Careers

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

A company shows how much they value you based on how they compensate you–salary and benefits.

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Years ago I wanted a pay raise and it didn’t go the way I thought it would.

In my early 20s, I was spotlighted by my company as a model employee. Using the word “spotlight” is probably an understatement. For an entire year, I was paraded in company-wide meetings and senior managers tapped me for ideas.

I was the model employee hustling to improve the company without asking for more compensation in return. Until one day I felt it was the perfect time to ask for a pay raise.

As a branch manager, I made $38,750 per year. And all I wanted was to make $45,000.

This is how the company respondedWhat to Do When Your Boss Says No to a Pay Raise

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. In the days afterward, I began to question the attention and my contributions. If my salary was tied to the performance of others and their time in the role, then there was really no need to work harder or go above and beyond.

I simply needed to do what other managers were doing.

In some way, the AVP mistakenly said that overperformance didn’t matter when it came to compensation.

This was a profound experience early in my career. It made me realize how that company didn’t value me as an individual.

It took a few months until I made the fateful decision to quit. That decision eventually led to a senior executive role with a credit union in Silicon Valley. In just a few short months from having that conversation with the AVP of my former company, I would become Vice President of Marketing with a significant pay raise in another.

The decision to value myself along with the skills I attained as an over performer led to a 2.5x salary increase. I would no longer be working in a branch but 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 value or roles they deem valuable.

Sorry (but not really sorry) for putting executives on the spot who make six-figures or more and talk about how front-line employees are the major contributor to the success of the company but only pay minimum wage.

I understand that many companies cannot afford to pay everyone more or should pay everyone the same. Go back to my story of being denied a raise simply to remain equitable. It sent the wrong message that my work ethic and performance have nothing to do with salary growth.

But I do believe people should make more. And from experience, I realize making more can mean leaving that job or the company. To find another that has the resources to compensate for performance.

It’s why I’ve learned the importance of career mobility. The ability to continuously find work that is meaningful and financially rewarding.

Become the employee that undoubtedly deserves a raise

I favor paying people based on their contributions to company growth and profitability. Sure everyone plays a role in the success of a company. But not everyone has an equal impact regardless if they hold the same title.

I want you to become the 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.

If you truly believe your skills and experience merit more pay, then there is a company out there that can meet your salary goals.

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 that would make me more valuable. I used tuition reimbursement to help pay for my MBA. I worked on cross-departmental projects to gain different skillsets. I attended as many company educational and training workshops. I volunteered in community service and networked within the company more, not less.

And you can do the same. Doing so can help you find a job that fits your needs.

Being prepared to leave a job

When my pay raise was rejected it caused mental and emotional distress. Eventually, it impacted my physical wellbeing. I found it harder to get into work early or find the energy to take on interesting projects.

But I was prepared to make a move. I had money saved and I knew I could leave my job for 6 months to reset and find a different path. I was also confident in my resume, new degree, and a larger network to explore other opportunities. Being financially well and prepared, I took the plunge to quit and I found something better.

If you don’t get that much-deserved pay raise, then create a plan to improve your skills, education, and network. You can even do so by using company benefits and during work hours.

With a renewed sense of confidence, find a company that will value your contributions. Don’t get angry.

Make your pay raise rejection into something positive that has the potential of changing the trajectory of your career.

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 a job. If you want or need to make more, the easiest way to do so is to increase the income made from your job.

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.

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

It is easier to walk away from an employer that doesn’t value you, when you have controlled expenses, paid off 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, returned to live with my parents, and curtailed spending to pay off the debt within 3 years while saving money.

Reflecting Back

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 about my life if I didn’t value my self-worth? What would I be doing if I remained 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 become a VP, or been able to backpack around the world, found a company, created a financial wellness movement, and become a bestselling author.

What I know for use is this: Increase your value by being the best in your profession. Learn to value yourself by taking pride in the work you do. Be confident in asking for more. And be prepared and bold enough to walk away when a company cannot see your value.

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Jason Vitug

Jason is the founder of phroogal, creator of the award winning project Road to Financial Wellness, and author of the bestseller and New York Times reviewed book, You Only Live Once: The Roadmap to Financial Wellness and a Purposeful Life.

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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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