Great Review but a Tiny Pay Raise

how to ask for a pay raise

Ever faced the frustration of getting a great annual review but only a tiny pay raise?

If so, you’re not alone.  Pay raise frustration is a common problem.  Betsy, a subscriber to this newsletter and one of our tribe members, recently wrote to me about her frustration of getting another great annual review but only a small 3 percent raise.

I’ve been through this myself, and I’m happy to say that you can relieve your frustration, plan a more effective strategy, and strut into your annual review with more confidence.

I’ll share how.

Shocked by my Tiny Raise after a Great Review

Betsy’s situation reminded me of sitting through my first annual review after college. I’d gotten really positive feedback and was expecting an amazing raise. Then my heart sank in disappointment when my boss slid a 3 percent raise across the table.

I suspect he saw the shock on my face, so he spent the next 15 minutes explaining how it was “pretty good” compared to the raises others had received.

I left stunned and thinking how did my great results translate into just a 3 percent raise?

Are You Making What You Made Last Year?

This 3 percent raise hit me hard, and it felt even worse when a corporate veteran shared that his pay raise expectation from a great review was only to make what he made last year.

…translation he expected a pay raise just big enough to keep up with inflation.

I found this pretty depressing as no one prepared me for the reality that the national pay raise was only going to be between 3-4.5 percent.

  • 2000 to 2008, the average raise was between 3.8 percent and 4.4 percent
  • 2009 to 2011 – 3 percent
  • 2012 – 2012 – 3 percent
  • 2014 – the average pay raise is expected to be 3 percent

Inflation hovers between 1.5 percent and 3 percent, so if you’re not at least getting a 3 percent pay raise each year then it starts to feel your pay is actually decreasing.

5 Strategies when You Get a Great Review, but a Tiny Raise

When I accepted this pay raise reality, I dove into understanding the pay raise process better and then learned to make more strategic moves.  Turns out getting a great review can be a great time to discuss a bigger pay raise but there are also some other strategies that can help you far more.

  1. Set the stage for a bigger raise –  In most cases the “cake’s been baked” well before your annual review.  So I don’t recommend negotiating a pay raise during your review.  Use that time to set the stage for a future pay raise based on value added activities and broader responsibilities.
  2. Make your boss an advocate – When I eventually became a boss, I quickly learned that I didn’t have very much control over my employee’s pay raises.  While I graded their performance, pay raises were affected by pay grades and pay bands set by HR and also decisions made at the executive level. With this in mind, channeling frustration at your boss isn’t that helpful.  It’s far more effective to enroll your boss to advocate on your behalf so they can “sell” your raise to the rest of the organization.
  3. Talk about the Taboo – “Pay raise” is a taboo topic in so many offices, and it takes courage to even mention the words.  If pay raises are only discussed once a year then no wonder it’s so awkward at review time.  If you feel like you’ve been delivering on results for a while and not seeing the results in your paycheck then consider gently opening the conversation.  Ask questions and build your understanding about how pay raises are conducted and what the process requires.
  4. Quantify – Your pay raise potential is linked as much to your future results as it is to past results. Quantify the financial impact of your most recent results, then make sure to quantify the impact of your upcoming projects as well.   Strive to link them back to increased revenue or reduced costs.
  5. Be flexible – Be prepared for the response that a pay raise just isn’t realistic.  If that’s the case think through other possible benefits that may be within your boss’ control like a more flexible schedule, additional time-off, working from home, or leading an interesting project.


So when’s a time that you’ve had a great review but a tiny raise?  What did you do about it?  Please share in the comments below.

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