Promotions, Bonuses, Merit—Oh My! Ask or You Won’t Receive.

on September 12, 2022

Want a raise? What Women Need to Know—And Some Men Too.

There have been a lot of articles lately on how to ask for a raise and the best time to ask—probably because it is that time of year when many companies are doing their annual evaluations, and managers are getting their allotment of funds to be distributed to their teams.

After reading a few of these articles I felt compelled to add my two cents. As an executive who has allocated funds and an executive who has asked for more and tried to navigate the corporate ladder, there are still unspoken rules and bias that can trip you up.

An HR person will tell you that the right time to ask for a raise is during your annual review. Well, if you don’t have any distinctive accomplishments for that year, it very unlikely that you will get much of a merit increase or bonus. This is why each year you really have to make sure that all of your accomplishments and contributions to the company are documented and noted, along with any financial value that you specifically brought to the table.

Your leader should be well aware of these long before your annual review. And, you should have asked for a raise long before your annual review.

The Best Time To Ask for a Promotion

The best time to ask for a raise or a promotion or a new role, is right after you’ve accomplished something big.Maybe you saved the company a great deal of money, or just made the company a great deal of money, or landed a big client, or delivered a hot-selling product. This is your moment! And your leaders are waiting for you to take advantage of it.

Too often employees might play off the value of their contribution. Women in particular do this more often than men. In an effort to be a team player or to be modest or to simply brush off their brilliance as normal, they often miss the cue from their leader that this is the time to make and an “ask.” Usually leaders are expecting it and waiting for it. I guarantee you, men rarely miss this moment. They will be having a cocktail, leaving an important meeting, out on the golf course, etc. and they make ‘the ask’—usually for a big promotion. And they get it because they’ve just proven their value to the company. There’s no push back.

Unless You Don’t Want a Promotion…

If you don’t make the ask in this moment it is very likely you will stay in your current position for a very long time without further reward or any reward. Your leaders will believe that you are satisfied with where you are. They might believe you are afraid to take the next step. They might believe you are not interested in taking the next step. And they certainly won’t mistake you for a go-getter.

Maybe You Don’t Care About Money or Equality of Pay?

If you don’t ask for money, or ask for a raise based on the value that you bring to your work, your leaders will assume money is not important to you. They will assume that the satisfaction that you get from your job is sufficient enough reward. They will assume that you have a husband who is sufficiently taking care of you. They will assume that you are a single woman with no responsibilities so do not need more money. There are many assumptions and biases that are made that can affect you without your knowledge. And very seldom will anyone admit to them.

This is why you must own your work and your finances. You must communicate to your boss throughout the year on what your accomplishments are and what your expectation is for a bonus, a merit increase, a promotion, or other financial rewards.

Maybe You Don’t Understand What Financial Compensation Is?

Your financial compensation, especially as a woman, should have nothing to do with whether you are single or married. It should have nothing to do with how much you love your work. It should have nothing to do with whether you need the money or not. Your financial compensation needs to be based strictly on your merit, success, and contribution to the company. It is about doing your job with excellence beyond your fellow colleagues. And if you are doing a job beyond the scope of your role, that is grounds for a promotion. Be sure to outline that work, and ask for the promotion.

If you receive a less than satisfactory merit increase or bonus, request a reevaluation, and let your leaders know you expect more based on the list of contributions that you have achieved.  You can even let them know exactly how much you were expecting. And if they don’t give it all at once, negotiate more.

Do not be afraid of making waves. Simply make the request and include documentation and references. If you do not get a change, ask for clarity on what goals and expectations need to be met for someone to get the merit increase or promotion for which you are asking.

Asking for a promotion should be simple and to the point. It’s not about ultimatums, or injustice, or emotion. Your leader or manager has the responsibility of splitting a certain amount of money allocated to them by the company for their team. Your job is to make sure they fairly and unemotionally look at all the facts and reward you appropriately. Leaders do not want to lose their strongest workers, and will reward squeaky wheels because of that. You may be equally strong but if you have not asked for a promotion, they will likely feel that they can get away with giving you less—and that you will be grateful for it! Please do not be stupid. Always make sure your expectations are understood—and well in advance of your annual review.

Look For Additional Rewards And Recognitions

Most companies also have other methods of rewarding workers throughout the year. These could be spot bonuses, box seat tickets at a sports game, tickets to theater, spa days, or other special perks. Be sure to ask about all of these and learn what is available to you. No one is going to offer up this information. In fact your own leader might not even know about it. Find out and ask for a reward based on a milestone.

The reality is there is always money for employees that the company wants to keep. There is always time during the year to promote somebody who deserves a promotion. Beware of leaders and HR staff who tell you they only consider promotions at certain times of the year. Good people know they can request payment for their work at any time. There is competition for talent. This idea of a cycle of reviews and payments is designed to make it easier for people doing the paperwork. It might work in government but in the real world strong talent doesn’t wait until the end of the cycle to decide if they are staying or going. They go where they are valued and rewarded and can leave anytime they want.

Don’t Be A Sucker

Unfortunately, women are more likely to submit to this HR line, while men are hired, promoted, and rewarded throughout the year right before our eyes.

While I’ve worked with many wonderful HR leaders, the truth is they rarely understand or know the work that you are doing for the business. Their role is often compliance, process, and keeping the CEO happy. This is why your leader needs to be armed with the information to approve your promotions and merit increases.

And it goes without saying that you should always have your resume updated and even be scanning your industry for opportunities. Nothing shakes up inertia faster than a great job offer from a competitor.

Know your value and don’t be afraid to go after it—at your current company or a new one.


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