You're not happy with your salary review. What next?

By Robert Half on 14th November 2014

For a number of years during the economic downturn - amid the looming threat of redundancies - it became common for organisations to implement pay freezes for their employees. With their organisations facing tough financial constraints, many professionals were prepared to accept stagnant wages as a short-term, temporary measure. Knowing the alternative might be unemployment and the total loss of income, this was a sacrifice employees were willing to make.

But now professionals are wanting a salary review. Given the strong rebound in the economy and resurgence in the jobs market, there is no reason for talented people to settle for less than their market worth. Demand for staff continues to rise as organisations rebuild their teams, creating skills shortages across various sectors and applying upward pressure on wages. So when talented people are told there is still no prospect of a pay rise - or anything more than a token increase - they have every right to be frustrated.

Few professionals are willing to accept pay freezes and below-inflation salary growth any longer, knowing there are other job opportunities available to them. Why should you be any different? If you're earning less than the going rate for someone of your status - find out by checking the Robert Half Salary Guide - it's time to do something about it. A disappointing salary review might just be the impetus you need to take effective action and secure the remuneration package you deserve. Let's consider some of the main options if you are not happy with your salary review:

1. Look for a new job

Perhaps the most obvious way to improve your remuneration - other than asking for a pay rise - is to change jobs. In a growing economy, skilled and experienced professionals are always going to be in demand. So even if your own organisation isn't faring particularly well - and can't offer you a pay rise - there will be plenty of other employers who will. Some may pay you considerably more for doing essentially the same job; others may be willing to promote you to a more senior role - one which naturally offers more attractive rewards.

Perhaps your current employer assumes you will stay with them out of loyalty, having worked for the organisation for a number of years. They've seen you accept the financial constraints during the recession, and now that conditions have been improved, might be inclined to push their luck a little further. The last thing you want is to be taken for granted, so if your employer won't make a fair offer for someone with your skills, experience and potential, it could be time for a change.

You can start by looking through the job boards, recruitment agency websites and classifieds to identify potential new roles. There's no pressure to apply for jobs that don't suit you - after all, you're still in employment - but if you do come across an attractive opportunity, why not apply? Should you perform at the interview and be offered the job, it could see you automatically receive a major earnings boost. If you're somebody an employer is eager to bring on board, they may be willing to make an attractive offer in order to secure your services. Having identified you as their preferred candidate, the last thing they want is to see you accept somebody else's offer or decide to stay put.

2. Negotiate with your employer

Being active in the jobs market might just allow you to negotiate a better salary with your existing employer. If they suspect you are gearing up to leave, it could spur them into action. Even if the company has a policy on pay rises and counter-offers, they might make an exception for you - it all depends on how valuable you are to the organisation. If you are deemed indispensable, they may try to trump any other offers you might receive. This begs the question as to why such action wasn't taken in your salary review, but ultimately, an offer is an offer.

The reality is that employers pay what they need to in order to attract and retain staff, subject to budgetary constraints. They certainly won't pay more than they deem necessary - this just isn't good business. If an employer thinks you will happily stay with their organisation for 'X' amount, they won't be inclined to double it by offering 'Y'. So sometimes, as a professional, it is necessary to take a tougher negotiating stance - applying a little pressure on your employer in order to get what you deserve.

Your employers certainly won't make it easy for you to coax a higher salary out of them. But remember, it costs a lot more to recruit new employees, onboard them and get them working to maximum levels of productivity than to keep existing members of staff happy and engaged. So if you have the confidence to return to your employer following your salary review and ask for more, they may find you difficult to ignore. The bottom line is, if you're adding significant value to the organisation, they won't want you to leave. 

3. Court a counter-offer

Some employees may hand their notice in, hoping to coax a counter-offer out of their employer. However, you should never accept a counter-offer - the chances of your brinkmanship paying off are very slim. There are several reasons why your employer will, in all likelihood, resist the temptation to come in with an offer of an improved contract.

First of all, you've broken the bond of trust by choosing to resign. Secondly, since you're evidently unsettled, you may leave anyway sooner rather than later. Thirdly, your employer has no guarantees you won't pull the same stunt again in the future, having seen it work the first time. And finally, the last thing employers want to do is set a precedent for making counter-offers, and see other employees use resignation as a mechanism for securing a pay rise.

Perhaps ask yourself why exactly you are looking for a new job - is it solely because of money? Typically, salary is just one of a number of factors which impacts on employee morale and motivation in the workplace. If there are other reasons why you're unhappy in your job - for instance, a lack of progression opportunities or job satisfaction  - then a pay rise in unlikely to solve the problem. Even if you do secure an improved contract, the same issues will eventually creep up on you again.

4. Use a recruitment agency

If you're actively looking for a new job - either because you definitely want a change, or you want additional options - it's worth your while contacting a recruitment agency. Not only can they help identify suitable roles and put you forward for the latest vacancies, but they can also negotiate an attractive pay and benefits package on your behalf.

As an intermediary between employers and prospective hires, recruiters are ideally positioned to represent both parties' interests. They have specialist knowledge of the industry, jobs market, candidate demands and employer expectations. Knowing know how much employers are able and willing to pay, they can use this information to your advantage.

You have options

It won't always be necessary to switch organisations in order to boost your income, but this is certainly an option if you've had a disappointing pay review. If you're actively looking for jobs, and willing and able to move, it puts you in a much stronger bargaining position. Where an employer thinks you need them more than they need you, they won't offer the top salaries. But where the opposite applies - and you can choose where you work - you've got every chance to maximise your income.

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