How to ask for a pay rise

Deborah Evans provides advice for pharmacy professionals looking to request a salary increase.

Pay rise concept

In these difficult times of limited resources, funding cuts, lower profits and reductions in staff, it may have been some time since you have had a pay increase or even considered requesting one — but that does not mean you do not deserve one.

Organisations must attract and retain the best individuals if they are to achieve higher quality, improved performance and excellent patient/customer service. It is in everyone’s interests to have highly motivated and engaged staff who want to do their best at work every day; being rewarded appropriately is a key part of this.

Pay progression is proposed to change within the NHS. The reform of the Agenda for Change programme is meant to recognise the importance of having the right people in roles that are appropriately rewarded. Pay progression will not be annual in future and there should be better incentives for staff seeking promotion or taking on additional responsibilities and an improved annual staff appraisal process.

Equal pay is also at the forefront of people’s minds, with all companies and public bodies in Great Britain (>250 employees) now required to report their gender pay gap to the Government Equalities Office’s pay gap database. This article will not look at the equal pay issue specifically, although some of the advice would still apply. If you believe you are not receiving equal pay, see Box 1 for help and advice.

Box 1: Gender pay gap versus equal pay

The gender pay gap is the difference between the average hourly earnings of men and women; when all workers (both full and part-time) are included, the gap in the UK is 18.4% for median earnings. The data do not show whether men and women performing the same roles are paid differently, which is an issue of equal pay.

A legal framework for equal pay for equal work between men and women was first protected by law in the Equal Pay Act 1970 and is now protected in the Equality Act 2010. The act aims to protect both male and female employees from discrimination, harassment and victimisation because of gender.

An employee who thinks they are not receiving equal pay can write to their employer asking for information to establish whether there is a pay difference and the reasons for the difference. Ideally, equal pay issues are resolved informally, avoiding where possible a formal grievance and complaint to an employment tribunal.

Individuals concerned about not receiving equal pay can get specific help and advice from:

There are many reasons why employees performing similar roles are paid differently, including market forces at the time of recruitment; individual experience, qualifications and skills; historical issues, such as a company being acquired; or simply the individual’s ability to negotiate at recruitment or at an annual appraisal. Whether in the private or public sector, having the best chance of achieving a raise requires careful thought and planning. The principles below can be adapted to various workplaces.

1. Outline your goals

A good place to start is by asking yourself if you are worthy of an increase and what you have done to give yourself the best chance of getting a raise.

Think about what the ideal increase would be and the minimum acceptable amount

The economic conditions may not favour an increase and so a proposal for why a pay increase is deserved must be strong. You should write down what you want to achieve in a way that is specific enough to allow for review after the event. Think about what the ideal increase would be and the minimum acceptable amount. Other negotiable variables should also be considered, such as taking on other responsibilities in return for an increase. Think through how the conversation could go and take into account the possible outcomes that could result in dispute.

If you compare your salary to a colleague who is of a different gender; or cite recent maternity leave as the reason why you believe you are underpaid, then this could result in an equal pay or discrimination dispute. This is not wrong if you think it is appropriate, but you should be prepared to go all the way with a potential grievance and for what this might mean for your relationship with your company. Seek advice first.

2. Build the case for an increase

Having an excellent performance record, including evidence of growth in key metrics, delivery of services and feedback from team members and customer/patients, will place you in the strongest position. Additional roles taken on and extra activities such as representing the organisation or achievement in external awards will also strengthen your case.

Consider who to influence for a pay increase; this could be a line manager, but is also likely to include a much broader stakeholder group

Pay increments may also be dependent on qualifications and completing mandatory training. For example, undertaking in-house training provided by the pharmacy department or hospital, organised study days or courses, initial specialty training and training in management, a clinical diploma or Master’s degree in science, or being qualified to deliver a range of additional and locally commissioned services in the community. Prepare the case in advance, delivering against any gaps.

3. Choose who to influence

It is important to have created a positive impression on all those who will influence the decision, so this should be done ahead of a request for a salary review. 

Consider who to influence for a pay increase; this could be a line manager, but is also likely to include a much broader stakeholder group, including the human resources team and any company directors. You can boost your internal profile by volunteering for additional projects within the organisation, writing internal articles, entering awards and connecting with key people to find out what they are doing and their priorities.

