Asking for a raise can be intimidating—even in the best of times! As if that stress weren’t enough, we’re now facing a global pandemic, economic downturn, and remote work transformation, which can make the prospect of asking for more money seem downright terrifying.
Are you feeling underpaid or way overdue for a promotion or salary boost, but the pandemic has you worrying if it’s even worth it to ask? Have you taken on additional responsibilities during this crisis that you believe should be reflected in your compensation, but no one’s even mentioned raises this year? If you feel this way, you are not alone!
As a career coach, I’ve coached hundreds of women on how to negotiate and ask for what they deserve—because remember, you won’t necessarily get what you deserve unless you ask for it first. And these days the biggest question I get is: Should I ask for a raise in this economy? Since the pandemic hit in early 2020, we’ve seen mass layoffs, furloughs, hiring freezes, and unprecedented unemployment rates. It’s easy to understand why this would make you pause and ponder before putting in that request.
Figuring out when and how to ask for what you need and want can leave you feeling unsure and uncomfortable, especially at a time like this. But while things seem unpredictable in the coronavirus job market, there’s some good news: People are still getting new jobs, raises, and promotions. Take that in. Getting a raise during a pandemic is not impossible. And there are ways to figure out whether or not you should ask for more during this time.
When it comes to negotiation, the first three questions I get on the regular are: Should I ask for more? When should I do it? How should I do it? If you’re wondering how to answer these for yourself during the coronavirus pandemic, keep on reading.
Should You Ask for a Raise During the Pandemic?
The truth is that it depends. So what factors should you consider? This article lays out some solid tips on when it’s the best time in general. But what about during the pandemic? Taking into consideration the times that we’re in, you’ll want to be ultra sensitive to the circumstances and timing and be doubly sure that you tie your ask back to the value that you add.
Getting a raise—and deciding whether to ask for one—really comes down to five main things: company performance, your role and performance, your network and relationships, timing, and your financial situation. Let’s dive into each one.
1. Company Performance
How is your organization performing? Have there been layoffs, furloughs, or hiring freezes? How about restructuring and downsizing? Did your company institute pay cuts across the board, and if so, have those been reversed? How has your industry more broadly performed during the pandemic? Do you hear leaders talking about the challenges of forecasting future earnings, performance, and recovery in the midst of all this uncertainty?
If you notice there are conversations circulating internally about business sustainability or viability, you may want to pause on your ask until the company is more stable. “It can come across as insensitive to still ask for an increase when the company is in survival mode,” says career coach Julia Rock, founder of Rock Career Development.
There are, however, many companies that have weathered the storm and are doing well—for some, their business has even increased amidst the pandemic. If your company is doing well financially—hitting revenue goals, for example, and hiring new employees—it’s well within reason to move forward with negotiating.
In short, this is the time to find out as much as you can about how your employer is doing and what leadership’s priorities are. If you’re noticing that more work is being added to your plate and the company is actually getting busier at this time, it could mean that business is picking up. It could also mean that the team has shrunk due to layoffs and the remaining employees are each having to crank out more to get the same amount of work done. Observation and research will do you well here. Look at recent news about your company and industry. Ask decision makers (or even HR) questions about how the company is performing.
What if your company isn’t doing well, but you’ve taken on additional responsibilities due to the pandemic? Don’t overlook this, Rock says, and remember that you may be able to negotiate for things other than pay if you’ve concluded that company performance is too poor to ask for a raise. “This could be a time where you can negotiate something other than financial rewards in the interim until the company and the economy improve,” Rock says. “This could be something like a more flexible work schedule or comp time/additional PTO.”
2. Your Role and Performance
When it comes to asking for more, it’s important to be able to directly pinpoint how you’ve added value to the company and how your work impact is aligned with business objectives. If you aren’t able to pinpoint these things, you may not be ready to ask for a raise. You can also take a hard look at how your responsibilities have changed due to the pandemic.
Here are some questions to think about (I’m sure your wheels are spinning!):
- Were you already in talks with your boss, HR, or other higher-ups about getting promoted or getting a raise before COVID-19 hit?
- Do you have healthy and consistent conversations with your boss about your career goals? Are they aware of your desire to get a raise?
