The dawn of a new year is as good a time as any to take stock of your financial health — and plan for the future. But after 2020, a wrecking ball of a year, matters of money can be trickier. For instance, you might find your job prospects, or earning potential, hampered by the pandemic. Or, you may be warier of buying a house or budgeting for a baby than you otherwise would have been.
You sent us your money questions, and we asked Michelle Singletary, The Post’s award-winning personal finance columnist, to share answers. Below you’ll find the first in a five-part series of Q&As; check back each week for the next installment.
Q: Because of companywide financial challenges, I will receive a very low raise in 2021. I believe I would have earned a much higher raise based on job performance if not for the pandemic. How can I ensure this doesn’t affect my future earning potential?
A: The one thing I’ve learned from the many professional mentors I’ve had is to communicate with your supervisor honestly.
I suggest that you schedule a meeting (or in the age of covid-19, set up a Zoom meeting) to discuss your performance and corresponding raise. I like face-to-face or video meetings because you can read a person’s body language.
The point is, you need to be sure the lower amount is truly just about the pandemic. Or, maybe your boss used the current economic crisis to ease the pain of not giving you more money. Some bosses flat-out lie, others lie by omission.
In my experience, supervisors often take the easy road when explaining an outcome an employee may not be happy about. You said, “I believe I would have earned a much higher raise.”
But find out for sure.
Ask, “Did my work merit more money if not for the coronavirus-related economic slump?”
Covid-19-related financial issues forced 45 percent of companies to reevaluate salary increases, according to a survey by Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., an insurance brokerage and risk management services firm, which collected data from 1,283 organizations during July and August 2020.
“Revenue streams and budgets will be unpredictable in 2021 and for these reasons, many employers are pausing across-the-board salary increases,” said William Ziebell, chief executive of Gallagher’s benefits and HR consulting division, in a news release about the survey.
It’s very likely you are right that your raise would’ve been higher if not for the pandemic. Still, during your meeting, look for signs of your supervisor squirming or fumbling over his or her words — a clear indication that your smaller-than-expected raise might not have been about covid-19.
If you suspect your supervisor may not be candid enough to answer honestly, jump in and say something like, “If it’s not about the pandemic, then I would really love to know how I might improve my performance so that I can increase my earning potential going forward. I want to be an asset to the company.”
You need to throw in that last bit so it’s not all about the money, and it shouldn’t be anyway. You want the raise as an indication of the value you bring to the company.
If the lower raise is a result of the pandemic, then pivot to your future expectations. You might say, “Once the economy improves, could we circle back to what goals I need to meet to get back on track for more raises?”
And let me add something that you might be thinking right now, particularly if you’re a woman.
Yes, you can talk money even during an economic downturn. Men do it all the time and often with far less reserve than women. I had to learn this lesson myself.
I once expressed to a high-ranking male mentor that I felt uncomfortable asking for a raise. I worried that I would appear greedy — or worse, ungrateful.
“Don’t ever be afraid to ask for more money,” my mentor said. “Trust me, men ask all the time, and they do so with the expectation that they deserve it.”
You can feel lucky to still have employment and also look to the future for financial proof you’re doing well in your job. That’s what raises do. They validate your forward movement.
Moving forward into 2021, keep good records of your successes. At the beginning of each new year, I create an electronic folder to document my accomplishments throughout the year. For example, scan and archive praise emails you may receive from your boss. When it comes time for your next evaluation, you’ll be able to easily pull together the evidence you need to show how well you performed.
During your candid conversation with your boss, be humble but put it on record that your expectations are to stay on track for future raises when economic times for your company get better.