Can you still ask for a raise in a pandemic?

An employee counts U.S. dollar bills at a money exchange office in central Cairo, Egypt, March 20, 2019.
An employee counts U.S. dollar bills at a money exchange office in central Cairo, Egypt, March 20, 2019.
Image: Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
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The economic outlook is rough. The prospect of further layoffs looms. But if you think the coronavirus pandemic means you can’t ask for a raise—well, that’s exactly what your employers want you to think.

“A lot of companies are having record months, even now,” says career adviser Karen Coffey, whose coaching business has worked with employees of companies ranging from Walt Disney and Bank of America to Berkshire Hathaway. “Don’t just assume they’re struggling, because they will use that to ward off employees from asking.”

Instead, she recommends asking for a raise much as you normally would—that is, after lots of careful research and preparation, so that you can point clearly to evidence that your contributions are helping the company succeed.

But she does have a handful of pandemic-specific tips. For starters:

Don’t mention the economy in negotiations

“Don’t ever bring up the pandemic in asking for a raise,” Coffey says. “Business has not stopped, so don’t open that escape hatch.”

If your boss brings up the economic climate during the conversation, Coffey says, acknowledge the problem, but emphasize how the work you’re doing is helping to keep the company afloat.

“You can say, Maybe business is not booming, but this is what I’ve brought to the table,” she suggests. “Maybe you’ve brought something that is saving them right now.”

Don’t discuss your personal financial situation

The pandemic has also taken a toll on many people’s finances, so it may seem relevant to mention a laid-off spouse or extra childcare costs in explaining why you’re asking for a higher salary now. But Coffey advises against it.

“It depends on your relationship with management,” she says. But “quite honestly, your personal situation doesn’t matter to the bottom line of the company.”

Since the information is unlikely to sway your boss’s decision, it’s better to focus on the factors that will.

Do highlight how your job has changed

The pandemic has changed some people’s jobs in a way that certainly merits a raise—whether they’ve absorbed extra work after a company declined to backfill a teammate’s position, or taken on extra responsibilities or risk as a front-line worker.

Front-line workers in particular ought to have a lot of leverage right now, Coffey notes. “I see a lot of front-line workers leaving their positions, saying, Forget it, it’s not worth it. So I believe now is the perfect time to ask” for a raise.

Do set a follow-up date

If your boss does wind up saying no to your raise request because the money simply isn’t there right now, Coffey says that’s not the end of negotiations. “If they say No, this isn’t a good time, then say, Great, can we revisit this in January?” She suggests. That way, you’ve already started the conversation, “so you’re not having to redo this whole process in three months.”