How to negotiate a pay raise during a pandemic

Sep 25, 2020

4 mins

How to negotiate a pay raise during a pandemic
Joanna York


The circumstances for many companies and employees have been far from ideal this year. In fact, when it comes to work, it’s hard to imagine that we’ll remember 2020 as anything but a year of lay-offs, furlough, and instability, with a crumbling economy looming in the background.

But…what if that’s not your story? What if, despite everything, you’ve actually been nailing your job? In normal circumstances, you’d probably have a strong case to argue for a pay rise. During a pandemic, this might seem less likely but don’t give up hope. “Do I think it can happen right now? Yes, of course,” said interview coach and recruitment expert Margaret Buj. “It just depends on the company.”

1. Evaluate your company’s position

First, assess your company finances. Have they done well during the pandemic? Realistically, is a pay rise financially possible? “If your company has been making people redundant, right, left and center, I honestly don’t think I would ask right now,” said Margaret Buj. “If the company is really struggling, if they put people on furlough, if they made people redundant, that’s the worst time to be asking for a pay rise. I don’t think you’re likely to get it.”

However, if there are signs that your company hasn’t suffered financially, or has even done well during the pandemic, you could be in a good position to put in a request.

2. Start an informal conversation

Whatever your company’s financial situation, you can still bring up the topic of a pay rise with your manager informally. This can be a useful way for you to gauge what is realistically possible, and it gives your manager a heads-up of what you want for the future.

How you do this depends on the methods you and your boss have been using to communicate during the health crisis. A regular update call could provide a good opportunity, but you could use email or even instant messaging if you and your boss normally use these tools to keep in touch.

Buj says promotion and pay rise cycles often happen once a year, so it’s important to have the initial conversation well in advance before firm decisions have been made.

It’s also important to be able to justify your request.“Don’t assume that your boss remembers what you’ve accomplished,” said Buj. “Keep a log of all of your successes and wins, no matter how big or small.” These will help to show the value you bring to the company. Take a printed copy to the meeting with you, and email a copy to your boss too.

If you’re confident your company has done well financially through the pandemic, this initial conversation may be quite straightforward. However, if your company is struggling, Buj suggests bringing the topic up sensitively.“You can always say something along the lines of, ‘I really want to stay with the organization, I believe I have made an impact, however, I was hoping to have a little bit more. What are my chances?’,” she said.

3. Work out what you want and what you’re worth

“Your request has to be reasonable and in line with current market rates,” said Buj. “That’s why it’s so important to do the research.” Although this is harder when asking for an internal pay rise than when negotiating a salary for a new job, it can still be done. Try contacting recruiters to see how attractive your CV is to other companies, and even have initial discussions with them about salaries you might get elsewhere.

Of course, it’s possible that since the health pandemic began typical rates have changed. But the figure you land on will ultimately depend on your sector and how valuable your skill set is to your company.

Even if your company has been affected by the pandemic, look at your personal position within the business. “If you’re really, really valuable to the company, and maybe you’re the only one in there with a specific skill set, it could still be a good time to ask for a pay rise,” said Buj.

Similarly, if your company hasn’t put anyone on furlough, you can feel fairly confident asking for a pay rise at the standard market rate. Ultimately, your goal is to get to a figure that you feel is fair for your experience and your results in the current market.

4. Present a solid case

In different circumstances, you might go into a pay rise negotiation confident in your ability to find a job elsewhere if the conversation doesn’t go your way. However, as Buj points out, the employment market is not in your favor. “In the current situation we have millions of people who are actually not working,” she said. “Can you really demand a pay rise in the current climate, when your company is likely to make people redundant? I don’t think you can.”

What you can do, she says, is prepare a solid case. Show your value to the company, and provide proof with good reports or performance reviews. Back up the salary you are requesting with evidence of current market rates. And be specific about how you will add value in the future.

And if the negotiation still doesn’t go your way? Buj advises planning for the future by pinning down the specifics of how to get a pay rise next year. “Ask your boss to be very candid with you,” she said. “What could you do to improve your chances of landing that raise? Solicit some specific feedback on projects that you can handle and your performance up to this point.”

Be prepared for the facts, advises Buj. “Don’t be defensive when receiving that information, because it’s meant to help you improve to land the higher salary bracket next year.”

5. Think beyond money

If your company isn’t in a position to offer a pay rise, what other perks might they be able to offer instead? This year has seen normal work rhythms and routines thrown up in the air, so you might be in a strong position to ask for flexible working arrangements to become more permanent. Buj suggests employers might be more open than previously to negotiating later starts, flexible hours, and work-from-home days.

Although these factors won’t increase your pay packet, they might improve your overall lifestyle, and make your job more valuable to you.

6. If you’re not sure, ask

Ultimately, Buj says, pandemic or not, there’s no harm in asking for a pay raise as long as you do so sensitively, and can show your value to the company. And, of course, if you think it’s something your company can realistically offer right now.

If these factors are in place, companies want to keep good people,” she said. “Honestly, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. So I would say always ask.”

So what are you waiting for? Do your prep, build up the courage and choose your moment to ask tactfully—who knows, you might be taking home a bigger pay packet sooner than you think.

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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