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What to say and do when your employee asks for a raise

·4 min read

There are few questions managers dread more than, “Can I have a raise?”— not because they don’t want to reward employees for hard work, but because they often have minimal control over the process and receive little, if any, training to handle the matter.

With the business shocks stemming from the covid-19 pandemic, employees have been fairly understanding of pay constraints. But with the great reawakening still in play, this patience is starting to wear thin. So, while we’ve been busy preparing your employees on how to ask for a raise, we also want to ensure you’re ready when you receive the inevitable Slack message: “Can I get some time on your calendar to chat?” Note, these four rules are for employees who are meeting or exceeding your expectations.

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Here are four rules to set you on your way:

Rule 1: Be Prepared

Sure, I can discuss that with you.”

Before engaging in a serious pay conversation with an employee, ensure you have a strong understanding of your company’s approach to compensation. For example, does your organization pay at, above, or below market rate overall? For the jobs and people that you oversee? When and how often are raises typically given? When was the last time any formal pay analysis was done for jobs in your department to determine appropriate salary ranges or to identify inequities for women or people of color?

For a complete list of questions every manager should ask their HR department or senior leadership team about pay, click here.

Rule 2: Be Open

I’m glad we’re talking about this. Knowing you feel valued is important to me, and I know that what you are paid affects that.”

Offering this simple message will convey your empathy and deepen your connection with the person inquiring about a raise. It will also build psychological safety, as you’re communicating that you won’t hold it against them for caring about their pay. According to Google’s research, there’s a bigger reward there, as psychological safety has proven to be the top dynamic required in high-performing teams. It underpins the other four dynamics of dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, and impact.

Rule 3: Be honest

While I know this isn’t fully in my control, I want to be an active sponsor for you.”

It’s key that you refer to yourself as, and act like, a sponsor, meaning you use your power to actively help someone advance. This is different from mentorship; as a mentor, you talk to someone, while as a sponsor you talk about them. Being a sponsor who takes up the issues and questions that matter most to your employees helps advance their careers and moves women along more quickly. It also can reinforce the trust you’ve worked so hard to build by being open.

Being a sponsor is only half of this step, though, as leaders should also be honest about if and why the decision regarding a raise will not be fully in their control. Employees know that getting a raise isn’t only about them. Extend that understanding and build their knowledge of how the pay process works (see Rule 1: Be prepared). Explain the raise pool. Remind them of where their role is positioned in the company by showing them their current job class or pay band.

The confidence an employee can gain by understanding the pay process, where they are now, and sharing with you where they want to be is valuable not just to move through the issue of pay but to help them perform better in their role day to day.

Rule 4: Be understanding of style and personality differences

I know talking about money isn’t the easiest topic. How can I make this easier for you?”

Humans with introverted tendencies in the workplace typically get less attention, advance at a slower pace, and even make less money. Good managers can help close these gaps by pointing people to useful data that will help them better understand their pay situation and negotiating position. For example, employees can find basic salary information based on job title and location or dig deeper with a payscale survey that lets you dig into more detail for a current job or a job offer. My favorite part of tools like this is they often recommend skills that can positively impact that role’s pay.

Achieving total pay transparency within a company is a large-scale change and is intimidating to many companies and leaders. Until that day comes for your company, encourage your employees to do their research. Or, you can join them!

And remember…

The journey to a successful conversation about pay begins with being prepared and boosting your own confidence on an unnecessarily taboo topic. If you’ve read this far, chances are you already have established a level of trust with your employees, who know they can count on you to hear their concerns and steer them toward success. Build on that with more honesty and guidance on pay than they’ve likely received before, and you’re reinforcing that their work matters and the company values their impact, which can increase performance.

Once your team member gets to, or near, the range they were hoping for, be sure to congratulate them on the good work that led to the financial reward—and congratulate yourself on helping them to navigate an often fraught topic that can only be tamed with preparation, openness, honesty, and understanding.