A man in a blue suit reaches for his wallet.

Everything Designers Need to Know About Asking for Raises in the Workplace

There are few better feelings than getting a raise at work. For many designers, knowing when or if they should even ask for a pay raise is a common dilemma. Asking for a raise is almost always intimidating and many designers fear that they will damage their reputation with a company or with management if they ask in the wrong way.

The Productivity – Pay Gap has been growing since at least 1979, causing many workers to feel they deserve a raise. However, while seeming impatient will certainly not endear you to your superiors or be likely to get you raises at work, it’s also true that in many situations you won’t get a raise unless you ask for one.

Timing is everything when it comes to raises at work. It’s not only that the company needs to be doing well, but it’s also important to consider how long you have been in your current position and when or whether any performance reviews are coming up in the next six months or so. Designers should also have a realistic idea of what deliverables they created and how their job added created value for a given product and the company overall.

The most difficult part about asking for a raise is the taboo surrounding discussing money in our society. While it might feel impolite, having salary discussions with friends and professional contacts who have similar jobs is an important way to know how much you should be getting paid. Understanding when you can or should try to have these conversations is important to avoid awkward situations.

A common mistake people make when asking for raises at work is failing to illustrate how it would positively affect the common good within the company. From a company’s financial perspective, an increase in pay should lead to positive change, either better employee retention or some kind of return on investment. Designers asking for a raise should take care to make a case for what kind of positive change might result.

In the case of managers who work alongside their subordinates, they would likely love to give everyone a pay raise regularly. The financial reality of many companies prohibits this, however. There are often brief windows during which pay raises are more likely to be considered. Understanding how to ask for a raise is just as important as knowing when to ask for a raise.

This guide is meant to help designers see a general overview of the bigger picture at many companies so that they can better understand how and when to ask for a raise. Read on for some tips and tricks so you can make sure you get paid what your work is worth.

How Much is the Average Pay Raise?

Wages fluctuate with events in the market and, in the case of 2020, natural disasters and pandemics that disrupt business as usual. As jobs are created or destroyed, the average pay might increase. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that real average hourly earnings increased 4.3 percent from June 2019 to June 2020. This reflects a loss of the lower-paying jobs that previously skewed that percentage lower.

As a very general rule, yearly pay increases tend to be between 2-3% of the existing salary. This will cover the average rate of inflation, meaning it’s just keeping pace with the cost of living. If a company is doing well, it could be possible to receive an additional 2-3% on top of the inflation adjustment.

A man and woman working together at a wooden desk.
Most workers rely on yearly pay raises to keep pace with inflation.

Is Moving Companies Faster Than Asking for a Raise?

One idea common amongst workers across creative fields is that it is faster to move companies and take on a new position elsewhere than it is to ask for a raise at the company you have. There is admittedly some logic to this idea, but it’s mostly because people in senior roles who are headhunted are often given pay increases to entice them to come aboard at a new company. For the majority of people, there is no guarantee that moving companies will lead to a significant pay increase.

Jumping ship can affect your professional reputation and it will remove any seniority accrued with time at the first workplace. That doesn’t mean you should stick it out with a company that refuses to pay you what your work is worth, but it’s also not a great idea to switch jobs every time you want a raise.

When to Ask for a Raise: The Business Perspective

Creatives frequently wind up taking on additional roles and responsibilities that weren’t included in the initial job description. Part of this could be because the people making the creative roles aren’t creatives themselves and another part could be because creatives are usually more passionate about the work they do and therefore more likely to do extra work.

Designers and other creatives might also lack perspective on the financial status of the company they work for. In peak seasons or times of increased stress, many workers are induced to ask for a pay raise. Of course, extra work should lead to more money in an ideal world, but that’s not always the way it goes. Here are a few things to look out for so you know when to ask for a raise:

  • Length of Employment

The reason why salary negotiations are so important before you sign on with a company is that it’s unlikely you’ll see any raises at work within the first year of employment. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is because companies tend to give pay raises to employees who have been consistently demonstrating their value to the company for a long time before they pay more to the newbies.

Nothing has the potential to tarnish your reputation with managers and coworkers than whining for a raise too soon after you join the team. That being said, if everyone else is getting raises at work and you’re left out, it could well be wise to go and ask for one.

  • Time of Year

Businesses also prefer to have all of their sales numbers and profits recorded for the year before they consider pay raises. This is to prevent them from doling out too much and inadvertently dropping into the red. Most companies wait until the end of the year to give out bonuses or consider increasing pay. Even if additional payment has been promised as an incentive to reaching sales goals, the company will have to see how the department measures up before they make good on the bonuses.

  • Completion of Projects

Managers and companies like to see results before they give out raises at work. Just like they wait to see numbers at the end of the year to give bonuses and raises, they also don’t want to be left waiting on deliverables and completed design projects which they would otherwise use to determine whether to allow a raise in pay.

If you know you’ll be asking for a raise before the end of the year or you’ll have a performance review coming up, during which time you might be asking for a raise, it is wisest to complete your projects as much as possible to the best of your ability. This will give managers the best impression of your work and make you more valuable to the company.

  • Availability of Senior Staff

It just makes sense that you’re not likely to get a raise if you try to pester senior talent when they’re concerned with massive projects or making major changes to the structure of the company. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to schedule a salary assessment or review just because the boss continues to conveniently be out of the office when you ask, but if there are legitimately huge changes happening, it’s probably the wrong time to go asking for a raise.

