The Silicon Valley Voice

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Don’t Raise Your Hopes

Gather around, children. We’ve reached the new year, and Uncle Bob is feeling nostalgic.
Don’t worry. Uncle Bob is not going to regale you with stories about office parties “in the day,” when the chief financial officer danced the funky chicken on the desktop. But speaking of poultry, he is a mite sentimental about the Christmas turkeys management handed out to every employee — a wonderful tradition, now banned by the human resources department and their crazy obsession with political correctness. Do you really think that giving out turkeys is a practice that discriminates against vegans?

No, what makes Uncle Bob weep in his wheat beer is the memory of another dearly departed end-of-the-year tradition — the annual raise. (For those of you who have not been in the workforce for long, a “raise” is an increase in salary.)

Raises have been in short supply for some time now. In January of 2010, nearly two-thirds of companies had a pay freeze in place, according to Buck Consultants. Today, only 9 percent are in pay-raise Siberia, which is the good news I glean from a recent “Your Money” column by Tara Siegel Bernard in The New York Times.

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The bad news will be instantly clear when I give you the title of Tara’s column — “How to Make the Case for a Pay Raise.” Yes, it’s true! These days, if you want a raise, you need to ask for it.

But does putting in for a raise put your career at risk? Not according to Mike Zwell, a consultant and author of “Six-Figure Salary Negotiations.” Mr. Zwell insists that there is zero risk for ” a good-performing employee who is contributing.” As Zwell sees it, “the worst that will happen is that they will say no and give you some reason for it.”

Unfortunately, this is a risk that you want to avoid. As a poor-performing employee who is contributing squat, you must fly under the radar. Raise your head and it could get lopped off.

If you do decide to risk your safe sinecure, don’t expect the massive 4 or 5 percent raises that were typical in 2006. The article cites Stephan Mork, another Buck Consultant honcho, who reports that recently, “the typical merit increase has been 1.9 to 2 percent on the average.”

Risking your job to get a teeny-weenie raise makes you a weenie in my book. It’s much safer to skip the confrontation and give yourself a raise by pilfering a fancy laptop or 12 from Mahogany Row. Or just drive off with the boss’s Bentley. These are items that are easily pawned, but make sure you avoid those pawnshops that are the scene of reality TV shows. And don’t be greedy. If hocking the boss’s Bentley represents more than a 5 percent raise, steal the boss’s Maserati instead.

If you do move ahead with a wage-request scenario fiasco, the experts suggest that you “practice your delivery with a partner and envision what sort of response you might get.” I suggest you choose a partner with a good sense of humor, because the response you’re most likely to get is gut-busting laughter.

You also want to avoid threats and ultimatums. Instead, Jane T. Schroeder, a career counselor, suggests you “express a clear understanding of the realities of the economic situation,” and “present yourself as a solution to some of these concerns.”

You might demonstrate your understanding with a conversation-starter, like, “Boss, I totally understand that your bad business decisions have run this company into the ground.” Then, present yourself as the solution — “Give me a raise and I’ll keep my mouth shut, both about your business blunders and about the affair you’re having with that hottie in marketing.”

I don’t know if that kind of approach will result in what Schroeder calls a “win-win conversation,” but, dude — wouldn’t it be worth losing a 1.9 percent raise to watch your boss’s face turn purple.

If you can’t get a monetary raise, the gurus suggest you ask for something else that “might help improve your job satisfaction.” You certainly couldn’t work less, so time-off won’t help. Instead, explain to your boss that she or he is so brilliant and inspirational all you want is more face time. In fact, you want to be joined at the hip from morning to night, every day of the year, including vacations. Trust Uncle Bob. Any boss faced with a prospect that horrible is guaranteed to give you a big, fat raise.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@funnybusiness.com.

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