Few things spark more anxiety than asking for a raise.
Now might seem like an especially dicey time to ask for more money. With a national unemployment rate of 10.2% —higher than at the peak of the Great Recession — it's easy to simply feel grateful you have a job at all.
If you've been knocking it out of the park at work, you might want to reconsider accepting the salary status quo.
But what about the pandemic?
Getting a salary hike might be more possible right now than you think.
As of April, just 17% of firms were canceling pay raises, according to a survey by World at Work. More than half of companies said they'd already paid out salary increases or still planned to do so.
Keep in mind that employers want to keep their staff satisfied, because turnover isn't free. Companies may have to spend between half and two times a departing employee's annual salary, according to Gallup.
"It's a very crazy time but it doesn't mean every company is struggling," said San Francisco-based Melanie Feldman, co-founder of online course Get Hired. "Some are having their best year to date."
If you can, assess how your company is doing. Maybe they've added new clients or have a successful new line of business. If it looks like they're thriving, then go for a raise, Feldman says. "Have the confidence to know that you can ask for a raise."
Asking for a raise at any time can be downright awkward, particularly for women, says Beth Derrick, 36, who blogs about personal finance, because they're afraid of being perceived as too aggressive, too assertive or too entitled.
"It's a really tricky and uncomfortable thing to navigate," said Derrick, who lives in Flower Mound, Texas.
"But it's just money," she said. "It's not personal."
There's an especially good reason women — or any employee, for that matter — should ditch their anxiety and ask for that raise: They could be forfeiting hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime with a lower salary, says Jessica Byrne, a 27-year-old software engineer based near Santa Barbara, California. She also blogs about personal finance.
It turns out most women prefer leaving a job in order to get a higher salary than asking for a raise. Sixty percent say they have never negotiated a raise, found a report by staffing firm Randstad USA.
Not negotiating can mean losing as much as $1.5 million in lost income over a career, according to research by Linda Babcock, an economics professor and co-author of "Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide." In a study of 78 masters degree students, Babcock found that just 12.5% of women negotiated for their starting salary, versus 52% of men.
Here's how any employee, gender aside, can build their case for a raise.
Reach out to area recruiters for info on comparable local salaries for your role, says Erika Kullberg, an American lawyer based in Tokyo.
Ask your employer for a precise number, not a rounded figure or range. "It gives the impression that you understand the true value," Kullberg said.
"Ask for slightly more than you actually want, so that there's room to negotiate down if necessary," she added.
Have three numbers ready, Byrne says.
First, the number you'd ideally like. Then, a middle figure that is still an acceptable raise. Last is your "walk" number, the offer that means you should consider job-hunting.
Stick to the facts and check your emotions, says Feldman, who admits she used to hate negotiating. "Make it research-driven, and have your numbers and facts ready when you go in," she said.
Compile your data by keeping a running list of your accomplishments, Feldman says. Asking for a raise is a case you build over time.
Part of your proof is a show-and-tell. "A statement such as, 'I have increased "x" by "x%" is more powerful than 'I have helped the company,'" Kullberg said.
It's also helpful to compile external validations from coworkers, clients or anyone outside the firm who values your work, Byrne says.
Most people don't know much about raises from the other side of the desk. When Feldman worked in a supervisory role at a startup, she soon realized that a simple request for more money was a time-consuming project.
"Part of the reason people don't get raises is there's a lot of work to do," she said.
As much as possible, understand what your manager must do: fill out forms, make a presentation, go through various levels of management. "If your boss has to present your top accomplishments in a certain format, I like to ask how the process works," Feldman says.
Then, do as much of that heavy lifting as you can. Feldman recommends saying something like, "I'm asking for a raise, and here's why, and here's the hard copy."
Then, say: "'I'm going to email you this information so it's not just sitting on your desk,'" she added. "Hint that you understand they have to go through steps to make this happen."
Practice the conversation with your friends, Bryne says, and consider a video recording. Watching her own performance, Byrne realized her tendency to look off to one side when she's nervous, making her look unsure.
Try negotiating on other issues, Kullberg suggests.
"It can be as simple as calling your credit card company to try to get a lower interest rate on your credit card, negotiating down a medical bill or negotiating the price of an item down at a store," she said.
Be prepared for a range of responses. Commonly, your manager might tell you they don't have a final say on compensation, or that the budget is tight. You'll ask for a 20% increase but they'll claim they can only give you 5%.
"Don't just accept the first thing they say," Byrne said. Ask questions about how they came to their decision. "Talk to a mentor outside the company, who can give you a better idea of how to respond and [help you consider] if it's time to move on," she said.
Scout other forms of compensation: bonuses, stock options, company stock and more paid time off are all valuable. Working from home used to be a perk in some companies. Depending on your company's plans, you might ask for more days working remotely if you're being asked to return to a physical location.
Ask yourself what you need that is more important than money, Feldman says, such as flexibility in hours.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.