Salary Negotiation: How to Ask for a Raise During a Recession

Asking for a raise when the economy is bad can make you look out of touch and insensitive to your employer's business challenges. But in some situations, it might make sense to make a case for more money. Here's how to negotiate a raise during a recession.

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Tue, December 16, 2008

CIOSalary negotiation is rarely easy, but it's especially risky in a recession, when companies are scaling back to save every penny. Asking for a raise when the economy is bad can make you look out of touch with reality and insensitive to your employer's business challenges.

" 'Are you crazy? Don't you read? Don't you watch TV? Don't you know what's happening.' That's the reaction a lot of managers would have to a subordinate asking for a raise right now," says Joe Kilmartin, Salary.com's managing director of compensation consulting.

Kilmartin says that unless you're an irreplaceable employee, asking for a pay increase at this time is a bad idea. "The danger is you become a target. If the CFO or CEO says we need to get a list of who we can do without, your name may appear on that list," he says. "In over 95 percent of cases, employees should be sitting pat right now and not thinking about asking for a raise."

Other compensation experts disagree with Kilmartin.

Jeremy Sisemore, a recruiter with SearchPath International's Houston office, says there's no harm in asking for a raise during a recession, so long as you're not pushy. "If you don't ask, you don't get," he says. "No one will damage themselves by asking."

Before you go knocking on your boss's door to pop the salary question, Sisemore and Payscale.com's Director of Quantitative Analysis Al Lee, say you need to determine your market value—what you're worth based on your skills, experience, role and location. They say you can get salary information from sites like Payscale and Salary.com, by talking with recruiters, and by asking friends who've been on your team but who are no longer with your company what they think you should be earning (a subtle way of finding out what they were paid, to see how you compare.)

"If you find out you're earning average or below market value, maybe there is a case to go to bat," says Sisemore. If you're making more than market value, he adds, you might want to re-think asking for a raise, or at least consider other factors, such as your skills, the value you bring to your organization and how difficult it would be for your employer to replace you.

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