When’s the last time you asked for a raise at work? For many, the idea of asking an employer to boost their salary is fraught with uncertainty and anxiety. And there are plenty of reasons why employees can be uncomfortable contemplating this – it’s still often considered taboo to discuss salaries with others, meaning that employees may not have a reliable sense of where their salary stands compared to similar positions. Those who don’t know what their skills are truly worth may be hesitant to ask for more – but refraining from asking can potentially mean leaving substantial earnings on the table, both in your career and over your lifetime.
Should you ask for a raise? And if so, when and for what reason? We decided to find out how employees and employers feel about salary negotiations and pay raises. In our survey of more than 2,000 Americans, we asked about how often they’ve inquired about getting a raise, their likelihood of succeeding, and their perspective on good and bad reasons to request a raise. Keep reading to find out what you should know before you decide to ask your boss for a salary bump.
Why Ask For a Raise? Managers Share the Good.
When an employee asks for a raise, what reasons are likely to be considered more or less valid than others? Respondents who’ve had the opportunity to approve or decline employees’ requests for raises were asked what they regard as the best and worst reasons to ask for a pay bump.
It turns out, managers most frequently answered that doing high-quality work was the best reason to ask for a salary increase. Over 35 percent listed this as the top reason, followed by almost 25 percent who said being asked to take on more difficult responsibilities or tasks at work was the best reason to request a raise. Further, 17 percent said the best reason to ask for a raise was a simple parity with others in one’s field – seeking to be paid as much as others for similar work.
Reasons Not to Ask for a Raise
Of course, there are some not-so-good reasons to ask for a raise. By far, the least popular reason – according to those in a position to hand out raises – was expressing dislike for one’s job: Almost 47 percent of the managers we surveyed said this was the worst reason to ask for a raise. Needless to say, a lack of enthusiasm for one’s current job likely won’t be received well by employers, let alone seen as justification for a salary bump.
As one executive explains, “Do you like your job, team, manager, and company? Or is your frustration over pay simply a lightning rod for your broader dissatisfaction? … As the manager, I want to know that this is the place you want to be, so that fighting for the extra raise is going to be worth my time.”
Other highly unpopular reasons included claiming that one’s employer can afford to pay more (nearly 16 percent), or experiencing financial hardship in one’s personal life (more than 11 percent). For most employees, there likely aren’t too many surprises to be found here. If you’re confident in your work and have a good understanding of your value to your employer, chances are you’re on the right track when asking for a raise.
How Much of a Raise Is Best to Ask For?
Deciding whether it’s appropriate to ask for a raise is just the first step. If you do choose to ask, how much of a raise is best to request? As it stands, respondents’ answers differed significantly based on if they had prior experience with granting raises, as well as their position within the organizational structure of their company. Most notably, almost 46 percent of non-managers said that no amount was too large to request provided you believed it reflected your value as an employee. However, only 29 percent of managers shared this view. This group most frequently (about 39 percent) listed salary increases of more than 5 percent of a current salary as too great an amount to request, while only 27 percent of non-managers agreed.
Interestingly, non-managers (around 48 percent) and owners (more than 45 percent) most frequently said it was acceptable to ask for any amount. This answer was less frequent for those in lower management (39 percent), middle management (just over 35 percent), and upper management (around 38 percent) – groups that were increasingly inclined to say that salary increases of more than 5 percent were too much.
It’s important to make a strong case for your request regardless of the amount. You can do this by citing up-to-date figures on the typical salary for your position or highlighting examples of your most notable and valuable contributions to the company.
Why Employees Don’t Ask for a Raise
By far, the most frequent answer employees gave for not asking for a raise (given by over 34 percent of women and just under 32 percent of men) was that their employer indicated a raise just wasn’t on the table. A slightly smaller number (almost 24 percent of women and 26 percent of men) stated they weren’t confident enough in their job performance to justify asking for a raise, while 20 percent of women and nearly 17 percent of men felt they hadn’t been in their current position long enough. Only about 13 percent of women and over 14 percent of men didn’t ask because they were afraid their request would be refused.
Reasons for refraining from negotiating a pay raise varied by age, as well. In fact, 43 percent of those aged 18 to 25 indicated they weren’t confident in their job performance. Those aged 36 to 45 most frequently (over 31 percent) felt they hadn’t been in their position long enough, while respondents aged 55 and over were most likely (40 percent) to say a raise simply wasn’t on the table with their current employer.
How Often Should You Ask for a Raise?
Even if your request for a raise is turned down, it’s not the end of the road. Instead, this can be an opportunity to refine your skills and accomplishments and try for a raise again at a later date. But how soon is too soon to ask again? While this is always a matter of individual circumstances, our respondents set forth some pretty clear norms.
A strong majority (59 percent) of managers said asking for a raise more than once a year was too frequent, while 26 percent felt asking more than once every two years was too often. Interestingly, participants became somewhat more conservative in their responses with age. Of those aged 18 to 25, just under 65 percent said asking more than once a year was too often, but this rose to 80 percent among those aged 55 and over.
Gender and Salary: Who Asks for More Raises, and Who Succeeds?
Treatment of men and women in the workplace has been studied extensively for decades, and the success of male and female employees asking for and obtaining raises continues to be a contentious issue. Researchers have found that women tend to be more reluctant to ask for a salary increase, and this is reflected in our findings. While over 41 percent of women have never asked for a raise from their current employer, only about 29 percent of men have done the same. Conversely, men were more likely to have asked for a raise twice, three to four times, or five to 10 times.
Previous research has also found that when similarly situated men and women do ask for raises, men are still more likely than women to be successful in their request. This appeared to be the case in our sample as well. When examining respondents who have asked for a raise from their current employer at least once, we found 42 percent of women were denied, compared to only about 33 percent of men. Men were also more likely to receive a lower raise, higher raise, or the same raise requested. Today, career courses for women have begun to offer specific advice on some of the most effective ways to negotiate in the workplace.
Which Industries Are the Best When Asking for a Raise?
Another important factor in receiving a pay raise is your career choice, which can be subject to ongoing shifts in the market and influenced by larger economic forces. When we sorted respondents’ answers by their industry or field, we discovered a wide range of outcomes, as well as the gender more likely to receive a raise. Construction, journalism, utilities, and agriculture saw some of the highest rates of success for men asking for raises, while women working in publishing, real estate, and hospitality were among the most likely to receive a pay raise.
Discover the True Value of Your Skills
One theme is clear from our findings: Employees often feel a great deal of nervousness, awkwardness, and even perceived inadequacy when considering asking their employer for a raise.
While it’s understandable that many would focus on the negative possibilities, it’s just as important to consider the potential benefits you could be losing out on by not asking. By concretely establishing your value as an employee – both in terms of standard salaries as well as your important contributions in the workplace throughout your career – you can make a strong case for an increase in salary and succeed. But before that can happen, you have to step up to the plate and ask.
If you’re thinking about asking for a raise, your most powerful tool is knowing what you’re worth. Paysa uses artificial intelligence and millions of data points to calculate what you deserve to be earning. Check out our salary calculator tool.
We surveyed more than 2,000 Americans about their opinions and experiences with requesting and issuing pay raises in the workplace. Responses were sorted by experience in a position to grant or deny pay raises, gender, age group, and industry.
Fair Use Statement
Please feel free to share the images found on this page for noncommercial use; however, you must attribute the authors by providing a link back to this page. Paysa appreciates your commitment to educating your audience and providing a direct path to the full write-up and methodology.