One or more of the problems listed below may be preventing you from moving up the pay ladder. If you want to avoid a raise, incorporate as many of these into your day-to-day work life as you can manage. If you do want that raise, avoid the items on this list, and see the proposed solutions and hints for improvement that are included below. (The guy with the banana is an example of number 12.)
1. You Lie
Problem: One of the surest ways to avoid getting a raise, and significantly up your chances of being fired, is to lie about your work. I’ve seen several people lie about having done work that they actually hadn’t done, and then I’ve seen what happens when those people are caught in their lies. I’ve had coworkers lie to me before about work that impacts the business. I don’t know what they were thinking, as discovering that the work wasn’t done was inevitable. Regardless of what the motivations for lying may be, it won’t end well. If your colleagues and bosses can’t rely on you to tell the truth, they won’t keep you around.
Solution: If there’s work you should’ve done but weren’t able to do, for whatever reason, always be honest about it, and you’re likely to be met with understanding and sympathy, which will not be the case if you’re caught in a lie. It may seem obvious that you shouldn’t lie at work, especially about work matters, but people do it nonetheless. Don’t be one of those people. Those coworkers who lied to me, they’re long gone. Integrity is of the utmost importance for your career advancement.
2. You’re a Complainer
Problem: No one likes a complainer or a sourpuss. If you only see the negative side of things and refuse to be optimistic about the business and its prospects, people are going to find it difficult to work with you. You’ll be unpleasant to be around, and you’ll be a productivity suck because not only will you be less enthusiastic about your own work due to your negative outlook, but you’ll take time away from others with your whining. If you’re a complainer, get ready to complain about your lack of a raise.
Solution: If you want to right the ship, focus on what you can do to help, rather than the perceived wrongs inflicted upon you and the various troubles with the business that you think only you can see. Focus on making your company a better place, and leave your colleagues to work in peace.
3. You Throw Others Under the Bus
Problem: When you screw up, you say it wasn’t your fault, it was your coworker’s mistake that you incorporated into your own work that led to your mistake. You will quickly earn a bad reputation if you blame others whenever things go wrong. No one will want to work with you if you always point fingers, and if you’re busy throwing your colleagues under the bus, you won’t be solution-driven, and you’ll be much less likely to get that raise.
Solution: Things will go wrong in business, that’s inevitable and can’t always be controlled. But you can always control your reaction. Rather than pointing fingers, consider what you could have done differently and what you will do next time to try to prevent a similar bad outcome. You will make mistakes, and you should expect to make many if you’re serious about your career. Treat every mistake as a learning opportunity and own it. You will get a lot of respect by admitting when you’re wrong and by analyzing what you could have done better.
4. You Do the Bare Minimum
Problem: Do you do as little as possible to scrape by until quitting time, and then dash out of the office with not another thought to how you left your work for the day? Do you care about your work in the amount of not at all? Well then forget about that raise.
Solution: People who do the bare minimum are easy for bosses and colleagues to spot, so you’re not pulling a fast one. If you don’t care about your job, it may be time to think about what other jobs you would care about. If you’re not engaged at work, and have no desire to be, I think you should consider why you feel that way, and what else you could be doing with your life. There may be another position for you that inspires you, and gets you to contribute more meaningfully to society.
5. You Fumble Opportunities to Shine
Problem: You may not recognize when you’re handed an opportunity to stand out and impress somebody, or you simply may not care. Whatever the cause, if someone you don’t commonly work with (especially if this someone has seniority or clout at your company) asks you to help, and you don’t bend over backwards to do a stellar job, don’t expect a sizeable increase in your pay. I see the ball dropped on this quite often.
Solution: When you’re given an opportunity to stand out or impress someone you don’t normally work with, go the extra mile, stay late if needed, and think critically while trying to do the best you can. Tell yourself your job depends on it if that helps to motivate you, it very well might. When opportunities are seized, they are often recognized, so think about where you can shine, and make it count when you’re given a shot.
6. You’re Arrogant
Problem: You think that you’re smarter than everyone else, and that you’re carrying the company on you shoulders, and you let everyone know. Your arrogance makes you difficult to work with, and is interfering with your own performance as there are tasks you feel that you are above doing. Antagonizing your colleagues and bosses isn’t going to help you get ahead, but your head is too high in the clouds to understand that. You frequently butt into matters and give incompetent advice where it isn’t asked for, revealing yourself to be a know-it-all who actually has no clue.
