Spotlight on ... pay reviews

Pay reviews are an opportunity for employees to really sell themselves. Ben Rowley reports on how this process can be more effectively managed

Summer promises much, but delivers little, to an average office professional. Sunny Mondays to Fridays give way to rainy weekends, hot lunchtimes melt into hotter train journeys home and those yearly pay reviews come and go faster than Tim Henman's latest Wimbledon bid - typically with similarly depressing results.

However, this year could be different. Just as Mr Henman is preparing for Centre Court with a new approach that may just see him succeed, today's insurance professionals, working in the current market, can adopt clever tactics to maximise their chances of receiving a strong pay review.

It may be true that the best way to guarantee a bumper pay rise is to move jobs but retention issues are a major concern for the industry. So, if you are heading for your latest pay review, how can you make sure you are in pole position?

The appraisal form is a chance for employees to set down in black and white the experience they have gained and the way they have developed during the past year. It is, in short, a big chance for employees to sell themselves - from their own perspective and with no interruptions.

However, faced with an appraisal form, most people come over terribly 'British' and instead of concentrating on the positives, dwell on the negatives; the areas they still need to work on rather than the areas they have excelled in.

It is important to remember that appraisals are powerful documents that are read and re-read, leaving a lasting impression of ability, so choose words wisely. Instead of saying "I think I have progressed" write, "I have progressed" or "clients/customers have commented favourably on".

Take your time

Although reviews naturally cast light on the preceding few months, think back through everything you have achieved during the past 12 months. Do not gloss over a fantastic result for the company or a particular department just because it happened soon after your last appraisal.

With every project or result mentioned, ask yourself whether it can be quantified. Supporting comment with hard figures and relating your work to the bottom line makes a far bigger impact than speedily jotting down any old answers because it needs to be with your manager or director within the hour.

Do not forget that companies have a set pool of money for pay reviews. Employers are much more willing to exercise a little of their flexibility to retain an existing member of staff if they feel that person will continue to add value to the firm. In a nutshell, your appraisal form should be approached as if it was your CV and as if you were applying for the next step up the career ladder in your current firm.

Discussing salaries at review time is the element that most people find difficult during the review process. People tend to be much more comfortable discussing their management development and project experience rather than their remuneration. However, employees work hard and develop to be rewarded accordingly and so it is inevitable that money will be broached.

While it is easy to feel embarrassed or to get flustered in this situation you will do yourself more favours by remaining calm and at ease, simply talking through the reasons you deserve the increase you have in mind. Be firm about expectations and state them clearly; never hedge the issue.

Do not be arrogant, however. Make it clear you are listening to any feedback. In fact, it is a good idea to ask immediate managers how they think further development can be achieved.

Their answer will give you a clear indication of the issues from their perspective, facilitating a discussion, even possibly changing their minds. For example, if it is raised in your appraisal that project management skills need to be improved, give clear examples of where these have been exemplary.

Policy of honesty

What happens if the company offers a pay rise but it is less than you were hoping for? What happens next? This is the most crucial part of the process and, as a consequence, the trickiest.

The pay rise indicates that the firm is happy with your progress but is it a fair offer? Employees should be honest with themselves, stand back and be realistic. There are industry norms for certain skill sets and levels and if employees price themselves out of the market they may never find the opportunity they are seeking. If a rise comes attached with a clear idea of how to continue progressing up the career ladder - and thus the salary scale - this should be very carefully considered.

Inflation rise

Salary levels usually only increase in line with inflation, although exceptional candidates, as always, can command a premium for their expertise.

As a general rule, firms will rarely increase salaries by more than about 10%, unless the review goes hand in hand with a promotion; therefore, securing a very high figure is unlikely. It is also worth bearing in mind that the higher your increase above the company's original offer, the more likely you are to see lower salary increases during the next year of employment.

This is because you will have been brought in at the top end of the salary bracket for your position. So, weigh up the position very carefully. If the company will not budge on salary, try negotiating on the benefits package instead but remember when to stop.

- Ben Rowley is a consultant with Joslin Rowe's insurance division.

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