Asking for a raise soon after getting one?

I work for a boss who’s not much of a people-person, often forgetting administrative duties and sometimes needing prodding to do “boss things” like hiring a temp to cover someone’s vacation. In that example, it’s not that he is too cheap to hire the temp, or thinks we don’t need one…it just seems to evade him until pointed out. He doesn’t often come around to my area.

We’re government contractors for a small agency. I think we’re halfway through a 4-year contract at the moment, so his balance sheet may be relatively fixed.

For reasons that elude me, he does not give regular performance reviews. When we go too long without a review or pay increase, he gets reminded by my immediate supervisor, and thusly we get raises roughly every 18 months. It’s hard for me to tell, maybe the plan is specifically 18 months, but it looks more like people just eventually nag him into it. When that happens, there’s no process or even a meeting – we were informed of the last two raises via email. There may be an appraisal, but not much feedback reaches me.

Our last raise was September 1…not too long ago. It was probably decent by government standards…over the last 3 years, I’ve had two raises totaling 13%. Taking into account the 18 month cycle, that’s still roughly 4.33% per year. The government got 3.5% this year if I understand the business page correctly. I don’t know if I should be doing substantially better than the gov’t, it’s unclear to me whether contracting is the same as “private enterprise,” and anyway I don’t know how that percentage stacks up against the private sector anyway. Of course the amount I got serves as both cost-of-living and merit raise.

My official position is not that important, and they’d probably hate to pay me a lot more. However, I do a lot of pinch-hitting, filling in for roles that are not part of my original job description, and also I notice a lot of little details and follow through on them, tying up a lot of loose ends and anticipating the agency’s needs. My supervisor and even my boss have both come to rely on my verbal skills to compose reports and even phrase tricky interactions with the client, like handling complaints about the client without being offputting, and rendering down complicated issues into a few clear sentences. I’m also picked to train new people for some of our positions.

The government client also seems to appreciate me. I recently got a certificate and a nice letter for helping out the agency’s head office…when they needed someone absolutely dependable and discreet to fill in for the agency head’s personal secretary, they asked for me, skipping over several other people. Note that my job function is not secretarial…I’m an archivist and document scanner…but they seem to have noticed that I make problems go away.

The real problem is, I’m not making enough base salary to get by. I mean, literally. I hardly ever buy myself things…at all…I save money as much as possible, and yet just paying routine bills has repeatedly forced me to scrape the bottom of our bank accounts. Last month we got forbearance on the mortgage, and I won’t even be able to pay that this month, due mostly to another big vet bill ($532 surgery) and a bizarrely high cell phone bill (my wife ran way over minutes without realizing…several hundred dollars over.) So I’m looking at an emergency consumer tide-me-over loan of some kind…in the next few days…but the real problem is, even after that, I need more income. Not to be comfortable, but just not to be constantly in terror of bankruptcy.

In an ideal world, it seems like if I work hard and important people appreciate my work, I shouldn’t be scrambling to make ends meet and avoiding buying socks for years at a time.

My weakness is that I have no real head for business or money, and I do not have a degree, not having finished college. I’m strong verbally and I’m conscientious and detail-oriented and somewhat personable and have shown ability to handle difficult clients diplomatically.

I know I could look for work, but I’m not even sure how to find out if there are better-paying jobs out there or if I could land them. My last job search was very long and not one place let me know what money to expect until the moment of the offer, so I’m not confident I’ll be able to even tell if looking for work would get me more money, if that makes any sense. My jobs so far have not been the kind that people dangle big paychecks to lure employees. I hesitate to look for, apply for, and interview for, jobs that wouldn’t result in a significant increase anyway.

Ideally, I’d be able to tell my boss, “I need more money to stay alive and to keep my morale from melting away…I’ve done a lot for you guys and been good at it…you’ve been decent to me personally, and your raises have actually been respectable…so I hate to sound like I’m holding you up for cash…especially after the recent raise…but I feel like my salary just doesn’t amount to enough to get by on in the context of the high standard of living here. Could we make a significant one-time adjustment to my base rate? Even if I have to take on new duties, a new role, or go to training for something?”

But the boss is somewhat set in his ways, has trouble anticipating his employees’ needs, probably feels constrained by the fixed contract, and might be offended so soon after the raise…especially since he’s used to waiting a long time before giving out the next one.

He could probably get someone to do my baseline job description for the same or maybe even less money, but he can’t rely on finding the kind of employee whom the head office would ask for by name in a crisis.

He’s recently had a lot of trouble holding on to employees at another position; there’s been quite a bit of turnover, and the perception of people I’ve talked to is that the boss didn’t like having to find new hires for that role over and over. That might make him more willing to give me money, I don’t know.

Any advice would be sincerely appreciated.


Could you ask for a promotion instead of a raise? Something that formalizes the ‘pinch hitting’ that you do, and has a salary to reflect your new duties?

If they have a turnover problem, that might help in two ways. One, if they give you the raise, and two, they aren’t about to make you feel vulnerable if they turn you down, which is always a risk if they are overstaffed.

I don’t know if they’re mentally flexible enough to promote me; they’d have to create and define a new role, at least to some degree. But phrasing it that way might be more palatable than just a naked money grab.


My advice to you: never ask for a raise because you “need more money.” You need to make a case for why you deserve a raise. When someone at my work says this, we absolutely laugh them out of the room. An employee needing more money is not at all a legitimate reason for a raise. We ALL need more money!