Solution: Take a step back and see if you can float back down to earth where the mere mortals live. Look at the way you communicate at work. Are you this person? Adopt the mindset that everyone is at least as much of an expert in their own realm as you think you may be, and consider that you don’t know everything. Talk with your coworkers in a respectful manner, and if there’s something outside your field that you think is troubling, pick up the phone and ask for it to be explained, again, in a respectful manner. You will quickly learn that if you stop talking and let the information in, that you don’t know it all, and there is much for you to learn to improve the value you provide to your business.
7. You Don’t Volunteer
Problem: When a challenging project comes in the door, you slink away and hide. When your boss asks for help on a project, you don’t raise your hand, waiting for others to pitch in. When a problem arises, you wait for it to be assigned to you instead of taking the initiative to meet it head on and solve that sucker. People will notice, and when lack of lack of initiative comes up in your yearly review in place of a pay raise, don’t be surprised.
Solution: Be proactive. Tackle new problems and be happy that there is challenging work for you to contend with. Be the first to raise your hand when a difficult problem comes up. People will notice that you’re willing to do the hard stuff, and your coworkers will follow your lead. Your initiative and motivation will inspire the entire office, and you can be sure this will be appreciated when it comes time to update compensation packages.
8. You Don’t Ask for a Raise
Problem: You’re humble, or perhaps shy, or passive, or you’re just terrified of talking to your boss about compensation. Don’t ask and you shall not receive is often the name of the game when it comes to raises and promotions. Management frequently takes the view that if you’re not complaining or asking for more, you must be happy, so why should they eat into the company’s profitability and their own pay to increase your pay if you don’t even want a raise?
Solution: Ask! Have the discussion that makes you uncomfortable. Do it in a professional way and tell your boss what you want to be making and why you should be making that much. Even if you blow the discussion, you will have raised the issue and now increasing your pay will be on the table. I have seen big changes in pay come out of very simple requests. Make sure you ask, and, if possible, raise this issue before your yearly review or otherwise before the time you’re normally given salary adjustments.
9. You Do Ask for a Raise, but You’re Unprepared for the Discussion
Problem: You tell your boss you want more money, and your boss agrees with you. Your eyes go wide. What, he agrees with me? Then he asks you what you want to make, and if its your salary or bonus or both that need improvement, and how much? And then you’re sitting there, like a seated deer in the headlights, and you have no clue what to say, because you haven’t even considered the possibility of this happening.
Solution: Know what you want ahead of time. In fact, I would say you should have a specific request or requests that you include in the conversation whether you’re prompted for them or not. Make it a number that you feel is deserved based on your contribution to the company, and that is in line with the industry numbers. Then again, if you’re already making a lot for your role, point out how you regularly go beyond your job title and provide value in other parts of the business, so your compensation should be above what is standard for your role in the industry. In other words, prepare your demands and be able to back them up.
10. You’re Not a Team Player
Problem: It’s all about you, and how you can make yourself stand out. You don’t coordinate well with others, and you take all the credit for things that go right and point fingers when things don’t go as planned.
Solution: Open your eyes. Businesses are teams. Successful businesses are teams that have mastered coordinated work. Make sure you look at your role at your company as one of providing as much help to others as you can, within the particular role that you’re in, and outside of it as well when necessary. Help others execute their roles well, share what you know, and give a lot of credit when it’s due. You can’t do it on your own, not by a long shot, and the more you display your understanding of that point, the more promote-able you will be, because management will see that you understand work is largely about others and managing your relationships with said others.
11. You Don’t Emphasize Your Accomplishments
Problem: You’re too humble, or fearful or uncomfortable when it comes to advocating for yourself, so you go underappreciated and undervalued. In your yearly reviews, you leave out significant contributions because you don’t want to sound like you’re bragging. Or, you don’t realize it’s important to underline your wins.
Solution: Although you don’t want to deny others the credit due to them, you shouldn’t sell yourself short either. Make sure that you highlight your accomplishments on a regular basis, and especially in your yearly review whether or not a self-evaluation containing that information is requested from you or not. There’s a subtle way to do this, such as mentioning the successful completion of a task or project to your boss when you check in regularly. If you are taking care of business at work and have an open line of communication with your boss, this should take care of itself. If you’re largely trusted to complete your work on your own and you feel you’re disconnected from your boss, be more proactive in filling her in on what’s going on. She needs this information about how well you’re doing: it’s ammunition for her to use in advocating for your raise.
