Whether you’re a rheumatologist or a rheumatology health professional, unless you are self-employed, the time will come when you start thinking it may be time to ask for a raise. The thought of asking for a raise likely conjures up anything but warm and fuzzy feelings, but if you do it at the right time—and for the right reasons—you greatly improve your chances of the conversation going well.
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Explore This IssueAugust 2017
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When requesting a raise, make sure you’re asking at a good time. “The key is to understand what’s going on in your environment,” says Mark Szypko, CCP, GRP, vice president, Compensation Strategy, Salary.com, Wellesley, Mass.
“If your practice is performing well—revenue is up, the practice is expanding and patient satisfaction is high, that’s a good time [to ask for a raise],” says Patricia Mathews, owner and principal consultant, Workplace Experts LLC, Sarasota, Fla. “You should also try to gauge your boss’ mood. Is he having a good day, week or month? When things are going well for decision makers, you have a better chance of succeeding in your request.”
After a positive performance review is also a great time to bring the subject up. “You already have your boss’ time and attention, and a good review provides an excellent springboard and segue for requesting a raise,” says Dan Jennings, regional vice president, The Medicus Firm, Atlanta.
Conversely, it is not in your best interest to ask for more money if your practice is struggling or has just spent a lot of money on a capital equipment purchase. Further, if your practice is going through a restructuring or downsizing phase, steer clear.
Of course, if you recently made a bad error or your performance is rated below average, forget about asking your boss to pony up, Mr. Szypko says.
Other reasons to wait, according to Ms. Mathews, are if:
- You haven’t been in the position for more than one year;
- It’s a Monday or it’s late in the day—especially Friday;
- You are having a bad day;
- You have just returned from sick leave, vacation or a conference;
- Patients have complained about you; or
- You need more money due to personal issues not related to work.
Be straightforward when requesting a private meeting to talk about your pay. While asking (whether verbally or in an email), mention a few reasons why you believe you deserve a raise. Although compensation is a highly emotive subjective, it’s important to not be emotional during such conversations. “The key is to lay out the facts in a matter-of-fact, professional manner,” Mr. Szypko says.
Be confident and prepared so you are able to sell your boss on the reasons why a raise is logical and deserved. Do research to ascertain what you’re worth in your geographic region given your length of time in your position and the quality of your performance, Ms. Mathews says. You can obtain this information from websites, such as GlassDoor or PayScale, or possibly from your human resources department or a professional network or organization.
Write notes about why you’re raiseworthy, and then rehearse what you will say beforehand. “Do this out loud with someone else, or record yourself and play it back,” Ms. Mathews suggests. “See if you sound confident. Make your points quickly, and don’t ramble.”
Speak slowly, and listen to your boss’ reactions. Engage your boss in some small talk—sharing personal details helps put both of you at ease and makes it more likely that your boss will listen to your request. “You could say, ‘This is not easy for me. I’m not comfortable talking about myself or my accomplishments. But this is important to me.’” You could also acknowledge that this may not be a comfortable discussion for your boss.
Keep in mind that your boss may not be aware of your extra work or may take your reliability or high-quality performance for granted. Give some specific examples of when you have gone above and beyond, displayed excellent teamwork, received good reviews from patients, took on additional responsibilities and so forth, Ms. Mathews says.
Begin the conversation by saying something like, “Thank you for your willingness to meet with me today to discuss my pay. I sincerely enjoy working for this practice (then include a few things you value—such as the staff, patients, your work, the leadership or the work environment). I have done some research and found that I am being paid X percentage less than what I am worth in the market and less than what other organizations are paying. Given the value I bring to this organization, here is why I deserve an increase in pay.” Then state your list of reasons.
During the discussion, employ professional body language. Face your boss, and make eye contact. Avoid subjective statements, such as, “I think I’m due for an increase in pay,” or “I think my work has been very good.”
Getting a higher offer from another organization may help you negotiate a raise in your current position. However, you must be willing to accept the other job if your boss says that he or she cannot match the salary you have been offered.
Rheumatologists should bear in mind whether their employer bases productivity on collections or relative value units (RVUs)—a measurement used to assign a point value to procedures, encounters, etc. that a physician does, which is then translated into a dollar value for compensation and bonus purposes.
Along with that information, rheumatologists should know their personal productivity. “If you are going to ask your employer for a raise because you outproduce your salary, then you need to know the amount by which you are actually outproducing your salary,” says Mr. Jennings, adding that you’ll need to keep in mind your personal allotment of overhead as well.
If you can show that your collections exceed the combination of your salary and overhead, then you are in a good position. If RVUs are a factor in your productivity/income calculation, know how many work RVUs you account for in your practice. Compare those with other contracts for a rheumatologist in your market or nationally. “If you have a salary that is set at the national median, but you produce RVUs at a volume equivalent to or better than the 75th percentile, then you have leverage to ask for a raise,” Mr. Jennings says.
How Much to Ask For
There are different schools of thought on whether or not you should ask for a specific dollar amount or simply more money. “It depends on your comfort level and how specific your financial needs are,” says Mr. Jennings, who advises stating an amount. “Keep in mind that whatever amount you ask for will probably be negotiated down.”
