While some employees may feel lucky just to have a job in this economy and have no expectations of a pay raise this year, there are employers who are offering workers not only double-digit raises, but bonuses as well.
“We figure we might as well make hay while the sun shines,” says Laura Zander, referring to her company giving raises of from 5 percent to 30 percent to its 12 workers. “It made us a little nervous, but we did it.”
Zander, CEO of Jimmy Beans Wool in Reno, Nev., says business was up – both in the brick and mortar business and online – by 80 percent last year.
“Based on last year’s performance, we felt we didn’t want to take away what employees had done,” she says, explaining that only one employee who was “exceptional” got a 30 percent raise. Those she calls “lesser performers” netted smaller raises.
According to a recent survey by Hewitt Associates, a majority of companies surveyed reported they would keep raises at 3 percent or less this year, the lowest average since the survey was started more than 32 years ago.
At Walker Sands Communications, a Chicago-based marketing and public relations firm, President Mike Santoro says raises were given to his 15 employees, ranging from 2 percent to “double digits” for a top performer who also garnered a promotion.
“It’s a tough time, but it’s also tough if you lose your ‘A’ players,” Santoro says. “You don’t want to risk them going somewhere else. Right now, you don’t want the cost of recruiting and training someone else.”
Will Koch, owner of HolidayWorld and Splashin’ Safari in Santa Claus, Ind., says that his 80 full-time employees (about 1,800 workers are seasonal) also received pay raises because business has been so good the last several years that the park is even adding “the world’s tallest water ride” this year.
Koch says that while his staff is very loyal, he knows that another great offer may come along to tempt them to leave. If that happens, he says he would consider a counteroffer of more pay to get them to stay.
“I’m always willing to listen if someone comes to me for more money when they can make the case that they provide real value to us,” he says. “But I don’t like hearing that they need money because they’re in trouble at home.”
Zander and Santoro agree. While they’re willing to offer raises to keep top performers and want to share the good times with workers, they are adverse to offering pay boosts just because an employee wants more money in these hard times.
“We did have one case where a girl had been working for us for about 10 months and doing a great job. We knew she had taken a second job to help pay the mortgage, so we gave her an early (pay) raise because we knew she was struggling,” Zander says. “She didn’t ask for it, but she was going to get it anyway.”
Santoro says that employees were “pleasantly surprised” to get raises after they were told that times were tough and it was time to hold the line on costs.
All the employers interviewed agreed that any employee wanting a raise needs to prove he or she is going above and beyond a job description and bringing real value to a company before asking for more money.
“If you had the guts to say I deserve this, and this is my value, then I think people (bosses) are more likely to listen to that person and a well thought-out reason,” Santoro says. “I know for me, it’s a frightening thought to think I may be losing a key performer.”
At the same time, these small employers believe it’s their standard practice of running a leaner operation during even the good times that has led to them being able to offer better-than-average raises during the bad times.
“It’s demoralizing not to get a raise when you work really hard and are a top performer,” he says.
Zander, who says her employees also were given year-end bonuses and a nice holiday party, notes that after eight years in business, she knows how critical every person is to the success of the multi-million dollar company.
“Sure, they were surprised to get the raises, but we felt like we had to reward them based on what they contributed to our success,” she says. “We couldn’t do it without them.”
Anita Bruzzese is author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy…and How to Avoid Them” (www.45things.com). Write to her c/o: Business Editor, Gannett News Service, 7950 Jones Branch Dr., McLean, VA 22107. For a reply, include a SASE.