Why I Tell Team Members To Never Ask For A Raise — And What I Say I’ll Do For Them Instead
I tell my team they should never ask for a raise.
I once explained this philosophy during a meeting at a previous job. The entire room was stunned. You could hear a pin drop. I told them how I believed people shouldn’t have to ask for raises, and that if their manager is trustworthy and invested in their success, then their great work will be recognized and rewarded naturally and accordingly.
Now, I know this is a controversial take. Conventional wisdom dictates that you should always be prepared to ask for a raise when you feel you’ve earned one. But let me explain why I believe this approach is the kindest, happiest way to build a team.
Just to be clear: this philosophy isn’t explicitly stated in any of our onboarding materials at my startup, NakedPoppy. And of course, I don’t avoid conversations about compensation entirely. But I firmly believe when you work hard to create a company culture built on trust, there’s no need for anyone to ask for raises.
When people are assured they’ll get one if they deserve one — because their manager has led by example — team members can focus on more important things. Like doing excellent work serving the customer, or finding other ways to add value to the organization.
When this precedent isn’t set from the beginning, worrying about getting a raise can lead people to become “internally focused.”
An internally focused team member spends too much time and energy thinking about things other than the customer.
They’re prone to approach their work in a state of wonder: wondering when they should ask for a raise, contemplating how they should dress the day they ask for it, thinking about the projects they’ll bring up in support of their argument, etc. And these things can quickly become consuming concerns.
As a co-founder, I want the team focused on the customer — not worrying about themselves.
I can even sense when someone plans on asking for a raise.
I clearly remember the time one of our top performers sat down across from me in my office, clearly about to ask for one. “Don’t ask,” I laughed. “I’m already thinking about giving you a raise, but just please don’t ask!”
She nodded and walked out without saying a word. (And got her well-deserved raise soon after.)
This approach was necessary because in my experience, word gets around. Others start thinking about doing the same, and internal focus spreads.
Perhaps at some companies, fighting for yourself is necessary. Is this the culture you want? Or do you want to reward your team members proactively, without them having to ask for it?
Founders: If you want to institute the “don’t ask” policy, you have to consider team satisfaction and rewards one of your most important priorities. This definitely requires paying attention to people’s effort and productivity so you know exactly when someone deserves a raise. In other words, be thinking about raises and promotions — so your employees don’t have to.
I take a similar approach to initial salaries when people join my company.
When I hire someone, salary is non-negotiable for a few reasons.
When I’m ready to give a candidate a job offer, everyone hears the same thing: “I’m going to give you the best offer I possibly can, and we’re not going to negotiate.”
First, salary negotiations put women at a disadvantage. Historically, research has shown that women ask for raises far less frequently than men. But even a recent study suggesting that women ask for raises at the same rate found that even when we do ask, we’re less likely to receive them.
And besides: who wants to start their new job and relationship with their manager with a negotiation?
It’s worth noting that I’ve never asked for a raise in my entire 30+ year career — and I feel I’ve been rewarded for my contributions. And let me tell you, receiving a raise feels so much more rewarding and meaningful when you don’t have to ask.
Instead of feeling like a squeaky wheel, you feel genuinely appreciated.
I vividly remember a team member crying tears of joy while talking to her mom on the phone after we gave her a substantial raise. I’m sure it wouldn’t have felt so overwhelming and incredible had she asked for the pay increase. But since we gave it to her out of the blue, it surprised and delighted her. And it was a wonderful, heartwarming moment for me as well — which is one of the reasons I love giving raises this way.
Leaders who proactively reward their employees when they recognize great work create happy, secure teams. And when building security and trust is your goal, I truly believe the “don’t ask” approach is the best way to give raises and promotions.