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Raise Strategies: What Works?

Over the past decade, the cost of living has skyrocketed. Coupled with lagging wage growth, Americans are faced with the fact that their paycheck doesn't get them as much as it might have 40 years ago. While the cost of living has everything to do with the economy, stagnant wages seem to be more related to business. As Americans work harder, living expenses increase, and paychecks stay the same, employees are forced to speak up. Regardless of how long you've worked for a company, how many times you've had to ask before, and how close you are to your boss, the thought of asking for a raise makes most people nervous.

There's plenty of advice online, detailing the best times to present your request as well as strict dos and don'ts. But do employees really follow these tips, or do they go with their gut? And does the chosen strategy determine the success of the endeavor? We surveyed nearly 1,000 employees about how they asked for a raise and whether their efforts were successful. Keep reading to see which strategies helped increase their paychecks.

Ask and You Shall Receive?

How Successful People Have Been at Getting Raises

Asking for a raise can be quite intimidating; however, 81.2% of employees surveyed were successful at getting a raise at their current job. It's recommended for new employees to wait at least six months before requesting a salary increase, and while intermediate employees were more likely to receive a raise than other positions, it really comes down to performance. While job responsibilities vary widely, measuring performance is fairly consistent across industries, with employers seeking out particular qualities like ambition, intelligence, and positivity.

Salaried employees were also slightly more likely to be successful when asking for a raise; while 75.7% of hourly employees saw an increase in their paychecks, 84.7% of salaried employees did as well. Employers may be more likely to give salaried positions raises due to the position they hold. Salaried employees are typically senior staff, managers, and supervisors – positions that can expect to receive greater raises compared to their lower-level counterparts.

Putting in the Request

How Comfortable People Are Asking for a Raise

Despite the anxiety, nearly 28% of employees were somewhat comfortable requesting a raise, while less than 27% were only slightly comfortable. Roughly 12% of employees were not at all comfortable asking for a raise; however, women were twice as likely as men to report a total lack of comfort. Despite being more uncomfortable, women request raises as often as men. But just as the gender gap drives a wedge between men's and women's salaries, so too are women less likely than men to receive the raises they request.

Getting What You Asked for

Most Recent Raises

Salaried employees may be more successful at receiving a raise, but when hourly workers do receive a raise, they tend to get more bang for their buck. For their most recent raise, salaried employees received an average of $2,370 added to their annual salary, while hourly workers received an additional $1.60 added to their hourly rate. Based on a 40-hour workweek, hourly employees received a raise equivalent to $3,328 extra per year.

Simply getting a "yes" to a raise request may not cut it for all employees, though. While nearly 50% of respondents reported getting the exact amount of money they asked for, 33.5% got less than requested. However, simply asking for a raise may not be the be-all and end-all for an increase in salary. In fact, experts recommend getting a new job if you're looking for a significant jump in pay.

Whether you're planning to find a new job or bite the bullet and ask for a raise, doing research is the first step. People took an average of just under eight days to prepare to ask their boss the pressing question. Experts say it's best to check what others in the same industry and position are earning and consider your company's salary structure before requesting a raise.

Taking the Traditional Route

Most Common Strategies for Getting a Raise by Gender and Generation

There are plenty of recommended strategies for successfully asking for a raise, but which strategies do employees actually use? Men and women across all generations made an effort to set up an in-person meeting with their boss. Sending an email requesting a meeting, while making the intentions of the meeting clear, not only helps prepare your employer to address your wants but also acts as an ice breaker to prevent an awkward start to the conversation.

However, before even approaching the conversation, women were significantly more likely than men to research salary ranges, rehearse the conversation, and postpone asking until an annual or semiannual performance review. On the other hand, men were more likely to ask for more money than desired compared to their female counterparts. While it may seem like simple negotiation skills to ask for more than anticipated, women often steer clear of strong negotiations due to stigmas. But negotiating for a raise goes deeper than just extra cash in employees' pockets – it may be part of the solution to closing the gender pay gap.

Along with women, Gen Xers were more likely than any other generation to research salary ranges, rehearse the conversation, and postpone asking until an annual or semiannual performance review, while baby boomers were the most likely to ask for a raise after achieving a major milestone or presenting their accomplishments. Millennials, however, were most likely to ask for more money than desired and ask for a raise via email or other digital means.

Pushing the Limit

Controversial Strategies Used to Get a Raise by Gender and Generation

Setting up a meeting and sitting down with the boss may be a traditional way to get a raise, but some employees take alternate routes – some of which may push ethical limits. Across all questionable strategies, men were more likely to use them compared to their female counterparts. In particular, men were significantly more likely to compare their performance to co-workers, use another job offer as leverage, and cite their personal finances as a reason for a raise.

Controversial strategies were more varied across generations, though. Gen Xers were the most likely to compare their performance to co-workers, while a quarter of baby boomers leveraged another job offer. Millennials, on the other hand, cited their personal finances more than any other generation – but considering their increased living expenses, which take up a significant portion of their income, this reason may be more valid than sketchy.

However, millennials were the most likely to use some strategies further on the unethical side. Just over 9% of millennials lied about having a competing offer from another company, while 8% used negative events at the company to justify a raise or asked during a time of high stress for their boss or supervisor. Baby boomers also took questionable routes to their raises, with 8.5% using their emotions to manipulate their boss, and 5.1% lying about their accomplishments.

Some of these strategies may be warranted, but they don't necessarily improve your chances of getting a raise. An increase in salary is typically based on merit. Going above and beyond at work, making positive changes for yourself and your company, actively asking for feedback, and bringing positive energy to the table are likely to result in a raise – without putting your morals on the line.

