How NOT to Ask for a Raise

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We talked about the best times to ask for a raise last week. In a way, this post is a prequel to that topic because, when you ask for a raise, it should be for the right reasons. No need to talk about timing if the motive is unsound. There is simply no good time to make a sorry request.

I can think of no better way to start today’s discussion than with a parable from the Bible, book of Matthew. It is a fairly lengthy passage, and I have put some words in bold for emphasis. 

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.” So they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, “Why have you been standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.”

So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, “Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.” And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, “These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.” But he answered one of them and said, ”Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good? So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.” (Matthew 20: 1-16, NKJV)


The wrong time to ask for a raise: When your colleagues get one

The most common reason workers ask for a raise is because their co-workers just got one, or they learned their co-workers earn more, or they feel their co-workers do less for the same pay. This is natural because we are wired to compete and to compare, and when we perceive the playing field is uneven, we try to remedy it immediately—not unlike the first-hired laborers in the passage above. Often, though, the boss’s response is the same as that of the owner of the vineyard: Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? In other words: I, as the owner of the business, write the rules. I set the playing field, I agree with you on your compensation, and if I choose to pay someone else something different, it is my right to do so. I am doing you no wrong.

As long as your employer is paying you what you both agreed to at the start, they are being fair—regardless of what they are paying your co-workers. You can, of course, ask for more, and you might even be given more. My point is just that, if you get turned down, no injustice has been done. No need to blame it on nepotism, favoritism, racism, sexism, ageism, or any other isms. I would know.

Several years ago, a colleague of mine was suddenly promoted. I felt blindsided, and like something didn’t add up. We had started working for the company at the same level, the same day. We were of similar age and experience. From my view, I worked harder than him and had delivered more results to the company. Why, then, was he rewarded with a promotion and not me? This bothered me for weeks until I discovered that, before he accepted his job offer, he had reached a deal that basically said, barring any gross misconduct, he would be promoted after a certain number of years. So when the agreed time period came to an end, the company simply honored their promise to him. I thought that was quite smart of him and came to admire him for it. He implicitly understood what I said last week—that the period after an offer has been made is the best time to basically ask for anything.  

Don’t Negotiate from a Position of Weakness

Another fairly common reason workers ask for a raise is because of their personal situation. Something has changed in their life and they need more money, so they ask their employer for it. I have yet to see a contract that says, “We will pay you X per month, but if you need to put your child through college or your mum becomes sick, we will increase X to Y.” I have also yet to see anyone who doesn’t need more money. Asking for more money just because you need more money is a losing strategy. You are at the bargaining table with no chips in hand. All you are counting on is sympathy. That is called negotiating from a position of weakness. Please don’t do that. To improve your bargaining position in a pay-raise discussion, do your research, improve on your skills (and education), and be willing to put more time and thought into your vocation. Then, you will attract the bigger bucks.

Are there other sorry reasons you have seen or heard for asking for a raise? Please share! It may make for comic reading.

MoneyMichaeltiming, mistakes