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You’d consistently exceeded your manager’s expectations, picked up new job responsibilities in the past year or brought in a couple of major new accounts. It looked like a raise was in the cards – and then the pandemic struck. Should you still ask?

With the end of the fiscal year approaching at some companies, many organizations are considering salary freezes rather than raises, according to two recent surveys. In September, Morneau Shepell reported 36 per cent of Canadian companies froze salaries in their 2020 fiscal year and 46 per cent are unsure about whether to increase or freeze them in 2021. Thirteen per cent of respondents said they’d committed to freezing wages next year. As well, the projection for the national average base salary increase dropped below 2 per cent, a first since the 2008 financial crisis.

An October survey by Hays Canada found an even larger number of employers – 71 per cent – have frozen salaries since the pandemic began, and more than one-quarter of respondents said they’ve planned no salary increases for 2021. Planned salary freezes were most common in Alberta (44 per cent) and Quebec (33 per cent), two provinces that have been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic and its economic impacts.

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Despite those dreary numbers, career advisers agree it’s still worth it for employees to broach the conversation with their managers. “It’s totally appropriate to ask for a raise right now if you’ve advanced in your work or taken on additional duties in your role,” says Rebecca Beaton, a Vancouver-based career counsellor and coach. However, she says, it’s important to take the pulse of an employer’s economic situation.

“If times are particularly tight at your company, it might not be the right time. If that’s the case, think of some creative options where your employer has the opportunity to acknowledge your added value without a direct pay raise.” In these cases, she suggests the option of asking for a job-title change or extra paid vacation days.

Employees shouldn’t assume without evidence that their companies are struggling during the pandemic, says Karen Coffey, a Knoxville, Tenn.-based career adviser who works with women across North America. “[Some] are having record sales and record revenue. … Many companies will use this time to ward off employees asking for that raise.”

Upcoming annual performance reviews are the clearly the best time for salary discussions. But with some companies having delayed them indefinitely, Kathryn Meisner, a Toronto-based career coach, says employees may need to be the ones to ask for that meeting with their manager. She also points to another opportunity for discussing a raise – after going above and beyond for the company, or when an employee’s responsibilities have outgrown their job description. Having to ask for the meeting doesn’t mean you won’t get the raise, she adds.

Ms. Meisner suggests that employees in industries that have experienced pandemic-related growth – such as e-commerce – consider the timing of their raise conversation to align with a key achievement. Similarly, being cognizant of organizational timelines can be helpful. If the company sets its budget at a certain time of year, make sure to schedule the conversation before those decisions are made, she says.

Prepare for the conversation by documenting specific achievements and exhibiting what Ms. Meisner calls “employer empathy” – making a clear case for the way your work has contributed to the company’s growth and success. “[Use] that to build a business case for your raise,” she says. “And especially if in the pandemic you’ve been able to keep the team afloat or the project afloat, those are great times to negotiate and great things to reference.”

She encourages the people she coaches to keep track of their successes year-round. “It’s a tiny habit that takes a couple of minutes a day but can be worth tens of thousands of dollars.”

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Ms. Beaton suggests doing market research into the average pay for the type of work you’re doing. But it may also be worth it to factor the pandemic’s economic impact on your employer into the dollar figure. “If you know times are tight at your company because of the pandemic, acknowledge this,” she says. “You might say something like, ‘Normally I would request a 15-per-cent raise; however, because of these uncertain times, I’m open to negotiation and finding something that works for both of us.’”

While everyone hopes to hear a “yes,” if your manager says they can’t give you a raise yet, Ms. Coffey says you should “let them feel good about it” by asking about next steps. “[Ask them] ‘When can we revisit this and what steps can I do moving forward to make this raise a reality for me?’” she says. “Get a clear, concise plan from them and get a timeline.”

She says her ideal timeline is within three to six months. “It shows your urgency and that you believe in your value.”

Depending on your comfort level, Ms. Meisner says you can also attempt to negotiate when your boss has said no, whether for a lower salary increase or for other job perks. “You can almost use if/then language. ‘If you’re unable to do this, then I’d like to explore this.’”

Getting a “no” might feel disappointing, but Ms. Meisner says you should still count it as a win. “It means you get closer to a ‘yes’ or a better job. If you ask for a raise once and an employer says no – they usually know after one, two, maybe three ‘nos’ an employee is going to leave if they don’t see financial growth potential.”

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