It won't come as news to many that pay rises are thin on the ground these days. But the extent of this wages squeeze may still be a surprise. Earlier this year, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) revealed that 2013 actually brought the most sustained and severe fall in real wages since at least the Second World War.
Until 2009, pay tended to rise faster than prices. Since then, though, average regular weekly earnings excluding bonuses have fallen by between eight and 1.04 percent. And a third of workers say they're not expecting a pay rise this year.
"Earnings growth has... been concentrated of late in wholesale and retail, hotels and restaurants, manufacturing and construction and may in part be due to more hours being worked rather than an increase in hourly pay. Pay awards in general are not showing signs of significant acceleration," says CIPD chief economist Mark Beatson.
"Until we see clear evidence that business and consumer confidence are delivering investment and improved productivity, we are unlikely to see significant increases in real hourly pay."
In times like these, it's natural to worry that asking for a pay rise could rock the boat. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. Here are seven tips on asking for a pay rise that might just see you laughing all the way to the bank.
You may have spent all weekend brooding about how under-appreciated you are, but first thing on a Monday morning is never a good time to drop a problem in your boss's lap: and dissatisfied staff are always a problem. The same applies to Friday afternoon. Equally, your changes are clearly going to be much better if you've been performing well of late. And it goes without saying that your chances of success will be higher of the company has just announced record profits than if it's planning a round of redundancies.
While many companies, especially smaller ones, handle pay rises on an ad-hoc basis, others have a formal set of procedures. Pay increases may only be considered on the anniversary of the employee joining the company, for example, or towards the end of the financial year when budgets are being set. Similarly, in a small company it may be appropriate just to have a chat with the boss, whereas a larger organisation will expect a formal approach through the HR department. In the public sector, pay is often dealt with centrally, and the only way to get a rise may be to argue that you deserve to be in a higher grade.
Establish the going rate
If you've been at one company for any length of time, it's easy to lose track of the going rate for your particular type of work. Whatever you do, don't go into a meeting complaining that "Fred at the next desk is paid more than me" - you may look petty, and could easily be wrong.
Looking at job ads can give you a rough idea of the going rate, and several employment websites have salary checkers that allow you to see the average wage for a given job title (there's one here). Bear in mind, though, that these can be rather blunt tools, as the actual job description can vary widely: the head of IT for an international bank is going to command a rather higher salary than the head of IT for a three-person company.
Quantify your contribution
But it's not just a question of the going rate: you also need to be able to demonstrate your individual worth - and the most effective way to do this is to try and quantify your contribution. Don't just suggest that you're doing a good job: point out that you've increased sales by a certain percentage or attracted new clients. You should also discuss the improved contribution you can make in future, perhaps by taking on extra work or responsibilities.
Don't be greedy or emotional
Even if you feel your pay should be doubled, there's little point asking for something you know you just won't get - so be realistic. And plan in advance how you intend to handle the meeting. Make a straightforward request, present your reasoning, and consider how you'll deal with their likely responses. Don't get personal, shout, or burst into tears - and, above all, don't threaten to leave if you don't get your own way. They may just call your bluff.
Look for improved benefits instead
If you can't get the money you're after, think laterally. Could you make a case for some other benefit instead, such as a company car, subsidised travel or flexi-time (which could save you money on childcare)? It may even be worth asking for more professional training - if it increases your worth to the company, you could be in a better position to ask for a rise next year.
Learn from rejection
If your request is rejected, take the news gracefully. You may feel it's time to look round for another job, but there's no need to antagonise your existing employer. It's worth asking just what would get you a pay rise in future; then you can work towards those objectives. You should also ask when it would be appropriate to try again...