Why is it still so hard to ask for a pay rise?

Open and honest discussions about remuneration can benefit employees and businesses alike. Aliya Vigor-Robertson looks at how to make these conversations easier

The relationship between staff and senior management is a key part of having an open and supportive business. But there are still some conversations that employees find hard to engage in – the most common being pay rises. So what can be done to make these conversations easier? 

Know the problem

There has been a shift toward businesses behaving more transparently with their clients, suppliers and customers – but this doesn’t always cross over internally as part of the employee experience. Are things like reward strategies or salary reviews clearly communicated to staff? Or are your people left unsure? It’s not only important for staff to know how appraisals and performance measurement systems work, but also how they’re linked to salary increases. If this doesn’t happen, the lack of clarity will leave some employees feeling nervous asking about their pay. 

For others, it may just be a question of confidence. Maybe they’re not aware of their achievements and feel they don’t deserve a raise. Or they might believe that they deserve a higher salary, but just don’t feel comfortable raising the issue with their manager. In some cases, managers will need to be on the front foot and help influence the decision on raising a salary for those who don’t feel comfortable having those discussions. 

Either way, unwillingness to talk about pay reflects a wider workplace issue. Staff can often get frustrated if they feel like their achievements aren’t being acknowledged – and rewarded – by management. And by the time they speak up, it’s often too late, causing the business to lose key talent, industry knowledge and skills when these people move on. It’s the responsibility of management to make sure that staff feel confident and secure enough to raise these conversations and explain why they deserve a higher salary. 

Confidence, transparency and relationships

It doesn’t matter how big or small your company is: consistency and strong relationships are key. Businesses need to create systems that provide clarity and that are fair. Providing regular feedback on performance, along with access to relevant salary and engagement surveys, are important steps towards resolving the angst of employees having to turn up cap in hand.

If your team has a strong bond with their managers and leaders, it will be far easier for them to talk about their role and be honest about their performance. Encouraging managers to invest a little more time in one-to-one catch ups can really make all the difference to getting staff to open up. 

In many cases, the reason that most employees don’t want to talk about their salary is they’re worried it will reflect badly on them. That’s why leaders need to actively encourage staff to have these discussions, so that they can normalise the issue and remove any awkwardness. 

Of course, not every business is in a position to reward their staff by increasing their salaries on an annual basis. For those companies, the challenge will be how to retain their talent in a competitive marketplace. Money isn’t always the main motivator and other factors can be uncovered in regular catch ups with their managers or on a wider company scale through engagement surveys.

The payoff

Creating a clear and simple reward strategy that can be applied consistently and fairly across the business will give people more confidence to talk about remuneration. Getting this right will impact on the overall business. If staff feel confident enough to ask about their pay, they’ll be less likely to harbour any frustrations and will feel the company is supporting their needs. Retention will improve and there will be a decline in shock departures. 

Relationships between managers and staff will also improve, as employees will be able to discuss their performance and career goals openly and honestly. As a result, staff may also be more motivated to take on additional tasks and responsibilities if they know they’ll be rewarded for going beyond what is required. 

Of course, the ideal outcome is for pay rises to be given before the employee even asks, but this proactive approach will only be possible if managers are regularly providing feedback. By creating a transparent culture where rewards and remuneration are clearly communicated, organisations will find that discussions about pay rises are much easier to have. 

Business transparency needs to apply to your employees as well as your customers, especially when it comes to recognising and rewarding your people. Conversations around pay may have historically been a no-go area, but they should really be seen as a vital part of a company’s engagement with staff. It’s no longer a bad thing if a person wants to speak to a manager about their salary; in fact, it can often help to eliminate and frustrations and help build a more honest and open company. 

Aliya Vigor-Robertson is co-founder of JourneyHR