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How & When to Ask For a Promotion (or Raise) at Work

By Lisa Woods (2057 words)
Posted in New Employee, Promotion on December 11, 2012

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In an ideal world companies would use promotions as a means of motivating employees, incentivizing high performers and securing workplace loyalty.  But the reality is far different.  Unfortunately promotions are too often given to fill vacant positions, and loyal, consistent performers are overlooked because there is no need to make changes…they will continue to do great where they are.  Employees and their Managers don’t always see eye to eye on the subject.  This is what I refer to as the “Promotion Disconnect”:  The debate that takes place but never sees resolution until someone decides to quit.


So if you are ready for your next move, feel you deserve a salary adjustment, or want to take on more responsibility, how should you go about making your goal a reality?  Conversely, if you are a manager, or human resources professional who is faced with a request from an employee, how should you go about responding?


These are questions that I faced throughout my career from those I have mentored, from managers that blew off employee requests until a resignation was on their desk, and from human resource departments that passively responded to salary discrepancies; making standardized adjustments instead of strategic ones.  This article addresses how to eliminate the “Promotion Disconnect” from all levels.


Individuals Ready For Their Next Career Step or Next Salary Adjustment


Before you talk with anyone about your request, take the time to identify the following:


  1. What exactly do you want from your employer? A new title, more responsibility, more money?  Be specific!  

  2. What makes you ready for a promotion?  Have you concluded some training, already taken on additional responsibility? Can you define a business need that you feel you can be successful at fulfilling and why?

  3. What will you will be able to accomplish once the change is made?

  4. What time frame are you willing to live with for your employer to make a formal decision about your request? (immediate, six months, one year)

  5. What are your options if your employer does not agree to your request? Will you start to look for work elsewhere, or are you willing to maintain the status quo?


Do your homework:

  • Research pay scales in your area, for your current job and/or the job you are interested in. You can check this online and also by seeking out job listings for similar positions to see how much they are paying.

  • Document your success stories throughout the past year as a reminder to your boss.

  • If your job has morphed into a new one over a period of time, document the differences between the job you are being paid for and the job you are currently doing. You may already be doing the new job without the pay or title.


Present your request & your homework to your Direct Manager.

  • Set up a formal meeting with your boss.  DO NOT wait for your year-end review.  You should set this meeting up at least six months in advance of your review and definitely before year-end (preferably right before your company’s budgeting process begins).

    • Your boss needs time to plan, get approvals, etc.. for any changes.  If he/she does not budget for the change, you may be waiting another year.

    • Your approach should be calm, professional and full of facts and examples.  Have confidence in your presentation and yourself.

    • Make sure you request a follow-up meeting date/time to review the response to your request.

  • If your boss is quick to respond on behalf of the company….

    • We really are not giving out any increases right now.

    • I can’t promote you because there is a hiring freeze.

    • We don’t really give out promotions until you are doing the new job for a while to prove yourself in it.

    • ..or some other crazy excuse to make you back off so they don’t have to do their job as your boss.  

    • When you hear any of these negative responses, take your request to the next phase.


Present your request & your homework to your Human Resources Manager

  • Set up a formal meeting with your HR Leader.  Again timing is crucial to get this in before budget and year-end.

  • You are not there to complain about your boss, but you are there to speak up and state your case.

  • Present the same case you made to your boss.  Explain that you already spoke with your boss but are still waiting for resolution, or are not satisfied with the response you received and wanted to get a second opinion from HR.

    • HR cannot ignore a pay discrepancy if it is a real one.

    • They will be able to conduct research and bring it to your boss’s attention.

  • Be prepared for the following question:

    • If we don’t do anything, will you decide to leave?

      • Try not to answer yes or no to this question.  Stay positive: you like your job but you believe you deserve more, or are ready for more and just want to know where you stand with the company.  And you want to feel confident you have a future where you can continue to grow in your career.

Read through our advice for Managers & Human Resources.

  • Appreciate what they need to do to process your request.

  • At the end of the day if a "Promotion Disconnect" exists, next steps are at the end of this article.


Advice for Managers


You have a tough job balancing management of results with management of people.  Sometimes it is easy to take advantage of employees that continue to perform well without a lot of direction.  Let’s face it; your job is to keep your budget down while improving results.  But what is your company’s policy on pay and promotions?  Do you know?


Some managers are afraid to ask for wage increases for their employees because of their own beliefs, not the beliefs of the overall organization.  Make sure you find out your company’s policy before saying no to an employee’s request.

