How to ask your boss for a pay rise during the COVID recession


The thought of asking for a pay rise usually incites sweaty palms and pangs of self-doubt.

Add in the complications of a once-in-a-century pandemic, and it’s fair to say those responses have gone into overdrive.

Unemployment is continuing to rise and many businesses have put a freeze on pay, creating conditions ripe for underpayment.

The average worker’s pay packet only rose 0.1 per cent in the three months to September, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Combined with an average annual wage hike of 1.2 percent, the country is in the grips of its slowest wage growth in recorded history.

But this is no reason to avoid pushing bosses to the bargaining table, says Other Side of the Table’s Sam Trattles.

Ms Trattles, who has negotiated on behalf of employees at Telstra and professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, told The New Daily businesses do not want to lose good workers in the current economic climate.

That’s where workers have the leverage to ask for “other currencies” if their employer is not willing to boost their pay, she said.

“For me, if someone gives you an outright ‘No’, then maybe that employer is not for you. But if they tell you ‘Not now’, that then opens an ongoing conversation,” Ms Trattles said.

So, here’s how to ask for a pay rise during a recession.

Research, research, research

Ms Trattles said research is fundamental to securing a pay rise.

Like a detective building a case against a criminal, workers need to build a file of evidence to back up every claim pitched to their boss.

“If workers have hard evidence and facts, that takes away plenty of the anxiety from the conversation because your argument has been thought through – and a common mistake is people just wing it,” Ms Trattles said.

Preparing a robust case can improve your chances – and reduce your stress. Photo: Getty

Randstad director of HR Felicity Empson said workers should begin by ascertaining the effect COVID-19 has had on their employers’ bottom line and whether it’s viable to expect a pay rise.

Then, workers should list how their role today differs from the responsibilities outlined in their contract or agreed to during their last pay discussion, Ms Trattles said.

Lastly, workers need to place a number on their worth.

“We haven’t been programmed to talk about money and pay,” she said.

“You can get a better picture by looking at equivalent roles on job listings sites, talking to a recruiter who specializes in your field of work, and even having discussions with your colleagues to see what they’re getting paid.”

Show flexibility

One of the biggest flaws workers and managers bring to pay negotiations is an unwillingness to compromise – and Ms Trattles said that stems from both parties not having training on managing these conversations.

As a result, other bargaining options may be neglected.

“When we look at reward for work you need to consider the full package. So what other benefits are available? We’re talking about tangible things, including upskilling, which not only add value to us but also to the business,” Randstad’s Ms Empson said.

Alternatives include flexibility over working schedules, mentor opportunities, and childcare packages.

Jumping up the wages ladder can be tough for even the most experienced workers. Photo: Getty

Ms Trattles also warned that pay negotiations can take a long time, so workers should prepare to bargain over the long haul.

“It’s about being creative, so if I sat down and wrote that my job’s really different to what it was three years ago, it’s about my manager and I saying ‘Let’s work through this together’,” she said.

Leave your ego at the door

Ms Empson said without supporting documents – such as testimonials from co-workers – workers are vulnerable to making an unjustified request, which can quickly see tempers flare.

“Not being aggressive and not being upset is integral, which can be tricky as pay is an emotive topic for many people,” Ms Empson said.

“The worst thing you can do in a heated moment is an ultimatum, where you say you’ll eye off jobs elsewhere if your boss is not willing to budge.”

Have confidence in your track record

Regardless of whether a negotiation took place before or after the coronavirus, recognizing how your “tangible value” aligns with real business outcomes is key.

“Is there a project you’ve taken on that exceeded its targets? Have you ramped up your role’s efficiency? If you have the proof of those, talk them up,” Ms Empson said.

“You have to enter these conversations with positivity, but also consider from the employer’s point of view that they may say no.

“But don’t be disheartened as it could be a great positioning conversation that sets you up down the track.”

Top three tips to negotiating a pay rise

  • If you don’t ask, you don’t get – and sometimes that means having an uncomfortable conversation with your boss
  • Invest time to build your case
  • Prepare for talks to potentially be drawn out over weeks or months.

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