It might be best if I just list the pertinent information here before asking the question.

  • I have been with my current employer for 5 years, the last 4 without a pay raise. There are extenuating circumstances as to why which are unrelated to my performance. However, my employer is now in a place where they are certainly able to give me a raise.
  • Regardless of inflation, the average salary range for my skill set has certainly increased over that time.
  • I do not want to leave, but it is imperative, and fairly urgent, that I secure a larger salary as my outgoings have begun to seriously outstrip my income, largely due to inflation.
  • I asked for a raise about two months ago and was told it was already being considered as part of a company-wide move toward automatic incremental pay increases and that my particular circumstances, not having had one for so long, would be considered.
  • I am in the middle of an important project and have a low "bus factor" in terms of critical knowledge other staff lack. I have a 3 month notice period but it will be problematic for my employer were I to leave.
  • The company is fairly large (several hundred employees) and my direct line manager is sympathetic but can't authorise this himself, and he has a lot of other important things on his plate and likely views it as a low priority. I could easily speak to his superior or the head of the department - it's open plan - but I would not normally approach them and I'm unsure of the etiquette.
  • I asked again a week ago and was told there was no updates on the situation. I haven't heard anything further.

I want an answer to this as fast as possible so I can either settle down or start looking for another role, depending on the outcome. How can I best leverage this situation to get an answer - ideally a raise - fast, without antagonizing my employer and making myself look like a flight risk?

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    @rath I'd be happy with an incremental raise, presuming it was backdated at least a little. I discussed it with my manager in a meeting. – Bob Tway Sep 12 at 16:28
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    How long has the 3 month notice period been a thing? Personally I believe that in itself deserves a larger salary – Tas Sep 13 at 3:47
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    This might need a country tag. @Tas – 3 month notice period is the standard (set by the law) in some countries. – J.E Sep 13 at 6:25
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    "There are extenuating circumstances as to why [no raise in 4 years] which are unrelated to my performance"- We need more information: Green Card/citizenship? tuition reimbursement? or else why are you tied to the employer? "my outgoings have begun to seriously outstrip my income, largely due to inflation" I don't understand: is this foreseeable (e.g variable-rate mortgage adjusting, or rents going up, or cost of schooling kids) or unforeseeable? short-term or long-term? And how urgent is it? As the answers say, your employer is underpaying you and your distress is not their problem. – smci Sep 13 at 23:03
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    Even if the last four years experienced a 0% inflation rate (which they didn't), going all that time without a raise is/was, in essence, a loss of money. Why? Because it is when inflation rates are at the lowest that we should maximize our earnings, savings and investing potentials. Not having a raise is always a loss of income (unless you experience negative inflation rates, hahaha). You need to start treating raises like that. You have been bleeding money for too long. Wise up. – luis.espinal Sep 14 at 18:51

10 Answers 10

up vote 208 down vote accepted

I want an answer to this as fast as possible so I can either settle down or start looking for another role, depending on the outcome

In my view, the company's non response is your answer. You have asked multiple times and given the company plenty of opportunities to address your concern if they were inclined to do so. And, in my sort of humble opinion, four years is a ridiculous amount of time to go without a raise.

fairly urgent, that I secure a larger salary as my outgoings have begun to seriously outstrip my income, largely due to inflation.

This is your problem, not the company's. You agreed to the salary and if your living expenses have gotten out of control that is on you. I would not use this excuse to justify my raise, period.

ideally a raise - fast, without antagonizing my employer and making myself look like a flight risk?

In this case, I think your best bet is to update and\or tidy up your resume and begin looking for a new job. The only way I have found to get a significant raise typically is either through promotion or by getting a new job.

I know this isn't what you want to hear, but it is the most effective course of action in your specific situation.

Update: My initial answer made the assumption you are working with your manager on obtaining a raise. If you're not, do so immediately.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Sep 14 at 23:23
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    "I would not use this excuse to justify my raise, period." Depending on the country this is a perfectly valid argument for asking for a raise. Where I live personal situation is often factored in when deciding salary, things like marital status, kids, living expenses, etc can all be used as arguments as to why you should make more money. Skill and years at the company are more important, but definitely not the only things. It's not that the company really cares about it, but the chance of leaving is higher if the employee has a kid to support, so they're willing to pay more. – Kevin Sep 15 at 10:53
  • I somewhat agree with @Kevin. Not every country automatically adjusts wages for inflation. If it does, then OP's argument is invalid. If it doesn't, then OP's argument is valid, even if their life circumstances haven't changed. – Flater Sep 18 at 9:51

You have a 3-month notice period. How long, realistically, will it take you to find a new job? If the answer is less than 3 months, then what you must do is give notice now. If it is longer, then brush up your resume, begin the job search, and then give notice.

