Pay Raise Requests: How to Make Them and How to Respond
Kellie G. Olah, SPHR, CVPM
Veterinary practices, like many other businesses, often award pay raises in connection with an annual employee review. It’s a logical time to do so since that’s when employers provide performance-related feedback to their employees.
As an employee, you may feel that you deserve a raise, even though it’s outside of the normal timeframe for your practice to award one—perhaps, for example, you’ve taken on extra duties during the pandemic. If so, how should you approach your supervisor? As a manager, how should you respond to such a request? This article takes a look at both sides of the equation.
Employees: Preparing to Ask
If you’ve decided to ask for a raise at a time when one typically isn’t awarded, then it’s important to be prepared. Make a list of accomplishments you’ve achieved, quantifying them whenever possible, and writing down how these accomplishments have benefited the practice. In other words, what is the business value of what you’ve done? If you’ve won any awards, received a letter of praise from a manager or customer, or otherwise gotten concrete evidence of your performance, gather that information together for when you ask for a raise.
It can help to have data on hand about the average wages of a person who is doing your job in your geographical area. Where does your paycheck fit in? If yours is less than the average amount, it may be easier to build your case for a raise than if yours already matches or exceeds that figure—but you can still share information about why you feel you’re worth the dollar figure you’re requesting if you feel your case is strong enough.
Ask to privately meet with the appropriate manager and practice how you’ll present your request. During the meeting, make it clear that you’re asking for a raise that goes beyond the one you’d typically receive during your annual performance review.
Be prepared for a range of responses from your manager and know how you would respond to each of them. If, as one example, your manager says that they would love to give you a raise, but it just isn’t financially feasible right now, ask what you would need to do to earn that raise and a date when this topic can be revisited.
Employers: How to Respond
As a manager, you may be taken aback when an employee asks for a raise during a time when your practice doesn’t typically give them. Perhaps you have the authority to make the decision or maybe you need to discuss it with a human resources manager. Whether you are surprised or not—and whether you have the authority to decide or not—the savvy response is typically the same. Ask for more information and avoid reacting immediately. Listen carefully and take down notes. Once you feel that you have enough information, it’s perfectly fine to ask to schedule a follow up conversion. In either case, thank the employee for bringing this information to your attention and remain pleasantly professional and neutral.
Then it’s time to evaluate the case that the employee has built for this request, as well as to talk to other people in the practice who would have input into this decision-making process. What is your practice’s policy, in general, on giving raises? If you don’t have a policy already created, how have such requests been handled in the past? Is your practice’s philosophy that you only give raises during a certain time of year or do you consider each request on its own merits?
Compare that person’s wages both internally and externally, and doublecheck data they’ve given you. This involves looking at where this employee falls on the practice’s payroll. Do they receive a wage that’s comparable with other people performing the same work and who have been at the practice for a similar amount of time?
It also involves verifying what this employee might receive at other practices in the same geographic area. Also consider how important it would be to retain this person at your practice.
In some instances, the answer may be clear. The person may not have demonstrated a good case to get a raise or their job position may not warrant a higher pay rate. Or it may be that the employee asking for the raise successfully took on a big special project but doesn’t necessarily perform at a higher rate, overall. In that case, a one-time bonus or extra time off could be a good compromise.
If, though, this employee has made a good case for a raise, it can make sense to pitch the idea to others in the practice who would need to approve the pay increase. In a sense, you’d be preparing for the ask in the same way that the employee did with you. During this conversation, you can also focus on the high costs of recruiting and training new employees, with a focus on not being penny wise but pound foolish.
Sometimes, the situation can get more complex. These can include the following:
- An employee threatens to quit if not given a raise
- You do give one employee an off cycle raise; other employees hear about it and they want one, too
- A star employee gets an offer from another practice
In the first scenario, an employee might literally threaten to quit (“If I don’t get this raise, I’ll need to leave”) or it may be implied (“The new practice in town pays more and they’re hiring”). If this happens, the process—at least at first—can be the same. Listen carefully to your employee’s request and then set up a follow up conversation, which gives you time to think about how to respond. Consider the merits of the employee’s request, as before.
This time, though, you may also want to consider whether this employee uses the “I’ll quit” card in general, as leverage, or if this may be a genuine statement from the employee—meaning that, if they don’t get a raise, they’ll financially need to find a job elsewhere. Does that change your decision?
Will this situation trigger a revision of your policies about raises, perhaps limiting them to a certain time annually? No matter what you decide, assume that other employees will hear about it, regardless of any company policies that require salaries to remain confidential. How will you handle the situation when other employees ask to also get a raise? There is no one size fits all solution. The idea, here, is to look beyond the specific request being made by a specific employee. Instead, place this employee’s request into an overall context of the practice and make decisions that make sense for all employees.
In the third scenario—one where an employee gets another job offer—was that employee job hunting or did the offer come, unsolicited? If your employees are being recruited, it may confirm to you that you have a great team without necessarily indicating that those employees are unhappy. In other cases, employees may be putting out feelers to see what they’re worth in the job market—and, in other situations, those employees may be dissatisfied in their current position.
If an employee asks if you would match an offer from another practice, it can help to determine if they really want to stay. If they are unhappy with aspects of your practice, they may well leave the next time they get a job offer. If they do want to stay, how valuable are they to your practice? How difficult would they be to replace? If you do give that particular employee a raise, what impact would that have on other employees? Again, no one right answer exists.
Sidebar: How to Deny a Raise Request
Sometimes, you’ll need to turn down a raise request from an employee. If so, set up a private meeting and then tactfully yet honestly get to the point. If there is a performance issue, share some specifics about how this employee could work towards getting the desired raise. If it’s a financial issue, say that. This isn’t a time to get into exhaustive detail. It is, however, an opportunity to encourage the employee, if possible, and let them know what you appreciate about them.
Through this process, you may discover holes in your practice’s policies about giving raises. If so, now is the time to fix them so that more clarity exists for everyone, going forward. If this process uncovers disparities (such as pay differences based on gender), then this is crucial to prioritize and address. Update your employee manual and share specifics.