Kellie G. Olah
SPHR, CVPM, SHRM-SCP
HR Huddle columnist Kellie Olah is the practice management and human resources consultant at Veterinary Business Advisors. The company provides legal, human resources and practice management services to veterinarians nationwide. Olah is a certified veterinary practice manager, a certified veterinary business leader and a nationally certified senior professional in human resources.Read Articles Written by Kellie G. Olah
Veterinary practices, like many other businesses, often award pay raises during annual employee reviews. The timing is logical because it’s a moment for performance-related feedback. But what if you’re a practice team member who thinks you deserve a raise outside of the normal timeframe? For example, you’ve taken on extra duties during the pandemic and your review won’t happen for another eight months. How should you approach your supervisor to ask for a raise? On the other side, if you’re a practice manager, how should you respond?
Employees: Prepare to Ask
If you decide to ask for a raise when one typically isn’t given, make sure to come prepared. List your work accomplishments, quantifying them whenever possible, and outline how the successes benefited the practice. In other words, what is the value to the business of what you did? If you won an award, received a letter of praise from a manager or client, or otherwise have concrete evidence of your outstanding performance, make sure to gather all the information.
What can help you is knowing the average wage of a person doing a similar job in your geographical area. Where does your paycheck fit in? If yours is less than the average, building your case for a raise is easier. Still, you can explain why you think you’re worth what you’re asking if you feel your case is strong.
Ask to meet with the appropriate manager and rehearse how you’ll present your request. During the meeting, make clear that you’re asking for a raise that goes beyond the one you’d typically receive during a performance review.
Be prepared for a range of responses from the manager and how you would respond. If, for example, you hear that the practice would love to give you a raise but can’t afford one at the moment, ask what you need to do to earn more and when you can try again.
Employers: How to Respond
As a practice manager, you might be taken aback when an employee asks for a raise during a time when one typically isn’t given. Perhaps you are authorized to award raises, or maybe you need to discuss them with a human resources manager. Whether you are surprised or not — and whether you have the authority or not — the savvy response is typically the same:
- Avoid an immediate reaction and ask for more information.
- Listen carefully and take notes.
- Once you have enough information, propose scheduling a follow-up conversation.
In either case, thank the employee for raising the topic and remain professional and neutral. Then, it’s time to evaluate the request and talk to other people who would participate in the decision. Find out:
- What is your practice’s policy on giving raises?
- If you don’t have a policy, how were requests handled before?
- Does your clinic provide raises at a specific time of year, or do you consider each request on its merits?
- Compare the employee’s wages with what team members are paid at your practice and by competitors, and doublecheck the data the employee provided.
- Look at where the employee falls on the practice’s payroll list.
- Determine how the person’s pay compares with that of co-workers performing the same tasks and holding similar seniority.
In some instances, your decision might be easy. The person might not have demonstrated a good case for a raise, or the job position might not warrant higher pay. Or perhaps the employee completed a special project but didn’t perform at a higher overall rate. In that case, a one-time bonus or paid time off could be a compromise.
Sometimes, the issue of a pay raise is more complex. The wrinkles can include:
- An employee threatens to quit if not given a raise.
- You give an out-of-cycle pay raise to one employee, and then co-workers hear about it and want one, too.
- A star employee gets a job offer from another practice.
In the first scenario, an employee might say, “If I don’t get this raise, I’ll need to leave” or “The new practice in town pays more and is hiring.” In this case, your process can be the same. Listen carefully to the request and then schedule a follow-up conversation, giving you time to think. Always consider the merits of the employee’s request.
This time, consider whether the “I’ll quit” card is being used as leverage or reveals that the person needs a better-paying job. Does that change your decision? No matter what you decide, assume that other employees will hear about it regardless of any policy that requires salaries to remain confidential. What will you do when other employees ask for a raise?
The solution is not one-size-fits-all. The idea is to look beyond the specific request made by a particular employee and instead place the proposal in context. Your decision has to make sense for all employees.
If an employee gets another job offer, determine whether the person was pursuing it or whether the offer was unsolicited. Discovering that your employees are being recruited might confirm that you have a great team and that they are not unhappy. In some cases, an employee might be putting out feelers in the job market, and in other situations, the employee might be dissatisfied with the current job position.
If you’re asked to match another practice’s job offer, determine whether the person really wants to stay. Employees who are unhappy with certain aspects of your practice might leave the next time a job offer comes. If they want to stay, how valuable are they to your practice? Could you easily replace them? If you do give a raise, how will other employees react? Again, no one correct answer exists.
How to Say No
Sometimes, you’ll need to reject an employee’s request for a raise. If so, set up a private meeting and tactfully, yet honestly, get to the point. If a performance problem is involved, explain how the employee could work toward getting the desired raise. If the issue is financial, say it without going into exhaustive detail. Either way, take the opportunity to encourage the employee and outline what you appreciate about the person.
Through the process, you might discover holes in your pay raise policies, so fix them in the interest of clarity. If the process uncovers disparities such as gender differences, then immediately address the problem.