12. You Make Threats
Problem: You give your boss ultimatums like the guy with the banana gun pictured above. People don’t like to be given ultimatums, and bosses are people, therefore bosses won’t like your threats. You may find that not only do you not get the raise you’re making threats to receive, but that you’re called on your bluff and told to get out.
Solution: Holster that banana, boy. Threats are crude, and often they’re empty, so recognize that if you go this route you may be destroying your relationship with your boss, and you may be let go. If you say you need a raise or you’re out of there, you better be prepared to leave. Let’s differentiate this from bringing in an offer from a competitor and asking your employer to match. In this case you’re ready to leave, and you’re not threatening to, you’re just letting your boss know that the raise or other factors of the competing offer are important enough for you to make a move if you can’t get those same conditions where you are currently. In this case you do actually have somewhere to go if your current boss can’t help you. If you don’t have a standing offer and you’re called on your threat to leave, you may find yourself having to go. If you don’t have a standing offer, avoid making the threat, and have a professional and respectful discussion pointing out why you should make more, to bring your compensation in line with the massive value you’re bringing to the business.
13. Management Doesn’t Understand Your Role
Problem: Management doesn’t know who you are, what you do, and why it’s so important for the business. As a result, they can’t correctly value your contribution. They don’t know if they’re paying you too much, too little, or just the right amount, and in the worst of cases they may not even be sure if your role is needed.
Solution: If you suspect that management doesn’t know who you are, it’s important that you talk to your boss about this, and ask him to mention you and the part you play to the higher-ups sooner rather than later, and definitely during the annual review process. If you feel that this situation isn’t being addressed adequately and your compensation package suffers as a result, you may be getting an important signal from the business, that this is not the place for you because it’s a place where you won’t be valued. There are plenty of other companies you could help with your skills. If management refuses to acknowledge you, it may be time to jump ship before you’re made to walk the plank.
14. You Think Management Will Do the Right Thing
Problem: This one makes me laugh. You think other people, left to their own devices, will do the right thing. If you just keep your nose to grindstone and produce great work product, you’ll be appreciated and you’ll get a fat pay raise. In a perfect world and at some great companies, yes, but mostly not.
Solution: You shouldn’t put faith in others to do right by you. You have to ask for what you want, and trust that once your request is in, the response you receive will tell you what you need to know about whether where you are is the place for you long-term. Even great bosses sometimes falter. Your boss, who you believe has fought for you in the past and has gotten you some nice results, may not take all of your concerns to his higher-ups for his own reasons. There may be requests that are really important to you that are never communicated, because your boss felt uncomfortable about doing so or because he felt like he was out of room to negotiate for more for his team. How do you deal with this situation? Delicately, if possible, because this is a tough one. First, find out if your request was actually communicated. Ask your boss, and if the answer is no, ask again for the request be passed along. If your boss says no, then you have to go to management yourself if what you’re asking for is something that’s important to you. This is not the end of the world, but you have to be careful and know who you can trust. If you are close to management, you may be able to go around your boss’s back and have it work out. If you’re not close to management, you should give your boss a heads-up before you take it up with his boss. This can end badly in some cases, but if you’re a valued employee, both your boss and your boss’s boss will try to make the situation work so that you stay. One final point to consider: if requests that are important to you that you bring up are not being passed along to the decision-makers, and this situation is not quickly corrected, it may be time to find a better boss.
15. You Haven’t Made Yourself Replaceable
Problem: You focus on being an irreplaceable employee. You hide the ball, keeping your solutions and strategies to yourself. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Solution: Make yourself replaceable tout de suite! See my post about this. I credit two things with allowing me to double my income in 3 years: making myself replaceable, and investing. That’s it. Those two things changed my financial makeup more significantly than anything else I’ve done. You must share your knowledge in a transparent manner and create a team that can do everything you can do better than you can! You can’t be promoted until you can be replaced, it’s as simple as that.
16. You Have Unsavory Habits at Work
Problem: You cut your nails at your desk in an open office layout, or in your office even. You leave floaters for your co-workers to discover. When you eat Chinese food at your desk a good portion of it ends up in your beard and stays there for hours. I wish I was making these up. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of similar and worse examples in your work life.
