When You Threaten to Quit...

I'm often amused when watching employees ask for a raise on TV or in film.

There are a few ways this appears to be done in the fictional world -- perhaps you storm into the boss's office, pound the table, and demand more money, or maybe you timidly creep in and beg.  In a few instances, the employees have material to use to blackmail the boss.

In the real world, I've rarely heard of any of these approaches used to wrangle a raise -- in fact, the last one would have immediately resulted in the employee being fired as I would have never submitted to blackmail.  (I admit, however, there might be some bosses out there who have something in their past that makes them a more vulnerable target.)

But there is an approach, that, when used with the right touch, did cause me to grant raises.

Threatening to quit.

For this tactic to work properly, the employee first had to have a realistic picture of their value to the company.  I believe I've stated this before, but somewhere around 90% of employees seem to think they are in the top 10% of performers.  But, of course, 80% of them are wrong.  And even if you are a top performer, you might not be an employee that the organization is critically dependent on.  Clearly understanding where you stand should help you plan this action (or turn away from it) more effectively.

If you're really a critical employee and a top performer, you're clear to move on to the next step.  If not, when you threaten to quit, the response is likely to be:  "don't let the door hit you in the a$$ on the way out."

Even if you're the number one employee in the company, before you say a word, you better have a back-up plan.  That means some other way to earn a living in case your bluff is called.  Before you go in demanding more money do your homework.  You might just find that you're actually paid competitively, now.

Next, you need to get word to the key decision maker (probably not your direct boss, but someone further up the ladder), that you need to be paid more.

This is best done indirectly.

Whenever someone came into my office and demanded, begged, or argued for more money, I was immediately oppositional.  No matter how it happened, I couldn't escape the feeling that there was a threat involved.  And since I was the focus of their appeal, I often felt like there was thinly veiled criticism of my decision making up to that point, as well.  That never set well.

Instead, talk to someone in management that is outside of your direct chain of command.  Mention that you're frustrated over your pay level, and are thinking the only way to get it addressed is to look for something different.  Then step back and wait.

Most managers will bring that message to the key decision maker.  If the thought was pitched correctly, what gets back to the decision maker is something like:  "that Janet feels she's being undercompensated, and might be looking around for something else."

One of three things will likely next happen:

  1. Within the next year (perhaps immediately, perhaps at the next scheduled raise/review) you'll get a sizable increase.  It is quite possible nothing will actually be said to you about the situation at all, other than a big increase coming through.
  2. You'll be called in and asked about the situation -- in which case you need to be very circumspect and definitely focus on all the things you love about job, boss, company.  Under this scenario, you're likely to get an answer sooner, but it is less likely to be favorable.
  3. You're invited to leave immediately.  Once again, your back-up plan is critical.

Most managers I've worked with, when given the choice between being forced to do something "or else," will always pick "or else."  To perform this maneuver with the lowest risk possible, you need to do everything in your power to make sure it doesn't feel like a confrontation.

Even if you're so critical to the buiness that you know there is no way the boss can refuse your demand (much less, fire you), don't be tempted to confront.  Managers can be patient, and I can almost guarantee that the day you confront him/her, will be the day the manager develops a long term plan to become less dependent on you.

The very best job of wrangling a raise I've ever seen happened when a critical technical employee casually mentioned to a manager in a different department how much people with his background seemed to be making in the local market.  The manager drew his own conclusions and then came to me, and shortly afterward, with the help of the HR manager and some data, we gave the employee a sizable raise.  No one felt forced or coerced.

In an approached that worked, but only short term, one of my direct subordinates had a "casual" conversation about wage levels and opportunities with my boss.  The boss  called me later, and suggested I grant the subordinate an increase, which I did.  But I never forgot that the subordinate used my own boss against me, and when I needed to pick a couple of subordinates to let go in a lay-off, that one was at the top of my list.  And while there were other reasons for the selection, part of my rationale was the way the subordinate had tried to manipulate me and might do so again in the future.

Yes, you can convince management to give you a raise under certain circumstances.  You need to operate from a position of strength, but with a very light touch, however, if you don't want to end up out the door sooner or later.  10.4

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Corporate Thriller novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZE, and DELIVERABLES.  These are all based on extensions of my basic experiences in the world of corporate management.