Career Woman

3 lateral-thinking ways to get a pay rise


There are many ways to measure success in the workplace, and one of the most common is a pay rise. How long has it been since you’ve had a pay rise?

Making sure that you stay on track with an increased cost of living and are rewarded for your tenure and expertise is important for your lifestyle, self-esteem and personal goals. So often I hear that it isn’t easy to ask for a pay rise. Many organisations will not review a staff member’s salary or wage rate unless they are asked and yet inherently I hear the risks of being fired for asking for more money stop you in your tracks. Let me show you three lateral-thinking ways to get the pay rise you deserve.

Recently I was mentoring a manager who’d been working for the same organisation for 15 years. She hadn’t had a pay rise in 10 years. Her employer is a medium sized business employing 25 people, mostly contractors and casuals who are paid ahead of prescribed industrial awards, and the company believes this is enough. My client felt that she might be dismissed for asking for a pay rise. I’ve heard a version of this story so many times over too many years. In the 10 years that she hadn’t received a review she lamented that her take-away coffee had gone from $2 to $3.80 and the tolls to and from work from $2 to $16 a day. It was fair to say she was going backwards and feeling it big time.

As an employer myself it’s unsurprising that your employer isn’t giving you a pay rise. Employers often bypass thinking about increasing the already high cost of staff and years go by without your boss even realising that you are feeling sidelined and unappreciated as you stay at the same level of remuneration taking a self-esteem slide as you go backwards while working even longer and paying more for literally everything. Your boss or the owner of the business may be surging forwards financially or they may be in the same position as you are, taking home less in real terms. This scenario either way just means that you’ll need a lateral-thinking approach to get the pay rise you deserve.

By the time 2, 5 or 10 years have passed and you’ve had no pay rise there’s a strong passive aggressive urge that sets into your beliefs and attitude. Sadly, this is normal. It’s at this point that you are scanning the algorithms of Seek, Indeed and LinkedIn looking for a new job. These casual searches then start popping up with ideas for new roles in your social media channels and Google profile screens urging you even more to be serious and change jobs. Your resignation comes as a shock and at a very high price to your employer. Replacing your knowledge and your unconscious level of competence in the company will be costly. All you can think is, ‘For goodness sake – if you think I’m of value now that I’m leaving you could have kept me had you just made sure I kept up with the cost of living!’

In all honesty your boss probably has no idea that you want or feel you deserve a pay rise and your silence isn’t helping you.

If you have had enough of feeling underpaid and under loved, here are 3 lateral-thinking ways to get a pay rise every year.

1. Dress one level up

A number of years ago I was consulting to a large organisation in Australia and a young staff member approached me one day and asked if I’d be willing to have a coffee with her as she needed some career advice. I agreed. She wanted a pay rise and more responsibility. My immediate thought was to give her some practical advice about how she was presenting herself at work and how she could easily elevate her status and move ahead. Her usual work outfits were definitely okay for the role she was in and my advice to her was to elevate her appearance. We had a look at Pinterest together and pinned some images that were “one level up” from her role and the look of the person she aspired to be at work. With a less is more approach she upgraded her attire, took a fresh look at her hair and makeup and took her look to a higher level than was required for her role. She was noticed within weeks. Her colleagues commented on her look, even made a few remarks about her professionalism at the next level and a month later when she sat with the Human Resources department to request a salary review it was granted. By dressing one level up and with her new look she elevated the way in which her employer viewed her contribution to the company.

Visual processing is a strong attribute for many people, so how you present yourself gets noticed. Even if your work attire involves strict codes or a uniform there are many ways you can make sure that your appearance is the level above. Doing this is a great way to earn respect and be seen as an employee who cares and is worth elevating.

2. Do E-Learning on your soap box

Make your pay increase all about being of service to the organisation you work for. This is going to be the best reverse-engineered idea you can ever do to grow your salary every year. Go to your boss at least every 6 months and ask him or her, “How can I be of greater service to the organisation? And what knowledge do we need here?” Your employer will love you for doing this. Then find an e-course that you can do in your own time to gain the knowledge. Tell your boss what you are doing and make sure you’re on your soap box so he or she sees your initiative and truly recognises that you are 100% congruent with being of extra service to the organisation. With e-courses today you can listen to a 20-30 minute podcast on your commute. Here’s the trick, your boss may offer to pay for your e-learning, and I suggest you decline this offer and instead say to your boss, “I am willing to pay for my course and when I return with the knowledge that is valuable to the business I would love you to review my pay.” So few people think of asking for the specific ways that they can be of service to the organisation as a way of gaining a pay increase. How often have you intuited what your organisation needs, done the e-course or training yourself and then gone back to work completely unnoticed and feeling dejected that you are unappreciated? This has to end! Communicate frequently with your boss. E-courses these days are a small investment and every course you do becomes another feather in your cap aiding your career. As you invest in your own development you are investing in the organisation you work for. This is the perfect platform to ask for a pay rise every year.

3. Make requests small and frequent

So many people wait years before asking for a pay rise and then they are so far behind in real terms in keeping up with the cost of living they need to resign and find a new job to get ahead. My suggestion is that you ask for a small pay increase only and ask for it every year. My client who waited 10 years to ask for a pay rise was so behind by the time she had the courage to ask for a review that no amount of increase was going to be enough to assist her recoup her lifestyle slide. A small increase each year would have made all the difference. When you ask for a raise always make it about the business and ask your boss what the business outcomes are frequently. Employers love knowing that you are aligned with their goals. Then take the goals of your boss back to him or her as you ask for a pay increase. Your boss wants you to be selfless and I understand that you want to be recognised, so speak his or her language, be on side with his or her goals and align yourself as a leader in this process. Then ask for a small increase every year.

About Madelaine Cohen

Madelaine Cohen is an entrepreneur, motivational speaker and business mentor who loves to share her light-bulb moments. She’s the author of The Lateral-Thinking Entrepreneur book series available from

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