Fix My Job: Compensation

Does your boss keep conveniently “postponing” that meeting you’re supposed to have every year – the one where you get to talk about what a good job you’ve done and how much of a raise you deserve?

Or maybe there’s no such thing as an annual review where you work – and no expectation of an annual raise.

Neither situation is good for your personal bottom line. The price of the stuff you need every day – gas, rent, utilities, health care, tuition – typically goes up from year to year. According to the the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, consumer prices increased by 2 percent between February 2012 and February 2013.

In other words, a basket of stuff that cost $100 a year ago now costs $102. So you have less purchasing power this year than last year, and if that extra $2 isn’t finding its way into your paycheck, you’re actually taking a pay cut.

  1. Know the ground rules: First, find out what you’re supposed to get. Is there a union contract at your workplace? If so, it probably specifies a schedule of raises, lump-sum bonuses or other changes in compensation. If that schedule isn’t being followed, it’s a contract violation; contact your union rep.Many non-union workplaces, however, have an annual review process or other mechanisms to address employee compensation. Check your employee handbook, if you have one; if you don’t, ask your boss or supervisor how your organization handles this issue. If your company isn’t following its own rules, call this to the attention of your supervisor (or his or her boss) and ask why not.
  2. Get the facts: The National Compensation Survey maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, lets you check on the wages and/or salaries of other people who do similar work in your geographic area. This can help you figure out just how far behind you are if you haven’t had a raise lately.AFSCME, the public employees union, has online resources that can help you check the finances of your employer, in both the public and private sectors. If your company is making healthy profits, or your agency has a healthy budget, you’ll have a better case when asking for a raise. Fair pay is important even if your organization’s finances are shaky – but if that’s the case, you’re better off knowing about it before you go in to talk about your own compensation.
  3. Change the ground rules. There’s plenty of advice available for cubicle warriors about the best way to make a case for a pay raise – see here and here. The general pitch is to document your accomplishments, show your value to your company or organization and consider non-cash alternatives (more time off, better health care or retirement benefits) if your boss won’t come across with a pay raise.But decades of experience in literally thousands of workplaces shows you can get only so far on your own. If you make more than minimum wage, your boss is under no obligation to give you a raise every year, every two years or every five years unless you have an enforceable individual contract or are covered by a union contract providing for raises. If you ask for more money, he or she can tell you to go take a hike. Then you have to decide if you’re ready to look for another job.But if you and your co-workers are concerned about infrequent – or inadequate – pay raises, and you approach your boss as a group, it’s a whole different story.
    • Talking about your own pay is tough.Turning it into a group discussion can make it easier on you and your co-workers – and harder for your boss to tell all of you to go take a hike.
    • You’ve usually got more legal protection when you confront workplace issues as a team. It’s illegal for a private-sector employer to retaliate against workers who join together to advocate for improvements on the job.
    • You don’t have to be a union member get together as a group to discuss workplace issues. (However, it often helps – see here for the basics of forming a union in your workplace.)

Useful Links

Database: National Compensation Survey, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Press Release: Consumer Index Price SurveyU.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Article: “Want to Get a Raise:   Consider These 6 Steps,”

Article: “How to Ask for a Pay Raise,”

Article: “How to Join or Form a Union,”



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