Strategizing for Success

Most Common Strategies Used to Successfully Negotiate a Raise

If there's no perfect, one-size-fits-all answer to receiving a raise, which strategies were the most common for those who successfully negotiated a salary increase? Nearly half of respondents successful in achieving a raise had an in-person meeting with their boss. A third of successful employees also took their time preparing by researching salary ranges, waiting until annual or semiannual performance reviews, and rehearsing the conversation ahead of time.

On the more controversial side, 35% of those successfully getting a raise used their seniority as a reason behind their request. Comparing performance to that of co-workers was also pretty common, with almost 23% of successful employees using this strategy. However, lying about accomplishments was the least successful across all strategies, with only 4.7% of successful employees using this tactic. Telling lies at work may be common, but that doesn't mean lies are helpful or ethical, especially when your boss can easily fact-check your tales.

Dealing With Denial

Responses to Being Denied a Raise by Gender

Asking for a raise – regardless of how or when – takes courage. But after preparing your speech and walking into the office, what happens when your efforts are knocked down with a "no"? Forty-two percent of men and 39% of women followed expert advice and asked for the reason behind the denial. Staying calm and trying to understand rather than reacting to rejection will not only help improve your work performance but can also increase your chances of successfully snagging that raise the next time around.

Over a third of employees, both male and female, started looking for a job after their request was denied, but a significant portion didn't take any action. While 30.7% of men didn't do anything after being turned down, 36% of women didn't either. Many women may want to speak up against their boss for denying their request, but asserting oneself in the workplace is much more difficult for women. Whether it's speaking up about new ideas or being wronged, women run the risk of being labeled "loud," "aggressive," "emotional," or even "hysterical." To avoid the backlash that may ensue, women are more likely to bite their tongue and simply accept the denial.

On to the Next One

Leaving a Job After Being Denied a Raise

Some employees may use a raise request denial as fuel to improve their performance and prove to their boss that they deserve a raise, while others may take it as a sign to move on. In fact, 29% of employees had left a job after being denied a raise. On average, employees said they would wait more than two years without a raise before looking for a new job, but the longest people had gone, on average, was a little more than a year and a half.

Quitting due to lack of a raise may seem like a drastic response, but according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, people who stay in the same job end up making less in the long run compared to those who leave. While the pay gap between job stayers and job switchers is small (just a 1% difference), it continues to wax and wane, with job switchers typically coming out on top.

Salary Success

There's no clear-cut answer on how to snag a raise. Overcoming the fear, doing your research, and showing up to an in-person meeting prepared are the most common and successful strategies. But controversial strategies aren't unheard of. If you've been at a job long enough without a pay raise, it may be warranted to use your tenure as the reason behind your request. Whether you choose the safe route or are willing to take a risk, there's no guarantee for success. In the event of a denial, keeping your cool is the best bet. Ask for feedback and take steps to improve so that the next time you ask, you end up with more money in your pocket.

Navigating the world of business and human resources is hard for employees and employers. Making simple, smarter decisions about your business can create a work environment where employees feel their needs are being met. At Zoro, we offer thousands of brands and millions of products to ensure your business is equipped with the best industry tools and supplies. And with prices that won't break the bank, your business may have some spare change to add to employees' checks.

Sources

Methodology

We surveyed 997 people. Respondents had to report being an hourly or salaried worker to qualify. They also had to say they'd at least attempted to get a raise at their current job, regardless of whether their efforts were successful.

Respondents were 53.9% men and 46.1% women. The average age of respondents was 34.8 with a standard deviation of 9.3.

Respondents who reported they had successfully gotten a pay raise at their current job were asked to report how much additional compensation they received. Salaried workers were asked to report the lump sum that was added to their annual salary, while hourly workers were asked to report the dollar amount that was added to their hourly rate.

The average pay raise for each group was calculated to exclude outliers. We did this by finding the initial average and standard deviation of the data. Then, we multiplied the standard deviation by three and added that amount to the initial average. Any data point above that sum was then excluded.

We followed the same process when calculating the average number of times people asked for raises per year, the average number of months they would go without getting a raise before looking for a new job, and the average number of months they'd actually gone without getting a raise. For the average days that people took to plan their raise requests, we multiplied the standard deviation of that data by two rather than three. Otherwise, the calculation process was the same as for the other averages.

Parts of this campaign look at differences among the generations. Respondents were given the following options when identifying the generation they were a part of:

  • Greatest Generation (Born 1927 or earlier)
  • Silent Generation (Born 1928 to 1945)
  • Baby Boomers (Born 1946 to 1964)
  • Generation X (Born 1965 to 1980)
  • Millennials (Born 1981 to 1997)
  • Generation Z (Born 1998 to 2017)

Generation Z, the greatest generation, and the silent generation were excluded from our final visualization of the data due to low sample sizes in those groups.

Limitations

The data presented here rely on self-reporting. There are various issues with self-reported data, including selective memory, exaggeration, and attribution. For example, when asked what strategies people used to get a pay raise, they could have answered based on just one experience that stood out in their mind, rather than the entire breadth of their experiences.

Fair Use Statement

Negotiating a pay raise can be an intimidating and uncomfortable experience. If someone you know is preparing to ask for a significant increase in pay, feel free to share this study with him or her for any noncommercial reuse. Just be sure to link back here so that the study can be viewed in its entirety. It also gives our contributors credit for their efforts.