We need to talk about money.
Or do we? Whether it’s the value of our homes or the size of our bank account, the thorny topic of wealth can make us deeply uncomfortable. In the UK, in particular, it has long been considered a conversational grenade on a par with religion or politics (or worse, a Game of Thrones spoiler).
Talking about monetary value is even more difficult when it comes to ourselves. What am I worth? Am I being paid as much as my colleague? Should I be paid more? And if so, how do I broach the subject with my boss?
As has been clear from recent news, however, a lack of transparency around pay in many workplaces may be contributing to the ongoing disparity between what men and women earn. A frequently cited study by Linda Babcock, author of Women Don’t Ask, found that 56% of male graduates negotiated over their starting salary, compared with just 7% of women. This meant that, from the very beginning of their careers, women were earning an average of $4,000 less than their male counterparts.
In China, a conversation without discussing salary is like a meal without salt.
So perhaps we should take a tip from the Chinese and get a little more comfortable with the topic of salary in everyday conversation, in order to make it less of a taboo at work:
“Salary is an extremely hot topic among the Chinese people,” according to Quanyu Huang in A Guide to Successful Business Relations with the Chinese. “If acquaintances, relatives or friends have not met for a long time, when they meet they will definitely talk about their salaries. A conversation without discussing salary is like a meal without salt.”
Openness on the subject could be generational, too. In France, where salary has historically been an extremely private matter, almost half (46.5%) of 18-21-year-olds surveyed now say they speak openly about the matter with their co-workers.
But if you know you should be earning more, what’s the best way of asking for an increase? Here are some key points to bear in mind:
Pick your moment
There’s no need to prevaricate indefinitely until your boss appears to be in a good mood, but avoid asking for more money immediately after bad news. Set up a meeting so that you have his or her full attention.
Know your number
Have a figure in mind before you go into the meeting, and prepare to justify it: perhaps it’s the industry average for your role, or a certain percentage increase that you consider to be representative of your successes at work.
Stick to the facts
Go to the meeting armed with information that shows how you have benefitted the company – whether by meeting sales targets, introducing a new initiative, or cutting costs. Resist the temptation to talk about your personal circumstances: dependents, looming expenses and other financial obligations may be playing on your mind, but they’re not relevant to this discussion.
Don’t take it personally
Money can be an emotive topic, but remain cool and professional even if you receive a flat ‘no’. Try to negotiate a performance-based bonus for hitting a particular target. Consider suggesting alternatives: if a pay rise is absolutely out of the question, the company might be prepared to offer you more holiday, funded training, or commission instead.
Do you feel you lack the confidence to address a tricky subject like your pay? Our courses for individuals focus on improving confidence, impact and interpersonal skills for social and professional success. Find out more: