Which Comes First: The Salary Increase or Great Performance?

I was recently providing training sessions to the staff of a company who was implementing a new performance management system.  People were eager to learn about what was changing, and training participants brought a lot of great questions to each session. 

The question posed by one person concerned me greatly, and unfortunately, it’s not the first time I’ve heard a version of this.  She asked, “what’s the point of evaluating performance when we haven’t had a salary increase in two years?  Some of my colleagues feel they no longer have to work as hard if they’re not getting an increase each year.”

I want to challenge you the same way I challenged her.  Whether you’ve ever felt this way or not, you may know someone who has and this could be an opportunity for you to encourage them.


Consider the situation impacting your employer’s decision not to provide an increase to salaries at this time?  Is it something within their span of control or is it a situation like we all experienced in 2008 and beyond with the meltdown of the global economy?  Some employers didn’t even survive that downturn much less provide increase salaries.  Try to understand what is driving your employer’s decision.  Once you understand that, the next question is one of reasonableness.


Is the action your employer is taking, or not taking, with regard to providing salary increases reasonable? Using our ongoing economic challenges as an example, is holding the line on all costs, including salaries, a reasonable decision to ensure the employer stays in business and as many of us as possible continue to have jobs? I know our family has done some belt tightening and chose not to take on any additional expenses, so is it not reasonable to expect an employer to act in the same way. 

I spoke with several companies over that period of time who were quite cognizant that their decision to hold salaries was hard on staff who were still working hard, and their decisions were not made lightly.  Some who were particularly hard hit actually made salary cuts in order to retain their staff.  For employers in the not-for-profit sector, they are always challenged to demonstrate prudent stewardship of financial resources and that comes under even closer scrutiny when the economy is under pressure. 

Understanding what is reasonable will differ for each organization and I encourage you to take the time to consider what is reasonable for your employer.  If your employer's reasons for not providing increases in spite of good performance are not valid and reasonable, then start a job search rather than sacrifice the quality of your work as a protest.  Employers who talk the talk of people being their most important resource, but don't walk the walk are not behaving ethically and don't deserve your loyalty.  


No matter what internal or external forces are creating a situation in which salary increases are not available, there is one thing we always have control over and that is the content of our character.  Doing your best work in every situation comes from within and is based on principles that should guide us regardless of fair or stormy conditions.  If I choose to remain with an employer in spite of their inability to provide me with a raise at this time then I owe it to myself and my guiding principles to do the kind of work that I can look back on with pride. 

The principles and standards that form the content of our characters are intended to guide us regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  If you’re prepared to compromise them for a salary increase then who are you really hurting – your employer may lose a short term benefit but ultimately, you’ve lost something of far greater value. 


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