Despite being one of the most important factors of work life, discussing pay with bosses is an issue fraught with anxiety for many employees.
And the issue has been thrust into the spotlight once again, with new reports suggesting that gender plays an unwelcome role in salary negotiations.
As reported by The Guardian, just just one in five women who ask for a pay rise are successful in receiving one. By comparison, just under a third of men who ask for more money achieve a pay rise, according to a new YouGov survey of more than 16,000 adults. The poll also found that of the 40% of people who asked for a pay rise, just over a quarter succeeded.
Out of the respondents, 43% of men had asked for a pay rise, compared with 33% of women. Out of these, 31% of the men were successful, while 21% of women got their pay increase. Furthermore, among 18-29 workers, 18% of men and 16% of women have asked for a pay rise and received one. However, for adults in their 30s, just under a third (31%) of men who asked for a pay rise were successful, compared with 19% of women.
The YouGov analysis comes after gender pay gap reporting was made mandatory by the government in 2017 for all companies with more than 250 employees.
Jemima Olchawski, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society, told the publication that the UK had a “pernicious gender pay gap that needs to be tackled”.
"Detailed academic research disputes the idea that women are less likely to ask for a pay rise and instead finds that they ask at a similar rate, but typically get slightly less", she said, adding: "That said, it’s simply not right that women continue to be undervalued for the work they do – be that in paid work or caring responsibilities.
“This research suggests that a gender gap in asking opens in our 30s. That’s when most mothers have their first children – and with so many flexible working requests refused, we know too many mums feel precarious enough in getting work they can do, let along getting a raise. What you come into a job with matters too – it’s not just about pay rises and bonuses.”
Man 'sacked' for asking about pay day
However, aside from asking for a pay rise, one worker claims they were sacked hours before starting a new job, simply for asking when pay day was. According to the Daily Mail, an unnamed man posted a text message conversation on Reddit, which showed the moment he was told not to come in, after asking about the pay schedule.
In the texts, the man asked his boss how often he would be paid, which he followed up by asking for what date he would earn his first wage packet.
However, at this point the boss apparently had a change of heart and told the worker not to bother coming into work that day as planned. “I change my mind I would hire someone whose desire is to work for the company,” he wrote.
He was told that the company needs people who are “willing to work with the flow”, and “Your priority is only pay and I am not looking for candidates whose priority is only pay,” he wrote.
Many commenters were quick to criticise the boss and their reaction, with one person saying: “Asking about when you should expect to get paid, the payment method and the payment rate are all valid questions before starting a new job. He dodged a bullet”.
How should HR manage pay rise requests?
On its website, employment website Monster outlines several ways that HR leaders can approach higher salary requests from workers.
The website explains: “In all negotiations with employees, it goes without saying that fairness is the key and giving your employee a chance to discuss their request is part of the way forward.
“Whilst you are discussing pay, it is important always to recognise the difference between the value of the role your employees perform and their value as a person to your company.
“If you are not able to facilitate a pay rise at the time, then the most positive way to approach this is to re-evaluate an employee's contribution and responsibility and link this to a pay rise – if not immediately, then in the future. This is an approach that employees often respond to better than simply telling them that they are not entitled to a pay increase either now or in the future.”
How else can HR support workers’ financial wellbeing?
Understandably, the issue of pay rises is becoming increasingly prevalent, given the ongoing cost of living crisis. Unfortunately, even for workers confident enough to ask for a higher salary, this may not be an option for many companies struggling financially after the pandemic.
However, Hannah Copeland, HR Business Partner at employment law and HR support firm WorkNest, previously provided HR Grapevine with alternative ways employers can support their workers’ finances:
Benchmarking salaries – Whilst cost of living might outweigh increases, ensuring you are informed on the latest market trends will mean that you can make informed decisions about remuneration and reward.
Employers must be open and transparent when it comes to pay reviews – even if the review doesn’t lead to a pay rise then it is vital that this is communicated and some thought has gone in to looking at salaries and considering whether a pay rise could be applied.
Flexible/hybrid working – can you permit employees to work from home more often to help reduce their cost of travel whilst also having a positive impact on work-life balance?
Employers may feel more able to consider whether they can support individuals financially on the basis of their broader benefits offering.
Review other non-financial benefits related to employee wellbeing, engagement and development – soft skills training/development for example can help keep people engaged whilst keeping costs low. Whilst it is not directly comparable to a pay rise, we know that employees are motivated and engaged by a number of different factors. You could conduct a pulse survey of your employees to find out what they value the most as an employee within your organisation.
Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) are a key investment for many businesses – somewhere that employees can go to get support in a huge variety of areas such as mortgage advice, financial planning, debt management alongside many other unrelated issues.