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How to ask your boss for a pay rise when there isn't any money

Asking for a pay rise can mean far more than extra income, if your boss doesn’t have any cash to spare.  Here is how to get rewarded for all your hard work.


Discussing salaries can feel intimidating at the best of times, let alone in the middle of a global pandemic. You may feel grateful to have a job at all, when so many businesses are haemorrhaging money and laying people off.

Yet if you have been going above and beyond in your job, you are entitled to ask for some recognition. And by recognition, I mean more than a Covid-compliant fist bump or a hearty ‘well done’ via Zoom.

Start by putting together a concrete case about why you deserve more than your current salary. Sadly, ‘I’ve got a lot of bills and I could do with the extra cash’ just isn’t going to cut it.

Instead, check your job description and identify the skills and extra value you bring to the role so the conversation isn’t just about money. Try to quantify the results you have achieved so far and explain what else you can do in future.

It’s also worth checking to see what the benchmark of your salary is by using a salary checker tool to compare your current package against the market average for the role. This could help justify asking for more money.

However, if your boss’ cashflow has dried up and their budget turns out to be tighter than a Bridgerton corset, a salary increase may not be possible.

Instead, focus on alternative compensation – think promotions, benefits and perks that could improve your working life. Here are some of your options:

1. Work / life balance

Perhaps you’d actually value changes to your working patterns more than money.

You could pitch for flexible working, rearranging your hours to fit a four-day week or a continuing commitment to working from home, post Covid.

Need more time away from work? Request extra days of paid holiday or a sabbatical.

2. Career Development

Consider how you could improve your promotion prospects and future career.

Angle for additional responsibility, management experience, a place on a high-profile project, budget for training or time off for training you fund yourself.

Even defining your role better could greatly improve your work, for example if you work supporting two departments, but would prefer to spend more time on the part of the job you do best and enjoy.

3. Perks of the job

Ask for extras you’ve been lusting after at work.

Bargaining chips might include a company car, higher car allowance, travel allowances towards commuting costs, corporate gym membership, improved medical insurance, dental cover or childcare support.

You may be taxed on this type of benefit in kind, but you would have paid income tax on a pay rise too.

4. Other financial rewards

As an alternative to upping your base salary, you could negotiate for a higher bonus, increased commission, performance-related pay or higher pension contributions. Some companies are also able to give employees ‘equity’ or shares in the business.

Make a good case for whichever alternatives you value most, but be prepared to meet your boss halfway, rather than issuing a list of demands.

After all your preparation, hopefully you will walk away from the discussion with either the promise of cold hard cash or alternative compensation.

Even if your boss can’t give you a pay rise right now, agree what you need to deliver to nail one another time.

If you negotiate a commitment to a rise in future, when things go back to normal, you will have a goal to work toward.

Don’t forget that while you may think that this article is brilliant, it is intended for information purposes only and should not be mistaken for financial advice or recommendations.

3 things to do
right now

1

Check the benchmark of your salary by using a salary checker tool to compare your current package against the market average for the role. This could help justify asking for more money.

2

Look at your job description and identify the skills and extra value you bring to the role so the conversation isn’t just about money. Try to quantify the results you have achieved so far and explain what else you can do in future.

3

Think outside the box: an alternative to upping your base salary is to negotiate for a higher bonus, increased commission, performance-related pay or higher pension contributions. Some companies are also able to give employees ‘equity’ or shares in the business.

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