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How to Ask for More of What You Need at Work

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You're determined to meet your career goals while also maintaining a fulfilling personal life. This is a difficult balance to strike, even for highly proactive and confident employees. Still, your most ambitious objectives might be within reach if you simply speak up. But how do you say you need money or more time off or less grunt work—and actually be heard?

Stating what you need seems so straightforward, and yet it's a huge source of struggle for today's employees. Results from a PayScale survey reveal that just 37% of workers have sought a raise from their current employer. But even those who are willing to seek more compensation could still be afraid to ask for vacation time or flexible work arrangements.

The first step? Speaking up. As the cliché goes, the squeaky wheel gets the most grease. Don't let the fear of rejection stand in your way. Phrase your questions correctly, and you can demonstrate that you’re an invaluable asset to your employer.

Below, we highlight a few of the most common situations that might require you to ask more of your employer. We'll also discuss ways to frame your request so that you receive the support, balance, and compensation you deserve.

How to Ask for a Higher Salary

You've demonstrated your skill and commitment every day on the job, and all that effort has led to exciting new responsibilities and an elevated status. It's reasonable to ask for a higher salary that better reflects the unique qualities you bring to the workplace. Think of this as an opportunity for your employer to show you that your hard work is appreciated.

What to Start With

Before you ask for a raise, you need to understand why you deserve one. More importantly, you should be able to articulate these reasons quickly and effectively. This is best accomplished after you've developed your value proposition, which, as Ashlee Klevens Hayes, of career development company RXAshlee, explains, helps you articulate your expertise and accomplishments with confidence.

For example, if you work in project management, your value proposition might reflect your ability to complete projects on time and under budget. It could go something like: “My MBA and decade of experience in accounting, budgeting, and program development have equipped me to handle complicated workflows, coordinate large teams, and deliver optimal results for clients.”

What to Follow up With

Once you've identified and explained your value proposition, it's time to dive in with salary negotiations. These should be based not only on your personal qualifications, but also on details you've uncovered about "typical" salary and benefits for your position, your level of experience, and your geographic region.

Websites like Glassdoor, Indeed, and PayScale can help, as can direct conversations with recruiters or even colleagues. Don't let these statistics convince you to ask for less than you're worth; use them to gain insight into compensation trends so you aren't taken advantage of by your employer.

When negotiating a raise, resist the urge to quote a specific number. Instead, encourage your employer to quote an acceptable range first. Keep your bottom line in mind as you seek slightly higher than what you actually want, with the assumption that you'll be viewed as reasonable when that number is eventually whittled down.

How to Ask for Better Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance is a huge area of concern in today's constantly connected society. Employees across all sectors work long hours with minimal time off, only to be plagued by emails when they’re off the clock.

Seeking a better work-life balance goes beyond taking a few more days of vacation. It's about securing respect for your time—both at work and in your personal life. In your request, be sure to explain what a better work-life balance would help you achieve, like increased productivity and creativity.

What to Start With

Keith “Nurse Keith” Carlson, a career coach for nurses and other healthcare professionals, recommends doing a root-cause analysis so you know exactly why your work-life balance is suffering. This will influence how you handle your request. While he says he believes that poor personal habits sometimes influence a lack of balance, he says he feels that the issue is usually "bigger and deeper than that." Systemic issues such as excessive expectations may be to blame for your current struggles. If that’s the case, it's worth your while to seek relief.
When you're ready to meet with your employer, start with a brief explanation of the value of work-life balance, specifically as it relates to your job.

This is another excellent opportunity to highlight your value proposition—but this time frame it as your employer's need to help you stay afloat so you can continue to put your best foot forward.

An example a healthcare worker employed in the ER could say might be: “I go above and beyond during my 12-hour shifts, performing lifesaving procedures that are physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing. When I’m off the clock, I need the full time to recharge so I can recover from grueling shifts and be ready to start fresh when the next work day arrives.”

What to Follow up With

Vague requests for work-life balance are unlikely to hold sway with your employer. Instead, articulate specific ways in which your employer can help you juggle a demanding work schedule with your personal life.

How this is achieved will vary significantly from one professional to the next. A nurse or PA with young children at home, for example, may prefer to avoid the night shift. Others may struggle to find true rest or rejuvenation because they're constantly plagued by work communication or administrative duties. In this situation, the best option may involve working with a supervisor to more clearly define the scope of the job. This will ensure that "time off" actually provides a break from work.

How to Ask for More Responsibility

You bring considerable knowledge and skill to your work, but you still don’t have a seat at the table. Greater authority is only possible if you take on more responsibility. If you frame your question the wrong way, though, you could appear as if you’re underplaying the importance of your day-to-day work—or that your current role is unimportant.

What to Start With

Avoid thinking of yourself as "just" anything as you seek new responsibilities. Your self-perception as a skilled professional can determine whether your employer is willing to grant your request. Again, lead with your value proposition, making note of how your unique skills and qualities have equipped you to take on a greater degree of responsibility.

What to Follow up With

Highlight areas in which you can take on more responsibility, but be willing to negotiate. Just like asking for a raise, it can help to propose something just beyond your preferred level of responsibility and come down to a slightly less ambitious task or project. Never propose anything you suspect might be out of reach, as an inability to deliver could compromise any requests you make in the future.

Consider a specific project or task that you’re interested in. If, for example, your current work as an HR specialist is largely administrative, say: “I’d love to take a greater role in the upcoming recruitment campaign. I have specific ideas that can help us better attract candidates who fit our company’s culture.”