As acknowledged in other answers, you've already talked to your manager and basically gotten nowhere as a result. The fact that you're being lumped into a company-wide initiative means that no consideration is given to your skills, or the market rate for them, or to your bus-factor. In other words, you're just a faceless number, and you're going to get the same 1.5% (wild guess) that everyone else does.

If you give notice now, particularly given your low bus-factor, that gives your manager leverage to make a stink with HR and give you a (more) immediate counter-offer to stay. This counter-offer would likely be far higher than the part-of-a-company-wide-initiative raise you would have gotten otherwise.

And if you don't get one, well... then you clearly have your answer about whether they plan to ever pay you what you're worth, and you have a jump on working out your notice period so you can get to a job that pays you what you need.

And to just re-emphasize a point made in other answers, the best raises come with new jobs - whether that's an in-company promotion, or a move to a new job. So even with a counter-offer, you're probably still not going to get what you're worth on the market.

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    @Bob-tway Very high risk. The company might throw him out the door the moment he says he's unhappy and threatens to leave. There are professions/places where that's SOP. – Dark Matter Sep 12 at 19:20
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    Doubtful with his bus-factor and " it will be problematic for my employer were I to leave". – G. Ann - SonarSource Team Sep 12 at 20:11
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    If he's a Superuser or System Admin and has the ability to be destructive at a high level, and they have no intention to give him a raise (or maybe even 'can't'), then management is looking at "what's the least destructive/risky way to deal with a high knowledge disgruntled employee making an ultimatum". – Dark Matter Sep 12 at 21:16
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    Wouldn't a 3 month notice period cut both ways? If I (in .au) had to give 3 months notice (I don't, it's 2 weeks for me, 4 weeks is common), and they booted me on giving said notice, I would be paid out for said notice period. – user5151179 Sep 13 at 3:33
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    Given that OP mentions being "financially tight", I'd say that giving notice without having another job secured (kind of) is a no-no. I agree with the "start looking now" part, though. – walen Sep 13 at 8:52

Given your "low bus factor" and the sympathetic circumstances (you haven't received a raise in four years), I think telling your line manager in a non-confrontational way that this needs to happen soon or you will likely leave would be very low danger. Tell your line manager that you cannot wait for the company-wide initiative, that you need to know within a few weeks if 1)they intend to give a raise, 2) roughly what you could expect from that raise, and 3) about when it will happen. If they are not able or willing to come back within 2-3 weeks with those answers, I would start looking for a different job.

When you talk with the line manager, be firm while expressing your understanding of the company's circumstances in the past (while reminding yourself, and him/her if necessary, that those circumstances no longer apply).

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    I don't think there is anything "low danger" about giving your manager an ultimatum. I would not recommend this course of actions unless you already have another offer on the table. – C Henry Sep 12 at 18:46
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    Nothing's ever no risk, but I don't think it's much of a risk as long as he doesn't couch it as an ultimatum. The manner in which he talks about the need for a raise is key. – Jim Clay Sep 12 at 18:52
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    @jim-clay His manager will need to relay it up the chain, this situation could/would/should be summed up as an ultimatum given he's already been given an answer to the subject. – Dark Matter Sep 12 at 19:27
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    @DarkMattter you might be right, but under that assumption (he’s already footed his answer), OP shouldn’t bother bringing it up at all, and start looking for a new job. If we’re working under the assumption that there is a way for the OP to get his raise sooner at his current employer, I think this is the way to go... but I’m not really sold on that assumption myself. This answer would be improved by making the assumption it’s operating under explicit, and by doing more to explain how to make this conversation seem less ultimatum-y. – HopelessN00b Sep 12 at 21:42
  • Just FYI, while the OP might consider themselves to be a "low bus factor" it is unclear if the managers considering a pay increase are even aware of the key role of the OP. – Phil M Sep 14 at 18:47

You may want to try a more subtle approach.

From what you write, your manager is 'sympathetic' with your situation. It seems your boss is aware of the need to give you a raise, if not based on your increased expenses then on the fact the raise is over-due.

I would not recommend to go to your boss's superior (yet).

Possibly, your boss is just incapable (or unwilling) to fight for your raise, which could mean debate and argumentation with his boss and/or HR and who knows else.

So instead of skipping your direct manager, team up with him. First make him aware that you are serious about that raise, that you have waited longer than you could be expected to and that this lingering situation does not make you happy. Then try and convey that the both of you should cooperate to get the raise through; I'm not saying you should establish a common enemy (HR, boss's boss, or someone else), but well... you get the direction.

