I don’t know about you, but the start of a new year always has me dreaming of the bigger and the better; naturally, a bigger and better salary is always near the top of my list. Last year, I wrote about how to get a raise without asking for more money. These tactics can help increase your overall work compensation package without actually increasing your take-home pay. But what if, at the end of the day, all you really want is five percent more in your paychecks?

Here are five examples of how not to ask for a raise:

1. Blame the Payroll Tax

When Congress and the President finalized the so-called fiscal cliff deal, it didn’t include an extension of the payroll tax holiday we’d enjoyed for the last several years. Instead, the payroll tax – which includes all income under $113,700 – went from the “holiday” rate of 4.2% back up to 6.2%. That means if you make $50,000 a year, you’ll pay about $1,000 more in payroll taxes in 2013 compared to 2012.

That’s a pretty big slice of your paycheck, but it is not a valid reason to ask your boss for a raise. After all, it isn’t your employer’s fault the government is taking a bigger piece of the pie; your company isn’t profiting from this larger tax payment in any way, so you shouldn’t expect them to cover the difference by giving you a raise.

2. Blame Cost of Living Expenses

According to the folks at MSN, everything from a new vehicle to health insurance premiums to shipping expenses will cost more in 2013. While this may put a dent in your budget, again, it’s an invalid excuse for asking your employer for a raise.

“This is what a cost of living raise is all about!” you may argue, and you’d be right. Cost of living raises – separate from merit raises – are common in the business world. But while many items do get more expensive from year to year, other items actually decrease in cost (over past years we’ve seen things like natural gas costs plummet; I’m saving 40% alone on my home heating bills compared to last winter thanks solely to this fact).

If you want to argue for a cost of living raise, do your homework. Check out a consumer price index (CPI) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics; be precise – try to use an index that reflects the economic climate in your region, state, or metropolitan area. Instead of focusing on one month trends, direct your employer’s attention to 12-month or even multi-year changes to CPI. If you can show that your salary has remained stagnant while inflation has risen, you may be able to prove your case, so long as you avoid blanket statements like “Grain prices are up since last year.”

3. You Can’t Pay Your Bills

Here’s a dirty little secret from my past: I once asked my boss for a raise because I was having difficulty managing my student loans. I was six months into my first job, making barely $20,000 a year. After taxes, after health insurance, I was netting just $300 a week, or $1200 a month. The necessities of my budget – things like food, shelter, transportation to and from work – left me with just $200 a month for incidentals… and my $225/month student loan payments. So, one day I confidently walked into my boss’s office and asked for a raise. I told him I’d been doing a great job for the past six months (it pains me how na├»ve I was), that I was having trouble making ends meet, and that I was hoping for a small raise.

His response: “And that’s my problem how?”

To say I was mortified would be an understatement. It was one of the most painful professional experiences of my life. Not only was my request emphatically turned down (in hindsight, not a shocker!), but I was then given a 30-minute long lecture on the responsibilities of being an adult and a professional (I probably deserved it, but it only increased my level of discomfort and embarrassment).

Please, take my advice: sort out your budget shortfalls on your own time, and don’t bring your employer into the issue.

4. The Wrong Guy Won the Election

This doesn’t apply just to a presidential race; this could apply to a gubernatorial race, or even a mayoral election.

The problem with this line of thought in asking for a raise is that it brings personal politics into the workplace. In my experience, the workplace is the last place you should bring your personal politics. For one thing, it assumes that your boss – or whomever would be in charge of giving you a raise – has the same political affiliation as you; that’s a gross assumption in this day of polarizing politics. And, just as with blaming the tax system for taking money out of your pocket, it puts the onus for bridging the salary gap incurred by a change in power at the top on the wrong person’s (or organization’s) shoulders.

5. So-and-So Makes More Than Me

At my old company, it was against policy to talk about your employment compensation package with anyone other than HR or your managing supervisor. The policy prevented colleagues from comparing salaries or non-salary benefits (like paid leave). As the company put it in our handbook, this policy stopped “high-paid employees from bragging about their salary,” hence making the lower-paid workers from feeling inferior. However, it also stopped everyone from having the knowledge to stop salary discrimination based on someone else’s compensation.

Let’s put the legal fairness – and implications – of a policy such as this aside, though, and focus on why the “so-and-so makes more than me” argument won’t win you a raise. In many companies and industries, the decision of what to pay a worker is largely subjective. It depends not only on that person’s experience level and on-the-job skills, but it can also reflect whether or not the company (or boss) sees potential for growth in the individual. In many circumstances, paying one worker more than another has little to do with a head-to-head comparison of the employees and their job performance, but is more often a reflection of the economic conditions at the time the employee’s contract was signed (ie, someone who signed a contract in June 2008 may be paid more than someone else who signed their contract six months later, simply because of the stock market crash in September 2008).

A better approach is a more self-centered approach. Instead of arguing that you do a better job than so-and-so and should be paid more, argue why the “2013” version of yourself deserves to be paid more than the “2012” or “2011” version. Showing your own professional trajectory will serve you better than comparing yourself to a third party.


Libby Balke

Libby Balke