How to get a raise (Hint: Be a top performer!)


Ben Bernanke told Congress that despite a gradual improvement in the labor market, “the jobs situation is far from satisfactory, as the unemployment rate remains well above its longer-run normal level, and rates of underemployment and long-term unemployment are still much too high.” Because the labor market is still so difficult, employers have been able to keep a lid on wage growth. According to the latest Mercer compensation survey, despite a strengthening economy, base salaries are expected to rise by only 2.9 percent in 2014, which is just a touch better than last year’s 2.8 percent and the previous two year’s 2.7 percent. Sure, that’s an improvement since the recession levels, when increases were averaging 2.1 percent, but it still lags the mid-2000s when annual increases averaged around 3.5 percent.

There is a bit of good news, though. If you are a top-performing employee (about 7 percent of the workforce), you may see a bigger increase. In 2013, the highest-performing employees received average base pay increases of 4.6 percent compared to 2.6 percent for average performers and 0.2 percent for the lowest performers.

Obviously, employers want to keep their top performers, so it may take some creativity on your part to get the much-needed boost in your paycheck. Here are some tips for how you can make your case -- I have used all of these at various times as both a boss and as an employee!

  • Create and maintain a list of your accomplishments - include everything! Management cares about results - either how much money you saved or made the company. Be sure to exclude things like how many hours you spent on a project.
  • Remind your boss of your specific experience and why it adds value to the business and makes him or her look good.
  • If your company has a salary freeze in place, try to get your boss to agree to revisit your compensation in six months and set a date for a future meeting.
  • Ask your boss to pinpoint goals that you will achieve in that period--a certain percentage increase in sales, projects that will be completed-- be as specific as possible.
  • Memorialize any compensation conversations by sending a follow up email after the meeting and provide updates as necessary.
  • Think beyond pay…there's more to compensation that the dollars. Ask if the company would consider:
    • Bumping up your commission rate or stock incentives
    • Adding more flexible hours or an extra week of vacation
    • Allowing you to pursue continued education.
  • Negotiate for non-monetary benefits. A better title may help position you down the line for more money. And something as simple as a better office or workspace, can improve the quality of your work life.