raise and I think I deserve a decent raise. How do I get the boss to tell us what is going to happen to our pay?

Answer: There are no magic words or simple solutions to this problem. There are several issues and questions embedded in your question so let’s tackle them.

Steady business may not indicate the company is doing well financially. Employees tend to assume that their employer is making a lot of money, but the reality is often different.

Your employer may be making a good profit or may be struggling to keep all the bills paid.

Or the owner may have decided to build up cash reserves to help the company ride out the ups and downs of a rough economy. Or the owner might be investing in product development or improved equipment or facilities that will benefit the business in the long run. Or the owner might be taking on marginally profitable work to avoid lay-offs.

Most employers are very uncomfortable talking about the company’s finances and employee pay. It is possible that your boss is well intentioned and wants to protect you from worry. However, if there was little communication about pay and finances in the past it isn’t likely to happen now without some effort on your part.

Pick the right time when you ask your boss to talk about pay increases. Everyone has a time of day when they are most approachable.

I had a boss that was at his most relaxed after lunch and I learned to approach him while he was still in the afterglow of a good meal.

Before lunch he would cut off questions abruptly; after lunch he was thoughtful and listened. Or your boss may prefer requests for meetings to come by email or voicemail; use the method he or she prefers.

The key is not to blindside him or be confrontational. Your goal is to get a meeting with the boss to discuss how things are going and what employees can do to get a pay increase. I would expect this type of meeting could take an hour, and ideally your employer would meet with all employees in one large group or a few smaller groups of employees.

Don’t make demands; make an offer. Focus on what you can do. Your personal financial health is directly tied to your employer’s financial health, so tell your employer that you and your co-workers want to make sure that the company is as successful as possible.

And if your boss doesn’t make the connection, be blunt and ask your employer what you and your co-workers need to do to get a pay increase again.

Try asking questions along these lines: Do costs need to come down? Are there quality issues? Are sales slow?

Every single employee has an impact on the bottom line. Employees bring in new customers and keep customers happy and revenue flowing; and employees keep costs down by focusing on quality and productivity. Sometimes the boss may need to be reminded of just how much impact each employee has.

Pay increases cannot be based on an employee’s needs.

It is tempting to think you need to make the boss aware of your financial challenges so he can take them into consideration when handing out pay increases; but an employer cannot use need as a basis for pay decisions.

If your boss gives you a pay increase based on need, to be fair he should then look at your co-workers’ needs. Take two steps down this road and everything is a mess; need just can’t be a factor in pay decisions

What will pay increases be based on? Some employers base pay on seniority, others tie pay to individual performance and some organizations pay based on an employee’s degree or license. You need to make sure you understand what criteria will be used when increase are handed out.

If your pay is tied to your individual performance then you need to make sure that you and your boss agree on your performance expectations and how you are doing. If you and the boss haven’t been talking about your performance then this is a good time to do it.

I hope that your boss will be grateful to have employees who want to work with him to keep the business as strong as possible.

If you discover that pay increases are not likely to happen soon but you are comfortable that your employer is doing the right things to keep the business going, and you like your job and trust your employer then stick it out if at all possible.

Virginia Detweiler is a human resources consultant and has taught business and management at Walla Walla Community College’s Business and Professional Development Program and at Walla Walla University. Questions for her columns can be submitted to her email address at wwcomplady@gmail.com. Those used will be edited to remove information that would identify the sender. She also can be reached at 509-529-1910.

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