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What Can I Negotiate at Work?


Your terms and conditions of Employment as well as Separation can often be negotiated if you’re in a non-union workplace.  (In unionized workplaces, the union negotiates for everyone and the details are summarized in the Collective Agreement).

We know we’re expected to negotiate when we buy a car or home.  The seller starts high, the buyer counter-acts low.  Then the two settle somewhere in the middle and both feel they’ve won.  

So why do so many of us, especially women, avoid negotiating at work and then have that niggly feeling that we’ve lost or been taken advantage of?  It’s usually a combo of fear and not knowing how to do it.  I believe if you don’t ask, you won’t get what you need and want;  you have at least a 50% chance of hearing “yes” instead of “no”!  But you want to go in to negotiations well prepared with the facts, unemotional and with a positive attitude.  Think about:

  • Upon initial hire:  Few initial offers are set in stone yet many new hires accept what is offered.  If you’re the number one candidate, the employer will be more willing to negotiate.  Don’t be shy about asking for a copy of the role and responsibilities document as well as the salary range for the role (the minimum, midpoint or job rate and maximum).  In Ontario, every employer with 10+ employees is required to have a Pay Equity Plan which ensures internal equity.  Most employers also have a compensation strategy which summarizes where they’d like to be positioned in the external workplace:  the top payer, in the top decile, top quartile, etc.  You can do your own salary survey using data from your professional association, PayScale.com, etc.  With this information plus a summary of how your knowledge, skills and experience will add measurable value, you can negotiate a starting salary somewhere between the minimum and midpoint of the range.  With a very persuasive business case, you may be able to negotiate between the midpoint and maximum.     
  • For your annual salary adjustment:  Keep a weekly list of your STAR’s (date, Situation or Task, Actions you took, Results with metrics you achieved).  Using this data, you can demonstrate how you’ve added measurable value, impacted the employer’s effectiveness, efficiency and economy, exceeded (not just met) expectations and have earned a salary adjustment that goes above and beyond the standard raise.  And don’t forget those things other than money that motivate you:  extra vacation time, working from home, a ProDev program, a fitness membership…these are all worth money and may be an easier “yes” for your employer.
  • If you are terminated without cause:  This is more common as employers restructure to stay competitive in ever changing global markets.  In Ontario there is a spectrum with Employment Standards (the minimum to be paid) at one end, Common Law (the gold standard) at the other end.  Again, you want to research the legislation as well as the law, get a legal opinion to confirm your strategy and then nogotiate your package.  

When you do your homework, go in with the facts and are ready to collaborate, it’s hard for your boss to say “no”.  Yes, you need to work hard.  But you also want to work smart by negotiating in your own best interests as well as those of your employer. 

Just like buying your first car or house, the anticipation is scarier than pulling a Nike.  Prepare a script, practice and then “just do it”!