Let your boss know that you want to stay in the company (and in his team), but that you regrettably may have no choice if, e.g., "HR won't finally start to move".

You can also show sense of responsibility, telling your boss that you would not be happy if you were forced to leave your current job and your boss/team in a difficult situation (because of the bus-factor).

Ask him to make some calls, write some mails or whatever communicating the urgency to the responsible people and to push some more than he did in the past.

If this goes right, you team up with your boss instead of confronting him, while still giving him some grounds to fight for your case.

If after one iteration or two your boss ultimately fails to secure the raise for you, it's still the situation where you both fought together and sadly were defeated by 'the system', so you 'are forced' to leave (as indicated before!) without burning bridges with your boss.

Of course it's always a good thing to be honest with your line manager if you feel you can do so. However, you may wish to consider speaking with someone in human resources / personnel who may then be able to take up the case for you if you feel that your previous attempts at going through your manager are getting you nowhere. And it could be that you've had as much of an answer as you're likely to get.

It's a tough one but personal living expenses and all that are really non of your employers concern. Your 'low bus factor' might not be a consideration for them either; people come and go. You might want to look around at other opportunities if you believe you're worth more and can do the same work elsewhere. You may find your request for a pay increase gets met when handing in your notice.

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    In my experience, low bus factor or not, when you hand in your notice, and raise offered is a stopgap while they replace you. I know this from my experience where my position as a developer on an industrial automation system had a bus factor of 1. Everyone is replaceable, even if it's difficult to do so. – GOATNine Sep 12 at 16:05
  • @GOATNine This is my exact concern in asking, at the end of the question, not to label myself as a flight risk – Bob Tway Sep 12 at 16:10
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    @BobTway to avoid being labeled as a flight risk, don't threaten to quit. As has been said in other answers, your best option is to start applying elsewhere, since the company you work for has made it clear through their non-action that your pay raise is not a priority to them. I would recommend getting a job offer and then resigning if they haven't given you the raise. Don't use an offer as a threat. – GOATNine Sep 12 at 17:14
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    I agree with the second paragraph. I strongly disagree with involving HR in any way. Their job is to protect the company, if you are asking them for a raise it means you can become discontent, or a flight risk. They will act accordingly. – kleineg Sep 13 at 20:43
  • agree with @kleineg HR are not your friends. You are a number, nothing more - and as far as they are concerned entirely replaceable – Thomo Sep 14 at 4:39

How can I best leverage this situation to get an answer - ideally a raise - fast, without antagonizing my employer and making myself look like a flight risk?

You can't. Your only concrete leverage in this situation is your flight risk.

Whether this risk is reflected in your long-term satisfaction with how you are treated and valued as an employee, or a short-term urgent need which forces you to accept a better-paying job elsewhere in the middle of a project, your employer has no choice but to take stock of what it would take to retain you and decide if it's worth their effort.

Anything that "antagonizes" your employer is just another perspective on an attempt to exert leverage that you don't actually have. Don't reduce your leverage by making it harder for your employer to retain you - by giving them less time to deal with the issue than they need to, or exaggerating what you need from them to stay employed by them.

It sounds from the way you've described your position so far that the most important thing you need to do is to understand how urgent your need for a raise really is. Be specific about how soon you need a raise and what will happen if you don't get it by that deadline.

If you don't get the raise, leaving will obviously only solve the problem if you have a better-paying job to go to. So you need to understand clearly what you expect your options to be before it can factor into any negotiations with your current employer. If you don't already have a clear enough idea, you're going to have to start looking for that alternative employment now.

Then it depends on what the alternative is. If you stay on your current salary, will you have to downsize your home? Rule out a child's preferred plans for higher education? Are you willing to take that hit to make it easier for your employer to retain you? If so, bring that to them - "I could really use that raise in the next two months otherwise it will be too late to avoid making ______ personal sacrifice". If you're not realistically willing to delay a resignation, you need to be honest about this - first with yourself, and then the employer if they're to have any hope of avoiding that outcome.

How can I best leverage this situation to get an answer - ideally a raise - fast, without antagonizing my employer and making myself look like a flight risk?

What you need to do, in short, is to make yourself look like a flight risk. Bear with me.

In any negotiation, if you are not willing to walk away and take your business elsewhere, you have no power. Imagine if I were a greedy person, and I was trying to buy a car from you I knew you were desperate to sell. Imagine I knew I was your only option. What would stop me from lowering my offering price by 10%, 20, 50%... hell, 90%? No matter how unreasonable I was, I could still walk away with your car at a price of my choosing.

Consciously or unconsciously, your employer doesn't respect your agency and knows even if they drastically underpay you, you're going to put up with it. And that's what they're doing.