As a physician, if you can put a multiplier (an amount you should be paid per RVU) to your productivity, you should be able to give that specific number to your employer, Mr. Jennings explains. Or if you can show that your net collections are regularly a set amount over your salary and overhead, then you should ask your employer to match that number.
Often, productivity incentives are built into a physician’s employment agreement. Employers will typically set a salary that leaves room for a rheumatologist to outperform and earn beyond that with a bonus. “If you’re a high producer, then a flat base salary is not ideal,” Mr. Jennings says. “If you are already in a contract in which you are not paid by what you produce, you may want to consider asking your employer to switch you into a compensation structure that is based on RVUs. It shows that you are eager to earn more and that you know you have to produce accordingly to hit those numbers and get paid more.”
Instead of asking for a specific dollar amount, you could ask for a specific percentage increase. For example, if you are an excellent performer and are being paid 4% below the market average in your geographic area, then ask for an 8–10% raise. “Assume that your boss may come back with a counter offer that is lower than what you have requested, so asking for slightly more than what you want gives you room to negotiate,” Ms. Mathews says. “Be the first one to state the range of the increase you are seeking, because this gives you an advantage in the negotiation process.”
Mr. Szypko believes it’s not in your best interest to specify a dollar amount because your manager may have been willing to give you more.
Regardless of which method you use, knowing what you are worth is critical, Ms. Mathews says. Typically, a pay range has a low, midpoint and high salary. People who have worked in a profession for three to seven years will generally fall around the midpoint of that range. Employees or clinicians who have been in the profession for 10 or more years are generally paid at the 75th percentile or higher. Low performers will be paid between the first quartile and midpoint, and high performers will more likely be paid somewhere between the midpoint and the 75th percentile or even higher. Merit increases for employees generally fall in the range of 1–6%, depending on quality of performance, so consider this as well.
When an Increase Isn’t Up to Par
If the increase your boss offers doesn’t meet your expectations, remain respectful. “Don’t make threats or get overly emotional,” Ms. Mathews advises. “But don’t give up too quickly and accept the lower amount that is offered, either. Restate what you found in your research and reiterate that the range you have proposed is fair; ask your boss to reconsider.”
Another option is to courteously and professionally accept the lower amount and request a meeting to discuss another increase in six months.
If your boss agrees that a raise is warranted, but says it simply isn’t in the budget, you have limited options.
- Ask if there is a possibility for a bonus structure for meeting certain productivity goals tied to revenue;
- Consider benefits that could make your life easier, increase your skills or save you time, such as more vacation time, a flexible work schedule, paid attendance at a national meeting or symposium, or additional training opportunities; and
- Consider perks that your employer could write off as a business expense, such as contributing money toward your health insurance premium or 401(k) plan, or a paid cell phone plan.
If your boss’ answer is still no, try a different approach. Ask, “What do I need to do in my job that would lead to an increase in salary?” The goal is to show that you are committed to the practice, says Ms. Mathews.
Stay Calm, Cool & Collected
Make the best of a stressful situation by planning ahead. In addition to rehearsing what you will say when presenting your request, craft responses to all possible outcomes of the conversation.
Try to relax; the absolute worst-case scenario will be a “no.” In that case, you still have a job and the option to search for a higher paying job elsewhere.
View the process as an opportunity to educate your boss and collaborate with her on your career. The bottom line is that you must take control of your career and ask for what you want.
If you don’t get what you want, consider if the job offers you enough satisfaction in other ways to stay there. “Many people who stay at the same organization for 15 to 20 years are usually paid significantly less than the market average compared with those who make moves,” says Eric Dickerson, managing director and senior practice leader, Academic Medicine, Kaye/Bassman International Corp., Plano, Texas, a firm that places academic physicians and administrative leadership.
Karen Appold is a medical writer in Pennsylvania.
15 Reasons to Ask for a Raise
Ms. Mathews and Mr. Jennings suggest using one or more of these reasons to justify an increase—whether you’re a rheumatologist, other healthcare provider or an administrative staff member:
- The practice has grown since you were hired or received your last raise;
- You haven’t had a raise in more than a year, despite scoring very good to excellent on your annual performance appraisal;
- The quality of your work and your achievements over the past six to 12 months have demonstrated that you are a valuable asset to the practice;
- You took on additional work or higher level responsibilities in the past three to six months and have demonstrated that you can handle them effectively;
- You have received commendations or praise from others for your work;
- Your pay rate is not commensurate with the market rate of pay for jobs equivalent to yours; or
- Your pay is not equitable to that of other employees at your practice who have similar responsibilities.
- You are exceeding work RVUs or collecting more than what your salary level represents;
- You are responsible for more in collections than you receive in salary or overhead;
- You see more patients than the other doctors in your group;
- You have highly specialized training in new therapies, diseases or technology;
- You see very difficult or rare types of rheumatology cases the practice could not serve without your clinical expertise;
- You have been recognized by your professional organization or affiliation for a significant achievement;
- You recently presented a professional paper or were a featured presenter at a symposium; or
- You have been offered an opportunity with another organization, and it includes a better compensation package, but you’d like to stay with your current practice.