Having a frank talk about money—feels awkward.
Thinking about having a discussion about your salary with your boss—feels terrifying.
We all feel this way at some point—aka you’re not alone.
But, what is it that makes talking about money so friggin’ scary? 🤷🏽♀️
REJECTION. (Or, to be a little less scary, just: rejection.) Or you know, the fear of it.
And, that’s totally normal. Rejection is one of our deepest human fears, and a big part of it lies in our fear of experiencing hurt and pain.1 We so deeply don’t want to feel bad, that we’d rather just not express ourselves. We’d rather abort the whole thing than give someone the chance to reject us. We decide that talking about our salary “isn’t that important” or that “it can wait.” But what we really mean is: we’re about to sh*t our pants because “OMG, what if I’m told I’m not worth X dollars?”
The thing is, we’ve all been told “no” before and, as it turns out, we’re not dead or hiding in our rooms thinking it’s the end of the world.
Why not? Because it’s the way it happens that matters. It’s how the discussion goes that matters. It’s how we feel throughout the whole process that matters. Sure, the outcome is pretty important—everyone deserves to be compensated fairly. But we, believe that the process is actually way more important than the outcome.
Okay, let’s dive in!
So why should you trust me, Audrey, with this super uncomfortable topic? Well, actually before I wrote this article I couldn’t really give you a solid answer to that because: I had never, not even once, negotiated my salary with my boss! And now you're probably thinking: how could I have written this blog post about it then? How could I help people prepare for something I’ve never gone through myself?
As Head of People at oxio, I know what the perfect salary discussion looks like in my mind. I know what I want it to feel like for our team members and our managers. I know that it should be an open-minded, transparent, empathetic & honest discussion. Those are all part of our core values—the ideals we live by at oxio—and that’s how I and everyone at oxio wants all of our interactions to be. But, is that really how it goes?
There was only one way to find out—ask our people!
That’s what I did, and wow was I not prepared for their answers. I knew oxio wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t realize that my coworkers felt so uncomfortable talking about their salary with their managers.
It was just the worst experience for me! It was horrible because I was not prepared for it. I did not know how to go about discussing my salary with my manager. - Eli Gingras, Full-Stack Software Developer
I was pretty shook, but I was excited to talk about it. I knew talking about it was the only way we could get people to change how they feel about discussing their salaries. You know, sitting down, or in oxio’s case, hanging out online with my coworkers and listening to the good and the bad they experienced when they talked about money with their managers.
So, what’s the best way to ask for a raise?
If I am being honest with you (and I will be, because being honest and transparent is a big deal for everyone at oxio), I was about to tell you that there’s no wrong way to ask for a raise. But, as I was sitting in my favourite coffee shop, looking through the window, thinking about it, I realized that this just isn’t true. There are, obviously, a few wrong ways to ask for a raise, just like there are wrong ways to deny someone a raise! These wrong ways are the reasons why a chat about your salary might go south.
However, I didn’t want the focus of this blog post to be about how to not to ask for a raise. I wanted to take a stab at walking you through how to prepare for it, so that when you’re ready, it all goes as smooth as silk.
Alright, now let me revisit four words I used a few paragraphs ago: open-minded, transparent, empathetic, and honest.
Of course I didn’t plant those for no reason, who do you think I am?! (Joking, joking. But seriously, they’re important.)
As I was having these conversations with my coworkers, I realized that all of their salary discussion stories were missing a good chunk of our core values. They were missing the most important ingredient: the oxio vibe.
So here’s a guide to discussing your salary with your boss. The goal: help you enjoy the process—or at least not pass out in the middle of it.
When is it “OK” to discuss your salary?
The right time to talk about your salary is anytime. We think that, when it comes to salary, it’s less about how long you’ve been at the job and way more about the roles and responsibilities you have taken on, the improvements you’ve made and the changes in the job market.
Now that we’ve acknowledged we’re all human beings with conquerable, rational fears, how do we go about actually going through with the damn thing?
Well, have you ever heard the famous saying “timing is everything”? (I know, you probably have…)
Well, that’s not for us—at least not when it comes to talking about you, your work, your salary, etc.
At oxio, we encourage everyone to discuss their remuneration (Why such a fancy word? You can read all about it in our Salaries are taboo. Here are ours. blog post.) at any time—and that goes for any discussion with your manager. No need to wait for performance reviews at the end of the year—the market is fluid, not time-stamped afterall. No need to wait for a win you can claim or a project that you just nailed. When you feel like your salary no longer reflects your top-of-personal-market—again, check out: Salaries are taboo. Here are ours.—it’s time to sit down and open the lines of communication with your boss.
Easier said than done, I know! But once you get it, you’re one step closer to having that discussion fearlessly. Okay, maybe not fearlessly, but pretty close.
So, how should I prepare myself?
When it comes to asking for a raise, I’ve got some helpful tips. And no, I didn’t invent these, I got them from my chats with my oxio team members.
- Being positive about your coworkers and the work you all do together will go over a lot better than bashing them all behind their backs.
- Arrive prepared. That means do your research. Bring data about your current role. How much people doing your work make elsewhere, new tasks you’ve taken on, a recent job offer you got. Anything.
