In my monthly Q&A sessions, I commonly receive a lot of questions about raises. This one comes up frequently:
How long is “normal” to go without a raise? Is it a problem to have the same salary for 5 years or more?
Here are my thoughts on the subject and some key points you should keep in mind if you’re experiencing pay stagnancy.
Some organizations adjust pay annually by a minimal amount (like 2 or 3 percent) to keep up with inflation and the rising cost of living. This kind of pay adjustment is different from a merit-based raise. However, if you haven’t had any kind of pay increase for 5 years, including a minimal cost-of-living adjustment, it’s important to realize that you are now making less than you were 5 years ago due to inflation. Still, this kind of “raise” doesn’t do much for you in real terms.
For anyone who has gone a prolonged time without a real raise, my question is always this: Have you asked? If not, you need to do that first. And before you do, read this article to ensure you approach the conversation strategically.
If you have consistently delivered strong, measurable contributions to the organization and you’re not being compensated in a way that reflects that, a raise is absolutely justified. You should be vocal about your desires and why the increase is deserved.
If you have delivered exceptional over-and-beyond value, and you’ve asked for a raise and been denied many times over again, then it may be time to consider other opportunities—regardless of the reasons you’re given or the “promises” you may be hearing about the future. Sure, budgets may be tight and rules may exist that limit what you can earn. But unless you really just love working at your organization and don’t mind holding out for something to change, you’re probably better off looking elsewhere.
Going five or more years without a raise creates a dangerous pattern for your career. Hiring companies always want to see that you’ve progressed in your previous employment, and a rising salary is one sign of progression. If you remain stagnant, that doesn’t look good.
Plus, your current salary is generally seen as a “starting point” for salary negotiations with other employers. The higher you are now, the better off you’ll be in the future.
Unfortunately, there is no hard-and-fast rule about how often raises should be given. I always advocate that pay should reflect value, not time. You need enough time to deliver great value, and your organization needs enough time to see the impact of your work. How long that takes depends on any number of factors.
You also need to consider where you are on the pay scale already and how much room you have for growth. How much do you earn as compared to your peers in similar roles and with similar qualifications? If you’re already at the top of the pay range (meaning: you couldn’t easily go elsewhere and earn more for this work), you’re likely to have a tougher time getting your raise. Thus, you may experience longer periods of pay stagnancy, which may be unavoidable.
My most basic guidance is this: If you feel you deserve a raise, ask for it and take the evidence with you to prove your case. If you’ve asked and still no raise has happened, consider how long you’re willing to wait and then create a plan to go get what you deserve elsewhere. No employer should expect high-performers to stick around forever without enjoying some kind of financial growth.