  • Understand pay scales in your organization.

  • Review your entire staff and where they fit in each scale.  If they are not paid properly due to pre-existing scenarios, work with your HR leader to put a rectifying plan in place over the next several pay increase periods.  In some cases wages are held flat due to pay being too high.  Be informed and educated at all times; don’t wait until you are prompted to do so by an employee.  If you are proactive you won’t be hit with large adjustments to your budgets; you can phase change in over several years.

  • If an employee approaches you with a request for raise or promotion, actively listen to them.  Don’t respond with excuses, just absorb the information and explain to them that you will consider if there is anything you can do that makes sense for both them and the company.

  • If you have the ability to make changes and believe it is a fair request, move forward.  But if you are not sure, do not just sit on the request.  Sit down with Human Resources and ask for their opinion on the matter.  Have them do some wage research for you and put a plan together to respond to your employee’s request.  If the answer is no, be prepared to justify why with a clear and professional explanation. This may be enough to satisfy your employee if they feel you took them seriously and spent time investigating it with HR.

  • If your perspective on the employee’s readiness is different than the employee’s own perspective, detail what you believe they need to do in order to be considered for a promotion or raise.  Help them to put the steps in place whether that be results, education or behaviorally driven. Then set up a 3 or 6-month follow-up to review their progress.


Advice for Human Resource Managers


Please keep in mind that pay policy is not something that managers typically get training on, nor are they going to feel comfortable asking for help unless they are prompted.  It is worth your effort to proactively meet with your company’s management staff to review how to handle pay discrepancies, promotions & raises.


Here are some other helpful tools you can provide on a proactive basis:

  • Pay scale ranges and your opinion on where each employee ranks.

  • Recommendations on remedies for unfair pay situations.

  • Coach managers on how to develop & mentor their employees.  Ask them to prepare a theoretical next step for each employee on their team.

  • Train managers on conducting employee reviews.


Moving Past a "Promotion Disconnect"


The “Promotion Disconnect” exists because pay policy and work product are not always understood, or understood the same way, by all parties (Employee, Manager, HR).  By implementing the above actions, we can all do our part to respect one another.  This respect leads to happy employees, motivated organizations and better business results.


If you are an employee seeking a raise or promotion and find out that your organization does not agree with your request.  Look yourself in the mirror and ask if you are truly justified?  Keep an open mind and listen to feedback regarding what the company feels you need to do before they can consider moving forward.  If you are not happy, at least you know where you stand…start to quietly take your time to find a new job…and stay positive.  You gain nothing from being disgruntled.  Make the best of your situation and control what you have in your control.


  1. Make your case to Management and HR to evaluate where you stand with your company.

  2. Continue self-study and any other training/professional development opportunities.

  3. Seek out additional responsibilities that you can gain experience from (whether you are paid for them or not).

  4. Go on interviews and see where you stand externally.


No matter what the result, you are in charge of moving yourself forward.  Your positive and proactive approach will be noticed and you will see the benefit eventually.


If you haven’t done so already, please join our community to receive professional development updates from experts who are here to help you grow, learn, and experience professional success.


Good Luck!





Written by Lisa WoodsPresident & CEO ManagingAmericans.com

Lisa is a successful entrepreneur, world-class marketing strategist, dynamic business leader & author with more than 20 years experience leading, managing and driving growth in the corporate world. Today she provides Management Tools, Do-It-Yourself Training, and Business Assessments for small to mid size companies, Lisa utilizes her experience with integration techniques, organizational and cultural overhauls, financial turnarounds and strategic revitalization to help other companies succeed.  Closing the gap between strategy and hierarchy through the use of effective communication skills, Lisa's techniques successfully develop employees into exceptional leaders, results driven managers and passionate team contributors that collectively exceed objectives.


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Comments (3)

William Woloschuk posted on: December 16, 2012

hi Lisa, As mentioned in this article, assess your options before you go forward and ask for a promotion, raise at work. Strategically, do it when your employer is 'vulnerable' and will be impacted if you decide to leave, don't leave it up to them.

Dianna Booher posted on: December 16, 2012

Very detailed and helpful way to structure this kind of conversation, Lisa.

Solomon Kelaetse posted on: December 21, 2012

Promotion shouldn't be asked for, companies should used performance management tools and succession and developmental programs to ensure that employees are ready for promotions. When time for promotions approaches, this tools will make the discussion easy

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