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Asking for More Money

Success at work includes getting paid well--or, at least, as well as possible.

I once asked a patient what happened when he last asked his employer for a raise.

“I’ve never asked for a raise,” he told me. “It’s a small family-owned business; and they’ve always taken care of me. They have always been generous.”

“If you’ve never asked for a raise, you are underpaid,” I told him.

The patient disagreed. He thought everyone in this small family had a special affection for him. Such things happen, of course; but it turned out not to be true in his case. A few years later, after my patient had missed work for a little while because of illness, he was peremptorily fired.

It is natural for employees (or future employees) to want to be paid as much as possible. It is just as natural for employers to wish to utilize someone’s services for as little as possible, given certain constraints such as the desire to hold onto that worker and motivate him/her to do a good job. If an employee seems to be satisfied by working for a certain amount of money, it will not occur to the employer to volunteer to pay him more. Even if the employer has reason to think an employee is contemplating leaving, what the employer will try to judge is just how much (how little) he will have to offer him in order to induce him to stay. This is true, of course, when the business is owned by the boss; but it is also true when the boss is an administrator in a large corporation.

For example: I.B.M. has a policy where employees are rated on their performance. They are given a number grade; and that grade will determine their raise for the following year. Supervisors are told that they can only give a small number of very high grades—for obvious reasons: the fewer really high grades awarded, the less salary I.B.M. is committed to pay employees the following year. In order for the employee to advance his own interests, he has to become adept at selling himself. His performance does not speak for itself. There are ways of doing this. I suggest to I.B.M.ers that they ask their bosses for an exact description of what they need to do the following year to justify a top rating. If they satisfy those requirements at the end of the year, they have made it more likely their supervisors will have to give them that top rating.

Other companies have a “grid,” which guides salary increases from year to year. The grid is simply a device for determining raises in a way which takes pressure off the employer to give large raises. The task then for the employee is to “get off the grid.” Sometimes, the employee can argue for a change of title or assignment which frees him/her from the tyranny of the grid.

It is as if the employer and employee are always pulling on opposite ends of a rope. If the worker does not pull on his/her end of the rope, It ends up in the wrong place.

It is certainly common, and probably natural, for people to avoid confrontations. No one likes soliciting money from someone who is plainly not inclined to give it. It is easy for that person to imagine bringing on an argument that might endanger a working relationship. In particular, if a worker feels not quite competent, he/she will naturally hesitate to ask for a raise. Many patients I see, unfortunately, are always troubled by self-doubts and are inclined to sell themselves short. The reasons have nothing to do with their actual performance. Inevitably, therapy is directed in part in encouraging them to assert themselves, which means among other things standing up for themselves at work.

Naturally, although the worker and the employer are pulling on opposite ends of a rope, neither should yank on it, since the person holding on to the other end is likely to feel resentful or let go altogether. Asking for money is a negotiation, and if it is successful neither party feels cheated or resentful.

Here are some guidelines for someone starting a new job:

The amount of money you ask for should depend on the going rate for that particular job, the amount of experience you have, and, inevitably, how much you need the job. It should not depend on how much money you made on the previous job. Most people lie, anyway, about their current or previous salary. I feel that no one should make up a story on a job application that can readily be checked. For instance, never lie about credentials—graduate degrees, working for certain companies, etc. People commonly stretch out the dates they worked previously to cover up times when they were not working. This is a reasonable practice. Never admit to being unemployed for a period of time because of severe medical or psychiatric problems. It is okay to exaggerate your knowledge of certain matters. For example, it is reasonable to say that you are familiar with particular computer programs that you may not have encountered before. Tell the prospective employer that you may have to “brush up.” Then, of course, you should put in the effort to learn the program. It is better to be offered the job and be fired later on, than never to have the opportunity to do it in the first place.

The more senior and important the job is, the more you can wait during an interview process before settling on remuneration. Other things—career path, for example—should seem to matter more to you—and they do matter more. After agreeing on a salary, I think it is always reasonable to say something like the following:

“I was hoping to make somewhat more. I hope it will be possible to evaluate my performance earlier than you might otherwise do—let’s say, in six months—to determine if you think I might be worth more.”

This is an easy request for someone to agree to. Besides, it suggests self-confidence and ambitiousness. If, in fact, you are evaluated six months earlier and get a raise at that time, you will every year have that six months headstart.

Asking for a raise: I wrote about this in a previous blog post. Ask for more responsibility. It makes you sound more self-confident and ambitious. It will make people look at your current work more favorably.

I don’t want to leave the impression that it is all right to ask for a raise at any time, no matter how good a job you have been doing and no matter how well your company is doing. There are other circumstances also that are relevant. Is the company down-sizing? Is your boss under special pressures? Is the nature of your relationship with your boss so fragile that asking for a raise would be a waste of time—and annoying? Still, I think it is fair to say that asking for a raise rarely leads to being fired, although that is frequently an expressed concern by people who hesitate to ask.

If you have been offered a raise which is inadequate or unfair, do not hesitate to make the case for more money; but at the end of the negotiation, if you decide to stay at the company, accept graciously. If you seem resentful, your work performance will be regarded unfavorably, and your job will, then, be in jeopardy. (c) Fredric Neuman 2012 Follow Dr. Neuman's blog at

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