- Be open to realizing you might already be making your Personal Top of Market.
- If you don’t know where to look for information on salary, ask.
- Be honest, transparent and up-front. Don’t say things you don’t mean—you know, like: “This isn’t a deal breaker.”—if it is a deal breaker.
- Be open to feedback.
Well, I really don’t think I need to elaborate on any of those. Except for the research one.
Do some transparent & honest research.
Going into any meeting without doing your research beforehand is a bad idea. Going into a meeting about your salary without doing any research is even worse!
Aka: get your data.
This is, honestly, the most important thing to do before entering any kind of talk about salary with your boss.
Your manager is (hopefully) going to come prepared for your meeting. They’re going to gather data from the market. They’re going to assess your skills, your autonomy, your experience, and the improvements you’ve made since your last chat. This discussion, like every discussion you have about your remuneration, will be about putting you in the right spot in your department’s compensation model. And that means you’ll, humbly need to know where you stand. That’ll only be possible if you’re transparent with yourself and your manager. So, ask yourself the right, usually hard to ask, questions.
Again: get your data. Sit down, dive into your department’s compensation model, ask questions to your manager about it, position yourself within it, and know why you are where you are. When you look into the market data (Glassdoor, SalaryExpert, Salary.com, etc.), make sure you consider where you live, the language(s) you speak, the industry you work in, the current turnover for your role, what additional capacity you brought to your team, whether you’re contributing in ways different from when you were hired, and how you’re more valuable to the team now than you were six months ago. Seriously, over-prepare. Dive into the “real life” data. Be humble & transparent with yourself—don’t just go for the big raise unless you’re really underpaid. All that to say: when the time comes to explain your findings, make sure you know what you’re talking about. Oh, and being humble doesn’t mean you can’t be confident. You’ve prepared for this. You know your shit. Prove it.
Open your mind to an empathetic discussion.
Get yourself in the right frame of mind.
Empathy. noun.: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Open-mindedness. noun.: a willingness to listen to or accept different ideas or opinions.
Remember that there are two people in this discussion and the idea is to come to an agreement that works for both of you. You can only do that if you’re open to the other’s opinion, and willing to understand, welcome, and accept their point of view.
Creating a safe place for open communication and trust is key to a salary discussion, and it needs to come from both sides. Simple enough, but also easier said than done.
Accept that you might face rejection.
- You might not get the raise you want—or any raise. If that happens, and after you’ve discussed it, you disagree, let your manager know you’re disappointed and why. Then, if you haven’t already, go and get an offer from another company. This doesn’t have to be a threat; it’s just the best way to get the true market value for your time.
- A “no” doesn’t mean the company doesn’t value you. (Hard to believe, but it’s true.)
- If your manager didn’t give you an adequate explanation, ask for one. A reason should always be given for any raise rejection. (This, you guessed it, is a big part of our culture of transparency and feedback.)
I’m not gonna lie. Sometimes, you won’t get what you want. You’ll do everything right. You’ll come prepared with your data in hand and an open mind but, you and your manager won’t be able to agree on the amount or conditions you had in mind. That’s OK, or I should say: that happens.
77 percent of workers do not believe the rationale for denying them a raise. And, when workers don’t believe their employer’s rationale for denying a raise, they are more likely to quit.2
In order for that not to happen, because believe me, a “no” doesn’t mean they want to lose you, team members AND managers need to keep that open communication happening until the end.
Managers, make sure you explain the train of thought that led you to your decision. And make sure you ask your team member how they feel once you settle on why they should not get the raise they were asking for.
Team members, share your feelings about your manager’s decision.
The safe space you created entering that discussion is still there, it’s up to you to keep the discussion going as truthfully as possible.
And no, a “no” does not mean you need to end the discussion and never talk about it again. If you truly feel, or know, you’re worth more than your current salary, go get an offer somewhere else! An offer from another employer doesn’t need to be posed as a threat - it’s simply another data point to help determine your true market value.
You read that right. We’re so obsessed with data and feedback that we’ll always take the time to reconsider when new information pops up - even if that information comes from another employer’s offer.
So, really: go get an offer that proves your position is being remunerated more elsewhere, come back with it, and open the discussion again. There’s no better way to prove your worth than to show your manager what you could be earning somewhere else. But you need to be committed to it. You need to be willing to make time for it. You need to be willing to accept another no. And, most importantly, you need to keep communicating with your manager throughout the process.
Let’s wrap this up.
The fear of rejection will always be one of the worst feelings a human being can experience, but discussing your salary with your boss shouldn’t be.
Being prepared, being open-minded, and being ready to communicate honestly are all things you can do to prevent being anxious about having that discussion with your manager.
Of course, the outcome might not be what you were hoping for, but if your fear of rejection prevents you from even starting the conversation, you’re no closer to getting that raise. And, at oxio, we don’t want anyone to feel like they can’t talk to us about their remuneration, working conditions, anything really.
We made our salaries public to everyone who works at oxio. We chose to be transparent and we continuously encourage other companies to open up their culture too. It’s time to end the unfair and unnecessary fear of rejection associated with salary discussions.
And, just like anything you’re looking to change, it starts by talking about it.