Everyone knows that asking for a raise can be nerve-wracking, especially for women who, according to a slew of research, ask for more money less frequently than men. Which is the problem Matt Wallaert set out to solve by founding GetRaised.

With his background as an academic psychologist, Wallaert knew that, "women are much more likely to make an emotional appeal. Men are more likely to come in and say, 'here's market salary, here's what I've done, let's have a numbers-based discussion.' Women, because of the way we socialize them, tend to say things like, 'I'm sending my son to college. I need a raise,'" he explained to Inc.

He designed GetRaised to guide women to make a forceful case for themselves backed by hard numbers. He expected it to empower women, but annoy bosses who, after all, want to minimize expenses. But when the site was up and running, Wallaert got a surprise.

Based on the mail they received, bosses didn't hate it; they loved it.

Why? Fielding raise requests can be just as nerve-wracking, awkward and unpleasant as making them. GetRaised kept the conversation on the safe ground of quantifiable data and documented accomplishments and away from emotional appeals and questions of personal like or dislike, which is just where Wallaert sees many conversations going astray.

Not every employee comes to their boss with the sort of argument GetRaised suggests, however. So how should bosses react to the "My son's in college" type request? Wallaert suggests and three-step response to keep things professional rather than emotional (as well as offering one radical suggestion).


"The first thing you have to do is validate," insisted Wallaert. "Say, 'OK, I hear your request and this is something we should discuss.'" Validation is the essential first step, but it's only the beginning.

It also helps to set some ground rules for the discussion. "Up front say: 'I like you tremendously and I appreciate you as an employee, but this is a business discussion, so I would like for both of us to avoid emotional words. This isn't about how much I like you, or you like your job, or about what else you have going on in your life. This is concretely about the value of the work you produce, your responsibilities and duties, if you're meeting them, what we can do to grow them and how we can compensate you for that.'"

Assign Some Homework

The next step is to redirect the raise request away from the personal and towards a data-driven discussion about business realities. According to Wallaert, this is best accomplished by setting your employee some homework: "Say, 'in order to have that discussion, I want you to do the following things: Tell me what you've done to increase your responsibilities over the last six months; tell me what you want to do to increase your responsibilities over the next six months; go and find some open job listings in our area that have their salaries posted that you could do and go look at the government data that tells us what your wage is – you can go to GetRaised, Salary.com, Glassdoor."

They Deserve It

Once your employee comes back armed with this data, it should be far easier to accomplish the final step: determining whether they deserve more money or not. Bosses should answer this question before they move on to thinking about whether they have the cash to spend on a higher salary. If you team member deserves a raise and your bank account is flush with cash, great! You have an easy and pleasant discussion ahead of you. But what if either of these things isn't true?

They Don't

Perhaps an objective look at the facts reveals this employee doesn't deserve a raise right now. What then? "If you want to keep them around, but they're either not ready for a raise, they had one in the past six months, they're actually at market standard or they haven't been taking on new responsibilities, you have to give them a clear path to a raise," Wallaert insisted.

A flat no won't do. Instead, he said, "you need to say: 'We've looked at this together, Here are the reasons it's not right. Here's what you could do to correct that going forward and let's schedule a meeting now to re-have this discussion in six months."

No Money

Perhaps the trickiest case is when an employee deserves a raise but there is no money in the budget to give it to them. "If it's a big business, this a time that you as a manager need to step up, go to your boss and say this person really does deserve more money. Here are all the reasons they deserve more money. You need to increase my budget so I can pay this person," Wallaert said.  

On the other hand, "If you're in a small business and you're the top of the food chain and there really is no money, you are faced with a difficult decision," he conceded, but you still have options. Start again with validation by acknowledging clearly to the employee that he or she is worth more than you can currently afford to give them, but financial realities are what they are, and you're sorry.

"Then look for alternative solutions," he said. "You can do things like give a shadow raise – deferred wages for six months, so we will start calculating your wage as if you were getting paid more and six months from now, if we have the money, I will both increase your salary and I'll give you that as a bonus." This obviously only works if you are reasonably sure you'll have the money in six months time.

Non-monetary compensation is another option. "Can you give them a day off a week? Can you let them work from home a day a week? Can you shorten their hours? Say to them: 'Talk to me about what things other than money are important to you and let's see if we can go get you some of them?' suggested Wallaert.

Be Proactive?

Better than all these steps to ensure an employee-initiated raise request is constructive and fair, might be going a step further and actually soliciting requests from your team. "Consider inviting people to apply for a raise. You can either go to people individually or say it to the company as whole," he said.

"Say: 'Some of you, I think, deserve a raise. I would like all of you to go out and think about your responsibilities and the new things that you've taken on, and if you think you are one of these people and need a pay increase, I'd like you to come see me,'" he added.

By announcing that your door is open and laying our exactly how you wish to be asked, you not only encourage open and objective discussion of compensation, Wallaert concludes, you might also take a simple but powerful step towards reducing the gender pay gap.

Would you ever solicit raise requests from your team?


Published on: Mar 12, 2013
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.