“Should I raise a ‘moral right’ to a raise?”

Question: I have been with this company a year in marketing and business development. When I took this position I learned that my predecessors were not held responsible for winning – or losing – new customers. I changed that, worked very, very hard, and this has led to great success, and profits, for the firm. 

In doing my work, I’ve never worked a week without putting in significant overtime, but it was with the expectation that it would pay out over time. I have been promoted, but given no pay increase. I was told my lack of pay increase is due to slower payments by customers, lower profits, the hiring of new staff members, and investment in a new business venture.

In December, I was told at my performance evaluation meeting that I would be “first in line” when pay increases are handed out. However I see that my employer – instead of handing out pay increases – is devoting available resources to these other priorities. I do not discredit the need for more staff, as the new work I have brought in has put a strain on existing staff, but I do think the promise I received of being “first in line” for raise or bonus should be honored first.

I don’t think it is morally right for the company to spend all of its money on these other things and not give me a raise. Is it my right to complain and demand a raise, or should I just “wait and see?”

As always, I enjoy your wisdom and your column and look forward to your answer.

Aurora, Colorado

Answer: Dear Karen: 

Your question is a really good one, because it raises basic issues in the employment relation, and is no doubt a common question.

a. First, I don’t view pay raises as “moral questions.” Frankly, I do not see issues relating to raises in compensation to rise to the level of morality, and I would avoid using that word. While you may think the difference between “morality” and “deserve” is just a choice of words, I would disagree. I think words are very important. Wrong words can create wrong impressions, and when asking for a raise, the impressions you make can make a big difference in the responses you receive. Morality is also a bit of a “loaded” word: Would you really say that your delay in getting a bonus means your boss is acting “immorally?” That’s a pretty “severe” view, one I would not agree with. Message: stay away from the word “morality” in this context. 

b. Second, the promise you received – to be “first in line” for a raise or bonus – is apparently being honored. From what you’ve written, the only promise made to you – that you would be “first in line” for a raise or bonus – seems not to have been dishonored. You haven’t mentioned any other employees getting raises or bonuses before you, and we should keep that in mind. It’s been a year since you started your job: an immediate raise after one year was not promised you. It seems that what is bothering you is that you feel that you should have received a different promise: something like “first in line” for resources, but that is not the promise you received.   
c. Third, raises are matters of your employer’s perception of your value, not your perception of what you deserve. Your letter very clearly expresses your sense of “I want, I need, I deserve” a raise. However, “I want, I need, I deserve” do not get raises nearly as readily as does “Boss, what if anything can I do to earn a raise, say, during the next three or six months?” Knowing what your employer “wants, needs and deserves” and then producing that for your boss is far more effective an approach to getting a raise. You also seem to view the situation as one of “my priorities are more important than their priorities are.” That will never get you a raise. Ever.

d. Fourth, consider also that you have been on the job only one year. Karen, I am on your side, as I am a dedicated employee advocate. But you have written that your employer is having trouble getting paid, is trying to expand into new areas, and has promised you the first raise anyone gets. You have been given a promotion. I urge you a bit more patience. My concern is that, while you surely have great value, a perception that you are overly concerned with your interests may end up actually denying you the greater success you desire, and no doubt deserve. Your letter says that you expected your efforts would “pay out over time.” I suggest you give it a bit more time.

May I also suggest you read over a newsletter I wrote a few years ago entitled “For raises or promotions, use “Triggers of Value.” To do so, just [click here].

Keep up your good work, and avoid creating a perception of higher morality or better priorities. Instead, cultivate the perception of value, and you will reap greater rewards.  

If you are going to request a promotion, and don’t know what to say, or how to say it, we offer a Model Letter Requesting a Raise or Promotion. To obtain a copy, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!

Thanks for writing in. And thanks, too, for your compliments and continued readership. Please mention us to your friends.

My best to you, 
Al Sklover

© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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