By: Rachel Heisterkamp
Conversations about compensation or promotions are notorious for being uncomfortable – but sometimes, that discomfort isn’t just aimed at employees themselves. End-of-year pay cycles and performance management processes can also put people managers in a tricky position, as it’s a common time for employees to initiate discussions around pay increases or promotions. When these requests come up, your reaction and response can make a huge impact in how the employee views themselves, the company, and the equity of the process. As we approach end-of-year pay and performance cycles, be prepared for these types of requests with these tips:
1. Listen, listen, listen
According to an extensive SHRM survey, during conversations between a manager and a worker about performance, the number one factor that causes miscommunication is when the worker feels that they aren’t listened to. Ask follow-up questions, and really let your employee lay out their reasoning behind the request. To really make sure an employee feels heard in these uncomfortable scenarios, respond with deliberation, not on impulse.
Consider using phrases like these:
- “Great. Let’s talk more about your goals and work this year.”
- “I really appreciate your request. I’ll review this with our department head and should have an answer for you soon.”
- “You’re certainly very valuable to this team. Thanks for bringing this to my attention, let’s chat again in two weeks when I have more information.”
2. Come back (later) with concrete answers
There’s little chance you’ll be able to give a definitive “yes” or “no” to your employee’s request in the moment. Once you’ve ended the initial conversation with clear action items, think about how you’ll approach this conversation with your own manager and with HR. If your organization uses salary bands, you’ll have a pretty clear idea about whether there’s wiggle room for a raise for your employee. Or, if your people team has specific documentation on roles & requirements, those guidelines should be your first stop when considering a promotion. In either case, it’s critical that you ask yourself, “does this person consistently go above and beyond the scope of their role?”
In other words, a single successful project isn’t always enough to justify a more permanent reward – although, that doesn’t mean you come back to them empty-handed. You can consider asking leadership for a one-time bonus for the employee, provide access or registration to an exciting conference or workshop, or offer company stock options. There are, truly, several ways you can show your employee that you value them – and though what’s possible for the organization may not always match the request, as a manager you can use these opportunities to go to bat for your team and find creative ways to show appreciation.
3. Equip everyone with context
You and your employee will have an easier time in promotion or raise conversations when you both know how roles and salaries operate in the organization. If an employee is unaware of how salary bands or job levels work, they’re less likely to make these requests, but you also run the risk of employee burnout or negative morale. Clear, transparent information about these topics is a great way to boost motivation as well as understanding and employee empowerment – but you need a strategic communications program to make sure this information lands in front of your team.
As a starting point, consider promoting compensation and performance education as part of a year-round communications strategy. The more employees know about how these processes work at your organization, the better enabled they’ll be to work toward those goals in their everyday work – not just as a final push toward their year-end review. And, for people managers like you, you’ll be able to embed this knowledge sharing as part of regular performance check-ins or one-on-one meetings, so these types of requests don’t feel as surprising when they arise.
While conversations about raises or promotions may be uncomfortable, the way you ultimately react and respond can make a huge impact on your employees’ sense of their own value at work. Even when the request they’re making isn’t feasible – whether due to company budget or a simple lack of evidence to justify the change – there are still ways people managers can make these discussions an overall positive experience. By actively listening, going to bat for your team, and ultimately using proactive education as a first step, raise and promotion requests will always lead to a more empowered team.