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Should You Try to Negotiate a Raise During the Pandemic?

Kathryn Valentine, the CEO of Worthmore Negotiations, breaks down how to evaluate whether or not you should negotiate during the pandemic and exactly what to ask for if you do.

By Kathryn Valentine

Kathryn Valentine is the CEO of Worthmore Negotiations, a company focused on creating effective, research-based negotiation strategies for women, training women to use these strategies, and supporting them during the negotiations of their career. This week, she’s answering the question: Should you negotiate for a raise during the pandemic?

2020 was a year when, if you were gainfully employed, you were absolutely one of the lucky ones. Financial Times called 2020 a “dismal year for most companies,” and the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that November’s unemployment rate was 6.7%—lower than the 14.7% high in April, but still almost double pre-pandemic levels. Undoubtedly, many people took these downturns as a sign that it was not the right year to ask for a raise or to negotiate the terms of a job offer. After all, negotiating can be uncomfortable during the best of times; add a pandemic and fragile economy to the mix, and it can seem just too fraught to bother. 

But the truth is, the health of the economy is only a small part of how a negotiation might play out. There are other factors to consider, like the health of your industry, how vital you are to your company, and what’s in it for both of you in the long run. Pandemic or not, you’ve always got a shot at getting what you want, as long as you’re strategic about what you ask for and how you ask for it. Here are four things you should consider when trying to negotiate a raise right now.

Negotiating is About Options—Not Circumstances

Negotiating is all about alternatives—yours versus theirs. If you weren’t in this job, what else would you be doing? If you have leads on other jobs or another job offer, you’re in a much stronger position than if you are unwilling or unable to leave your current role. That said, you don’t need to have another offer on the table to consider what else you could be doing or how much money you could be making at a different company. 

After you’ve figured that out, ask yourself what your current company would do if they lost you. On average, it costs companies between 125% and 200% of your salary to replace you–a lot more than it costs to keep you, even with a raise. Beyond that, they’ll be attempting to find and train your replacement during a global pandemic—not an easy task. In that context, giving you—a proven performer who knows the company—a 10% raise is a good deal. 

Actually, Covid may have put you in an even stronger negotiating position by causing shifts in relative value. For example, Cora*, a 27-year-old in professional services, tried to negotiate a bonus last year. Despite being a top performer, she got a no, as the company had many employees at her level and was hiring more every year. Then Covid happened, and it became significantly harder for the company to train those new hires, making Cora more valuable. She tried again last month and got the bonus—to the tune of six figures.

Of course, you should know how your company is doing financially and whether or not trying to negotiate makes you look oblivious—or worse, insensitive. For example, if there were major layoffs within the last six months or you’re aware of budget cuts throughout the company, asking for a raise might not be very tactful or wise. 

Ask for Something They Can’t Say No To

If you’ve decided it’s a good time to ask for a raise, it’s always a smart idea to ask for more than one thing. Rather than just negotiating your salary, also ask for things that will make you even better at your job, like flexible hours, projects you are passionate about, or additional support.  

If you’ve decided against asking for a raise, now is a good time to ask for non-monetary benefits, like additional experience you can monetize later.

No matter which group you’re in, Covid has improved your chances of successfully negotiating non-monetary items. Traditionally, many companies were mired in how things have always been done and were uncomfortable thinking differently. Covid has forced companies out of that comfort zone, and many are now much more willing to endorse creative ideas. 

Here are a few things you can ask for in addition to money:

  • A better title, especially if it puts you in a new pay band. Even if you don’t increase your pay immediately, it gives you a rock-solid argument to do so during the next negotiation.
  • More senior responsibilities, particularly if you can take something off your boss’s plate or network across departments.
  • High-profile assignments, like an initiative that will be rolled out across the company.
  • Training, especially programs that signal expertise through certification or a diploma. 
  • Additional support, or someone to delegate more junior tasks to so you can focus on the highest value projects.

How to Ask for a Raise During a Pandemic (or Any Time, Really)

Instead of making the negotiation about you, frame it by explaining how the request is beneficial for the company or team. This is called a “communal ask.”

Rather than saying, “I need administrative support,” say: “This year, my team was able to outperform the company average by 10%. I ran the numbers, and I believe we can do double that next year, but we would need additional administrative support so we can focus on projects with the highest impact on our revenues.”

Rather than stating, “I got another job offer and will leave unless you match the salary,” say: “I love being at this company. Despite a tough economy, I was able to keep profits stable. I want to continue contributing here, but I was approached by another company and was surprised by what they are offering. Can you help me close the gap so that I can continue working to move this company forward?”

Chances are you’ll be doing this negotiation remotely, which can actually be to your advantage. You can keep your notes next to you. Your boss has no idea your leg is bouncing like crazy. You can wear comfortable shoes. 

Here are a few tips for negotiating over Zoom:

  • Start with the personal, like acknowledging a pet or piece of artwork in the background. The ensuing banter will ease discomfort.
  • Try to get your camera at eye level to help build trust (I pop a shoebox under my computer).
  • Make sure the light is behind the computer, not behind you, which can make it hard for the other person to see you, causing them to miss the non-verbal cues that create bonds.
  • Do a dress rehearsal to test out the technology, background, and your outfit, and role play what you will say. Extra points if you get a friend to act as your boss.  
  • Send a follow-up note after the negotiation, thanking the person and summarizing what you discussed to ensure that nothing was lost in translation. 

At first glance, it may seem prudent to pass on negotiating this year. However, since Covid has impacted  various industries, companies, departments, and individuals differently, this year may just be your best chance yet. Either way, do your homework, be strategic, and wear the Zoom top for the promotion you want

*Names have been changed at the request of the sources.

Written By

Kathryn Valentine

Kathryn Valentine is the CEO of Worthmore Negotiations, a company focused on creating effective, research-based negotiation strategies for women, training women to use these strategies, and supporting them during the negotiations of their careers.

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