How to ask for a pay rise (and how to say no as an employer)

Author: Kate Whitehead | Date: 20 Apr 2017

Staff should carry out market research and work out what people in similar roles are being paid

A pay rise is in the air for many staff across Asia - and what’s not to like about a fatter pay cheque? But there’s an art to asking for a salary increment. Do it right and you could come out of the boss’s office smiling, but mess it up and you could be shooting yourself in the foot.

The first step is to work out why you deserve a pay rise – is it your performance that deserves rewarding or do you think that your pay is below market rate? Good preparation is key to how the discussion plays out, said Nick Lambe, managing director at Links International in Hong Kong.

“It’s important to do your market research and understand what people in similar roles and backgrounds are being paid in similar types of organisations. It’s important to benchmark your organisation against similar organisations,” said Lambe.

Justin Yiu, general manager of jobsDB Hong Kong Limited, advised compiling a list of ‘proof points’ to take to the meeting. For example, what projects have you delivered on time or how have you impacted the profit and loss of the business? The especially well-prepared will have planned for this and been regularly and proactively communicating with their supervisors.

“For instance, when you receive congratulatory emails from clients, make sure that you always copy your boss when you send a reply,” said Yiu.

Dr Jamie Cheung, programme director of the Masters of Human Resources Management at Hong Kong Baptist University, also recommended collecting evidence of your contribution.

“There may be a lot of things we have done that the boss doesn’t actually see, especially things not related to the job description, which is good for the company,” said Cheung.

The timing of the request is critical. Lambe recommended asking during a annual or half-yearly review process and said it was rare for employers to give pay rises out of this cycle.

Some people go to employers with offers from other employers, but Lambe cautions against trying to strong-arm your manager: “If an individual says, ‘I’ve been offered a 20 per cent raise’, they need to be prepared that the response will be, ‘I can’t afford that’ or ‘I don’t think you’re worth it’.

“I’ve definitely seen cases where people have gone to an employer with a counter offer and have begrudgingly had to take another position when all they wanted was a market pay rise,” says Lambe.

The atmosphere of the meeting is critical, too. Cheung emphasised the importance of not becoming emotional and remaining calm and polite.

“Be gracious. Don’t talk about it as if they owe you and there’s some kind of entitlement,” she said.

Lambe said he had seen instances where the employee had been too aggressive in their demands, which has led to the employer not wanting to assist.

But don’t be afraid to ask for a pay rise if you think you deserve it. Lambe said he had seen people ‘stay loyal’ to a company for 10 years without asking for a rise, while their pay stagnated compared to those who had made a move.

“It’s rare that you get an employer who would think, ‘I know what, I’ll give them a nice bump in salary’. Why would you proffer something if the employee isn’t asking?” said Lambe.

Cheung said a transparent pay rise policy and practice is important – and employers should always show a willingness to negotiate and listen.

“If giving a financial pay rise is difficult then point to non-financial means; look at work arrangements instead of just focusing on money,” she added.