Leland Harper waited for the right moment to ask for a raise, a bold move considering that the small Michigan university where he works had frozen salaries before the pandemic.
But when Harper asked for a 10 per cent salary hike in 2021, he got it — and job market watchers say that a labour shortage has given workers a real edge in negotiations.
In fact, it’s the perfect time to ask for a raise in many sectors, employment experts told CBC Radio, given the combination of rising inflation and a scarcity of workers.
Inflation recently hit 5.7 per cent — its highest point in a generation — and is pushing up the cost of living at a time when employers have to compete for staff.
Over the past two years, inflation has jumped by close to seven per cent.
Wages rose at the same time, but at nowhere near the same rate — even though there’s less competition for jobs as immigration was stalled by COVID restrictions.
“Job seekers have a lot more power than they used to. Companies are trying really hard to get new employees and to keep the ones they have,” Sarah Vermunt, founder of Careergasm, told CBC’s Cost of Living.
“That’s great for current employees if your employer is trying to keep the people they have [because] it means it’s a really good time to actually ask for a raise.”
Vermunt says people are often anxious or uncertain about how to ask for more pay.
“It’s a really vulnerable thing to ask for more money,” she said. “There’s always the chance that someone will say no.”
But a refusal is not always the end of negotiations, she said.
She advises people to do the research before requesting a raise — and to be patient.
When making a case for better compensation, it’s important to highlight performance rather than just years of service, she said.
Keep language positive and pick the right moment, like when accepting a new position, she said.
“That organization has probably gone through a lengthy, expensive process of trying to recruit people. That is literally the most powerful negotiation position you will ever be in your career,” Vermunt said.
Do your research
When Harper decided to ask the university for a 10 per cent raise, he made sure to have done his research.
The philosophy professor said he learned that other nearby universities were actively recruiting Black academics, particularly those researching race and racism.
And Harper had a book about race issues set to be published.
“Big universities were hiring 10, 15 or 20 Black academics at a time and throwing big money at them,” Harper said. “I said [to my employer] ‘If you want to compete you have got to do something.”
His employer initially turned down his request.
But Siena Heights University in Michigan eventually offered him a special contract to reflect his value.
‘Never seen it like this’
Harper’s request benefitted from good timing.
“I would say in almost 20 years that I’ve been working in the recruitment industry, I have never seen it like this,” said Patrick Poulin, group president of recruitment firm Randstad Canada.
There’s an unmet demand for employees, especially in finance, accounting, tech and engineering, he said.
And the shortage of applicants is prompting more forward-thinking companies to offer more flexibility, like making it easier to work from home.
“We’ve seen a big shift happening, with companies investing even more in the technology to allow people to work remotely,” Poulin said.
Not every company, especially after pandemic losses and supply chain challenges, are able to offer wage hikes.
Get creative with perks
But Poulin says companies should consider other perks. For example the employer could offer work flexibility or an opportunity on a new project.
He also advises employers to look to their current employees when considering promotions – or risk losing them.
“Always work with your internal employees first,” said Poulin. “Always.”
Tips for that raise request
Vermunt suggests these tips for going after a raise:
Set career goals.
Take the initiative.
Ask for a career progression meeting and give lots of warning.
Do the research.
Know what you are worth in your market.
Be calm, and present a carefully thought-out request.
Present hard numbers or evidence of your work or improvements.
Be prepared for a “No.”
Consider other incentives, like projects or perks, if a raise is not an option.
Vermunt said it’s important to research what other people in your market are earning.
She said it’s also helpful to have concrete examples – sales results or other evidence – to illustrate how you have improved or grown since you were hired.
This helps bolster the argument for why you are worth more pay.
Written by Yvette Brend. Produced by Jennifer Keene and Danielle Nerman.