Q. I know the economy is weak and layoffs are continuing in many industries, but I've got a job and I've been working hard and I want a raise. How should I go about getting one?
A. It's tough to get a raise in a difficult economic environment, but it's not impossible, experts say.
John Putzier, a consultant in corporate human resources from Prospect, Pa., advises that you "bribe them or blackmail them," although he doesn't mean that literally.
On the "bribe" side, he suggests you document your accomplishments - especially those that show you've taken action that paid off in some way for your company. Or volunteer to handle a tough project, even outside your immediate department, that you're qualified to do.
"Then you go in and say, 'I'm a star and I'm worth more,"' said Putzier, author of "Get Weird! 101 Innovative Ways to Make Your Company a Great Place to Work."
The "blackmail" approach is a bit trickier, he acknowledges. You have to start by getting a better job offer from a competitor.
"Your employer will have to come to the realization that he's going to have to pay more for you," Putzier said. "Or he'll say, goodbye and good luck!"
So you had better not be bluffing about that alternative job offer.
John Medlock, senior director of education and training for the American Payroll Association in San Antonio, said, "It helps to show that you've made a contribution, not only to your own department's operations but to making the entire organization more efficient, cost-effective and a better place to work in."
He suggests that you document what you've done - for example, you've instituted procedures to process more transactions in a shorter period of time - and present those in writing to your boss. At the same time, ask for a meeting to discuss them.
Another entree is during your annual evaluation, when most employees are asked to do a self-evaluation.
"People have to blow their own horns," Medlock said. "It's difficult for a manger to know what everyone who works for him does all the time - and what their successes are."
On the other side, Medlock believes companies should make it clear to workers if there are no funds available for pay raises, "so there are no expectations out there."
Both Putzier and Medlock suggested that if a raise looks impossible, you should ask for a bonus or perks.
"Some companies are willing to look at specific projects and reward their performers with bonuses," Medlock said.
The advantage to an employer of giving a bonus rather than a pay raise is that it's a one-time payment and doesn't trigger other costs, such as higher insurance premiums.
"If money isn't a possibility, negotiate for perks," Putzier said. These could include a compressed work week of four, 10-hour days or telecommuting one day a week.
"That way you at least increase your quality of life," he said.
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