IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Should you ask for a raise during a pandemic?

HR and financial experts offer their advice on how to tackle the issue.
Collage illustration of a hand extended and a hand with money
If a raise isn't feasible right now, there are other perks you can request.Katty Huertas / TODAY / Getty Images
/ Source: TMRW

With unemployment rates at a high and many companies slashing employee salaries to stay afloat, asking for a raise right now might sound a bit crazy. After all, if you're still employed during the COVID-19 pandemic, you're pretty darn lucky.

You may be tempted to shelve the raise conversation for now, but you don't have to lose all hope yet. Even in a pandemic, there are still ways to seek recognition for your hard work and many companies are willing to work with their employees to offer alternate benefits in lieu of a raise. TMRW sought the help of HR and financial experts alike to find out how to approach the topic with your boss and discover what other benefits you might be able to negotiate right now.

For more stories from our "Women & Work" issue, follow TMRW on Instagram at @tmrwxtoday.

Should you ask for a raise right now?

Most of us rely on an annual raise (however small or big it may be) to help deal with the ever-growing cost of living, so it's natural to feel disappointed, upset or even stressed if you found out that your company isn't handing out raises this year.

It's not all bad news, though. Part of an employer's job is making sure that their loyal, hard-working employees are happy, engaged and motivated, so you might be able to get another type of monetary reward in lieu of a raise.

"Rewarding employees does not always require a huge corporate investment. Spot bonuses and cash awards are great ways to recognize an employee’s contribution while managing compensation budgets. Plus, these payments tend to boost morale," Marta Moakley, legal editor at the human resources website XpertHR, said.

If your company isn't handing out raises across the board, they might be willing to make an exception if you can prove that you should be making more than you currently are based on salary market averages.

"If an employer knows that you are underpaid and knows that their compensation plan needs calibration work and you can show your value to the organization, depending on certain variables, it is possible that an individual can get a raise even off-cycle," Ruhal Dooley, knowledge advisor at the human resources association SHRM, said.

Whatever you do, just be prepared to read the room and gracefully accept if the answer is still "no" when you ask for a raise, a bonus or any other monetary reward.

"Many employers right now under the pandemic are in survival mode. They are trying to stay afloat and while a raise is possible in this environment, considering timing is important in approaching an employer for a raise," Dooley said. "It may be better to take advantage of this time to increase your value to your organization so that when the economy improves, the request for a raise can be bold and robust and more likely to be honored."

What other perks can you negotiate?

Even if a raise isn't in the cards this year, you still deserve to reap the benefits of all your hard work. And if your employer isn't already offering you alternate benefits to soften the blow, you can always request them yourself.

"Depending on the size of the company, there are many other benefits to ask for in lieu of a raise," Trina Patel, financial advice manager at money management app Albert, said. "You can get creative here as each industry and company is different — consider what your employer will be able to offer, even if it's nonmonetary (i.e. a flexible work schedule). Employers understand this is a difficult time, and while their hands may be tied on your salary, they may be willing to work with you."

We're all motivated by different things, and whether you're craving some additional paid-time off, would love a company-paid cell phone or really want to make your remote-working arrangement permanent, you might be able to score some unexpected workplace perks right now.

"Bringing some of these suggestions to a supervisor or HR — and making your argument from an engagement and retention standpoint (which enhances a company's bottom line) — should help an employee’s case for reaping any available rewards," Moakley said.

While some HR policies are typically inflexible, companies might actually be willing to bend the rules a bit right now.

"Many employees won’t be able to use their PTO or vacation days this year. A company may choose to make exceptions to their current PTO/vacation leave policies and allow employees to roll over a higher portion of their accumulated days into the next fiscal year," Moakley said.

If you're not sure what type of benefits you can realistically request, it helps to research your company's competitors to see what they offer before you make your case. Here's a quick cheat sheet with a few additional perks you can consider requesting:

  • Loan repayment
  • Education assistance
  • Athletic facilities / memberships
  • Commuting benefits
  • Company stock options/equity
  • Child care assistance
  • Achievement awards (i.e., cash for earning a certification)
  • Work from home setup (i.e., money for a desk and other necessities)

How to stay motivated when you're not getting a raise

Money isn't the only thing that motivates employees, but it's certainly one of the more common motivating factors. And after a year of working hard, it's understandable if you're finding it hard to get excited about work without a pay raise on the horizon.

If you generally enjoy your job and need a boost to help you get back into the right mindset, there are a few ways to reenergize yourself right now.

"You could take on some responsibilities that may be offered ... New experiences at work, while a challenge, help to keep an employee motivated and can fuel personal growth," Moakley said.

This is also the perfect time to get to know and bond with your colleagues since you're all in the same boat right now.

"Building camaraderie and supporting one another are often overlooked, yet invaluable ways of maintaining motivation," Dooley said. "A sense of belonging keeps people motivated. When people feel that they are a valued part of a team, they want to contribute even when they are underpaid."