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Making All You're Worth


Employee: Morning boss, thanks for seeing me. I've just been wondering, uh. . .with the economy and all. . .er, I don't suppose you'll be giving any raises this year?

Boss: No.

Instant rejection. That's how you imagine it, as you sit at your desk and compare cost-of-living increases with a paycheck stub that hasn't changed in two years. You want a raise. You know you're doing good work. Your workload has almost doubled since the last round of golden handshakes. But just when you're getting up the nerve to ask, an inner voice of caution speaks up:

Ask for a raise?

When the U.S. Labor Department's latest jobless figures show unemployment rising to 9.6% in Los Angeles County?

When your company's quarterly earnings just dropped another 10% and downsize and deadwood roll off the corporate tongue like a theme song?

Turn off that inner voice. It's holding you back. And so is your childish perception of your boss as a bad-tempered authority figure. Those are outdated images, says Adele Scheele, a Manhattan-based career consultant and columnist for Working Woman magazine. Getting a raise in the '90s may be mostly up to you.

"It's true that companies are being pinched by the downturned economy," she says. "But the bigger news is that organizations have changed because the nature of hierarchies doesn't work anymore."

We're dropping the schoolroom model that says you just have to pass to get promoted every year. "Don't expect that you'll get a raise just by doing your job," she says. "To get more money today, you have to change your attitude."

And bosses agree. "Business and industry are in an incredible squeeze today and we have to perform more with less," says Janet Sanford, president and publisher of Visalia Newspapers Inc. "Maybe companies in the '80s gave raises just for breathing but no more. People who want raises should not look to the company--they should look to themselves."

"The high-flying spending of the '80s is over," says Noeleta Lacey, whose Lacey Shorthand Reporting Corp. in the mid-Wilshire area has a staff of 35. "Today, to get a raise, you've got to earn your keep. If someone is really on the ball, with an incredible awareness of company needs and ideas for cost-saving techniques, then they should speak up and they will be rewarded."

At giant Arco Towers downtown, the message is similar. "There's nothing wrong with an employee asking for a pay raise," says John H. Kelly, vice president of human resources. "However Arco and many other companies already have formal systems in place to review and reward outstanding performance. We encourage our employees to focus on two things--doing the best job they can in their current position and taking the initiative to develop and broaden their skills and experiences."

At Northern California's Fetzer Vineyards, President Paul Dolan, whose company employs 400, also emphasizes personal responsibility. "If someone wants to come to me and ask for a raise, I say, 'Great. How are we going to do that?' And we'll talk about it. They have to earn a raise."

Some executives are looking at alternatives to paying out more money. Bill Burke, chief operating officer for Fitch Inc., design and business consultants, says he has "sort of moved from Santa Claus to Simon Legree, in terms of office perception."

Burke oversees a creative staff of 150 in Boston and Columbus, Ohio. "The toughest role any boss has to play is dismissing an employee or having to say 'no' to a raise request," he says. "We don't like it, but we really don't have the financial resources we had in the '80s. I find myself thinking, 'Gee, I don't really want to give someone a double-digit increase unless I have to.' On the other hand, good people can always find another job and I don't want to lose them."

His advice to both sides is to look for win-win situations. "We are discovering there are different ways to provide compensation. Maybe you can take half your expected raise in salary and another half in a work tool like an upgraded computer, or some flex time or a training course. The key is keeping what you do off the salary cost line."

The unprecedented reshaping of the American work force is permanent. "Many typical jobs in large companies are simply going away and will not come back," says Edward Lawler, director of USC's Center for Effective Organizations.

Athletic shoes may be made in China, insurance claims processed in Ireland, microprocessors designed in Israel and computer software debugged in Russia. "The key element is global competition, which means you are in competition in your job with people all over the world," Lawler says.

The resulting scaled-down workplace, with its shrunken payroll, offers few corners for hiding and no room for modesty.

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