What to Do When Your Boss Says No to a Pay Raise

What to Do When Your Boss Says No to a Pay Raise

A few years ago, I was spotlighted by my company as the model employee. Using the word “spotlight” is probably an understatement. The company was sharing how they needed more managers like me. For a year, I was paraded in company meetings and tapped for my ideas. I was hustling to figure out more ways to improve the company. I was eager and excited. In fact, I loved the attention and the opportunity to work on interesting projects.

Back then I was making $38,750 per year as a branch manager with a fancy title of Experience Officer. With all this attention, I thought it was a perfect time and great opportunity to ask for a pay raise.

This is how the company responded

The AVP sat me down in the conference room of my branch and said: “We can’t give you a raise that will put you too close to other managers. It wouldn’t be equitable. They’ve been here longer.”

I sat there dumbfounded. If I my salary was capped as to what other managers were doing, I realized I didn’t need to work hard or go above and beyond. I should just do what other managers were doing. In some way, the AVP was telling me that my added contributions didn’t matter when it came to compensation.

This experience made me realize how my company didn’t value me.

At 26-years old, I got the courage to quit and eventually found an opportunity to take a job in Silicon Valley. I went from being a branch manager to Vice President of Marketing exactly a year after my pay raise rejection. That decision to value myself and not limit my income potential turned into salary increase equal to 2.5x in one year.

Also, that decision to leave changed the trajectory of my professional career. I was no longer managing a branch. I was strategizing in the boardroom.

Here is the lesson I learned and what you should know

A company shows how much they value you based on how they compensate you–salary and benefits. Just like in personal finance–you spend money on what you value–a company spends money on employees they deem valuable.

Sorry (but not sorry) for putting executives on the spot who make six-figure or million dollar salaries and talk about how front-line employees are essential and the contributing factor to a companies success but only pay minimum wage!

I believe people should make more. And I want you to become that employee that deserves the raise. Do more. Be more. Give more. And create value. If your current company cannot see your value, I am confident another employer will.

When I realized my old company didn’t value me. I didn’t become disgruntled. I worked even harder and took advantage of the benefits of tuition reimbursement, cross-departmental projects, attended company workshops, volunteered in community service, and networked within the company more, not less.

When the impact of that pay raise rejection hit a boiling point, I had money saved, new experiences and skills, an MBA, and a professional network to explore opportunities to pursue something better. And I got something better.

I’ve wondered where my life would be if I listened to the advice of that AVP and just sucked it up. Where would I be if I just said, “okay”? How would I feel if I remained disillusioned about my self-worth and unaware of my income earning potential? I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today. I know for sure if I just said “okay” I wouldn’t have been able to backpack around the world, founded a company, created a movement, became a bestselling author, and regained my time to create and serve a purpose.

So, how does this relate to money?

Money has importance. Money contributes to our happiness (it pays for shelter, food, medicine, and entertainment). And most of us make our money from an employer salary. The easiest way to make more money is to make more money in the job you’re in. In order to do that, you need to increase your skills and experience, network internally and externally, and add value above what’s listed in the job description.

However, if you don’t get that much-deserved pay raise, then create a plan to improve your skills, education, and network on your employer’s dime. With a renewed sense of confidence, find a company that will value your contributions. Don’t get angry. Make your salary increase rejection into something positive that has the potential of changing the trajectory of your professional life and income potential.

Beleive in yourself. Believe in what you can contribute. Don’t be afraid to ask. And don’t be afraid to walk away.

Note: It is easier to walk away from an employer that doesn’t value you, when you have controlled your expenses, paid off your debt, and save money to cover months of living expenses. Value your time by managing your money. This is why financial knowledge is important. During this period of my life, I was in $40,000 of student loan and credit card debt but began to prioritize debt repayment. I took advantage of all company benefits, lived with my parents rent-free, and curtailed spending to pay off the debt within 3 years and save money. This plan allowed me to quit the job and spend a year attending filmmaking classes at NYU before taking the job in California.

2 Comments

  1. Great post and thanks for sharing your story. I totally agree as I’ve been on both sides of the table - the one asking and the one giving. You’re totally correct that a company bases its value of you on compensation. It drives me nuts when a manager or VP maintains this old idea of “comparable to peers due to length of time”. Look - employees deliver value to the company. Some deliver more, some less. Companies need to compensate accordingly. I personally got rejected for a higher base pay multiple times, but all it did was encourage me to double down on my side hustle. My old company could have had me devote so much time and effort to it - instead they got a fraction of my time while I built a successful business on the side.

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