How to ask for a raise when the pandemic nears its end

Picking the right time and being ready to communicate your value can help you get to “yes.”
By Mark Tosczak

You’ve been working hard and delivering great results for your firm, perhaps helping implement new initiatives or processes due to the pandemic.

But month after month, your paycheck is the same. Now, with a growing portion of the population in the United States and some other countries vaccinated and at least some aspects of life set to return to normal, you may feel it’s time to raise the question of compensation with your boss.

Understand the big picture. Before you even ask for a bump in pay, consider whether your employer is in a position to provide it. While some firms have thrived during the pandemic, others have struggled.

“You may be knocking it out of the park,” said Seth Hildebrand, vice president, client solutions at PeopleCaddie, a Chicago-based digital talent platform focused on highly skilled contingent labor, where he focuses on public accounting. “If the overall business isn’t performing well, that’s going to have an impact on compensation discussions.”

Checking salary ranges at your firm, if that information is available to employees, or reviewing industry sources such as the Robert Half salary survey to understand compensation ranges can also help you prepare for a discussion about a raise.

Consider timing. Marching into your manager’s office to request higher pay at the height of busy season isn’t a good idea.

“We would always coach folks not to ask for a raise, or even broach that topic, during periods of excessive activity and high stress,” said Hildebrand, who was a director in advisory at Grant Thornton LLP before joining PeopleCaddie.

If your firm has periodic employee reviews, that’s a better time to have the pay discussion, he said. If it doesn’t, consider when your company’s annual budgeting occurs. Asking for more pay before budgets are set makes it more likely you’ll get a yes.

Set the meeting in advance. No manager wants to deal with a surprise request for a pay increase. Hildebrand advises CPAs to schedule meetings where they discuss compensation in advance and to let supervisors know that’s one of the topics to be covered.

“It also gives you an opportunity to kind of set the stage and set the agenda for your manager to understand you’re taking this conversation seriously,” he said.

Put your best foot forward. When asking for a raise, Hildebrand said, there are two things you should be sure to consider. First, simply working hard is not enough. You need to make sure your manager understands what you’ve done outside of your job description. This might include efforts to improve processes or lead a new initiative.

Being able to say, “I proposed X and collaborated with Y, which resulted in Z for the client,” is powerful, Hildebrand said.

Second, you might also make a more convincing case by offering to take on new responsibilities to help your manager and employer meet their goals.

Be prepared to negotiate. Sometimes, no matter how strong your argument, factors beyond your control may make a salary increase impossible.

In that situation, Hildebrand said, be prepared with noncompensation requests as a backup. These could include other benefits, such as more paid time off or additional flexibility in your work schedule.

It could also mean things that could help you in the future, such as “asking for a training allowance to explore a new skill set, which again connects back to benefiting the firm,” Hildebrand said. That request, in lieu of a pay increase, allows you to position yourself more strongly for future raises and reinforces to your manager that you want to be valuable to the firm.

And when the answer is no on a pay increase, it’s best to accept that decision “with grace,” Hildebrand said. “You may have missed the budget cycle. Or it may be in the cards in the next year.”

In that case, your pay increase discussion can become a conversation about what you need to do in the next six to 12 months to position yourself for a raise next time.

Mark Tosczak is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, a JofA associate director, at Chris.Baysden@aicpa-cima.com.

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