Asking for a Raise or Promotion During a Pandemic

Mike Gellman

What do a VP in an international Fortune 500 health care company, a Manager for a global entertainment brand, and a Sr. Engineer with a worldwide electronics manufacturer have in common?

Aside from being talented, loyal leaders in large, multi-national organizations whom I’ve been coaching the past several months, they are all feeling unfulfilled at work. As a result, they are beginning to wonder whether it makes sense to stay or look elsewhere.

•  Vinita (the VP) feels like she’s mastered her role after 10+ years with a strong team, but no longer feels challenged in her job. She would like a promotion with greater responsibility and influence with a seat “in the room where it happens.”

•  Adrienne (the Account Manager) has been with the company for just shy of a year, but a strong performer with a lot of drive. She’s received many accolades from senior managers. She’s growing impatient and wants a raise that corresponds more on the level with her superb contributions to the company thus far in her short time there.

•  Eduardo (the Sr. Engineer) has dutifully overseen a project team for over five years which he enjoys yet feels underappreciated by his boss. He’s been seeking greater acknowledgement of his value, plus a promotion with increased visibility within the organization. He just can’t seem to break through to the next level.

In short, they all feel underappreciated by the organizations they work for and are silently suffering inside. This makes them prime candidates for burnout, disengagement, and potential drop-offs in performance. However, what is one to do amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the worst economic downturns in decades?

Wouldn’t asking for a raise or promotion be selfish and tone-deaf for the times we’re in? Shouldn’t having a stable job be enough in this environment?

It’s pretty bold (some say brazen) to ask for a raise in the midst of an economic downturn while many organizations are struggling to survive. When asking for and negotiating a raise and/or promotion, you need to build and convey a strong business case to influence HR, the boss, and others to seriously consider your request.

Fortunately, organizations who want to remain nimble and employers of choice will typically strive to keep employees happy by keeping their compensation competitive with external job market conditions. In addition, vibrant organizations foster and maintain an engaged workforce so they can attract and retain talented employees. Even organizations going through layoffs, restructuring, and temporary salary reductions during the Covid-19 crisis ultimately want to ensure they retain the necessary talent to maintain business operations.

Here are six strategies to help you “RISE UP” to the occasion and prepare a strong business case for a promotion and/or a raise:

1. Research the position’s value by gathering both external and internal market data.

Ask your boss or HR about internal pay ranges and visit external websites such as LinkedIn,,, In addition, trade and industry associations often have benchmarking studies with relevant salary information. You can also ask others in similar roles inside and outside your company what a realistic range is for either your current position or the promotional position you are interested in.

2. Identify your strengths and inventory your contributions and capabilities.

Being clear on the value you bring to your current job and/or the value you can bring to your desired promotional position are essential for convincing an employer you’re worth it. At the same time, acknowledge any personal deficits you have and create a development plan to shore up deficiencies.

3. Strengthen your professional relationships and expand your network.

Not only will this increase your visibility within the organization, it also puts you in a better position to spot hidden opportunities and be considered for them even before they are advertised internally or externally. Sharing your enthusiasm with others around what you’re working on and what you’re proud of is a way to remain authentic (without boasting) while planting seeds in the minds and hearts of others who can be allies in your career journey. Moreover, you can cultivate allies and sponsors who will naturally advocate on your behalf. This includes your boss, mentors, peers, and other respected and influential leaders who have a vested interest in your success.

4. Establish an ideal outcome as well as an acceptable alternative outcome.

It’s best to be clear on how much you are asking for and when you want it. Having said that, it’s wise to demonstrate flexibility if the company can’t offer you more money or a position.

Valued Substitutes – What else would be of value to you? Be creative. For example, you can ask for a one-time bonus, tuition assistance towards obtaining a degree or certificate, attending conferences on company time, fitness and commuting subsidies, childcare support allowance, flexible hours, opportunity to work on a choice assignment, extra week of vacation each year, professional leadership or career coaching, and even approval to continue working from home once the pandemic subsides.

Delayed Timing – Oftentimes, your manager’s hands may be tied with a limited pool of funds to distribute during the annual performance and salary review period. You can sometimes negotiate staggered or “off-cycle” increases, gain commitment towards an expedited performance review and revisit eligibility for pay increases and promotions within a specified time frame or once company is on better financial footing.

5. Understand your primary audience.

Understanding your audience enables you to tailor your request based on what is important to them. Progressive HR professionals in midsize to large companies are typically concerned about “employee engagement” and maintaining what’s is referred to as “internal equity” among employees holding the same or similar jobs. They understand that the company can take a significant hit in morale when employees feel stagnant with their careers and/or discover pay disparities that can make the organization susceptible to potential discrimination lawsuits. More than ever, organizations are conscious of social justice issues and taking steps to close indefensible wage gaps between genders, race and unproven new hires brought in at higher salaries than tenured employees with proven track records.

6. Plan to “make the ask!”

I have had so many clients suffer in silence expecting their boss or others to read their mind and that “they should know” you deserve a raise or promotion. The reality is that organizational leaders are often balancing competing priorities and scarce resources. Since their attention is often spread thin, you need to ask for what you want! It’s also advantageous to be prepared with your well-thought out business case to make it easy as possible for them to say yes and to justify to HR and other senior leaders the merits of your request.

Which strategies will you use?

Do you need to prepare for an upcoming performance and salary review? I would love to partner with you and help you get the results you want. For a limited time, I am offering a special rate for my Performance Review & Salary Negotiation Prep package. Learn more about career and leadership coaching to support you and your organization. Book a complimentary discovery session for us to explore your options.

About the Author:
Mike Gellman is a seasoned coach, speaker, facilitator, and trusted advisor with 15+ years experience in Fortune 500, nonprofit, and family-owned organizations. He’s the author of Pipe Dreams: 7 Pipelines of Career Success and CEO of High Five Career Coaching which facilitates transformational business and career success among socially conscious, purpose-driven organizations, leaders, and technical professionals.