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'Ahem, boss, you probably haven't noticed how great I am. So great, in fact, that I deserve more money."

But there is a school of thought that suggests if you have to ask for a raise, you are already at a disadvantage: Either you are not as good as you think you are, or your employer is not very good at identifying and rewarding excellence, career consultants say.

"It shouldn't be news to your boss that you're good," says Ian Christie, head coach and president of Vancouver-based

"There are, of course, obvious times when it makes sense to ask for a raise: when the company has had a great year and you personally hit the ball out of the park, [or]when you are given a bigger job," Mr. Christie says. "Most of the time, however, it is less clear-cut."

With Canadian organizations now setting their budgets for next year, and the major management consulting firms all predicting average base-rate salary increases in the range of 3.3 to 3.5 per cent, it is only natural for employees to wonder whether there is room for upward negotiation.

It depends on your leverage, consultants say. If you can easily be replaced tomorrow by someone else, you have a lot less bargaining power than, say, an oil sands specialist.

Employers will pay more next year for "hot skills," in the form of signing bonuses, retention bonuses and higher-than-average salary increases, according to a new survey by Hewitt Associates.

But how do you know if you're hot?

"A job is hot when there is a short supply," responds Keri Humber, a senior compensation consultant with Hewitt.

"In Northern Alberta, almost every single job they have is a hot job because there is such high demand in the oil patch," he says.

Those who are unusually good at what they do can also command higher salaries, supplemented by bonuses and other pay-for-performance incentives, he adds.

However, once the yearly payouts have been decided, there is generally not much room for negotiation. "You either get it [the raise]or you don't get it; it has already been predetermined," says consultant Gary George, president of Tesseract Training of Burlington, Ont.

Those who do not get the raises they were hoping for can, if they work for a good employer, find out what they need to do to get a better increase next time around, he says.

"Good companies pay for performance. The biggest single thing that gets you a raise is performance."

Graham Dodd, national practice director for Watson Wyatt Canada's human capital group, says employees who are not receiving regular feedback should ask for it -- and not wait for the annual performance review.

"If you think you're hot, it is really much better to ask and confirm that you really are a top performer. Or, if you really are deluding yourself, your self-delusion will end more quickly and less painfully than it would otherwise," he says.

Karl Aboud, national director of reward management at Toronto-based Hay Group, says that for an increasing number of employees, annual bonuses are a key part of compensation.

However, before you go storming in to the brass demanding a bigger cut, a little reflection is in order, Mr. Christie says.

"Has your performance met or exceeded expectations? Is the job you do of increasing strategic importance, a mainstay, or lessening in importance? What kind of relationship do you have with your boss? Are the search firms calling?

"Lastly, do you have a good reason why you should receive a raise? [Are you]shouldering increased responsibilities, doing the job of two people, making a significant impact?"

Of course, it is always best when an employer recognizes and rewards good performance, Mr. Christie says.

However, if you work for a company that does not differentiate between good and mediocre performance, "I think the employee has to put that into the hopper and make a decision as to whether they plan to stay there," Mr. George adds.

That said, there is nothing wrong with making a reasoned case for a salary review, but proceed with caution, Mr. Christie advises.

"If you are out of step with reality, at worst you might find yourself in a position where you have to leave and, at best, your boss might question your street smarts."

Making your pitch

How to strengthen your hand

in salary negotiations.

Here are some tips:

Determine whether this is a good time to ask for a raise. What does the current and near-term economic environment look like, and how is your company faring in this environment?

Master your job. Overperform and make a tangible impact.

Build strong relationships with people in a position to influence your next steps. It is much easier to get a raise when you aren't the only person pushing for it.

Fit in and be seen as someone destined for bigger things.

Be visible outside the organization. Develop a network and a personal brand. Your company may value you more highly because of that profile.

Source: Ian Christie, head coach and president of Vancouver-based