I’m intrigued by the psychology around how much you get paid for work. I mean really intrigued. I want to know everything.
I want to know how you feel about asking for a pay rise. Do you feel pumped, like a champ on fight night, with your entrance music and your satin dressing gown? Or does the very idea of it make you come out in hives?
Do you make a point of always negotiating a higher salary than you’re offered for a new job? Or do you secretly wish you could do that, but crumple when it comes to the crunch and find yourself feeling pathetically grateful for whatever they offer?
It’s a funny old job, getting paid to work
When you boil it down, it should be straightforward and transactional — I’ll do X in return for Y, but so often it’s really, really emotional.
It doesn’t matter how much therapy you have, or how many pep talks you give yourself, it takes a pretty strong person in a capitalist society not to feel that what you get paid is intrinsically linked to your self-worth.
And for women, there are extra layers of bullshit social constraints (what Tara Mohr calls our ‘good girl’ conditioning), that mean we’re discouraged from being assertive, or direct, or demanding.
For years we’ve been told that the reason that women don’t get raises as often as men is because we’re too shy to ask for them. Now, on some level, I can believe this. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I’ve heard the talk. Some of us need to get braver and bolder and if this is you, read on my friend, I’ve got just the thing for you further down.
But there’s a systemic element too. This 2016 study, of over 4,600 Australian workers across 840 employers found no real difference between men and women in terms of how likely they were to ask for a raise. Nor any difference in how early into a new job, or how frequently they asked. Nope. Nada.
The only (jaw-clenchingly, rage inducing) difference they found was that women were 25% less likely to get the bloody raise.
Now this painfully clear example of baked-in gender bias can either make you mad (and I wouldn’t blame you, really I wouldn’t). Or it can make you want to get even. Literally. So let’s do that.
What to do if you’re too scared to ask for a pay rise
Listen up. I know that hot feeling. It almost makes you feel a bit giddy at the thought of bringing it up. But remember, if you don’t ask, then the company you work for is laughing all the way to the bank. They get your talent, your effort and your commitment and they’re getting it for a bargain rate.
Now that most companies do annual appraisals, there’s not even the excuse of not finding the right time to broach the subject. Trust me, bosses expect you to ask for a salary bump when you do your annual review.
Help is at hand if you’re in danger of bottling it. Cindy Gallop, has created a brilliant chat bot to coach you through asking for a salary raise. It’s fierce, tongue-in-cheek and is the perfect antidote for your anxiety. Facebook users can find the bot by searching “Ask Cindy Gallop” on the site or app.
What to do if you don’t know how much to ask for
Cindy Gallop says you “need to ask for the biggest number you can say out loud without bursting out laughing”.
Whilst I love this approach, it takes a great deal of guts to be able to pull this off. So if you can’t see yourself doing this, try this Payscale tool instead. It tells you what the typical salary is for your industry, job title and years of experience.
Also, if yours is an industry that uses recruiters to hire, get in touch with some and ask them to tell you what you could expect to make if you switch jobs.
Finally, ask your colleagues. The days of not asking your peers what they earn because it’s somehow unbecoming are well and truly over. Ask them. You’ll probably be shocked because they earn more than you and that will be the catalyst you need to ask for more.
What to do if your boss says no
Firstly, ask why. Don’t mumble ‘ok, thanks very much’ and slink out of the room. Hold your nerve (not your breath, it’s really important to breathe calmly at this point, so you don’t pass out with disappointment). Ask for reasons why.
If your boss gives legitimate reasons, for example, that you need to demonstrate your ability to line-manage a team, take them on board. Try to agree that you will revisit the conversation within a set time period — say, 3 months or 6 months.
If there’s a freeze on salary hikes, see if you can agree a bonus against certain targets.
However, if you know that you’re just getting blown off, that’s a whole other matter. It’s hard not to take it personally when there’s no tangible reason for you not getting a raise, and you know that other people have been given them. Then you have a choice. Stay and perhaps reduce the amount of mental effort that you give to the job.
Better still, start looking for a new one. Apparently, if you stay in a job for more than 2 years, you will earn up to 50% less over your lifetime than if you regularly move.
What to do if you’re a freelancer or contractor
I have a hard-to-shake habit of undercharging for my consulting services. So a few years ago I tried an experiment. I decided that with each new client that I took on, I would add 25% to my fees. Five new clients later and I got my first push-back — and that’s how I set my market rate. I let my clients decide what they thought my expertise was worth. Happily, it was a high enough number!
For another job, where the client wanted me at their office, I knew that they had a ceiling on how much they wanted to pay. So my bargaining chip wasn’t the amount of money — that was fixed in their mind and difficult to shift. Instead I negotiated that I would work 3 days a week instead of 4. They were happy that they kept within budget. I was happy that I was making more money for less time spent.
Good luck and don't forget to tell us your success stories!
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