As the economy begins to recover, salary increases should do the same.
In the past few years, employers have raised workers' salaries by about 4 percent per year -- except for 2009, when the figure dropped to a historically low 2.1 percent, according to a survey of employers by global human resources association WorldatWork. About one-third of companies froze raises altogether.
For 2010, WorldatWork's survey projects an average salary increase budget of 2.7 percent, a figure that shows how the situation has improved but also that the job market is still weak. Between 10 percent and 15 percent of companies said they would freeze raises -- far fewer than in 2009, but still more than in most years.
New Approach for Raises
"Jobs don't typically recover quite like the economy," said Alison Avalos, research manager for WorldatWork. "We still see a lot of conservative approaches for 2010."
Underlying these figures is a change in the way employers give raises. Employers have started "using increases as a tool to motivate and retain talent rather than something that everybody gets," Avalos said. "Employers have realized that they can get a lot more bang for their buck if they tailor their rewards based on performance."
This means that even with the low average increase, some employees are getting larger raises -- and some are getting none at all.
Position Yourself Well
How can you be one of the employees to get a raise? Avalos and others offer the following tips:
* Do your job well. This means producing high-quality work, of course, but also keeping the big picture in mind.
"It really comes down to positioning yourself as a high performer, somebody who is aware of business goals and helps the company meet their goals as an organization," Avalos said.
* Be visible. When times are tough, some workers think, "I'm going to hunker down and hope that nobody notices me, because I don't want to be on a layoff list," said Richard Phillips, owner of Advantage Career Solutions. This is a mistake, because you're unlikely to get a raise if no one knows what you have accomplished. "If anything, what you want to do is be more visible."
* Make your boss's life easier. This means everything from having a good attitude to taking on extra tasks. If you don't know how you can help your boss, ask.
* Ask for a raise. Talk to your boss and present your case: Here's what I've done, here's how it fits with the company's goals, here's why I think it's worth a salary increase. In some cases, even if your company has an official raise freeze, you can get a raise if you make a good case.
If the answer is no -- or if you're not ready to ask directly -- Phillips suggests asking, "What would you like to see from me that would put me in line for a raise?"
A question like this can improve your standing. "Just asking the question says to the boss, 'I'm thinking about where I fit in here, what I can do,'" Phillips said. "That in and of itself has value."