My Boss Won't Give Me a Raise. Will Another Offer Make Them Pay Up?

Our editor-in-chief gives her two cents on tactics for getting a higher salary

Headshot of Kristin Myers between illustrations of people.

Dear Kristin,

I’ve been in my job for about five years. While I like my job and my coworkers, I don’t think I’m getting paid enough. Even though my colleagues haven’t shared their exact salaries, the things they said made it clear that I make a fair amount less than they do. Since the pandemic started, I’ve been working longer hours, and given the amount of people who have left, I feel like I’m always pulling double duty.  

I’ve lobbied for a raise with little success: First my manager told me they would “check the budget,” but then the pandemic came along and we were told pay increases were frozen until further notice. We’ve since started hiring more people, and people are getting pay bumps, except me. Every time I bring it up to my manager (and even her manager) I’ve been told to “wait my turn.” 

I’ve started hunting around for other opportunities and know I could get a substantial raise if I leave, but I really would love to stay at my current company. I like the people, and there are other perks like work flexibility that I worry I might lose if I go somewhere else. Should I use a new offer as leverage to get my boss to pay up?

Sincerely,
Underpaid and Frustrated

Dear Underpaid,

Ugh. There’s nothing good about doing a job where you’re overworked, underappreciated, and—worst yet—underpaid. And giving your employer an ultimatum probably won’t make anything better.

You aren’t alone in your situation. Many Americans right now are left wondering if they could find a better job, or at least better pay, if they quit and go work somewhere else. A record number of workers have quit their jobs, and many employees are looking for better paid opportunities elsewhere, according to the most recent survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And if you want to seek a new job, now is a good time to do it. There’s a labor shortage, as job openings are relatively high compared to the current unemployment rate. Employers say they are struggling to find qualified workers, and many are willing to pay more or offer perks like sign-on bonuses in attempts to lure new talent. 

But let’s get to the heart of your question. Should you use a job offer as a tactic to get your employer to pay you more? In my opinion, no. While doing this might be good for a one-off pay bump, what are you going to do in a year? Two years? Will you need to keep fighting and manipulating your company into paying you more? 

In general, I don’t believe anyone should have to beg their manager for a raise. Who wants to stay at a place that doesn’t value you? While many people find personal fulfillment through work, or become close with their coworkers, a job is ultimately a value exchange. Your time, talents, and performance are given a tangible worth in the form of your salary and other benefits. So why not go where those things are valued more highly?

I checked in with Alison Doyle, The Balance’s job search and career expert, to get the best strategy on making your boss pay you more. She says that if you’ve already tried to get a raise and weren’t successful, “the best strategy may be to move on.”

Doyle says that using a new job offer as leverage for a pay increase can “alienate your employer and make it difficult to stay long-term.”

“The other benefit to seeking a new job opportunity,” Doyle says, “is that depending on what you do, you are more likely to get more money by switching jobs than by getting a salary increase.” One study from ADP notes that “job switchers” saw their wages grow 6.6% in September, compared to 4.8% for people who stayed in their jobs.

But Doyle cautions against leaving until you have a new one lined up. Even with a worker shortage she says, “your experience still needs to be a match for the jobs employers are hiring for.”

So start applying elsewhere so you can ditch your current job where you aren’t paid what you’re worth. You should negotiate to keep some of those work flexibilities and perks that you are afraid of losing. Good luck!

—Kristin

If you have questions about money, Kristin is here to help. Submit an anonymous question and she may answer it in a future column.