Ask LH: How Should I Ask For A Raise When I Feel Underpaid?

Ask LH: How Should I Ask For A Raise When I Feel Underpaid?

Dear Lifehacker, for the amount of work I do, I feel very underpaid. At work, there’s almost a culture of having a heavy workload is a very good thing, so I’m not sure how to approach this sticky situation. Who do I ask for a raise and what are the possible repercussions of trying to deal with this?

Signed, IT Slave

Image: hiyori13.

Dear IT.S,

Many of us can sympathise with you. Not being not fully compensated for your efforts can be demoralising, and it’s especially difficult when everyone else seems OK with being paid less for doing more. You might also hesitate to bring up a raise request in times like these, when there are massive layoffs and the economy is shaky, but it’s only right that you get your fair market value. There are ways to frame the discussion about your position at the company without it being confrontational or having any negative repercussions, though, so don’t worry. Here are a few tips.

Do Your Research

The most important thing is to arm yourself with as much research as possible to verify and make your case that you really are underpaid. Compare your salary against the salary of people in your area who have similar jobs and experience. Live Salary and MyCareer’s Salary Centre are two sites that can help you get started with that.

Make a List of Your Work Achievements and Value at the Company

Because this is a salary negotiation, you’ll need to provide concrete, compelling reasons why you should get a raise — framed in a way that shows you’re an asset to the company. Rather than saying “I’m really overworked and need more money”, for example, you would say, something like, “my tasks include this, this, and this and in the last six months I’ve also added on these six other tasks usually handled by these four other departments” (you get the drift).

Think also about your future at the company: things you might do to help your boss and the company achieve their goals, whatever they are.

Create a Formal Salary Request

Using the salary research you’ve done, create a salary letter asking for the raise amount you’d like — for example, 4 per cent — and show how it is in line with other salaries in your area for your position. Work in the tasks you do and your short and long-term goals.

Then arrange a meeting with your boss or direct supervisor to discuss this request (don’t just spring this request on him or her; your boss will likely feel cornered without enough lead time).

Other Negotiation Tips

You may be able to increase your chances of getting a raise by asking at the right time, rehearsing your request, and brushing up on top negotiation strategies.

Finally, don’t be afraid to bring up the request just because being overworked is the work culture. You can frame your request sensitively and adapt. For example, if your request is turned down, consider asking for perks instead (like more holiday time) of a monetary raise. Or at the very least, ask if you could return to the discussion in 6 months’ time.

Good luck!

Cheers Lifehacker

P.S. Have you had to handle this situation yourself? What would/did you do?


  • You forgot one thing. Be prepared to walk. Especially in IT I’m sure there are plenty of companies looking for good quality workers.

    I know someone in IT that gets his raises purely from resigning every year. They make a counteroffer and he stays on (however insidious that is).

  • Weird, this is the complete opposite of my experience. Softly, softly does it. Lots of small conversations with the boss, over months. Progressively make clear that you like the job, you like the work, but the money’s just not enough anymore. Make it really clear that you’ll be looking for other options in the next 3-6 months. Once all the groundwork has been done, then you can raise the subject directly. By then, if they value you, you’ve become an issue “I’m afraid X will leave if we can’t find a way to pay them more”.

    If you just come out of the blue, it sounds greedy. Empathise first.

  • Just be careful, saying “I need more or I am going to leave / have to look around” is also the easiest way to get yourself excluded from projects, thrown of a team etc.

    If your boss actually doesn’t want to / can’t pay more, be prepared to walk, because you can completely f&*k yourself professionally, even if you say “I love the job, I just need more” etc. Once I know someone’s heart is not in it, you’re dead to me.

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