How To Ask For A Raise In A Time Of Layoffs And Hiring Freezes
The coronavirus has changed the way people work. For some, it has meant working a lot more.
Working from home without a commute, an architectural firm office manager in upstate New York finds herself putting in longer hours. As some companies downsize, a title agent in Ohio finds her ex-colleague's responsibilities magically appearing on her own desk.
As their job descriptions or workdays have expanded, their paychecks have not.
“Regardless of what the current environment is, those could all be reasons to ask for a raise,” Quinn Texmo, who works in business development at Turner Construction Co. and who teaches women’s seminars on negotiation skills, told Bisnow.
It may seem an awkward time to ask for higher pay right now: In many markets or sectors, some commercial real estate or construction companies are feeling squeezed. A recent Bisnow survey found that more than 70% of CRE firms have seen their revenues drop significantly during the pandemic. Meanwhile, other companies are expanding or launching new departments. And regardless of how a company is faring on the roller coaster of 2020, many managers realize that no matter the economic climate, the asset most essential to their company's success is talent.
If an employee is working longer, harder or more efficiently than before and feeling underpaid accordingly, their main options may be to either spiral into job dissatisfaction, which has health repercussions, or have a conversation with their employer about a way to recognize their added workload, such as a compensation increase.
Bisnow spoke with Texmo about her advice to those considering asking for a raise. Her biggest piece of advice: Make sure it is possible to quantify how their contributions boost their company’s bottom line.
“You’re never going to get a raise because you feel like you need one,” she said. “Everything comes down to data.”
If a team is short-staffed, some managers may lean on existing staff to fill gaps.
Compounding this is the fact that working from home has lengthened many people's workdays. A working paper published this summer by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that the average American workday lengthened by 48.5 minutes following coronavirus stay-at-home orders and lockdowns. By other estimates, the workday grew longer by as much as three hours.
For those who have taken on more work or additional responsibilities, Texmo recommends measuring the value of their contributions against the cost their employer would incur to hire and redistribute the workload to additional staff.
“I'm a big fan of lists,” Texmo said. She suggested writing out a list of what one's job duties are and noting how they’ve changed or how they have grown.
Then, she said, try to equate each line item with a dollar amount.
“If the two options are: 1) ‘I take on the work'; or 2) 'the company has to go hire someone,' there are costs to the recruiting process, costs to the hiring process, costs to employing someone, like benefits or a 401(k).
"You can draw a direct compare-and-contrast of if you're expecting me to function at this higher level, if you were to hire someone that will cost you X number of 10s of thousands of dollars, then may I ask for an X% raise," Texmo said.
"You're not going to ask [your employer] to double your salary because they doubled your workload, and if you do, you may not have great success, so that number is going to be significantly lower than the cost of hiring someone new. You can take it down to finite data," she added.
Upskilling Or Pivoting?
As companies reduce staff, pivot their offerings to meet their customers' evolving needs, or cross-train employees on multiple jobs for an emergency readiness plan, some employees find themselves taking on a great deal of work that falls outside their job description.
Meanwhile, prompted by remote work and social distancing, nearly every sector of the CRE industry — from lending to property management to construction — is training workers on more tech-savvy ways to do their jobs.
Those who have taught themselves — and perhaps some of their colleagues — how to work more efficiently on the fly may want to crunch the numbers on how much their new skills are saving the company.
"Hours saved translate into dollars saved for the company," Texmo said. “Anyone who receives a paycheck can break down what it is that the company is paying them down to the minute. Some of my biggest things that I've used in my past to advocate for a pay increase is I learned this new skill set that makes me more efficient.”
Texmo presented an example in which part of a person's job is a repetitive task that used to take them an hour to complete. Learning a new skill or tool that reduces that task to 10 minutes saves the company 50 minutes every time that task is done.
“Multiply that by how many times in a week, or a month, or a year that you do that same process, that 50 minutes starts to add up to real money that the company is saving, because with those other 50 minutes, there are other things that you can tackle,” Texmo said, and this can be collateral in a conversation about a compensation increase.
A 2008 Gallup poll found that 55% of American women feel they are underpaid. Poll participants were probably right.
The gender pay gap is a persistent problem in the U.S. — all the way up to the White House, where in 2020, women staffers are paid 69 cents on the dollar compared to men.
Commercial real estate is certainly not exempt, and according to a new benchmark study report by the Commercial Real Estate Women Network, in this industry, the gender gap has grown nearly 11 percentage points larger since the organization's last pay parity survey in 2015.
CREW's 2020 survey polled nearly 3,000 CRE industry professionals and found that women make a total of 34% less than men, earning an average 10% less than men on fixed base salaries and receiving 56% less on average than men when it comes to commissions and bonuses.
While Texmo said she doesn’t think it is ever a bad time to start having the conversation about pay parity at a company, the current economy might make that conversation even more challenging than it was before the pandemic — and it is all the more important to lean hard on data.
“If you have data that says ‘This is what an individual in my position, in my city, with my experience should be paid,’ it’s very difficult to argue against that, either in a new hire situation or when you are asking for a raise,” she said.
Texmo added that if asking for a raise feels like it will yield nothing more than a painful conversation and a professional dead end, that may be less about whether the raise is appropriate, and more a function of company culture.
The ideal, Texmo said, is “a culture [in which] you know you could approach your boss and talk about your expectations on pay, and that if you could back it up with data, they would listen to it and entertain the idea,” Texmo said. “I've worked at previous companies where they would laugh me out of the room.”
Perhaps that is why, as COVID-19 swept across the U.S., company culture began to rank higher and higher on available talent’s list of priorities in looking for new employment. In a recent survey, it was found to be even more influential in a job search than salary. According to Texmo, companies that value their bottom-line profits above all else may have an increasingly hard time landing the best talent.