Three years into her role as the director of fundraising for a nonprofit, my client Denise believed she was due for a salary increase. During her tenure in the position, Denise’s team increased donor gifts by millions. In the last year alone, they raised more than twice their annual fundraising goal. Emboldened by this accomplishment, Denise felt confident about requesting an increase. She spent weeks preparing to meet with him – researching salaries for similar positions, thinking through her justifications, and practicing the conversation in her head. It never even crossed her mind that she might be denied a raise.
But when Denise finally approached her boss, he shut her down. She was overcome with disappointment when he told her, “Unfortunately, we’re not in a position to offer more at the present time. We can revisit this conversation six months from now. Until then, keep doing what you’ve been doing.”
Maybe you’ve been in Denise’s shoes before, looking forward to a discussion about compensation or to your annual review, only to feel dejected when you’re told “no.” It takes gumption to ask for more money, and being rejected can hurt your self-esteem.
Even in the face of her boss’s rejection, Denise remained confident in her abilities and the value of her contributions. She resolved not to internalize the rejection or let it impact her performance. You can do the same.
How You Should Respond After Being Denied a Raise
Be diplomatic in your response.
It’s normal to be emotional when faced with rejection. After the meeting with your boss, take time to acknowledge and process your feelings. Center yourself with a couple of deep breaths, then look for the most diplomatic way to react.
For example: “Thank you for letting me know. I’m sure it won’t surprise you to hear that I feel disappointed that the organization can’t accommodate a compensation increase. Despite that, I am still dedicated to delivering my best. I look forward to talking further about how I can bring more value to my position.”
By replying this way, you show appreciation for your supervisor’s transparency and establish that you’re resilient when faced with a problem. You also leave the door open for a future conversation about your compensation.
Explore potential obstacles that may have contributed to your boss’s denial. Approach with an attitude of curiosity, and keep any defensiveness you may be feeling out of your tone and body language. You might ask if you’ve reached the highest salary band for your position or if the company is anticipating a change in revenue. Get more information with questions like:
- What are some factors that informed this decision?
- How are compensation and performance evaluated?
- What could I be doing more of?
Additional data will help you decide whether to stay with the company and advocate for an increase to your salary. Or whether the better move is to strategize your exit and prepare for a new position where you’ll be valued.
By soliciting details about your manager’s perspective, you’ll be empowered to propose alternate solutions that may be better received. As an example, a past client of mine asked for an additional $20,000 per year. Her supervisor made a counteroffer, saying that while they could not accommodate a $20,000 raise, they could offer $10,000 plus a new bonus.
You can also negotiate for:
- Stock options
- A new job title
- Additional vacation time
- Resources for professional development
- A work-from-home arrangement or flexible schedule
- Funding for upgrades to your home office
Keep the conversation going.
When you hear “no,” remind yourself that it’s not the end of the conversation. A rejection can mark the beginning of a negotiation rather than the end of one because it opens a dialogue between the stakeholders.
If your request for a raise has been denied, turn that rejection into an opportunity. My client Denise scheduled a follow-up meeting with her boss, the CEO, where she proposed a development plan for the next year. They mapped out a strategy to get her to the next level, complete with metrics and specific ways she could improve. Denise periodically touched base with her boss to ensure she was on track. This demonstrated to the CEO that Denise was serious about her goal and determined to follow through, and also offered ongoing reinforcement about the fact that her performance continued to surpass the benchmarks they’d set.
When you’re making a case for a salary increase, it’s crucial to make your accomplishments known. Find ways to get the word out about your impact. Maybe you give a case study presentation in a meeting. Or perhaps you become a guest on industry podcasts to establish yourself as a thought leader.
Another great technique is to start off each meeting with your supervisor by sharing your recent successes. Make sure to frame your accomplishments in terms of how they impact your clients or your company as a whole, not just as personal achievements.
Find other advocates.
Many organizations are moving toward flat structures and away from strict hierarchies. If the power in your workplace is decentralized, your supervisor may be one of several stakeholders who contributes to your career path, including whether you receive a salary increase.
You may consider asking for a skip-level meeting with your boss’s boss, where you brief them on your contributions and your work. By building relationships with additional stakeholders who hold authority, you’re cultivating multiple allies who will be in your corner when opportunities for advancement arise.
Remind yourself that while being denied a raise may feel like a setback, it’s an opportunity for growth.