What to Do When You Don’t Get a Raise [5 Actions To Take]

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Not getting a raise when you’re confident you’re going to get one feels like the adult version of finding out Santa skipped work on Christmas eve. But fortunately, you can do 5 things to ensure that you maximize the odds of being paid better.

When you don’t get a raise at work, you should tell your boss you’re interested in a raise and are willing to work for it. Then, you must reflect on their answer. If the answer is a “yes,” you can work harder. In case it is a “no” or a “maybe,” you must get other offers and renegotiate.

In this article, we will go over what to do when you don’t get a raise at work, including how you can

  1. Have a dialogue with your boss about a raise 
  2. Ask for better targets that will result in a raise
  3. Process the feedback you receive
  4. Look for leverage through research
  5. Get better opportunities elsewhere

1. Talk to Your Boss

Not getting a raise when you know you deserve it can lead to hostility and resentment towards one’s boss. Ironically, that’s the only person who can give you a raise. Having goodwill and open communication with your boss or immediate superior can help you learn what is expected of you before your pay is bumped up.

It can be tempting to ask your colleagues what to do when you don’t get a pay raise, but that’s not usually as fruitful. Your peers might be less intimidating to talk to, but their answers will be painted by personal experience that may or may not be relevant. Instead, talking to your boss can help in the following ways:

  • Establishes intent – Lets them know that you’re interested in getting paid more.
     
  • Allows them to make demands – Once your boss knows that you are willing to put in more effort to get a raise, they can make demands and help you channel your energy towards tangible milestones that can result in better pay.
     
  • Lets you assess the odds of getting a raise – Finally, having a face-to-face conversation about this allows you to witness first-hand whether the authorities in your organization are ever going to give you a raise. And if they’re not, you can start looking for work where your career has a better long-term trajectory.

2. Ask What You Can Do to Get a Raise

Talking to your boss is the first step in getting a raise or finding out early that the company you work for doesn’t usually give raises. But you have to open the dialogue with tact and caution. Asking your boss or the HR manager why you didn’t get a raise can come off as hostile. 

If you come off too aggressive with your opening question, you might end up making them focus on your flaws. “I deserved a raise, but I didn’t get it. Why?” will not make your boss say, “my bad, let me fix that.” It will make her point out “problems” in your performance. 

Most of these issues might be made-up and intangible, but because the question forces your superiors to justify not giving you a raise, they have to tell you that you are a bad employee. The better question to ask is, “what can I do to get a raise?” 

This frames the conversation in a way that your boss can make demands that will make the raise feasible for her. It doesn’t paint anyone as the “bad guy” and helps you take notes. There are only three ways to answer that question.

  • You will receive tangible milestones that you can aim for 
  • The boss will outright say that you won’t get a raise anytime soon
  • They will avoid a direct answer

It is evident that getting tangible milestones is the best option, but it isn’t obvious that getting a vague answer is worst than receiving a direct “no.” When you’re told you will not get a raise no matter what, you can at least have the closure you need to look for work elsewhere. But if you receive a vague answer, you cannot tell whether that’s because the boss needs time to think about your new milestones or due to the fact that they don’t have a career track for you.

3. Reflect on the Conversation

Once you have had a conversation with your HR manager or boss about your intention to get a raise, it is time to think about it in isolation. Do not discuss it with your colleagues or non-work friends. You do not need the input of people who were not in the room. 

Try to separate your emotions from the contents of the conversation, and with as little bias as possible, try to place their answer into one of the three categories: yes, no, vague. The table below will help you with this.

YesNoMaybe/Vague
You received tangible targets you can achieve to request a raise.You were told the pay you currently have matches your job.You were told the company cannot afford a raise.
You were given a practical timeframe in which the company can give you a raise.You were told that your department is a burden in so many words. This includes being told how people might be laid off.You are not given a timeframe regarding a raise but are told you will get it when the time is right.
A dollar amount was mentioned when discussing possible pay bumps.You were told that the company cannot afford to pay more than what it pays you.You’re told you’ll probably get a bonus, but a raise is not in the cards anytime soon.

4. Work Towards Higher Targets

Please note that this action item applies if your boss gives you upgraded targets for your raise. Once you have the word of your superiors, you can aim for the new milestones. It is better to get them to commit to the raise via email so you can be more confident in your extra work ushering the raise you want.

The more certain you are that working hard will result in a raise, the harder you will work. Otherwise, you will keep subconsciously questioning the possibility of a raise and even keep asking friends, “what should I do if I didn’t get a raise at work,” when you’ve already had a conversation with the people who can approve your raise. Getting an email/written commitment, then going all-in on your work, is more practical.

5. Broaden Your Options

If you receive a “no,” from your boss, you need to start looking for other opportunities. The same applies when their answer is vague. In both cases, you need to broaden your options. If you’ve been denied a raise without any way to get it in the future, you must get a better opportunity so you can walk away from your job. 

If you aren’t given a clear yes or no, you must broaden your options so you can return to the table and negotiate. It is crucial to research what other companies are paying because it might as well be the case that you may not get a raise elsewhere either. 

While that’s unlikely, it usually happens when the market is going through a recession or your specific job function is being affected by an influx of human capital supply. In case your regional market is saturated by job seekers willing to undercut you, you might have to research remote work or even move.

Final Thoughts

While not getting a raise can be disheartening, an uncalculated reaction can be worse for your career. Make sure you do not have any dialogue or take any step that doesn’t lead to clear answers as to how you can get a raise (or if you can get one). Only when you know the chances of a raise are nominal or nil should you move on to a different employer.

Brandon Hill

I'm Brandon Hill with Bizness Professionals. We serve content to help young professionals develop personally, professionally, and financially. Well-rounded improvement is a theme we live by. As such, this website will cover a variety of topics aimed to help you have a successful life and career.