What I Learned From Trying To Negotiate Non-Compensation Benefits For The First Time

If you’re a woman in the workplace, you’ve probably heard that women have a hard time asking for more money. Few women negotiate ever, and those that do run the risk of being seen as greedy or pushy. The results of this cultural stigma and fear are predictably dismaying: not negotiating your salary could cost you $1 million over your lifetime.

I’ve been thinking about these statistics a lot since I realized that annual reviews were just around the corner. My team and I kicked ass in the last year, but an industry downturn might mean that bonuses could be few and far between. I wasn’t worried that my company would purposefully give me a raw deal, but at the same time, I recognized that it might be worth asking for non-monetary recognition. Which would mean (gulp) negotiating.

Despite my fears, I knew this was something I needed to do, and if nothing else would be a valuable experience. It was time to gird my loins and figure it out.

Before we proceed

While I consider my negotiation a success, it was not without stumbles — the biggest of which was my not understanding how my employer defines things like “raise,” “bonus,” and “cost of living adjustment.” These terms may be used interchangeably at some companies, or be defined differently by different companies.  It wasn’t until I was knee-deep in this effort that I learned that these things are not negotiable at my company — we are compensated based on set criteria. It might be different with your employer; that’s why it’s so important for you to have these conversations well before annual review time, so you go in with the right knowledge.

As long as you’re nosing around asking HR to define things for you, I highly encourage you to also take a deep dive into your benefits package. You may be taking advantage of company-provided health insurance or a 401(k) program, but do they also offer something like an ESPP (employee stock purchase plan)? These aren’t necessarily things you can negotiate for, especially if you’re not a new hire, but they are extra ways you can invest in yourself and your company.

The research

TFDers have written a lot about negotiating and knowing your worth, so I started with some salary research. I’ve always felt adequately paid, so this was mostly an effort to confirm that belief and try to get a sense of my likely salary cap: am I close to getting paid as much as my company will pay me in my current role? Gathering this info didn’t affect my decision to talk to my boss about recognition, but it’s good information to have for the future.

Finding allies

Once I felt comfortable with the basic numbers, I called the smartest people I know: my parents. I explained that I’d be doing some negotiating and asked for their advice. The first thing my stepdad said was to make it an ongoing discussion with my boss, rather than scheduling a set time to have an Official, Scary Conversation. He recommended I ask things like:

  • Do you have any insight into what recognition we might expect? If not, when do you think we’ll start hearing concrete information?
  • Are there are alternative ways I could be compensated? What would you negotiate for in this situation?

My mom stressed that I didn’t have to have an official conversation until I was ready. I could always say, “Can I think about what you said and come back to this later? I may have more questions.” They both encouraged me to think outside the traditional benefits box. Was there something making my job harder that my boss could change? Was there a skill I wanted to develop that my boss could give me opportunities with?

Lastly, they wanted me to make sure I knew what I would do if my negotiations were unsuccessful. Would it mean putting in for an internal transfer, or even starting to look for positions outside my company? This wasn’t meant to be used as an ultimatum (“Give me X or I walk”), just an internal thing I would know for myself.

What I asked for

After having multiple informal conversations with my boss, doing research online, asking friends for more advice, and considering what would make me a more productive member of my team, I ended up asking for three things:

  1. To work from home once per week.
  2. To be given more opportunities to present to leadership.
  3. To be granted additional company stock.

Notice these aren’t actually “bonuses” — they’re things I believe will help me do my job better and be more useful to my team and company.

How I asked for it

I started the meeting by thanking my boss for being open to these conversations, for fighting to make sure my team is recognized, and emphasizing that I’m excited about the work we’ve done and are planning to do. I also listed some of the feedback she’d given me throughout the year, and gave examples of how I believed I’d incorporated that feedback and how that contributed to successful projects:

I’ve heard your feedback over the last few months, and I’ve done my best to do A and B. I believe I’ve maintained high productivity despite our increased workload, and completed several projects (like X and Y) that have helped our customers, our team, and other teams.

Then I listed my requests:

  • I’ve found that working from home really helps my stress level, as well as my physical health. I’d like to work from home X. I would, of course, be flexible and come in on days when it’s important I be physically present.
  • I want more opportunities to present to other teams and leadership. I’d like the opportunity to bring more visibility to our team and the great work we’re doing.
  • I’d like to have X of our company stock. I believe in our mission and values, and I think we’re going to continue to be successful.

How it went

I consider the experience a 95% success! It was terrifying, but I knew that what I was asking for was well-researched and reasonable. At the end of the meeting, my boss even commended me for taking the bull by the horns.

The only thing my boss couldn’t give me was company stock. Not that it was an unreasonable request — it’s just because our stock award program doesn’t work the way I thought it did. Another lesson learned, and now I have additional context that I didn’t have before. I’m fortunate to work for a great company and have a boss who is open to these conversations — I know that not everyone can say the same. Negotiating may not be the most fun thing, but it’s so critical, especially for women. By sharing this experience, I hope to empower others to have their own important financial conversations.

Becca prefers to write under a pen name.

Image via Unsplash

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