Asking for more money is one of the most daunting things you can do at work.
There are dozens of guides online that detail tips and tricks to asking for a raise. Listicle after listicle, emblazoned with titles like, “DO THIS AND YOUR BOSS CAN’T SAY NO” or “THE SIX THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW IN ANY SALARY NEGOTIATION,” often leave me wondering, “Do any of these tactics actually work?”
Many of the articles I read mostly references ways in which employees can distinguish themselves—phrases like “go above and beyond” or “take on more responsibilities” often end up somewhere in these type of articles.
In this article, however, I want to focus on ways you can ask for more money that don’t involve you doing more labor than you’re actually being paid for.
Because fuck that—you should be paid for the work you do, not for the work you hope to do but aren’t yet being compensated for.
So here are some of my tips. Nothing is guaranteed; these are mostly tactics to give yourself some peace of mind when walking into a scary meeting with your boss.
Just Ask — Even if you don’t prepare anything, it can’t hurt to ask. It might get annoying if you ask constantly, but if you think you might be eligible for a raise, the least you can do is ask. The worst that could happen is your boss says no. Most bosses, when asked respectfully, won’t bat at eye at a request for more money.
Ask About Raises Early — In most jobs, there’s an expectation that your hourly rate or salary will go up at some point. Ask about that early in your onboarding, and if you can, ask during the interview process. If your boss says they usually give raises every six months, put a calendar reminder in your phone for six months after your hire date. Establish that this is something you care about.
Ask Around — I will scream this from every rooftop: you are allowed to talk to your coworkers about how much money you make (EDIT - I wrote this piece a few weeks before a number of barista wage spreadsheets were made where folks could enter their wages and include other information such as benefits, average tips, and in some, demographic information. If you live in a major city, there’s likely one out there for you). Ask your colleagues if they’ve received raises or what their salary story has looked like at work.
This can be SUPER awkward. For me, I’d frame this as a moment to exchange information. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find out you’re being paid differently or empower your co-worker to also consider their own wages.
Provide Creative Forms of Payment — I’d say the thing I hear most when I talk to people about asking for more money is that their employer simply cannot pay them more. Nine time out of ten I’d call bullshit on this—BUT if you truly believe your employer cannot pay you more, ask for a different way to be compensated that feels right to you and aligns with your goals.
In one previous position, I was told that there was no money to spare for raises. However, if I could save my company money over three months, I would pocket 30% of whatever money we saved. So I did—and I ended up saving the company $5,000 (literally this money was just lying around waiting to be saved. I in no way did anything revolutionary except be better at my job than the previous manager). I ended up taking home around $1300 (after taxes), which was more than if I had accepted a $1/hr raise instead. This solution aligned with the fact that I could not accept anything less than financial payment.
In other jobs, I’ve proposed travel opportunities, fewer hours of work for the same pay, or professional development. I once asked another boss to build me a desk when he mentioned being unable to give me a raise for a few months. He was a carpenter, and I knew I wanted to save up for one (the desk turned out amazing). Sometimes, the bottom line has to be about money—and that’s perfectly acceptable—and there are ways to build around money that aren’t rote raises. Money and other amenities are always hiding somewhere.
Tie Your Current, Not Future, Performance to a Raise - I am firmly of the belief that you shouldn’t have to do more than your job requires, but it is important to chronicle when you do your job well (these are two different things—always remember that). Did a customer leave a glowing review after they interacted with you? Write that down, and bring it up later. Are you always good at answering emails from your bosses and contributing to staff meetings? Mention that. Do you always leave your space sparkling, creating a welcoming scene for your coworkers to walk into? Bring it up. Remind your boss why you’re good at your job.
If Your Boss Passes, All Is Not Lost — If you boss says no to your request, that doesn’t have to be the end of the conversation. In that same discussion, you can ask questions and create goals to get you to the next wage increase, like “What goals do you have for me?” or “What do I need to demonstrate to receive X amount more per hour?” This solidifies in your boss’ mind that this is a serious request that you’re going to follow up on later.
If you can, ask your boss what you can do to ensure you get a raise in the next few months. Schedule another time to chat (and again, put it in your calendar because your boss will forget) and write down all the points your boss brings up. Remember this list when you revisit this conversation, and hit upon the goals you’ve achieved.
You Have More Leverage Than You Think — I think, for so long, I felt powerless at work. I felt like my fate was always in the hands of bosses or folks in leadership positions above me, but as an employee, you have more power than you think. When asking for a raise, tap into that power.
If, let’s say, you ask for a raise and your employer doesn’t give it to you, tell your employer that it makes it difficult for you to work there (if you feel safe enough to say so — and I’m certainly not suggesting you threaten your employer but instead be truthful about your needs). If an employer is really operating with a mind to finances, they should already know that training a new employee is going to cost them more than giving you a raise. Studies vary in the average cost of turnover, but the low end puts the cost of turnover at about $1,200 with the high end going to about $9,000 for an employee making $8/hour.
So your boss might be a little strained about giving you a raise, but it’d throw a wrench in their entire structure if you left, especially if you work for a small company. It’s ok to leverage that in the rhetoric you use.
Likewise, it’s ok to leverage your worth, and sometimes you don’t even have to. I had a coworker who wanted to leave the cafe we worked at because he wasn’t getting paid enough. However, he never asked about being paid more because he assumed our boss wouldn’t give him a raise. And he based that logic on the fact that our boss had yet to give him one. I told my coworker to ask, and mention that he might have to consider leaving if he didn’t get paid more. He immediately got a dollar an hour more.
Some of these points are, more than anything, meant to normalize the discussion around asking for more money. They will not work for everyone, and you know yourself best to pick and choose what will work for you.
Some of these tactics are definitely more dangerous to try depending on the space you occupy and the way marginalized groups are often overlooked for raises or penalized for caring about money. I hope these tactics are adaptable and that, more importantly, leaders (and frankly, other colleagues who occupy a privileged space and can advocate on behalf of their coworkers) reading this think critically about who is getting paid what in their cafes and why. If you’re a leader who truly wants to overhaul their wage system, I’d suggest reading this piece I wrote about implementing a wage transparent policy at work.
I’ll say this one more time because it bears repeating: it is totally ok for you to ask for a raise. And you don’t have to justify why you need it—for rent or increased cost of living...that doesn’t matter. You deserve a raise simply for being a good employee (what defines a good employee is a topic for another day). You don’t need to be a superhero who assumes a ton of extra responsibility just to show you deserve a few extra bucks. You can ask for a raise—and you deserve it.
If this message speaks to you, I kindly encourage you to check out my Patreon account. Writing about wage transparency, shitty bosses, and how to disrupt the power system is risky—but necessary. For the first couple of weeks, we’re gonna keep all content free, and may add paid content in the future. But if you want to jump in and contribute now, the Patreon is the place to do it.
If you can’t donate, please share this article with someone you know. Someone who might be struggling at work or someone with whom this message will resonate. The key to power is keeping folks ill-informed—and we’re here to fight that.