Will you see an increase in your paycheck this year? There's a good chance, but don't go spending big bucks so quickly. In 2011, employees can expect median base increases of 2.8 percent, according to Hay Group and Buck Consultants. It's better than last year's 2.4 percent, but far from the pre-recession raises of the last decade that averaged 3.5 to percent.For starters, unless it's in your contract, a raise isn't guaranteed. Erin Edwards, owner of The Vintage Pearl, a boutique store and e-commerce jewelry business based in Tulsa, Okla., with about 30 employees, says she pays a very fair wage and there's often a cap on what some positions are worth. Determine your eligibility. No matter how fabulous you are, many roles are only worth so much to an employer. Start by doing your research using online salary calculators such as PayScale.com and Salary.com to get a sense of the realistic range for your particular position. Ask your boss or the HR department for the range allotted for your role and where you currently fall on that spectrum. If you're already at the very top, you'll either have to go for a promotion to higher paying role, or you'll have to look elsewhere for a new job. Focus on performance -- yours and your employers. Depending on your organization, raises may be based on your performance, the employer's performance or both. At food services giant Sodexo, Arie Ball, the VP of talent acquisition, says employees are ranked by immediate managers on individual performance, which determines the eligibility and amount of a raise, if any. On the flip side, Dr. Timothy Johnston of the Norge Dental Center in Williamsburg, Va., says his practice will grow 10 percent this year and he anticipates average raises as a result. If an employee expects greater than average, he or she must prove a contribution to the firm's bottom line.
Ask for benchmarks. Ask your manager directly -- and now is a great time for that conversation, at the start of the year: "What exactly must I do to earn a raise?" Focus on the specific benchmarks, milestones or results that you must reach or achieve in order to qualify for an average raise. Then ask what it must look like for a larger than average raise. Put it in writing and send a copy recapping the conversation to your boss and consider copying the HR department so everyone's on the same track. Refer back to that document every month on your own to be sure you're on track and continue to monitor your results. Each quarter you might review this with your manager, and be prepared to readjust based on company performance or shifting priorities.In the case of Dr. Johnston, the dentist, he's very clear about awarding above average raises to employees who impact his bottom line, which means referring patients, selling specialized dental services, and finding ways to cut costs and save money. Find out what your manage values most -- and then focus on delivering it. Don't fake it. When you're at your wit's end, which many workers now are, it's so tempting to dangle the idea that you have another job offer as a way to get a raise. Don't do it unless you truly do have another role lined up because the boss may call your bluff. Avoid threats that you can't carry out.