Even at the busiest times when there is upheaval or just tons of activity happening around the office, it should be possible to bring up the idea of a salary discussion. Take the timing factors we previously discussed into account as well.

How to Ask for Raises at Work – Designers & Creatives

In real terms, 2020 salary increase budgets have been significantly reduced although they haven’t been cut completely. Given the unprecedented events of this year, it will be more difficult than ever to get a huge pay raise for the majority of workers. However, it’s also critical to make sure your salary keeps up with inflation at a bare minimum. Here are some key strategies to use when asking for a raise:

1- Ask When Your Role Changes

If the company comes to you expecting you to take on new roles and responsibilities, you should make sure the pay will be commensurate with the new duties. This is especially true if it’s a promotion but there are a few other times when roles change. Keep the original description of your job in mind and note when you take on new roles or tasks. It’s not necessarily the case that the company will pay more for these services up front. They might want to see how well you can cover the new responsibility first.

Many design roles are based on deliverables like wireframes, prototypes, and finished products. Make sure you have plenty of these to show how much work you’re doing.

2- Demonstrate Your Value

It might sound odd, but managers are more likely to grant raises if you feel that you’ve earned them rather than explaining how you could use the extra money. Even though paying the rent is a significant reason why just about everyone has a job, it’s also the case that almost everyone has rent to pay. For managers, they would rather see how you are using your design skills to add value to projects and therefore to the company.

Understanding the impact of your work is just as important as knowing how to design it in the first place. Managers will be happy to see that you can place your work within the larger perspective of the company’s work and that may well translate to a granted pay raise.

3- What is Design Worth?

There’s no way to know if you deserve a raise if you don’t know how much your work is worth. You can describe this as value added to the company and you should also know how much people doing similar work are getting paid. They might be your coworkers or they could work for other businesses, but unless you have a very niche position there should be information out there about average salaries.

Talking about wages is usually an awkward affair. Many people don’t wish to discuss what they make at work, especially if they feel they make too little or less than the other people involved in the discussion. It’s still important to ask about what people are making in similar roles, although it might be more effective in an online chat than with friends and family. Knowing these figures can help, but it will be anecdotal evidence in the end and not usable in a salary assessment.

4- Collaborate Before You Negotiate

Indeed, salary discussions are essentially about resource allocation. However, that doesn’t mean you should approach your managers with an antagonistic attitude when you want to discuss raises at work. Management knows that pay raises are the best way to keep talent happy. Unless they demonstrate that they are for some reason not open to such discussion, you can likely approach them as a collaborator. Together, perhaps you can come up with a salary and benefits package and a definition of the role that suits all parties’ interests.

5- Show Staying Power

If raises at work are viewed as investments in the employees, it makes sense that the last thing managers want to hear is that you’re ready or likely to jump ship. This is a delicate part of salary discussions because on some occasions it will be helpful to demonstrate your value by having offers from other companies. However, in many cases, managers want to know that an employee plans to be with the company for a long time.

Part of this staying power will be the value added by the employee. If you want to make a raise more likely, show what you’ve learned during your time at the company and how you plan to implement that new knowledge in projects at that company in the future. Seeing some kind of plan will make managers happier and more likely to discuss raises at work in the future in the event the short-term answer is no.

6- Know What You Want

It’s very likely to be one of the first questions in a salary assessment meeting. If you ask to discuss your salary, managers will want to know what you feel would be a fair amount. Besides, taking up a spot on their agenda and walking in without having done any research or formulating any expectations is not likely to impress the people who will grant you the raise you want.

Another important thing to consider is how it will appear if you only want to talk about money. Discuss how you see your role at the company and how you see that role growing in the future. This will help explain to management why you feel you have earned a raise and it will help the discussion be more collaborative and you less demanding.

Four women look at a laptop on a brown table.
Collaboration can be more effective than adversarial interaction during pay assessments.

Why Is It Important to Ask for a Raise?

Every designer, and women in particular, should ask for raises at work when their role changes and when they have earned one because for the most part management may not be thinking of such things. From their perspective, everyone on the staff would be happy with a raise at any time. If you have done enough work to deserve one outside of a defined performance review schedule, asking for one is the best way to put the idea on management’s radar.

When the company can’t grant a designer a pay raise, it can still pay off to have had some discussion about the idea in the future. If the designer and management can agree that a pay raise is a shared goal, then it will be more likely to happen in the future. Plus, demonstrating a desire to continue working at the company in the future when asking for a raise can make you an important element of the company’s long-term plan in some cases.

By incorporating these essential aspects into your personal career map, you’ll be equipped to tackle challenges, seize opportunities, and chart a course towards a successful and fulfilling professional life. Start drawing your career map today and take control of your destiny.

It can be challenging to know when to ask for a raise and intimidating to go through with it. The most important thing designers can do to make sure they earn what their work is worth is to understand how they are bringing additional value to the company and be able to clearly illustrate it to management.

Unfortunately, the events of 2020 and a much more long-standing divergence between productivity and wages has made significant pay increases a little less likely. But there are still plenty of ways to make sure you get raises at work when you have earned them. Most of the time, you have to ask. Preparing for this eventuality will increase your chances significantly.

Share this post