A common question I’m hearing lately goes something like this:
My organization has recently downsized and now I’m doing more work covering for some colleagues who were laid off. I think I deserve a raise, but is that a reasonable request given that we just had to let people go?
This is a great question…and a tough one to answer. When it comes to compensation, a lot of factors come into play. It’s not as easy as saying, “Well, I’m doing more so I should get more!” That makes sense intuitively, but when you take everything else into consideration, it might not be such a smart request. You don’t want to sound out-of-touch or oblivious to the greater needs of the organization.
Layoffs are often an indication of financial turmoil or predicted future turmoil—though, of course, not always. It’s not unheard of for companies to use uncertain times as a convenient excuse to cut low performing workers, even when it’s not a financial necessity.
Whatever the reason, layoffs often result in the remaining employees taking on additional duties.
However, it’s important to realize that the added workload could be temporary. This isn’t necessarily a permanent change in your duties.
In this kind of situation, I always advise that you wait for things to shake out before asking for a raise. Let 3-6 months pass and then, assess the situation and determine whether or not a request for a raise makes sense. See if the duties you absorbed are still on your plate or if some of them have fallen off.
If the company downsized for financial reasons, perhaps you will have a better idea of whether or not that action helped put things back on track. If the downsizing happened for other reasons, you should be able to figure that out too by this point.
Interestingly, just because a company is struggling financially (or taking proactive steps due to future concerns), doesn’t mean you can’t still earn a raise. It certainly happens. When the workforce has downsized, each person becomes more critical to continued operations. I’ve seen plenty of people get raises even in the midst of layoffs.
If you believe your role has changed significantly enough—and the value you’re contributing has increased enough—to warrant a raise, make a case and see what happens. Don’t pre-emptively decline your own request before you’ve even asked.
At the same time, recognize that tough times for the organization may trickle down and impact you. There might not be any financial flexibility—regardless of the workload you’re taking on or the value you’re contributing. There’s also the concern of optics: Can your leader justify giving raises when people have literally just lost their jobs? You might have to “take one for the team” if you want to stay where you are. The hope would be that, once the difficult time has passed (hopefully quickly), those who were loyal and stuck it out will be rewarded.
You’ll have to use your judgement regarding how forcefully you advocate for yourself. There’s nothing wrong with asking, even when the environmental factors are uncertain (like what we’re experiencing in 2020). But pushing too hard can damage your reputation. You have to understand that often there are factors far beyond your control that impact these decisions. Often, the factors are also beyond the control of your immediate superiors. Pushing too aggressively can come off as short-sighted and unprofessional.
If not getting a raise is totally unacceptable to you, it may be time to shop the competition. Even in the most difficult times, there are always thriving organizations in need of good people.
If you don’t want to launch a job search (and deal with the inevitable stress that comes with it), continue where you are and approach the raise conversation in another 6 months. Circumstances can change dramatically in a short period of time. Just because it wasn’t feasible before, doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future, especially if you keep building your value.
As with all things pay-related, there are a lot of nuances and organizational differences. The most important thing to keep in mind is this: Advocate for what you deserve, but always keep a big picture perspective at the same time. Pay is not determined solely based on YOU and what YOU do. The organization has a whole host of factors to consider. You won’t always be privy to them, and you won’t always agree with them. But being a part of an organization means its needs come first.