- What have you accomplished in the last six to 12 months? How have your accomplishments contributed to the success of the company? Did you help reenvision company, team, or project strategies in the face of the pandemic?
- Have you received positive feedback lately on your performance from colleagues, clients, your boss, or other higher ups?
- Have you taken on more responsibilities or expanded your role during the pandemic due to a downsize in the team or changing strategies?
- Did you fill in for a colleague who was out for health or caregiving reasons?
- Have you exceeded expectations even despite all the stress of the pandemic?
- Did you help your team and company through the transition from working in the office to working remotely? For example, did you train the team on how to use certain digital tools to stay efficient while working from home? Or have you become a leader within your team, helping colleagues stay motivated and productive so that everyone can meet their goals?
If you proactively manage your career—by tracking your projects, metrics of success, and wins on a consistent basis—you might be ready to ask for a raise quite quickly. I recommend keeping a running list of your work accomplishments, revisiting and updating it weekly, and sharing your wins regularly with your boss so that by the time you get to asking for a raise, they’re not confused or caught off guard.
If you haven’t been keeping this list, don’t panic! Spend some time compiling information about your performance (you can start by answering the questions above) and it’ll help you decide whether you’re ready to make an ask.
3. Your Network and Relationships
Having relationships with the right people at your company who will advocate on your behalf is essential to growing within your company. As you decide if you’re ready to ask for a raise, consider whether your network and relationships are already set up to help you or if you should consider waiting and building these up first.
Your boss is first on the list. Rock believes having regular check-ins with your manager is the key to advocating for yourself and what you deserve. If they’ve been able to hear about your career goals and see your progress and the effort you’ve been putting in, the ask will go much more smoothly. “I find that these conversations go a lot easier when your boss has been engaged with your work,” she says. ”They will be more willing to advocate for your increased compensation and escalate to higher levels on your behalf when they've had a front-row seat.”
So ask yourself: Have you been communicating with your boss even as you work remotely? Have you talked about your work, accomplishments, and goals often as the world has rapidly changed? Have you had a chance to make yourself and your work visible to other supervisors or leaders within the company? Have you been working with a mentor or sponsor from another department? Would all of these folks vouch for your performance in recent months? You don’t need all of the answers to be “yes” to be ready to ask for a raise, but the more yeses you have, the better a position you’re in.
What time of the year does your company normally give out promotions and raises? At some organizations, this happens at the same time as annual or semi-annual performance reviews; others decouple the two processes. And some companies are more open than others to off-cycle raises. It’s worth consulting an employee handbook or looking back to any emails you may have received with this information in the past. You can also ask your boss, HR, or a trusted colleague how the company typically approaches raises.
If you were planning to ask for a raise and know that this time of the year is coming up at your company, then you’re right on track to start preparing and planning your ask. If it’s not that time of the year and the review process is months away, don’t fret! You can still give it a try—if you think your company might be open to an off-cycle raise. Otherwise, this gives you time to prepare and plan. Asking for a raise isn’t just a one and done conversation. Building your case methodically and having multiple conversations leading up to the right time of year could help you ultimately get what you want.
5. Your Financial Situation and Goals
Ask yourself: Has your financial situation changed since the start of the pandemic? Do you ultimately need more money to sustain your lifestyle and take care of your household? Perhaps your partner was laid off or you need to allocate funds for extra tutoring or educational support for children learning remotely.
While it’s not necessary to share this information with your employer—and, in fact, I wouldn’t recommend you sharing—it’d be good for you to know for some extra motivation before you ask. And this could also determine what other non-compensation benefits (work from home, flexible work arrangements, PTO, home office supply budget, etc.) you may want to negotiate in addition to the raise, or instead of a raise if one isn’t possible.
Do You Need a Pep Talk Before You Ask?
Here’s the real question, is there ever an exact right time to ask for more money at work? It might feel like the answer is no, but it’s yes more often than you’d think. If you’re adding value, exceeding performance expectations, and taking on more work, and your company is performing well, then you should definitely consider asking, even during a pandemic.
Self-advocacy is one of the biggest skills you can learn to grow in your career. It’s time to shift your mindset about asking for what you deserve. Instead of thinking, “What if they say no?” think, “What if they say yes?” Think about it this way: If you don't ask, the answer will always be no!