How to Ask for a Promotion

You’re not only ready for a bump in your salary, but you feel ready to take on an entirely new position. This can be a nerve-wracking process, but even when refused, your desire for a promotion signals your commitment to moving ahead in your career.

What to Start With

Demonstrate the skills, knowledge, and credentials you bring to the table. This can be particularly effective if you've recently earned a new degree or certification. For example, you could say: “I recently earned my MBA. Given the management skills I gained through my graduate coursework, I believe that I would be an excellent candidate for a senior position in the accounting department.”

Don't base your request exclusively on tenure. These days, employers are more likely to grant promotions based on merit rather than seniority.

What to Follow up With

Don't be discouraged if you don’t get a promotion right away. Few employers are willing to grant these on the spot, but simply nurturing the idea could get you on the path to success. Experts at the Harvard Business Review recommend asking on a quarterly basis, or, better yet, after you reach a major achievement at work.

How to Ask for More Vacation Time

Everybody needs time off to rest and recharge. Unfortunately, vacation time tends to be minimal in the U.S., even among mid- and upper-level employees who have been on the job for years.

Requests for extra time off can feel intimidating in an always-on society. But as with work-life balance requests, they can be successful when framed as a benefit to your employer.

What to Start With

Familiarize yourself with your employer's vacation policy, determining when additional days are typically granted, how days rollover, and how much flexibility can be expected. Some tips to keep in mind: Consider asking for extra time after your performance review, particularly if you receive positive feedback. Rachel-Jean Firchau who runs a travel blog for career-conscious women suggests this approach: Requests made right after completing a busy period or a major project may also be more successful.

What to Follow up With

Firchau suggests having data points at the ready. Have a list of everything you’ve contributed to the team and organization, including any personal goals you’ve accomplished. You might want to include how long you’ve been there, how many days you currently have and how your productivity or innovation might improve under a more generous vacation policy. You might also add stats from sources like USTravel.org that found that workers who use the majority of their vacation days are significantly happier than those who don’t. The State of American Vacation 2018 reports: “Those who travel with all or most of their time are 28% happier with their companies and 24% happier with their jobs than those that travel with little to none of their vacation days. These frequent travelers are also 18% more likely to report receiving a promotion in the last two years.

Timing of your request could be crucial to your request. If the company is crushing its goals, your manager might be in high spirits and be more willing to go to bat for you. Either way, having management know how important vacation is to you will be helpful in the long-run. And, Firchau adds that if you get the approval -- get it in writing!

How to Ask for Fewer Hours

From family obligations to grad school, a number of things could cause you to require more time away from work. Unfortunately, requests for reduced hours are often accompanied by a scaling back of responsibilities. Once lost, these responsibilities can be difficult to regain. With the right approach, you can secure the extra time you need without compromising your standing at work.

What to Start With

Provide a brief explanation of your circumstances. Be sure to highlight whether the time you take off will ultimately benefit your employer. Grad school attendance, for example, will equip you with new skills that prove valuable in the workplace, as well as give you exposure to cutting-edge research and practices. Explain how you can continue to fulfill your responsibilities despite being on the job fewer hours.

What to Follow up With

If possible, propose a trial period. During this time, you can demonstrate the ability to cover all essential tasks and abide by deadlines, even as you work fewer hours. Other negotiation tactics could include:

  • Offering to shift your schedule so you're present during the busiest times.
  • Suggesting a hybrid schedule that includes one or two days of remote work each week.
  • Seeking fewer shifts with longer hours.
  • Offering to work shifts typically passed up by other employees. In healthcare, for example, this may mean working the night shift or taking on holiday hours.

How to Ask for More Support (or Fewer Responsibilities)

At some point, a fellow employee left their job, and instead of filling this vacancy, your employer shifted responsibilities so that you and your coworkers would absorb this role. While you were initially able to handle the increased workload, you're beginning to fall behind. You need more support to ensure that tasks are completed correctly and on time. This could mean hiring someone else to fill the open position or shifting responsibilities in other creative ways to lighten the load.

What to Start With

Prior to meeting with your supervisor, consider whether any alternative solutions may be available for getting the job done with fewer employees. Sometimes, solutions like paring back unimportant tasks can work. In other cases, automation or outsourcing can fill the gap.

If you're unable to come up with a viable solution, it's time to ask for backup. Don't fall in the trap of feeling like a martyr. You need and deserve help. Remind your employer how previous staffing levels consistently produced better results. Explain how the failure to fill open positions has negatively impacted you and your colleagues.

What to Start With

Propose specific solutions to help you handle work responsibilities without compromising your work-life balance. Your employer will appreciate the thought you've put into this request and may even offer alternative options you haven't considered.

If you suspect your employer lacks the budget for an additional employee, you might suggest an outsourced solution. As an employee in a radiology department, for example, you could say: “I understand that budgetary constraints keep us from maintaining staff to handle diagnostic interpretations after hours. Could an outsourced solution for nights and weekends be a cost-effective way to keep our department running smoothly?”

Making requests of your employer can feel overwhelming, but it's worth facing your fears and seeking the support or compensation you need. A little due diligence can make a world of difference. With preparation and the proper phrasing, you'll be surprised what you can get.


Image courtesy of iStock.com/fizkes


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Berxi™ or Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance Company. This article (subject to change without notice) is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute professional advice.

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