The standard Singaporean response to being paid less than they think they’re worth is to quietly pack up and look for a new job.
That might explain why just a year or two ago, when the market was favourable for job seekers, many young employees job-hopped with gleeful abandon.
It’s much less common to take the more confrontational step of trying to negotiate with your boss for a higher salary.
This is a pity, as despite Singapore bosses’ reputation for being hardasses, those employees whose skin is thick enough to negotiate for more often do get what they asked for, like this guy who was featured previously on MoneySmart.
If you’re already at the point where you’re ready to leave your job because you haven’t received a decent increment in a million years, it’s completely worth the effort to try to negotiate for a higher salary. It’s possible your boss has been paying you so badly simply because he knows you won’t ask for more.
In a worst case scenario, if your boss refuses to pay you a cent more or is actually underpaying you because he hopes you’ll leave, you’ll know you’ve done your best and can look for a job where your skills will be better appreciated.
Here are the steps to take.
1. Do research on how much you should be paid
No matter how crappy your salary is, your boss is going to be insist you’re being paid market rate (yeah right, the kind of market with chickens and pigs maybe). Obviously, it’s up to you to find out what market rate actually is, and what you should be paid in accordance with your skills.
While you can do a bit of online research on websites like Glassdoor or by browsing job postings, there is no substitute for talking with other people working in the industry—former colleagues or internship mentors and former schoolmates working in the same field are great resources. Being Singaporeans, most should be quite up-to-date on the kinds of salaries that are being paid in various positions.
By now you should have a good idea of what you can realistically ask for without your boss bursting a blood vessel.
2. Plan your approach
It’s going to be very, very easy for your boss to brush you off if you don’t plan your meeting with him correctly. So don’t think you can just burst into his office and start demanding to be paid what you’re worth, dammit.
Instead, approach the meeting with your boss a bit like a presentation you’d make to a potential investor, sans Powerpoint slides.
After telling your boss you’d like to negotiate for a higher salary, you’ll want to show him why you deserve it. One good reason is a change in your job description or duties. It’s also fair to ask for a raise if you’ve been consistently exceeding expectations, especially if you’re doing better than most of your colleagues.
If the latter is true, be sure to highlight your achievements to your boss. Many bosses are too busy to really bother assessing or acknowledging an employee’s progress. All they care about is that you get the job done. So now’s the time to let him know that you’ve actually be doing great work behind those cubicle walls.
One way you can do this is to present a list of achievements and successes you’ve bagged at work, with figures to back yourself up. Exceeded your sales target by an average of 50%? Be sure to tell your boss exactly that.
Even if you’re not exactly a star employee, you should ask for a raise if you’ve been doing well enough but are being underpaid relative to your colleagues or to the market rate. You can then raise the question of increasing your salary so it is more in line with what you’d be worth on the market.
3. Timing is everything
When you decide to drop the bomb on your boss is very important. You don’t ask for a raise two days before bonuses and increments are going to be announced. Neither do you request a meeting with your boss the day before he leaves to go on block leave.
Also avoid having The Talk on a Monday. Believe it or not, your boss also feels crappy about having to come in after the weekend – according to psychologists, Fridays are a better choice. You also want to pick a time when your boss isn’t too busy or stressed out and in a good mood.
You also want to monitor the performance of your company in general. If your company has been doing well, it’s a good time to take advantage of their success by asking for a raise.
4. Have a plan B if your boss refuses
A boss who’s happy with your work and wants to keep you around will usually accede to a reasonable request to raise your salary if the company can afford it.
On the other hand, if your boss is secretly waiting for you to quit or keeping you around only because he’s not found anyone to replace you yet, it’s time for you to go. In that case, asking for a raise could sour your relationship with your boss further.
You should thus make sure you have a Plan B if your boss refuses your request. Know what kind of jobs you are going to apply for, look at job ads and speak to a recruiter. Some people prefer to get another job offer in the bag so they can get their bosses to make a counteroffer, but given today’s job market it may not be possible for everyone.
Of course, you’re taking a risk when you ask for a raise. But the alternative, remaining in a company where you’re underpaid, could be even worse.
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