Solution: There are some behaviors that shouldn’t take place in an office. Be professional and considerate. Clean up after yourself. Don’t acquire a reputation for a basic deficiency that is simple to correct.
17. You Behave Inappropriately
Problem: You’ve dated half a dozen people at the office, and whenever a new hire comes on board, you’ve asked them out before they’ve even completed their orientation. You know who you are. There are other behaviors that are inappropriate at work: discrimination or harassment based on race, sex, or age, health, religion, and so forth.
Solution: Just don’t do it: the opposite of the Nike slogan. Easy, right? If you’re not sure it’s okay, don’t do it. Avoid prying into people’s personal lives and try not to treat your co-workers as the entirety of the eligible dating pool. If you have trouble quitting any of these types of behaviors, talk to someone, and consider talking to a professional. If you can move past inappropriate conduct, you will have a much better chance at success.
18. You’re at the Wrong Company or in the Wrong Role
Problem: It’s possible it isn’t you. Your company views you to be a cost center rather than core business. They resent the fact that they need you in the first place, so, naturally, they will be reluctant to share the wealth. All the business folks will have sweet deals, and you, who, although you may do much of the same work and frequently guide all of these business folks into doing the right thing, will not have such a sweet deal at all. Or you may be in the wrong role. You’re at the upper limit of your compensation for what you do, and you are unable to escape the limited pay space prescribed for whatever it is you do.
Solution: In an effort to make an ironic homage to the business folks mentioned above, what you should do is “pivot.” You need to transition, either out of the company or out of your role there. If there are companies out there that pay for your skill set at a higher rate, go there. If you don’t have much upside potential in your role, find a new role with preferably unlimited upside, such as your own business, investing, or blogging. Start your own business. Learn an entirely different skill set. Go back to school if necessary. Find the company or role where your upside potential is significantly higher. Trust me, there’s comfort in removing those upside limits.
19. You’re Not Learning New Tricks
Problem: You’ve been doing the same thing day after day, month after month, year after year. You haven’t progressed to new tasks and greater responsibilities. You’re stagnant and you’re not expanding your skill set.
Solution: Yet again, making yourself replaceable will help you break out of this rut. Once you pass along your skills to others, you’ll be forced to learn something new and transition into a new role, even if that role is only slightly different. You may still be doing what you used to, but also managing those folks you taught as well. Or you may move into a different role that requires your attention. Whether or not you’re ready to make yourself replaceable, always be learning new things. If you’ve mastered what you do, learn more about the business so that you can serve its needs better. If you’ve learned literally everything about the business, it may be time to strike out on your own!
20. Your Work Product Needs Improvement
Problem: You’re just not bringing as much value to the business as you think you are. Or you know you’re not trying all that hard and you’re not working on making improvements. Definitely no raise for you. (Well, not definitely, there are exceptions to everything, for example, if you’re buddy-buddy with the higher-ups, there’s a lot you can get away with.)
Solution: You must provide as much value to your business as reasonably possible. You should evaluate how you’re doing on a regular basis, and solicit feedback from your boss and your colleagues. There’s always something to improve, and you need to take improvement seriously. I’ve seen a number of people who are told they need to improve multiple times, but they just don’t take the advice to heart. If your work product is stellar, that’s great, it’s time to show others how you do that magic you do, and make yourself replaceable so are promoted! Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, always be improving and working on a better you.
21. The Business is Struggling
Problem: Sorry, it’s not you, it’s me. There’s nothing that can be done for you, because the company is on the ropes. Maybe if things get better over the next year or several. Maybe then. The business just isn’t making enough to pay you what you want.
Solution: You can be a trooper, or you can move on. This has to be a call you make based on your understanding of the industry. If you think the business is in a cyclical slump and will recover, you can talk to your boss about the improvements you’d like to see after the recovery, and if he’s receptive you may consider sticking it out. Or you may choose to stick it our regardless, pay increase or not. On the other hand, you could leave now, for potentially greener pastures, and not take on the risk of waiting for the business to do better. If the business never recovers, you’ll have spent more time with the failing company. It’s a tough call, to be sure, so consider a number of factors before making your decision, including the value of the experience you’re picking up by helping the business get through hard times. That experience alone may be invaluable.