How to Ask for a Raise for Inflation

Rising prices and low unemployment make now a good time to ask for more money

By Kenneth Turrell, AARP

With prices rising steadily over the past year, many workers are looking for ways to boost their income. According to a recent survey from the staffing firm Robert Half, nearly 62 percent of workers said they plan to ask for a raise this year, with most of those respondents pointing to inflation as the reason.

The good news is companies may be more willing to negotiate salaries right now. Many employers are finding it difficult to hire as many workers as they need, which makes them eager to hold on to the workers they already have. In fact, workers who have kept their jobs in recent years have fared well. According to a survey from ADP, workers who stayed with the same employer in 2021 saw their salaries rise by an average of 5.9 percent.

While the overall circumstances make it a good time to ask for a raise, you still need a strategy if you want to be successful. Moshe Cohen, a senior lecturer who teaches negotiating at the Boston University Questrom School of Business, offers the following advice specifically for older adults.

Practice, practice, practice

Before you meet with your boss, have practice conversations with a friend or family member. These discussions will help you identify the best reasons your employer should boost your salary. Just as importantly, the conversations can help you manage your emotions when you have the discussion with your supervisor.
“If you are an older worker and you feel less secure about your position within the company, then that can exacerbate your fears and effectively shut you down as a negotiator,” says Cohen, who also has written the book Collywobbles: How to Negotiate When Negotiating Makes You Nervous.

“If you can be aware of what you’re afraid might happen, it gives you some tools for managing that fear when you are negotiating,” Cohen says. “Find a friend or family member and have a conversation with them.”

Do your research
Once you’ve worked through any nerves you might have, you need to identify how a large a raise would be reasonable.

The key number to keep in mind is inflation, which has been in the 8 percent range for most of the year.

You also should look at current job postings and salary ranges for positions like yours on websites such as Payscale and Indeed. Cohen says checking current salaries is especially important if you haven’t changed jobs in several years.

The important thing to note here is that this research — and any percentage or dollar amount you arrive at — is for your benefit so you know the range of what you’re seeking. In your conversation with your boss, it’s generally more effective to start the discussion without specific numbers.

“If you say to your boss, ‘I want a 10 percent raise,’ that’s a positional statement,” says Cohen. “Your boss has basically three choices: Your boss can accept it, reject it or counter it.”

“But if you approach your boss and say, ‘As you know, inflation has been hitting everybody hard, and I’m no exception. What I’d like to do is talk about my salary and see if we can adjust it, so I can still make ends meet and not lose pace relative to the economy,’ it’s much harder for your boss to say no.”

Show your boss your value

“One of the things that you bring as an older worker is stability,” says Cohen. He notes that many of the managers he has spoken with voice concerns about their turnover rates with younger employees. Companies “value that stability, and you can use that to negotiate more effectively for yourself,” Cohen say

Be prepared if your boss says no

No matter how well you prepare, there’s always a chance your employer will deny your request. If that happens, Cohen says you should ask your boss how you can revisit the conversation in the future.

“The first thing is to breathe and slow down,” he says. “You can’t react in that moment. What you want to say to your boss is, ‘I hear what you’re saying, and I respect it. I need some time to think about this. Let’s have another conversation.’”

Cohen says to ask your employer for a plan of how the company might address the impact that inflation is having on your salary. If your employer’s proposals don’t meet your financial needs, you might need to consider your options elsewhere.

“Even though older workers might be reluctant to change jobs, if you are absolutely committed to not changing jobs, you have no power,” he says. “Power in negotiation comes from having alternatives. Whoever needs the agreement less is the one who has more power. If your boss knows that you are not going to leave under any circumstances, then your boss can be very polite, but keep saying no.

“If you get a firm no and you don’t get any indication that anything’s going to change, stay in your job but polish up your résumé and start looking at what else is out there,” Cohen says. “Even though you might have some concerns about changing jobs, you need to test the waters and get a sense for what is the market value for your services.”

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