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Can Anything Bad Happen When You Ask for a Raise?

Suzanne Lucas

Nothing Bad Should Happen, But...

No foot in mouth here! Before you ask for that raise, learn what not to do—plus the things to say and the research to do beforehand.

Why do we get so nervous when it comes to asking for a raise?

The worst thing that can happen is that your boss says no, right? And then you're no better off than you were before asking.

Except, sometimes, asking for a raise can go south and jeopardize your relationship with your boss. Here's why it's sometimes not a good idea to ask for a raise and why your boss may react badly.

Related Article: Get What You Deserve: How to Negotiate Salary [INFOGRAPHIC]

The Clueless Asker

When you were hired, you negotiated a salary. (Or at least, you were offered a salary and you accepted it without negotiating.) You agreed that doing X job for $Y was fair. So, when you come back to your boss three months later and ask for a raise, you look rather clueless. If you thought that the job was really not worth $Y, you should have negotiated that before you accepted the job.

Bosses tend to be put off by such things. It's perfectly acceptable to ask for more money during the hiring phase, but it's not acceptable to ask three or even six months in. There are a few rare exceptions--like if you were hired to be the administrative assistant, but then the assistant marketing manager went on maternity leave and you took over all her tasks while she was gone. Then it's reasonable to ask for a bump in pay, but if you're doing what you were hired to do, one year is a minimum.

The Whining Asker

It's illegal for companies to prohibit you from discussing working conditions with your coworkers. This includes salaries. So, you are free to share your salary with your coworkers, and you are free to ask them their salaries. They are also free to keep their mouths shut. (Which, in the United States, is the cultural norm. We don't like to talk about money!) But, let's say you find out that you are making $35,000, and your newly hired coworker is making $36,000. It's unfair!

A thousand dollars is a lot of money, except in salary differences. It's less than $20 a week before taxes are taken out. Enough to get an extra pizza. There are plenty of good reasons to have a $1000 difference in salary between two employees doing similar jobs. One may have more experience, or be willing to take on a more complicated task. Often, the person making the extra $1k negotiated that higher salary at the beginning. Going to your boss and whining about this small discrepancy will not over well.

Instead, present why you should be worth more, based on our own merits and not based on what your coworker earns. The exception her? Let's say you're making $35,000, and you find out that your coworker is making $45,000 for doing the same (or very similar) job that you do. That's absolutely worth bringing up, and while your boss may be annoyed, she's annoyed she got caught. The correct thing to say is, "I understand that Jane makes $10,000 a year more than I do and we do the same job. What do we need to do to bring my salary up?"

Related Article: Salary Negotiation Tips: How to Ask For (and Get) a Raise

The "But I Need a Raise!" Asker

We could all use more money, but when you go to your boss and say, "Hey, my car payment is oppressive, I need a raise," it does not go over well. You should be living within your means, not asking for more money so you can live how you want to. Now, we all understand that horrible things happen (friends of mine just found out the need a $25,000 repair to their septic system!), but, it's not the company's obligation to raise your salary based on what you need.

If you're worth more to the company than they are paying you, ask on that basis. Point out your increase in responsibilities or your stellar performance. Demonstrate how having you on board benefits the company. That's why they should pay you more, not because your budget is tight.

The Irrational Manager

You can be totally awesome. It's possible that you brought in $3,000,000 worth of business last year, and you totally deserve more money, so why wouldn't your boss be thrilled to give you a raise? Well, some bosses are jerks. They think you should be thanking you lucky stars that you have a job at all, and find you ungrateful if you ask for money. Some bosses feel like you're overpaid to begin with, and don't deserve another penny. Some bosses don't think you'll ever leave, so why worry about keeping you happy? (This happens a lot with employees who have been in the same company for a long time.) They can get angry when you ask for a raise, even though they shouldn't.

Some bosses feel like you're overpaid to begin with, and don't deserve another penny. Some bosses don't think you'll ever leave, so why worry about keeping you happy (This happens a lot with employees who have been in the same company for a long time)? They can get angry when you ask for a raise, even though they shouldn't.

You should be able to spot this type of manager before you ask. This person is going to be irrational and angry over other things. Do you want to use one of your vacation days? You're a lazy slob! Do you want to come in late because you were working on a very important deadline until midnight the night before? Slacker. If you know your boss is irrational, think about finding a new job and quitting because asking for a raise isn't going to go over well.

Related Article: How to Ace the Salary Question During a Job Interview

No Panicking

You may read this and think, "I'll never get a raise!" But, that's not true. He's a quick checklist before you go into your boss.

  • Ask based on your own merits, not unfairness or need.
  • If your company has an annual/semi-annual raise process, ask about 3 months before that is scheduled, If you wait until too close, the money will have already been allocated.
  • Be prepared to show that the market rate for the position is higher than what you're currently making.
  • Be reasonable in your request. Don't go in and ask for a 50 percent increase because no one will take you seriously.
  • Watch your tone of voice. This is a business transaction so no whining! Practice with a friend if necessary.
Image Credit: Nattakorn_Maneerat/Shutterstock
Suzanne Lucas Member
Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate HR where she hired, fired, managed the numbers and double-checked with the lawyers. She now writes about how to make your business a success and your employees happy. Send her an email at