columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

A reader asks:

I recently found myself in a disagreement about an issue with a fellow manager: Should an employee have to ask to get a raise?

I've always felt it's incredibly important for employees to ask for the raises they want. Ideally, that means setting a meeting with me and coming prepared with a document including: 1) all their achievements over the past months or years, 2) what they plan to achieve in the coming months or years, and 3) a specific number request for a new salary.

As a manager, I sometimes push for top performers to get raises even if they don't ask. But I'm much more likely to advocate for someone if they ask.

The other manager disagreed. She said it's important to reward people regardless of whether they ask, and I shouldn't put so much emphasis on who asks and who doesn't.

What do you think? And if employees should indeed be expected to ask, what should a reasonable manager expect when it comes to the quality of that request? I've had people super casually say, "Oh, hey, a raise would be cool," for example -- and to me, that doesn't really feel like a solid "ask."

Green responds:

Employees should not have to ask to get a raise!

I'm curious about why you think it's so important for employees to ask. After all, think about the function that raises serve for you as a manager: Ultimately, they're about attracting and retaining great employees, right? So why should they have anything to do with whether someone is assertive enough to ask for a raise or enough of a go-getter to put together the kind of document you want to see? That's not what you should be evaluating people on when it comes to fair pay for their work.

It's in an employer's best interests to pay people fairly whether or not they ask for a raise. You want your salaries to help you retain your best people, not leave it up to whether they happen to ask for more. What you're doing now is opening the door for someone to swoop in and entice your best employees away with better, fairer salary offers, because you're being passive about ensuring that you're paying them the right amount.

You're also probably creating an unfair, inequitable salary structure on your team. Your system means that you could end up paying lower performers more than higher performers, depending on who asks for more. It also means that, statistically speaking, you're likely to have inequities that are based on sex and race as well -- because there's lots of data showing that White men are more comfortable asking for raises and that women and people of color are less so. The law requires you to ensure that you're paying people fairly, and it can't just be based on "he asked and she didn't."

It's your job as a manager to make sure that the salaries on your team are serving their function: that they're attracting the candidates you need to attract, that they're helping you retain your best people, and that overall they're part of a fair and equitable structure that you could defend if ever called on to. Don't leave that up to other people.

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