Chronic Communication at Work: Do I Have a Right to Ask for a Raise?

Ethan has been working for his company for over ten years.  He has a good track record.  Many positive reviews from both his past and current managers.  He is well thought of by co-workers.


Ethan is also living with a chronic condition.  This has been the cause of days when he couldn’t make it into work.  Other days when he wasn’t quite up to meeting all the demands of his job.  He’s needed some extra consideration by his managers and co-workers along the way.


Ethan hasn’t had a raise in over two years.  His company didn’t give annual cost of living raises last year.  And he wasn’t given a raise after his last annual review, though he was told he would be considered for one in the coming year.  Well, the coming year has just passed.


If he is going to receive a raise, Ethan is going to have to ask for one.  And that’s where things get complicated.  On one hand, Ethan knows he did well in his job and has received positive reviews.  Yet, he also remembers a few comments from recent managers that implied he was performing well in spite of his “health issues.”  One manager indicated that he was hoping Ethan would be able to manage his condition more effectively in the future.



Asking for a Raise Begins With Giving Yourself Permission to Ask.  And Then Doing Your Homework    


So this leaves Ethan with a question: Do I have a right to ask for a raise?  And this question leads to another one: Will I place my job in jeopardy if I make a request that my boss considers inappropriate, if not entitled?


Ethan needs to make more money to support his family.  But he’s not sure if asking for it is a good idea.


What about you?  Have you ever been in the position of needing to ask for a salary raise and wondering – or worrying about – how your chronic condition might impact the way in which your request is considered by your manager?


Based on my experiences with my clients, here are some steps to consider in having this conversation:


Assess your own performance from your manager’s perspective.  Take a step back and look at your performance over the last year from the perspective you boss might have.  Keep in mind that your boss has goals that have to be met, just as you do, and he/she achieves those goals through managing the efforts of a team of which you are a member.  So, based on that perspective, what do you think your boss would say about your contribution?  Consider factors like how well you completed your tasks, how often you completed them on time, and how well you support other team members.  Be as honest with yourself as possible.  And as you complete this exercise, take notes.  You’ll need them later.


Do the numbers.  Consider the numbers from a couple of perspectives.  First, can you in any way quantify your contribution?  Did you help achieve a goal that resulted in an increase in revenue for your organization?  Or that saved money?  If you need to bring that to your boss’s attention, then have the figures to back up your claim.  If you’ve already been recognized for this, record when and how that happened in case your boss forgot.  But while you’re at it, consider some numbers that you might find less comfortable.  How many days of work did you miss as a result of your chronic condition?  Or late days?  And while you’re at it, can you estimate how frequently you might not have been at your best and couldn’t be as effective, or needed extra time or help?  Record these numbers in your notes as well.  If this comes up in a conversation with your boss, you will want to be prepared to discuss,  and possibly to defend yourself.


Prepare your case.  It is always a good idea to come to a meeting with your manager well prepared to discuss whatever the topic is.  And when you are making a request, it is especially important to come prepared.  Build a case for yourself.  Be prepared to talk about your accomplishments.  That’s your starting place.  Be prepared to support your discussion of your accomplishments with numbers, wherever possible.  But also be prepared to talk about the impact that your chronic condition has had on your performance.  Your boss may not directly address your medical issues but he/she may focus on absenteeism or lateness.  And keep in mind that your boss’s memories of your absences may be based on your most recent absence, and he/she may have the mistaken belief that you have missed more work than you actually have.  Or, you may need to defend the quality of your work in light of frequent absences.  Either way, be ready to defend yourself with evidence.


Know your rights.  It is always a good idea to be aware of your rights as an employee, whether or not you are living with a chronic condition.  But it is even more important when you have a medical diagnosis, to assure that you are being treated in a fair and equitable manner, based on federal and local government guidelines, as well as the polices of your organization.  I am not suggesting that you should approach your boss prepared to do battle.  But I am encouraging you to be able to talk about your rights as an employee, either with your manager or your Human Resources department in the event you feel you are being treated unfairly, or in a biased manner.


Keep it positive.  Any discussions you have with your boss about a raise should start out on a positive note and continue that way as much as possible.  You might begin the conversation by clarifying how much you enjoy your job, your team, the company.  You might express gratitude for any recent positive interactions you have had with your manager.  Keep it real – and sincere – of course.  If the conversation starts to go south – if you find your manager is not so receptive to hearing you out – do what you can to stay calm and professional.  It may mean thanking your manager for his/her time and retreating.  Timing is everything, and you may not have chosen the right time.


Don’t discount yourself.  If you’re holding down a job while you cope with the challenges of a chronic condition, then you’re dealing with a lot.  Give yourself some credit.  And give yourself permission to expect others to give you credit too.  Including your manager for a job well done.  I find that so often my clients feel that their workplace is doing them a favor for allowing them to come to work and giving them a paycheck, and they don’t always take ownership of what they, in turn, contribute to their organizations.  Is that you?  If so, how about going back and reviewing your accomplishments?  While you’re there, give yourself a pat on the back.


You, your manager, and your salary.  Often in life, we don’t get what we don’t ask for.  So give yourself permission to ask for the raise you deserve.  Do your homework.  Speak with confidence.  Keep it positive.  And be your own best advocate.