There are still four months left in 2022, but an educated guess for Webster’s 2023 Word of the Year is “inflation.” While you might be tired of hearing about this economic phenomenon by now, there are real implications for your life.
I’m not just referring to the cost of gas and groceries. I’m talking about your compensation package. The truth is, if you didn’t negotiate at least a 9% raise this year, you’re technically making less than you did last year.
The truth hurts.
What’s remarkable about salary negotiation, though, is that there’s always an opportunity to have that conversation. If renegotiating your salary is the last thing you want to think about right now, hear me out.
No one likes to talk about money, and negotiating over it can be downright uncomfortable. But I’d encourage you to think more expansively about your compensation.
Negotiating your worth
If you’re looking for an article full of tips and tricks to get your employer to raise your salary, this isn’t that. Instead, I’m inviting you to look at your compensation package differently, as part of a big picture that can encompass benefits you may have never even considered.
Why do you want a raise? To feel valued. You want to know you’re being recognized for your efforts and your contributions to your team and company. But when you ask for a raise, there’s a chance you may be turned down. After all, nothing in negotiation is guaranteed.
Those rejections aren’t easy to endure, but they may not be a reflection on you or your work. There are a variety of reasons that can contribute to why you weren’t able to get a positive response to your ask, which could include timing in the budget cycle, pay equity by position, etc.
So, what do you do? Many would end the conversation, feeling rejected and resolving to “quietly quit” or straightforwardly resign. But when you approach compensation from a different perspective, a rejection can mean the negotiation is just starting.
Broaden your view of what compensation is, and you’ll see there are other options that can add value to your overall package. Health benefits are the obvious one, but additional time off, paid family leave, educational stipends, a different job title, or even child care reimbursement are all potentially on the table.
So when your employer says they can’t pay you more, be ready to present alternatives. There’s more to compensation than money. Thinking more expansively about the possibilities helps you create a package that is acceptable to you and your employer.
Compromise and thrive
I know what you’re thinking. Doesn’t this completely go against everything we’ve ever been told about how we should expect to get paid for our work? I’m not saying you shouldn’t expect to be paid fairly for your time. But the answer to every denied request for a higher salary isn't always to resign and start over at a whole new workplace. Sometimes, negotiating for something you personally value can be a springboard to thriving.
For instance, let’s say you intend to start a family. Your first ask is for additional salary, but your company rejects that proposal. If you take a different approach, such as negotiating more flexible family leave, you may find that over time the impact of that benefit on your career outstrips a salary increase today.
Think about compensation in the long term. Yes, you want more money now, but would a more flexible schedule, better job title, equity, or more job responsibilities set you up for where you want to be in five or ten years? Compensation is about salary AND benefits.
In the example, having more time to take care of a growing family was the goal. Regardless of what you ask for, when your employer helps you achieve something you care about, you feel valued and supported. Isn’t that the message compensation is supposed to send?
Understand your motivations
Our motivations drive us, and in this example, the motivation was time with family. Of course, that is just an example, and everyone is different. Have you given much thought to what actually motivates you at work? What interests drive you?
Would you like a better title that positions you for a future promotion or job? Do you want to learn more so you can grow in your career? What about more time to explore personal development? Or do you need a flexible work schedule that allows for self-care?
In many ways, what motivates us professionally is as unique as what drives us in our personal relationships. Much like Gary Chapman’s 5 Love LanguagesⓇ, everyone feels and accepts value differently. Prestige makes some feel valued. Others find merit in education or additional personal time. Ask yourself, “How can I feel more valued by my employer? What benefit can my company provide that will motivate me to achieve my goals?”
When you understand what you value and what motivates you, you’ll be more prepared to negotiate the compensation you want.
Renegotiate to retain
This advice is just as important, if not more so, for employers. Finding and retaining competent staff has never been more challenging, so when an employee you cherish asks for a higher salary—a salary they deserve—and you can’t deliver, it’s gut-wrenching.
You don’t want to lose them. Instead, you need to give them something they’ll value enough to make them stay. But how?
Focusing on salary isn’t going to help you since you simply can’t afford to pay the employee enough to compete with other bigger companies. Instead, listen and learn what they value. Where do they want to be in three to five years in their career? Do they want to go back to school to get another degree?
Asking these questions not only allows you to demonstrate your commitment to your employee, but also helps you better understand how to support their personal and/or professional interests. Not every denied request for a pay increase has to end badly. A different perspective can result in both parties being more satisfied than when the conversation began.
Everyone thinks differently about life and the work we do to sustain it. The last two years have given us a glimpse of what life and work could be like. As a result, we’re all more thoughtful about the decisions we make and how they affect the balance of our lives.
Ultimately, you have the power to choose. Will you stay or go? Understand that you may have to have the same conversations elsewhere, so how often do you pack up and go based on salary alone? Or will you think about the big picture that also includes your personal and professional interests?
I hope you always approach negotiation with the understanding that a “no” doesn’t mean a rejection of you but rather a rejection to that particular ask. Consider salary conversations as an opportunity to learn. A “no” is just the beginning of a conversation and can lead to a “yes” with patience, understanding, and a commitment to collaborative problem-solving.
Recognize your self-worth and seek to be valued in your job and in your personal relationships. You should always be your own biggest advocate.