How to Ask for More Money at Work

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Now may not be the right time to ask for a raise. But it’s a good time to lay the groundwork.

The November jobs picture was a mixed one. While unemployment in the U.S. dipped to 8.6%, the lowest rate in more than two years, wages also dropped. In fact, over the past 12 months, hourly wages have only risen 1.8%. (Consumer prices, meanwhile, rose 3.5% over the same period.)

So Americans are wondering how they can make more money and keep up with inflation. The end of the year is a perfect time to set the stage for bringing more home next year.

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Before asking for a raise, the first thing to understand is why employers give raises at all. “A raise comes when you bring value to an organization,” says Peter Bregman, author of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done. So before you can even think about approaching your boss, you need to figure out exactly what skills and benefits you bring to your business.

Given how employers have stretched their employees’ responsibilities in the past few years, you’re likely doing a million things at work. To get yourself in line for a possible boost in income, Bregman recommends something very counterintuitive: Do less.

“Here’s the myth about time management,” Bregman says. “You can’t possibly get it all done. When we try, the wrong things end up falling through the cracks. So it’s very hard to ask and get a raise when you’re working on 15 different things. If you really want a raise and you want to be valued, what you need to do is reduce the amount you’re doing but increase the focus on a few things so that you’re assured you add value.”

Bregman recommends that employees sit down with their boss to figure out which of their responsibilities adds the most value to see if you can do more if you have fewer priorities.

“Think like the owner of the business,” he says. “Where are we making money? What makes the biggest difference to this organization? The most successful people are the ones who understand how their organizations operate.”

If you’re able to convince your superior that you want to focus all your energies on a few important parts of your business, then you’ll be in a position to come back in six, nine, or 12 months and show tangible results that could boost your chances of getting that raise.

The end of the year is usually not a good time to ask for a raise because most companies already have their budgets set for the following year.

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That said, the economic climate has generally been improving. “We’re in the early stages of the recovery, when things are really, really competitive,” says career and salary coach Jack Chapman. “If you’re one of the survivors, [your bosses] don’t want to lose you.”

Companies are still wary of hiring large numbers of employees, but they’re more likely to give current employees a little more these days. So as the recovery hopefully takes hold over the next year, it will likely be a good time to ask for a bit more.

Despite all that, sometimes the only way to get a raise is a change of scenery. “I hate to say it, but sometimes the best way to get a raise is to change jobs,” says Bregman. As the employment picture improves, that might not be as difficult as it’s been in the past.