The Absolute Worst Ways to Ask for a Raise

By Paul Michael on 2 June 2017 0 comments

Asking for a raise is not easy. You don't want to come across as greedy, or antagonize your employer. But at the same time, you've done your research, know what you deserve, and believe you are an asset that should be compensated accordingly.

Before you talk to your boss, make sure you avoid the following traps. They could sink any chance of a bump in pay. (See also: 5 Times You Should Demand a Raise)

1. Saying you're having trouble making ends meet

There are a few truths that you must accept, and one of them is this — your personal money problems are your problems. You took the job, and you accepted the salary. Scraping by or falling behind on your bills is a reason to ask for a raise, but it's not the reason your employer ever needs to hear.

You need to justify your raise for reasons that a boss can comfortably take to the payroll department, and the people he or she reports to. Saying "Well, Jane's rent was just raised and she also owes on her taxes" won't cut it. Instead, present your case in a well-researched and thought-out manner, explaining why you deserve a pay bump based on merit and hard work.

2. Criticizing any of your coworkers

There is a time and a place for pointing out problems with the team, and it is not when you want to get more money. If your boss is any good, he or she will already know the big problems with underperforming staff. Other issues can be brought up during your usual one-on-one sessions, or team meetings. If you use your coworkers' poor performance as a reason to get more money, you will come across as mercenary.

Sure, you may have been picking up the slack for lazy coworkers, or correcting mistakes, but there is a way to mention this without throwing anyone under the bus. By all means, say that you have been taking on more responsibility, working longer hours, and saving the company money by catching errors. But do it without saying, "John sucks at his job, he's always late, and I have to do everything!"

3. Asking when the boss, and everyone else, is insanely busy

Timing is everything, and perhaps the worst time to bring this up is when everyone is scrambling to meet a deadline and deliver the goods. Whether it's behind the counter of a fast-food restaurant, or during a huge pitch for new business, asking for more money at this time will hurt you in several ways.

First, it makes you look selfish; everyone is rushing around, and you want the boss to stop and focus on you. Second, it makes you look inconsiderate; now is not the time, can you not see how busy everyone is? Third, it makes you look like you're trying to take advantage of the situation. The boss is not going to appreciate you trying to hurriedly negotiate a raise during a crisis. So, back off, and bide your time. Things will calm down, and then you can strike.

4. Catching the boss off-guard

When you are initiating the subject of a raise and/or promotion, you are making a request that has consequences. Your boss has to examine the numbers, look at performance and salary averages, and consider the budget for the department. And the boss usually has to get the approval from other people in the company. This is all very official.

So, casually having a one-on-one in the elevator, out of nowhere, is a huge mistake. Your boss will be taken by surprise, and may even feel threatened or trapped. They won't be able to give you an answer anyway. Schedule a time for a meeting, at least 30 minutes, and warn the boss in advance that you want to talk about your future at the company. You don't have to outright say "I want to talk about a raise" — if the boss is intuitive he or she will know just what this meeting is about.

5. Beating around the bush

A little friendly banter before you bring up the subject of your raise is OK. In fact, it's courteous and expected, and sets a friendly tone. However, if you meander off for 15 minutes on topics that are completely unrelated, you're only going to frustrate your boss. He or she has a pretty good idea of why you're in the room, and wants to start the conversation.

Most likely, after five minutes of talk about the weather, the ballgame, the family, and plans for the weekend, you'll be asked to spit it out. But by that time, you've already shown yourself to be less than efficient, and that puts you in a position of weakness.

6. Storming in with ultimatums

"If I don't get a raise, I'm quitting. Simple as that." How many times have people told you they are going to say that to the boss? How many times have you thought it yourself? Sure, it's human nature to want fair compensation, and we all hope to be so valued that people will do anything not to lose us. Sadly, life isn't like that.

Ultimatums are not the answer, because one of three things will happen. First, you will get your raise, but you will be tarnished as difficult, selfish, and egotistic. Second, you will be told no, and realize you can't quit after all. Your bluff will have been called, and now they know you aren't going to quit if you don't get what you want. Third, you are told no, and have to quit to save face. Are you ready for that?

One way to get around the ultimatum is to come to the boss with a higher paying job offer from another firm. Then, it's a business negotiation. You can say that you would much rather stay, but this offer gives you more money, and you may have to take it. In this case, most employers, if they value you, will match the offer. They see you as in demand, and that puts you in a positive light.

7. Getting way too emotional

Anger. Tears. Jealousy. Disbelief. The emotions can run high when you believe you are getting the short end of the stick. However, it's unprofessional to unload your emotional state onto your employer. You may feel you are not being recognized for all you've done for the company. Or you may be behind on your bills, with new expenses coming up in the future.

It can be hard to mask these emotions when you are stressed. But it's important to get these under control before you ask for a raise. Get the emotions out first before coming to work. If you need to cry, do it. If you are angry, find a way to release the tension. You need to have a calm, clear head before you can talk money.

8. Acting entitled

Arms crossed. Eyebrows furrowed. Breathing hard through your nose. You're in the boss's office because enough is enough, and you should have had that raise months ago! From the moment you open your mouth, you are incredulous that you even had to call this meeting.

Acting this way does you no favors. You'll come across as a spoiled brat, and unless you can back all of your claims up, you'll also look foolish. Don't go into the room feeling angry and cheated. Instead, calm down, and prepare. Write down all of the quantifiable reasons you deserve a raise, and give the boss the ammunition he or she needs to get that extra money for you. Be polite. Be yourself. And don't expect anything.

9. Making demands when the company is in trouble

There's an argument to be made that it's OK to ask for a raise if your company is facing some light financial difficulties (maybe they've laid a few people off), or if you know your specific department is still doing well. But that's about where you'll need to draw the line.

If the business has fallen on really hard financial times, it's another story. Maybe executives have had to make significant cutbacks, or it's even possible that the company could be filing for bankruptcy. If you decide that this is the best time to ask for a raise, you are only showing upper management that you are utterly tone deaf. If you survived the cuts, you should probably be thankful you're still on the payroll at all.

A company can encounter nonfinancial trouble, too — and you should also back away from any kind of salary negotiation until these stormy waters have calmed. A public relations scandal, for example, will have the company in a panic. No one will give your salary concerns a second thought when there are much bigger fish to fry. Or, maybe several key workers have left to form another company, or work for a rival. Again, the only thing management will be concerned about is keeping the ship afloat.

You know when the company is not doing well. Do what you can to help, and do it with vigor. Then, when it's all worked out, you'll have more ammo for your salary discussion.

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