Besides, even if your company does say no, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Negotiating for what you want is a super important and beneficial thing to attempt and learn from even if the answer ends up being no. Because now your boss and leaders know how serious you are about your growth and development at the company. That’s never a bad thing. It also shows that you want to continue to add value and grow your impact at the company and they should compensate you fairly for that.
How Do You Ask for a Raise During a Pandemic?
So you’ve weighed all the factors above and decided that it is a good time for you to ask for a raise—congrats! It’s a big step and you should be proud of yourself. What’s next? Follow these steps.
1. Prepare the Ask
When going into this conversation, you’ll want to be as prepared as possible! That means pulling previous performance evaluations and any additional documentation that demonstrates your value and work ethic. That brag sheet outlining your wins over the last six to 12 months (including what you did, how you did it, who/how it helped, and what the quantifiable results were)? You’ll need that. You might also want to collect praise and feedback you’ve received in emails, on Slack, or otherwise.
Next, you’ll need to know how much you’re going to ask for and you should base it on market research. Do you know the going salary/rate for your position, industry, and location? Do you know what other folks with similar roles, responsibilities, education, and experience—at your company and elsewhere—are making?
As you’re planning, put a script together so that you know what you’re going to say. This is not the time to wing the conversation. Be sure to rehearse aloud and in front of a mirror until you are asking with confidence. Practicing with a friend over a video call to simulate what the conversation would likely be during pandemic times. Even just recording yourself on video will help you pick up on nonverbal cues you’re giving that you may not even be noticing—smiling, eye contact, posture, and more can help you exude confidence while staying calm.
2. Schedule the Ask
Once you’ve done most of the prep work above, it’s time to send an email to your boss or the person that directly oversees your performance to schedule a meeting. The request can be as simple as this: “I’d like to set up some time with you to discuss my performance and compensation.”
Now that we’ve been working from home for a few months, you also are likely to have a sense of their weekly rhythm and can schedule accordingly—e.g. if you know they tend to be watching their kids in the afternoons and can be more hectic and distracted, you’ll want to suggest a morning meeting. Or if you know that your boss tends to get bombarded with requests as the week goes on, try to pick a slot early in the week. In short, try to avoid the times when they tend to be more preoccupied so that they can be fully focused on the conversation.
A video call is best for these types of meetings so that you can see your boss’s response and pay attention to body language and facial expressions.
3. Make the Ask
To start off the conversation, share your appreciation for the opportunity to work at the company and your enthusiasm for being there. Then, go into how you’ve contributed to the company before and during the pandemic and share a few key examples from the material you’ve gathered about your performance as part of your prep work. Tell them what you are looking to make and why. By the end of the conversation, your boss should understand exactly why you are seeking a raise.
Your boss may ask you some follow-up questions, so be prepared to elaborate. But keep in mind that there’s almost no circumstance under which they’ll be able to give you an answer on the spot. They’ll most likely need to speak to their own boss or other leaders as well as HR. So expect to hear that they’ll consider your request and get back to you. Hopefully, they’ll give you a sense of the timeline and stick to it, but be prepared to follow up if needed.
You might need to have further conversations about your salary expectations if you don’t get the initial response you’re hoping for, Rock says. “Companies aren't typically willing to dish out more cash just because you ask nicely. Be prepared to negotiate if required,” she says. “Don't just let your salary request fade into the abyss.”
4. Don’t Be Discouraged
If you ask and the answer is no, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t happen for you at some point. “No” could simply mean “not yet,” especially in this context. Your work performance, talents, and skills may be deserving of a raise, but there are always other factors, such as timing and internal policies. And a “not yet” is even more likely during this pandemic, when your boss and company may want to recognize your accomplishments with a raise but simply can’t make it happen at this time.
Ask your boss what you can do to prepare for a raise in the future and set a timeline to follow up, check in, and discuss your performance to make sure you’re hitting your goals to get that raise you desire.
Just because we’re in an economic downturn, doesn’t mean your career has to be. So remember that negotiation is a conversation, not a confrontation. Be prepared when making the ask and think two steps ahead for their response. Try to focus on the best-case scenario (instead of the worst). And commit to the process, not the result. You should celebrate standing up for yourself. It’s going to be a bit scary, but you’ll get through it and will come out even stronger, no matter what the answer is.