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I got a lousy raise -- should I confront my boss?

Most of us want more money. But sometimes getting even a well-deserved raise or promotion can be difficult, if not impossible. Consider this email from a reader:

I had discussions with my boss a few months before my review about getting a raise because they gave me an entry-level wage with the promise of raises. He told me I had to wait until my review to be fair to other employees in the company (supposedly they only like giving raises one time a year), but he believes I deserve to get up to industry standards. I got a glowing review. My boss said I was the best at my job that my boss has ever worked with, and he would discuss with the director of finance about how much my raise would be. A month later, my boss pulls me in his office and says that my raise would only be 3 percent, a cost of living raise basically, and that he and the director of finance were both fighting to get me more. He told me to check back in a month.
I checked back a month ago, and he tells me the wage committee didn't have time to discuss my raise at this time and that they will look into it next quarter and he is disappointed in how the company is handling my wage. I come to find out last week that another employee got a raise. I feel like I have been slapped in the face numerous times by this whole situation. Do I confront my boss about this, seeing as I wasn't supposed to find out about the other employee's raise? This is a company who says they like to be fair to all employees, but they do stuff like this all the time....

First, the letter writer did everything right. It's common for companies to only give out raises at the time of your annual review,so employees who want a raise should bring it up a few months before their annual review. Usually, raises have been determined around the time they walk in the door for the review, and it's very difficult, if not impossible, to change it at that time.

But can you "confront" your boss in a situation like this? Well, anytime someone uses the term "confront" I cringe. Why? Because it is an aggressive term that sets people as adversaries. Save your confrontations for things against actual enemies. The boss, in this case, is not an enemy. And, unless there are signs that he's a two-faced jerk, he's probably telling the truth.

When you're hired into an entry-level job, your manager is likely a lower level manager. He or she is probably pretty new to managing people and has a whole host of people on top that can veto every single decision -- especially ones involving pay. Why? The money supply is not unlimited.

At many companies here is how money for raises works.

1. The senior leadership team determines an overall budget for salary increases. This is usually expressed as a percentage of current payroll. So they may say 3 percent is available for increases.

2. Each manager has a budget of 3 percent of her staff's salary to work with. If you give 5 percent to one person, you're forced to give less than 3 percent to another person. Overall, it has to come out to 3 percent.

3. Senior managers can override decisions. A lower level manager may well say that his entry-level person deserves a 5 percent increase, but the senior manager may decide that that money is better spent on one of her direct reports. So she takes 2 percent away from 10 different entry-level people in order to give a bigger raise to her pick.

4. Some small percentage of money is set aside for increases throughout the year, whether it be for a promotion, or a bump up to help someone hit market rate. Again, this money is controlled at high levels.

In this case, the fact that someone else received a raise doesn't mean that your boss is lying or that he's not trying to get you a decent pay hike. It just means that the powers that be have determined that, given the limited supply of money, someone else is more deserving.

Ether than "confront" a boss, just ask for an update. You can even begin it with, "I know the finance committee met and decided on some raises because John received a raise. Can you tell me where I stand?" Keep in mind, as well, that a 3 percent raise may well be considered an above-average raise, especially for an entry-level person.

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