SECRETARIAL: Do you deserve a pay rise?

The key to getting a salary increase is bargaining power, but too many secretaries take the wrong approach. By Kate Hilpern
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YOU'VE BEEN working hard, putting in the hours, giving the job your all, and now you want a pay rise. How should you go about it? According to occupational psychologists and HR professionals, it's an increasingly relevant question for secretaries because negotiating rates of pay has become more necessary than ever and it also requires more strategy, planning and psychological timing than ever.

"The restructuring and downsizing that has typified companies in the Nineties means that staff at secretarial level are decreasingly likely to get regular and formal salary reviews," explains Debra Allcock, campaigns manager at the Industrial Society. "Consequently, unless they speak up - and speak up professionally - they may work away for years on the same wage, without regard to inflation, the going rate for the job or their own input." This is, she adds, particularly prevalent in small companies where there is just one person responsible for pay reviews, who may often be overworked with other matters.

Ben Williams, the Edinburgh-based chartered psychologist, claims there are two major mistakes that employees after a pay rise tend to make. "The most common one is negotiating on a personal basis. These people go to the boss and say something like, `I don't think it's fair on me that I haven't had a rise,' or `Julia does less than me and yet she gets paid more.' This kind of emotive talk sounds inappropriate and petty and, quite frankly, provides no good reasons for your boss to comply. Instead, you need to work out exactly why you think you deserve a pay rise. Do you have additional skills than you did when you had your last pay increase? Has your performance improved? Do you work more hours or have a higher volume of work?"

If the answers are all no, he says, you may need to put your request on hold while you find ways to prove that your performance deserves a higher salary. "The second biggest mistake people make is being manipulative," continues Williams. "A great many employees - particularly secretaries - who are after a higher salary go for job interviews at other companies. When they finally get offered another job, they go and tell their current boss that they've been offered a new post with a higher salary, offering them the chance to beat it. The problem is that this shows poor loyalty to both your employer as well as the employer who has offered you a job and who you are prepared to let down at the last minute. As a result, even if your boss does give you a pay rise to keep you on, you will have a poor reputation and may be overlooked in areas like promotion."

Organisational psychologist Dr Terry Kellard claims the key to getting a pay increase is bargaining power. "Once you've worked out what you bring to the job that is deserving of reward, you have to sell it," he says. "Point to some achievements or initiatives, or even just your ability to perform. Your boss needs to know that he is paying for something worth having."

Allcock suggests keeping all those little thank-you notes from grateful clients and colleagues as well as making a list of successful projects that you have been involved in and the skills that you have acquired. Increasingly, for instance, secretaries pay to update their IT skills to make themselves more employable and these will inevitably have benefited your employer.

"Run through these points in a positive manner and leave this information with your boss. After all, it will be in your interests not to ask for an immediate answer. Your boss may want to think about it, and with the proof of your improvements in black and white, you're likely to get the best deal he or she can offer."

Timing is essential. Whatever you do, don't catch the boss in a bad mood or when busy. Additionally, make an appointment so that he or she knows you are serious and that you can discuss the matter in private, without interruption. One of the biggest problems for the secretary after a pay rise is judging how much money to ask for. "Be realistic," warns Susie Heddon, an independent careers adviser. "The best way to achieve this is to research the market to assess what sort of financial packages your peers receive elsewhere. This may be difficult, but it can be done with the help of recruitment consultants.

With facts and figures to hand, you'll have an answer when your request is met with `What on earth makes you think we should pay that much'?'' It is also important to bear in mind that there are alternatives to cash, she adds. For instance, you may want to discuss paid travel expenses, a company car, the opportunity to work flexi-time, extra holiday allowance or private medical insurance cover. Mind you, while it's good to compromise, "be sure that you never take no as an answer", cautions Allcock. If you are met with this response, there are three essential steps to follow, she says.

"First, under no circumstances should you say: `Why?' Rather, say: `What is it that you would need to see to give me the pay rise?' Second, get this in writing so that in three or six months' time, when you can prove you've met these demands, it will be harder for him or her to say no again. Finally, don't accept the common excuse that the company is restricted by salary structures. The only circum- stances in which this is a reasonable explanation is if you are already at the top of your pay scale - which, for most people, is unlikely.

The bottom line is that there is always room for rewarding employees for their hard work."