Do you deserve a raise?

One of the best conversations I had at the Financial Blogging Conference was a brief chat over dinner about how men and women differ at finances, and how women are generally more afraid of asking for a raise. I consider myself a solid negotiator when I’m first hired and setting an initial salary, and when it comes to negotiating for other people — or even my company (I’ve saved us thousands of dollars through negotiations with various sponsorship opportunities) — so why does it seem so unfathomable to ask for a raise in my current work environment?

After listening to folks like Ramit Sethi talk about how to go for the big wins, and just ask with confidence to get what you want, I felt a big kick to my stomach for my fears of moving up in the work world. Other than my “fear of conflict” boyfriend, do men — as a generalized group — have as much trouble asking for raises or believing they’re worth more than they’re paid?

It’s hard for me to fathom asking for a raise in this economy. My company could probably afford to give me a raise, but I feel guilty and selfish to ask to be paid more when my current income is enough for me to live a modest lifestyle as a single person in a shared housing situation and even occasionally splurge on a tech toy or two. The question of how much do I “need” to live on is so subjective. Right now I make $90,000 a year and that’s an odd place to be. To many people in the country right now — it’s a HUGE salary. But then there are lots of people making $100,000… $130,000… $150,000… $170,000… and how did they get there? It doesn’t really matter. Shouldn’t I just shut up and be happy with what I’m getting and try to improve myself so maybe, just maybe at some point down the line my boss will decide I’m worth more than that for a permanent salary adjustment?

Oh, right, that’s not how raises work. I don’t want to be greedy. I don’t feel like I deserve to have a job given that I’m not perfect, so it’s hard to even contemplate asking for more money. Yes, I think I add value to the organization. Yes, I’ve been the only person in a department that could probably use a team of at least five people to be run successfully — even though deep down I believe that I’m just a failure and that my inability to have superhuman powers and never sleep and do a perfect job 100% of the time is really all about me just being rather dumb. How could a dumb person ask for a raise? I feel like I should ask for a raise for my coworkers who are clearly deserving of it…

But what does “deserving” have to do with getting a raise anyway? I don’t know what I’m worth or how to improve what I’m worth. Does going back to grad school and getting an MBA or masters in something or other suddenly make me officially worth six+ figures? I don’t want to be unreasonable. I already feel unreasonable thinking about asking for more money.

It would be nice if I made enough to put more money into savings and live on my own. Not a necessity. It would be nice if I made enough to buy a “new” used car. Not a necessity (yet.) It would be extra nice if I could go to Bloomingdales and Nordstrom and buy Trina Turk and BCBG and all the fashionable brand name clothes each season, even though that is definitely NOT a necessity. It would be lovely to have the money to spend on a personal trainer and weight loss coach, but do I really need that?

I could live on less and I could live on more. All I want to do now is save money so I can feel ok about having kids a few years down the line. While I can certainly cut back on my spending, the only way to really save significantly more money is to make more money. I can either push for that additional income at work, I can find a side income stream (not that I have time for that given how many hours are focused on my day job), or I can just be happy with what I have now, which is much more than most people in America currently make. I should be happy with my shared three bedroom apartment, my about-to-fall-apart car, my very slow networth growth which isn’t being helped any by the gloomy stock market… I should be happy with some sort of semi-consistant middle class life. If anything, I don’t want to give my supervisors a reason to ask me to leave. Maybe I’m not the cheapest employee, but the second I become too expensive for what i’m worth, I’ll risk losing my job and being replaced with someone else.

So I’ve been with the company for a year and a half now, and officially full time for a year. If my boss wanted to give me a real raise, he would. And clearly he doesn’t. And it’s not like I even successfully got through every single one of my projects for the last quarter. I just look at all the other people in the company and feel so insecure about my work and my mind. I mean, I just feel incredibly stupid and like I don’t fit in. All I want to do is contribute enough so that people say, wow, she’s worth x dollars more because she is a huge help to this company. Right now, I feel like my ideas aren’t worth a dime because they’re rarely any good. So I can’t ask for a raise, all I can do is try my best to somehow be smarter, sharper, funnier, more witty, more spot on, more in line with what everyone wants. To mold myself into the perfect form to help fill in whatever voids exist until someone better comes along to fill in that space, and then like jello nudged over I slither into the next hole.

I just wish I knew if other people, specifically other men, have this sort of mindset to begin with… is it that people who are confident are just amazing, smart, and know it — or do some people just know how to fake it better than I do? How often do people… my colleagues past and present… really ask for things they want, like raises and other additional benefits? If I could just see into the transparent world around me of the politics that underly the corporation I’d at least know what’s reasonable to want and to ask for. Meanwhile, all I can do is think how my current role is setting me up for a decent salary jump at my “next” job, so even sticking it out in this current spot for a while is a good move. I really love my job, the people I work with, but it’s also stressful, difficult, and I have no idea how much a guy or anyone else in my position would be making in this same exact role (other than what Salary.com says, and that information is too vague to be relavant.)

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4 thoughts on “Do you deserve a raise?”

  1. "If my boss wanted to give me a real raise, he would." Yes and no. He has competing items in his budget, so if you don't ask, it's not a priority, and it gets pushed down the list. Also sounds kind of self-defeatist – if I were good enough people would just notice so I must not be. But they don't notice human nature is to be self-interested. There's nothing about "deserving" – do B School kids deserve more money than people with experience in the business? Heck no! But that's how it works.

