Is it possible to negotiate a pay rise in a recession?

Negotiating a pay rise always possible. At least in theory.

Squeezing extra dollars out of employers is easier during a boom than in less prosperous times. Whatever the economic conditions, the same basic rules apply: employers will find extra money if they think you are valuable. Your task is to prove that value.

In a market economy, businesses have to compete for resources. Some resources are scarce. Others are plentiful.

The mix of scarcity and plentiful changes over time and can depend on the state of the economy. For example, over the last decade credit has been plentiful. Today it is scarce. For most of the last decade talent has been scarce. Today, at least in general, talent is plentiful.

Talent comes in different flavours. Some flavours are more plentiful than others. The rules of supply and demand still apply. While the demand for some skills has decreased, other skills are now more valuable. For example, suddenly everyone needs experienced debt collectors.

Recession or no recession, employers still have to pay a premium for certain types of skills and experience. If you are lucky enough to have an in-demand, but scarce, skill then there’s nothing to stop you asking for that pay rise.

You’ll need to give your employer a good reason to pay you extra. Arguing that food prices and mortgage costs have risen is unlikely to cut much ice. A better approach is to point out that your company colleagues and peers elsewhere are earning more than you. Of course, you’ll need to find out what other companies pay for similar roles.

Value isn’t just about having special skills. When times are tough, good, reliable, hard-working employees are even more valuable than during the good times as everyone has to pull more weight. Don’t push your luck on this one, but if you know your boss depends on you to make things happen, then there’s an opportunity to negotiate a rise.

In particular, if your employer cuts staff numbers then asks you to work harder or longer, you are within your rights to expect compensation for any extra effort. You’ll probably be told there’s no money for a rise, but there may be some funds for a bonus.

Finally, while there’s a lot of gloom about, the recession is uneven across industries and even companies. Many firms are still making good profits. Unemployment rates may be climbing, but it is still relatively low by historic standards. If you know you are worth more and your employer won’t come to the party, there are almost certainly others out there who can pay the going rate for your talents and commitment. Being ready to walk is the strongest negotiating card you’ll ever hold.

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