Careers advice

What to do when your pay rise request is rejected

What to take from this important learning experience.

31 January 2023

What you’ll learn:

  • The reasons why your pay rise request could have been rejected

  • How to respond if your pay rise request is rejected

You’ve stumped up the courage and had that sometimes curly conversation where you ask your boss for more pay. Then the response comes back: it’s a no.

This can be a very disheartening feeling, particularly if you feel you aren’t being paid fairly. However, it’s important to know how to respond properly if you find yourself in this situation. Not only will it impact how your manager and other senior staff see you, if you react poorly, you might be shooting yourself in the foot when you seek to return to this conversation in the future.

Understanding why it didn’t work out this time is key to success going forward, so let’s explore.

Common reasons why managers reject pay rise requests

Every workplace and every manager is different, and there may be multiple factors behind your raise request being denied. Here, we’ll look at some of the most common objections, and then explore how to get around them.

1. You asked at the wrong time

Timing is absolutely key when asking for a payrise, and if you get it badly wrong, your request could be doomed from the start. 

When it comes to this rejection factor, there are several things you need to take into account:

  • How the business is going: if you know, or have reason to believe, that the organisation’s finances aren’t looking too sharp, it’s a bad time to ask for a raise. There’s the obvious issue, that the company is unlikely to be looking to boost salaries when it’s short on cash, but also the problem that you appear not to understand this context. As well as for good performance, employers are far more likely to reward staff who have an engaged understanding of their company. By seeking a pay rise at a time when money is tight, you’re showing the opposite of this. 

  • Your manager’s workload: similarly, if your manager is currently super snowed under, adding to their workload by asking them to get approval to pay you more is unlikely to go down well. In addition, and we’ll come back to this shortly, if they’re very stressed out, they’re probably going to be less amenable to the idea of sorting out a pay rise for their staff.

  • Your recent track record: this is another one we’re going to return to, but if you’ve recently been missing your targets, or have made some big mistakes, it’s not a good time to seek a salary bump. Remember, pay rises are seen by employers as ways to reward excellence and hard work, so this is what you need to demonstrate. 

If you get the timing wrong, it’s really on you. You need to have the workplace savvy to pick your moment, which can mean holding fire when the situation isn’t favourable. 

Don't ask your manager for a pay rise if they're currently looking like this.

2. You haven’t been performing

There are a number of performance-related issues that might make a manager think twice about agreeing to give you a pay rise. These include:

  • Missing targets: this will likely be among the first things a manager looks at after receiving a pay rise request. Good workplace targetsare clearly defined, meaning it will be easy for your manager to see whether you’re hitting them. If you aren’t, you might well expect your  manager to come back and tell you they need to see an improvement in your performance before granting you a pay rise.

  • Making mistakes: if a manager was to agree to paying you more after you’d made a series of serious mistakes, this would almost amount to them telling you it’s okay to continue to do so. In other words, it’s unlikely.

  • Not contributing to the wider team: this is a bit different, as it’s harder to quantify. However, if your manager feels that you’re doing the bare minimum – turning up, doing your work and then leaving – without any further contributions to helping others or creating a good team atmosphere, they might hesitate before accepting.

3. Your relationship with your manager is poor

While you might hope that your manager would look past any personal issues that might exist between the two of you, and think only about your professional contributions when considering your raise request, unfortunately this isn’t always the case. 

We’re all human, and personal opinions can cloud judgements, and if you and your manager have clashed in the past, this might hurt your chances. 

4. Your manager thinks you’re already being paid well

If the person you’re asking for a raise already thinks you’re doing very well in terms of salary, this is also going to make things more difficult.

They might even wheel out the line that ‘you’re being paid well when compared to other members of the team’ in an attempt to justify their position, While you can understand why a manager might think this way, this justification is actually one of the easiest to deal with, and is not a strong position for a manager to take. We’ll show you exactly how to combat this line or argument in just a minute. 

Your manager might counter your request by saying they already believe you're earning well.

How to react if you’re denied a pay rise

1. Ask why

This is the most important first step you should take after having a pay rise request rejected. Without this information, how can you possibly hope for a better outcome next time around?

Be careful to ask this question in a non-confrontational manner. It’s not about challenging your manager’s decision (this is only likely to make them dig in further with their position), it’s about getting useful feedback that you can take forward with you. Indeed, we highly recommend using the word ‘feedback’ rather than simply asking why you were rejected. 

2. Find out what more you could do

This will help you navigate rejections that are to do with your performance. If your manager told you that you aren’t going to get a raise because they aren’t happy with your work, it’s time to discover what they want to see from you.

In particular, it’s a good idea to ask, if you aren’t already sure, what objectives your performance is being measured against. For example, in a sales role, it might be that you need to be closing a certain number of deals a month in order to be considered to be on target. In reality, you should have been told about these goals, so make very sure that it’s your manager that has forgotten to inform you, rather than you having missed important communications. 

The same goes for rejection reasons relating to your manager feeling that you aren’t contributing sufficiently to the team’s culture. If they give you this reason, the best thing you can do is ask what you can do to improve. Not only will this help you tick the box you’re currently missing, but it demonstrates to your manager that this is indeed something you care about.

3. Learn how salaries are benchmarked in your organisation

This is a good way to respond to rejections associated with how much you’re already being paid. If your manager tells you that they have benchmarked your salary in line with similar positions within the industry, this means they feel it is fair because they’ve researched similar organisations and roles, and based your salary on this. Or perhaps it’s been based on internal benchmarking of roles within the organisation.

If you're rejected, an important step is to understand how salaries are calculated within your organisation.

However, that doesn’t have to be the end of the conversation. Your next step here should be to ask how that benchmarking is done, and, if you still feel that you should earn more, it’s time to do some salary research of your own. Check out resources like our free NZ salary guide, which is regularly updated with recent salary data, or talk to recruitment professionals who have their finger on the pulse of salary trends in your industry.

From here, you can go back to your manager and re-open the discussion. Again, it’s important to do this in a constructive and non-confrontational manner, but be ready to back up your point of view with the research you’ve done, and points about how your unique blend of skills and experience mean you should earn more. 

In particular, if the rejection was based on your manager’s opinion that you earn well in comparison to others in the company, you should point to specific examples of projects you've delivered and great results you’ve achieved. Steer this conversation away from comparisons with others, and make it about your input to the business. 

4. Keep working hard

Having a pay rise request rejected isn’t a good motivator, particularly if you believe your skillset is worth more than you’re currently earning.

However, letting this result affect the quality of your work will do you no favours in the long term. If you mentally check out, or start to put less time and effort into what you’re doing, this will be noticed, and will damage your chances of a future raise.

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