4. Find the right time

Conversations about pay usually happen at the time of an annual appraisal; however, the issue can be raised at any time. It is a good idea to perform due diligence on the organisation; structural changes like expansion, acquisition, redundancies or new management will all have an impact on the success of a request for a pay rise. Even if the company policies mean that a manager’s hands are tied, it is important to flag your achievements for a future pay review window.

5. Set up the right conditions for a meeting

Having done the planning, a conversation about pay should be set up so there are no surprises; do not be tempted to do it ad hoc. Signpost the purpose of the meeting so that managers can prepare too and enable the conversation to happen when there are no distractions.

Ideally send a résumé of achievements ahead of the meeting. Examples include demonstrating growth in prescription volume, delivery of key services, development of new programmes and initiatives, team feedback and customer testimonials.

Avoid complaining and using reasons such as the cost of living having gone up, or the travel costs in getting to work.

6. Keep it positive

Set the tone at the start of the meeting. For example, saying: “I really value your time to discuss my progression and want to make the case for a raise in pay. Here are the facts about my achievements and results since I took on the role. I would also like to discuss what I can achieve in the future.” 

Frame the request as an objective business argument rather than one that uses emotional language such as “I want”, “I need” or “I deserve”.

Avoid complaining and using reasons such as the cost of living having gone up, or the travel costs in getting to work. Stating that a fellow employee gets paid more may lead down a more formal route around equal pay, which might not have been the original intention.

7. Use business-like language

As the discussion progresses, ask questions to understand more about how the company is developing and the main priorities. This allows positioning of capabilities against key drivers and to be part of the solution, rather than articulating problems.

Build good rapport with management and outline contributions to the organisation, presenting tangible achievements and recent successes. Having demonstrated value, individuals can approach the pay issue in more detail e.g. “For my experience and performance, it would seem that I am being underpaid. I should be on £X. I really enjoy working here and I would like a salary adjustment that works for us all.”

 Recognise that self-promotion is key

8. Stay calm

You will have had plenty of time to think about this; however, it is unlikely to be a top priority for a manager. Keep calm and demonstrate listening to the manager’s perspective while being assertive about your position. Women in particular often expect to be rewarded for doing a great job, assuming that others will notice and volunteer appropriate remuneration. Recognise that self-promotion is key and talk about what you have done specifically to achieve the outcomes (use “I” rather than “we”).

9. Rehearse the conversation

Have conversations with a partner or friend, although be mindful that they may be emotionally involved in the outcome or could add to existing fears about it being rude to ask for more money. Ideally discuss with a mentor and rehearse different phrases.

Ask specific questions about what you would need to achieve to get a pay rise

10. Be realistic

Most people find asking for pay increases difficult and may not be successful first time round. In this instance, avoid threatening to leave but instead use phrases such as, “I am very ambitious and really want to feel I am putting my talents to best use and being recognised for it. I would like to know how the company sees me and my development in the future.”

Ask specific questions about what you would need to achieve to get a pay rise including additional qualifications and performance criteria. Ensure you understand the reasons why it has not happened this time and agree on a new review date within six months. Summarise the discussion in an email together with a specific plan for meeting the conditions next time.

Next steps

There are a number of options if you are unsuccessful in requesting a pay increase: escalate the issue internally; get on with the job and hope to get a raise next time; leave the organisation and find somewhere that will pay more; or put in place a strategy to be successful next time. Options will depend on individual circumstances, history with the company and goals for the future, so map out these options carefully and seek advice from a mentor, colleague or friend. Pharmacist Support can provide further advice.

The opportunity to influence happens all year round so reflect regularly on performance and focus on what you are in control of.

Deborah Evans
is managing director of
Pharmacy Complete
and founder of the Women in Pharmacy Facebook group.

Thank you to
Diane Leicester-Hallam
, chief executive officer of Pharmacist Support, for her contribution.
Pharmacist Support
is an independent charity providing free and confidential support to pharmacists and their families, former pharmacists and pharmacy students.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, July 2018, Vol 301, No 7915;301(7915)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2018.20205102

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