The upside of your tiny pay raise

If you’re employed, you’re probably happy just to be hanging onto a job nowadays. Employers, striving to cut costs, took advantage of that this year, giving workers a median raise that was the smallest they’d seen in 29 years, according to separate surveys by Hay Group and Watson Wyatt.

According to the surveys, the median raise was between 2% and 3%, On the margins, Watson Wyatt estimates that top performers received an average raise of 4% while worse performing employees got 0.2% increases.

Not that this will provide much solace, but given that the Consumer Price Index has actually fallen in the last 12 months, the numbers might not be quite as bad as it would seem. The 12-month, 1.4% decline in the CPI (including food and energy), actually makes that raise more in the range of 3% to 4%. It’s hard to imagine, though, that companies will jumpstart raises once inflation comes back.

Hanging onto your job might seem like priority #1 nowadays, but you shouldn’t completely dismiss the possibility of getting higher compensation. If your job adds directly to a company’s bottom line, you’re more valuable than ever. Take a look at these tips on asking for a raise from Fortune.

I’ll add that a higher paycheck might not be the only thing you can squeeze out of your employer. Try asking for additional vacation days, a nicer office, or anything else that doesn’t increase the closely watched payroll. And if your boss gives a firm no, ask what you can do to turn that answer around. Your boss’s hands might simply be tied by a frozen payroll. But once it thaws, he or she will know that you’re likely to come back and ask again.

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