    To paint with a broad brush, that's the whole difference between men & women asking for raises – men don't ask if they deserve it, they go in & talk about what they've done. What they've done might not deserve a raise but they get one because 1) no one had a good enough rebuttal or 2) the company would rather retain than train someone new if he left for a higher salary. Read Nice Girls Don't get the Corner Office – a bit ridiculous since it says women must act like men, but I did take away some good pointers.

  2. Well, I'm a man and I did reply earlier but you kinda pooh-poohed me in the post "what goes on in everyone else’s mind?". You make 90K yet you make yourself out to be totally incompetent. Until last year I was making less than you and getting run over by my boss. I knew that I was worth more from the technical perspective, but I hadn't led anyone yet so I didn't know if I could do the next level up job, therefore I guess I appeared a bit weak — like you I couldn't walk in there and definitely say "I can do this!". Yet I continued to ask the boss to develop me into that role, meanwhile my top technical and business thinking skills saved and made the company literally tens of millions of hard dollars, plus because of my efficiency I was doing more work than three people. Finally I decided to get myself a next-best-offer and went looking for my promotion outside. I was shocked. Now, only 7 months later, I make more than 30% more money, work 2 hrs a day less, commute 1 hr a day less, plus I'm a director level and have a staff. That's how me, a man, got my raise: I couldn't.

    So, the answer is no. Men don't just get everything handed to them on a silver platter. You make more than at least 80% of all males with jobs and probably more like 90%. Hardly anyone got raises at my last company. Me and some male friends commiserated about the old fat-cat club for years, seeing countless examples of nepotism while opportunities passed us by. Then I saw the writing and left to get my raise, while the others are still there grumbling. Wanna know who they replaced me with? A friend of the CFO who was parachuted in at the director level. I was denied for another job I offered to take (I was totally qualified and wanted to take it to help the company because it was in a city that just happened to be my home town, except nobody from HQ wanted to move there EXCEPT ME!) and instead it was upgraded to a higher level and given to a woman who didn't want it. They actually had to upgrade it to make it sweet enough for her to take the move, when they had me who would have taken it. What's that all about? I absolutely hate how you paint men as having an advantage when you make 90K and claim you think you're incompetent. I had no advantage and was "abused" same as you and same as 3 or 4 of my miserable workmates who were in line for the next non-existent promotion, even though I was supremely competent.

  3. Alex,

    I'm not saying that all men automatically get raises because they are men. Not at all. I realize that I'm doing very well right now — I write this blog not as a comparison to everyone in the entire country in every industry. I'm specifically talking about the comparison of men vs. women in young technology companies. My salary IS good (for the Bay Area and 6+ years of experience at a director-level role it's reasonable) — but what I don't understand is how to get to the next level. Even though a few years ago I would have been too afraid to ask for $90k, now I see how in order to really live the life I want to lead in the expensive area where I live (given my bf is not going to make more than $50k or $60k in his lifetime), I need to, in my 30s, see salaries more around the $150k+ mark. I can't speak for the other men at my company, but I wonder how they negotiate, how often they negotiate, etc. Not every guy at my company or every other company will have the same story, but I just wish I could see through to how this really works behind the scenes. I'm great a negotiating when I first take a job, I've just never figured out what happens after. I'm afraid to ask for more because part of me feels like it's already ridiculous that I make this much — then I look at the value I add to the company, and see how my work directly translates into the sales we do, and ultimately how successful we are, and I think that if someone else were in this role they'd be worth more. How much more? I don't know. Men may not have an advantage as a whole, but I'm pretty sure women are more afraid to ask for what they deserve, or more than they deserve, then men. I question whether I'd get more respect for asking… or more respect for keeping quiet when it's annoying to ask.

  4. My experience: You get no raise when you ask, and you also get no raise when you don't ask. You have to make the boss choose between giving you a raise and not giving you a raise. If the choice is "Give me a raise and I'm happy or don't give me a raise and I'll pout a little" then the value to the boss of "happy-pout" is how much of a raise you can get. If it's worth $100 per month to the boss, then you can get that much of a raise. If you make it clear that a happy you is worth millions as you travel to the ends of the earth for the company while a sad you is worth less than status quo, you give boss a larger choice and can justify a larger raise.

    Usually the ultimatum is in form of "Give me a raise and I stay, don't give me a raise and I leave." Then the value is really your entire excess contribution plus whatever headache boss has trying to replace you. Don't give the ultimatum that way, just make it clear that you know how much you are worth elsewhere, you know you are in demand, etc.

    I did exactly this in my new job. I demanded and got the highest range of the salary bracket at first, but I also told them in the interview that I wanted to make the maximum difference. Then I followed it up with frequent conversations with my boss where I made it obvious that I knew how good I was and how much I could be worth elsewhere (again, subtly). I also applied for two promotions within the first six months. I was skipped for the first (a month after I started) but I got the second. When I did the post mortem with the HR guy he said it was primarily for retention reasons, they wanted to retain me and figured that they had to promote me fast to keep me engaged.

    This is different from what I did before, which was promise to work hard and be loyal, then do it, then quietly ask for raises or promotions based on what I'd done. It got me excellent performance reviews, but no big raises or promotions (a lot of promises for that though). I didn't make it clear that I could leave and if I left what a vacuum there would be.

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