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. Identify alternatives. If more money isn't an option, consider other forms of perks or benefits you might ask for: a spot bonus, a few additional vacation days, tuition reimbursement for some courses you'd like to take, or a better title which may help you as you pursue your next job. Know your own bottom line. If you're not going to get the raise you believe you deserve – based on your research, your performance, and your conversations with the boss – then it's time to focus on a full-force job search. But don't quit because right now the reality is it's easier to find a job when you have one. Continue to do your job well and simultaneously look for new work. Finally, if you're out of work now and negotiating for a new job offer, there's natural concern of being low-balled because you've been out of work and you think employers know your options are limited. But rest assured that the savviest employers won't do this because they know if they severely underpay you, you'll jump as soon as something better comes along. Nobody wants a sullen worker on their hands. And while that may have worked two years ago, it doesn't work now. We're seeing a move away from employers getting rock bottom, cheap labor.
Even if you've been out of work, you should negotiate the offer with confidence, not cockiness. If they've made you an offer, it means they've decided they want you. Thank them for the offer and let them know you're thrilled at the prospect of coming on board, and also ask if there's an opportunity to negotiate. Find out where this salary falls in the range budgeted for this role. Do your research quickly and even if more money isn't an option, perhaps there are other perks and benefits to negotiate.