Should You Bring Up Inflation In A Pay Raise Request?

Inflation rates are setting records, but mentioning it to your boss in a negotiation is tricky.
Here's what to consider before you mention to your boss you want more money because of inflation.
sorbetto via Getty Images
Here's what to consider before you mention to your boss you want more money because of inflation.

Americans everywhere are feeling the hit of surging prices as the annual rate of inflation in the United States reached 6.2% in October, the highest it has been in more than 30 years. As a result, gas prices, winter heating bills and consumer goods are at new highs.

But should this consumer concern also become something you bring up to your boss when you ask for a salary increase? As performance reviews are turned in and company budgets get decided, this is the time of year when pay conversations typically happen.

The median salary and raise increase for 2021 is expected to be 3%, the same percentage as the previous 10 years, according to data from The Conference Board, a nonprofit research group. Asking for a cost-of-living increase that’s higher than 3% in order to offset inflation is a reasonable request for employees.

But there’s a time and place to consider before you mention wanting more money due to rising inflation. Here are some words of caution from human resources and career experts:

Don’t make this the focus of your raise request at year end.

Nadia De Ala, a negotiation coach for professionals in technology, said she has seen the mistake women of color, her client base, make in citing inflation over their job accomplishments as a reason for a raise.

“It sounds easy because it is neutral; it is not personal,” she said, citing the worry clients have of “Well, what if they don’t agree that I bring value to the company?”

But in a pay raise negotiation about how your job responsibilities and performance have increased, “the biggest point we want your employers to focus on is the value that you bring with your work,” she said.

De Ala said knowing how the cost of living affects your market value should be part of your research for the negotiation. But you do not need to bring it up explicitly to your boss in a raise request about your performance because it can backfire.

“Your employer’s expenses are probably rising because of inflation as well, and they can easily use that as their arguing point, in my opinion, as to why they can’t give you a raise. It cannot be the only reason [for your request] because likely their cost of doing business is rising, too,” De Ala said.

It is possible to get a higher cost-of-living increase in a separate conversation. But don’t expect an answer right away.

Just because you shouldn’t bring it up in a raise request based on performance doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring it up at all.

Daniel Space, a human resources consultant with business partners in strategic staffing, said it’s important for employees to recognize that an annual merit increase is not guaranteed unless there is a contract stating otherwise. Because a cost-of-living salary increase due to inflation affects everyone, he recommends making it a separate conversation from a raise request due to performance.

“There may be employees who may not have had an increase in scope, responsibility or impact, and therefore should not necessarily receive a salary increase because of that,” he said. “Whereas to really respond to inflation, my recommendation to two of the companies I was working with was to raise the merit increase from the standard 3% to 5% for this year.”

If your company is not taking rising inflation into account, you can bring it up in a matter-of-fact conversation with your boss by simply asking a question like “Can this be considered as part of the compensation process?” Space said. He also noted that it can then be helpful to ask your manager when you would hear back on an answer from stakeholders for accountability purposes.

Although Space noted that employees should keep expectations low and not expect an answer right away, he said people do have leverage during a period when millions of Americans are quitting their jobs.

“Companies will be open-minded to it, given the very volatile, fragile state for retention right now,” Space said.


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