How To Ask For A Raise During The Coronavirus Pandemic

It can be done, but you need to be strategic.
When you ask for a raise during this health pandemic, think about the timing of your request.
Tat'âna Maramygina / EyeEm via Getty Images
When you ask for a raise during this health pandemic, think about the timing of your request.

If you still have a job while millions of other Americans file for unemployment and thousands more are being forced to choose between childcare and work, it might seem like you have no leverage to ask for a raise at the moment.

But that’s not always the case. “Not all companies are hurting right now,” job search strategist Sarah Johnston said. “In fact, some are experiencing record growth. If your company is leaning on you more than ever, this might be just the time to remind your boss how significant your contributions have been this year.”

Here are do’s and don’ts to consider before you ask your boss for that pay hike:

DO get the timing right.

Use the company’s financial health as a guide for timing your request. Is your organization is undergoing layoffs and reporting record losses during the coronavirus pandemic? Not the best time.

“Do not have this conversation if you are also every day not certain if you have a job tomorrow,” said Katie Donovan, founder of consulting firm Equal Pay Negotiations. “That would be the wrong time to have it. If you think your company is about to do another round of layoffs, do not have this conversation now.”

DO consider how your responsibilities have changed since COVID-19 hit.

But if your company has downsized, that doesn’t necessarily mean there is no additional money for you. If you’re a survivor of layoffs, that can also be an indication of the business value you hold for your company.

“Particularly during the pandemic, if you have taken on additional roles, if you have taken on additional responsibilities, if you’re more on call,” then that’s an opportunity to have the salary conversation, said Ramona Ortega, founder of personal finance platform My Money My Future.

“If you’ve taken on a lot of work from other employees that have been laid off, and you’re still not getting compensated for that, that’s absolutely a time [to ask],” Ortega said.

If you’ve been managing the work of multiple people for a while, your request could be framed like, “‘Jeff used to do inventory. Now I take on inventory. It wasn’t part of my original job description,’” she added. “Those are things you want to point out.”

When asking for a raise, you should also consider how easily you could get another job, and how in-demand your job is right now, Ortega said. “You’re always comparing yourself in some ways to the market. Yes, the market is tight right now, but not for every job.”

DON’T make the request about the pandemic.

“Did you play a part in the company pivot? How did your actions benefit the company?”

- Melanie L. Denny

Of course, some traditional raise advice still applies, whether there’s a pandemic or not. When you ask, build your case around your job performance and business value ― don’t make it a personal plea.

Even if coronavirus-related financial burdens and caregiving obligations are the reason you want the raise, it is unlikely to move your employer to give you more money.

“At the end of the day, that company is looking to get the best worker essentially for the lowest price. That’s the business model most everyone has. But if you’re a great worker, they’re willing to pay you a price that’s fair,” Ortega said.

When you are preparing data that justifies a salary boost, go back to the beginning of the pandemic as a starting point, career coach Melanie L. Denny said.

“Did you play a part in the company pivot? How did your actions benefit the company?” she said you should ask yourself. “More specific to the pandemic, how did you enable the organization to continue to thrive through saving money, restructuring systems, capturing new markets or salvaging client accounts? Tell those stories with metrics around the results.“

When you’re listing these accomplishments, the impact of your work is more important than the step-by-step processes of what you did, Donovan said. She offered this example of a good pitch: “I saved that client that was about to leave because they were mad they’re not being responded to as quickly, because we’re down 20 people.”

DO look to the future.

Even if you’re told there’s no raise right now, you should still have the discussion so that your request is on your manager’s radar for next year’s budget. While some companies have already set their budgets for January, “If your company is a July 1st budget or even a March 1st budget, now is absolutely the perfect the time because your boss is working on the budget,” Donovan said.

That “no” may also give you clues about your long-term future at the company. The real question may become, “Is this the right place where I can be working to get paid appropriately for my job?” Donovan said. “You cannot regain the months and years of underpayment. You have to go elsewhere at some point in time.”

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