Now, of course, it would be a bad move to look disengaged in your work, or complain loudly about quitting. That could have unintended repercussions.

The only guaranteed effective way to get out of your situation is to get a new job offer and force them to make a counteroffer. They might balk. In that case, you're going to have to walk away. But again, if you want any power in negotiation at all, you've got to be prepared to walk away. Otherwise, you're just dooming yourself to further years of substandard treatment.

Good luck.

  • The bold part is incorrect. A key concept in negotiation is "Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement". You are far more effective in negotiations when you have more and better alternatives than walking away. Now, such alternatives may not exist in all situations. That is pretty obvious from the fact that we're not all millionaires. But don't assume up front that it's either "negotiate or leave". – MSalters Sep 14 at 13:18
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    I am a very sympathetic and "human" team lead, but doing what is suggested above would never work for an employee in a similar position as the OP. We generally do not make counter offers. First of all there is no way to check the validity of the offer. Then, if an employee went so far as to actually go through the process with another company, they have long since resigned internally, and it is no longer a particularly worthwhile employee to us. – AnoE Sep 14 at 13:45
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    @AnoE Yeah, OP has to be compared for that contingency. If that's the case, then OP simply has no hope of getting the compensation they deserve. They need to go somewhere else. They'd be leaving one office and finding another one, not leaving the mother of their children. – Slothario Sep 14 at 13:58
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    @MSalters If you're dealing with partners who think they can get away with paying you whatever they want (and don't seem concerned with abstract concepts like "your morale will be crap if you're underpaid" or "it's not fair to pay someone that kind of wage who was worked hard and been loyal"). My point is that at the core, there needs to be some kind of adverse effect for the other party if they don't negotiate in good faith, and it has to be something they care about. If they don't seem to care about anything... well, then you have no leverage and should probably go somewhere else anyway. – Slothario Sep 14 at 14:01

I suggest to team up with your boss. I see nothing in your post that makes me assume that there is any conflict between the two of you; and I assume that your boss is truthful in that he simply has no way to influence the situation. I am in a similar situation (large company, involved processes regarding salary management once a year with no particular power on my side; a general "don't talk with terrorists" approach; and exceptions handled through another process once every 6 months if at all), and I would not be able to influence your salary in a realistic manner (and even if, I could not promise you anything about it up front).

As your boss probably has no reason to actively get rid of you, simply talk to him in a good-natured way. Make no promises or threats; simply tell him what you told us. Make it non-whiney and matter-of fact; just so he is aware. In fact, I guess you already did that. Do not tell him that you are looking for a new job.

Meanwhile, go look for a new job. Take the opportunity to find one which might be more interesting, more worthwhile, maybe so you have a shorter commute etc.. As soon as you hold your new contract in your hands, hand in your resignation, never the other way round.

In my experience, there is very little an employee can do about his salary, after signing the contract. Bosses normally know perfectly well about the salary structure of their company (i.e., how much a person of skill X is "supposed" to earn). This may be different in small startups and the like, but large companies have processes etc. in place, and often have other gratification/gamification mechanisms in place than the yearly salary raise (or they better should have...). So you have little leverage there, as an employee.

Negotiation is a skill, it can be learned and improved. If it doesn’t work out with the current employer, you’ll have to negotiate a reasonable salary elsewhere anyway, so researching this area should be a priority. I’m a fan of Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss because of its in-depth explanations and actionable advice, but there’s a lot of other resources as well.

That you should expand your options by actively searching for other jobs goes without saying. A commenter said you’re replaceable, and you surely are; but so is your employer.

Post your resume on Indeed, and toggle on the "looking for opportunities" option on your LinkedIn profile. I did this and 2 weeks later I got a 5k raise.

HR can see when you post your resume on Indeed. LinkedIn says it hides the fact that your looking from your company, but I'm not convinced.

Try it, what do you have to lose?

  • @MisterPositive well it worked for me. He's asking whether he pushes about the raise or start looking. You think he'd get fired for that? I wouldn't work for a company that does that anyway. – BingBong Sep 13 at 2:15
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    HR's job is not to just sit and watched LinkedIn to see if employees are searching, especially when there are several hundreds of employees. This is not their priority. – Twyxz Sep 13 at 6:29
  • What he has to lose is his incoming! If he gets fired there might be a period with no income. You don't know how long it could take to find a new job for OP. – Mixxiphoid Sep 13 at 8:32
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    well the "what do you have to lose" is his job. not enough money is better than no money. – J.Doe Sep 13 at 11:12
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    @J.Doe again, if your employer is willing to fire you because your exploring what's out there for jobs, then you ought to find a new job anyway. – BingBong Sep 13 at 12:21

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