Chances are good that you want a raise and you’ve been waiting some time for one.
When the financial crisis hit in 2008, many companies laid off workers, froze hiring, and stopped offering regular pay increases, leaving many employees with stagnant salaries and little leverage to improve their situation.
But with the unemployment rate falling and the labor market getting tighter, the time might be right to ask for more money. Unemployment in the state has fallen to 4.6 percent from a mid-recession peak of 8.8 percent. Earnings across the state have edged up in recent years; in Suffolk County, for example, the average weekly wage grew to $1,921 at the end of last year from $1,780 at the end of 2012, according to the Labor Department.
Nationally, employers added more than 220,000 jobs in June, the 57th consecutive month of job growth, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The US unemployment rate fell to 5.3 percent, from 5.5 percent in May and a recession peak of 10 percent.
“The economy is definitely stronger, and companies have money,” said Rebecca Blake, director of client services at Insight Performance, a human resources consulting firm in Dedham and Danvers.
So what’s the best way to ask for your own salary increase? Workforce and business etiquette specialists say it comes down to three main steps: Know your worth, make your case, and keep your cool.
Know your worth
Before you broach the subject with your manager, do some research into what a reasonable salary for someone of your experience would be, said David DeLong, a workforce consultant in Concord.
If you work for a large company that has formal salary ranges for various positions, find out where you fall on the scale, he said. Online databases like Salary.com and Glassdoor are a good starting point, Blake said, but also talk to trusted friends and colleagues to get a real-time idea what others in your field are making.
Think beyond the numbers as well, specialists advised. Assess your value to the company. Are you considered a hard worker or do colleagues have to fix the errors you make? Have you taken on additional responsibilities since your last raise? What kind of feedback have you received in casual e-mails and formal performance reviews?
“The most important thing is really having an accurate picture of how your manager views you,” DeLong said. “You’ll really get in trouble if you waltz into your manager’s office and ask for a raise when they don’t think you’re a very good employee.”
Make your case
When you’re ready to proceed, don’t just poke your head into the boss’s office some afternoon. Instead, set a meeting. Ask your boss if he or she can make some time to talk about your performance and future with the company, specialists said. And dress with care for that meeting, to demonstrate professionalism and respect for your manager, Blake said.
During your conversation, focus not just on money but also on your place in the organization. Mention projects you’d be interested in working on and ask targeted questions about the company’s business plan and how your boss sees your role developing, Blake said.
“Those kinds of questions really engage the manager and help them open up,” she said. “And they really show the initiative.”
Women seeking a raise should also take extra care with their request, said Sara Laschever, a Concord author who writes about women’s career issues. Though it is unfortunate, she said, women need to use relaxed body language, remain cheerful, and avoid coming across as pushy.
“The research is very clear that in order to be persuasive or influential, women need to be perceived as likable,” she said. “Making a strong argument isn’t enough.”
Keep your cool
Asking for a raise can be an emotional experience, but maintaining a calm, professional approach is essential.
Need a boost of confidence? Remember that replacing an employee costs a company, on average, 21 percent of the salary for that position, according to Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank. Your employer, therefore, has reason to seriously consider increasing your pay rather than risk losing you.
Still, don’t threaten to quit, said Rosanne Thomas, owner of Boston business etiquette company Protocol Advisors. Never say you need more money because of your financial obligations — “That’s not the company’s concern,” Thomas said — and never imply you are entitled to a raise simply because you’ve been in your position for a certain amount of time, she added.
If your request is turned down, make it a productive moment, specialists said. Ask what you can do to improve your chances of a raise, or when would be an appropriate time to revisit the question. No matter what, don’t get defensive.
If you keep the spirit of the conversation collaborative rather than combative, the possibility of securing a fatter paycheck goes way up, Thomas said. “It’s not a confrontation,” she said. “You want to approach it as a win-win situation.”Sarah Shemkus can be reached at email@example.com.