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How to ask for a pay rise so you actually get it

Compilation image of Australian dollars in a jeans back pocket and a poster saying 'wage increase'
Asking for a pay rise isn't as easy as you'd think. (Source: Getty) (Samantha Menzies)

The pandemic may have passed and our lives may be getting back to normal, but there is one thing that will probably never be the same again: work.

Liberated from our desk caddies and therefore commutes, we have tasted a time-saving, location-changing lifestyle that many don’t want to give up.

Well, we should according to an eminent executive-pay-rise negotiator.

Read more from Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon:

I sat down this week with Sam Trattles, director of Other Side of the Table and author of Negotiate Your Worth, who says working from home will ultimately cost us money… and career advancement.


“I appreciate you want to do washing on a Tuesday and pick up the kids, but you also need to have those coffee conversations,” she said.

“We are losing those random friendships at the coffee shop or cross organisational connections and support networks that make all the difference to our pay and future promotions.”

How much office time is enough? “Even just one day a week,” Trattles said.

“But I think three is nice – relative to how many days you work.”

The obstacles to getting a pay rise

While consumer prices inflation is eating into all of our incomes, running at an eye-watering 6.1 per cent and expected by the government to top out 7.75 per cent by the end of the year, wages inflation is just 2.6 per cent.

That hurts.

However, cost-of-living pressures do not entitle you to a higher salary, Trattles said.

You would think, though, that an employment market tighter than it has been in almost 50 years would make getting one easier.

“[But] as a boss, it’s really bloody hard right now,” Trattles said.

Yes, they are worried about losing people but there is significant pressure on company margins, too.

So the key is to convince your manager it would be more costly to replace you than to keep your contribution.

And of your indispensability.

Why you need to learn ‘uncomfortable conversation’

Trattles believes many ‘missed opportunities’ when it comes to upping your income are down to the idea the negotiation should be “win: win”.

“This is a United States-style, which doesn’t work for Australians,” she said.

“We enter the process thinking ‘fight’ so the fight, flight and freeze parts of our brain are already activated and biasing our actions and responses,” Trattles said.

Instead, we need to learn how to have an “uncomfortable” conversation.

A positive about the pandemic, she says, is that we have a different perspective and priorities, including that work-from-home wish.

“We have all changed so much in that we are clearer than ever in what we care about,” Trattles said.

We just need to be able to persuade bosses how to give it to us.

And if you are a boss, Trattles has a reality check: “It’s not just about salary.”

“An employee’s joy in a business comes down to not just money but what sort of team you want to work in.”

“Leadership teams have to grab the culture but they need to do it in a way that’s conciliatory.”

Is your employer wanting you to go back to a ghosttown of an office? That is “pointless”.

“My team all come into the office on a Friday so we can do lunch together,” Trattles said.

“It’s not wasted time; it works so well. We do five hours of hard-core work then have something to look forward to.”

So how do you give yourself the biggest chance of salary success and job satisfaction?

How to ask for a pay rise… and get it

“It’s all about human connection,” Trattles said.

A pay rise negotiation needs to be a fair and reasonable exchange of values.

You need to sit down – not email – with your senior supervisor and talk about your worth, enjoyment in your role and cultural fit in the company.

Always “seed” the idea first and realise it typically takes months to get a pay rise.

“Sprinkle a bit of dust… hey just wondering what you think about this,” Trattles said.

And you will need “proof points” that you deserve a pay rise. Preferably with profit proof.

Discuss the office versus home and show willingness to front up at least that one, collegiate day.

Finally, discuss how you can more be involved, if you can add responsibilities and the chance of advancing in your role down the track.

Trattles’ company is running a free online course over ‘Negotiation November’ that could help.

“You will soon know if you are valued there and if your boss is going to help you get recognition and a rise,” Trattles said.

The ‘money talk’ mistakes to avoid

If your boss’s immediate reaction to a pay approach is “no, it’s a bad time”, then that’s a “shit boss”, Trattles says.

But you also need to avoid triggering that immediate, defensive reaction and prejudicing them against you in negotiations.

Psychological theory names the common tactical mistakes as:

  • Ambushing your boss – sprinkle that dust instead

  • Going in with guns blazing – realise that most bosses have not been taught how to handle someone asking for a pay rise

  • Getting emotional or angry if a negotiation is not going your way – it’s going to see your boss head for the exit rather than the accounts department.

  • Thinking a “no” means your salary is stuck.

Instead, if you get no joy…

How good companies are keeping staff

It’s time to explore whether you are working for the right person in the right business.

You need to decide whether your plan is push – so try to position yourself for a pay rise in the next review cycle – or go.

Remember, there are companies working hard to attract and retain staff.

Perhaps, look at those businesses that are trialling the four-day week – for many, it’s really working.

Adobe, for example, also has no meetings on three days a week, so as not to disrupt workflow, and is bringing in quiet time too: no chatting at desks between nine and 11 o’clock.

And the once-a-month mental health day, of your choice, is growing in popularity.

At the end of the day, progression and poaching is how you grow.

Could life – and your budget – look better on the other side?

Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon is the author of How to Get Mortgage-Free Like Me, available at Follow Nicole on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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