Why asking for a raise triggers so much intense anxiety

Bob Weinstein,

Many career-builders turn squeamish when it comes to asking for a raise. The reasons include fear of rejection and discomfort about broaching the subject diplomatically. Often, it's hard pinpointing the exact reason. Maybe it has something to do with negative attitudes toward money are often passed from one generation to another.


As children, parents and teachers encourage young people to go out into the world and make their mark and be successful. Success translates to doing something they love, and being well-paid for it. Right or wrong, many of us are taught that the ultimate scorecard determining self-worth is the amount of money earned. It translates to a better standard of living and sense of accomplishment. 


Yet money is also a subject everyone thinks about yet is reluctant to discuss. Didn’t your folks ever tell you to never ask how much someone is earning because it’s the height of bad taste?


Freud condemns money

Sigmund Freud, one of the most quoted and famous psychiatrists of all time, had nothing good to say about money. Freud felt that the topic of money is private and – would you believe? – dirty. In an early essay, he said that money does not bring happiness. Clearly, there are some heavy psychological roots to the phrase, “stinking rich.”


Putting psychoanalytic theories aside, the simple truth is that our lives revolve around money. The average IT person invests 40 to 60 hours a week – often more -- working for it, others scheme and cheat for it, and a dangerous few kill for it. Yet, we don’t talk about it. 


Whatever your feelings about money, one thing is certain: a great salary is a ticket to a better lifestyle, asserts Ilene Lainer, a New York City-based labor attorney. “Every time you have to ask for a raise, you’re made aware of the fact that your boss holds the power hand,” she says. “If he agrees to a sizable raise, your can look forward to a better lifestyle. By the same token, if he nixes one, not only is your day ruined, but your ego suddenly takes a nasty pummeling.”


The irony is that money is casually mentioned throughout the hiring process, yet it’s only seriously discussed just prior to the actual job offer.


Typically salaries are reviewed at least once a year. It usually coincides with a performance appraisal. If your supervisor thinks your performance is exceptional based on a bunch of criteria, chances are you‘ll get a raise. Often the amount can be negotiated. If he feels your performance was mediocre or disappointing, you’ll get a tiny one, or possibly none at all.


"But if the subject of a raise is not mentioned by your boss, you should bring it up,” advises Lainer. “Employers expect you to ask for one,” she says. “It demonstrates confidence in your abilities, and it also indicates that you’re serious about getting ahead.”


What happens if your boss says he’s not going to give you a raise? Rather than look stunned, hurt and unappreciated, and sheepishly head for the door to mend your bruised ego, find out why you were turned down, Lainer advises. “There are many possibilities, one of which is your boss may not be impressed by your performance,” she says. “And that could be because he has little or no idea what your accomplishments are. Not all bosses know precise details about every employee in their charge. They might be just monitoring overall productivity figures for their group, for example. Another possibility is that he is unable to grant a raise because the company or department is not doing well.”


If a raise is out of the question, don’t let the conversation end. Keep it alive by asking to revisit the subject in three- or six months. Profits may be up by then or the department might have turned itself around.  In short, things may be a lot better.  Persistence pays off. Not only might it get you that raise, but it points up very desirable traits bosses like to see – uppermost determination and drive.


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About the Author

Bob Weinstein is a writer, reporter, editor and author. He can be reached via email at robertvweinstein@gmail.com.