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July 13, 2021

How to negotiate as we go back into the office

The number one question we’re getting right now is some version of, “I’ve really enjoyed working from home, but I just got a note that we are expected to be back in the office after Labor Day.  What should I do? Is it time to start looking for another job?”

As companies start asking their employees to come back, many of us are wondering how we can tweak our jobs to be more happy.  This could mean negotiating a remote work option, finally negotiating that promotion, or trying to move into a different department. 

No matter what it is you are thinking about, the timing couldn’t be better. Organizations are much more open to negotiating than in pre-pandemic time, for two reasons.  First, the pandemic forced us all to get creative, and it turns out that the world didn’t explode when folks started working differently. The pandemic proved that there is more than one way to get the work done. 

Secondly, the job market is going crazyThe NYTimes noted that “for the first time in a generation, workers have the upper hand.” Chad Oakley, an executive recruiter, recently commented, “I’ve been doing this for 20 years… I can’t recall a better market for employees.”

What does this mean for you?

If you are thinking about negotiating – promotion, raise, responsibilities, support, flexible hours, work remote options, additional training, etc. – now is a great time to have that conversation. Here are our top tips:

  1. Be clear on what you want.

The pandemic caused us to look at everything differently.  As we think about what post-pandemic life will be like, there’s a huge opportunity to create a work life that you love.  In order to do this, be clear on what you’re asking for.   Maybe you want to work from home more often but acknowledge that being in the office does help with collaboration – perhaps you propose working remotely four days a week, and working from the office whichever day is best for the team.

If you aren’t entirely clear on what it is that makes you happy, I highly recommend the 5 minute journal.  After a few weeks of doing this, you can flip back through the days and quickly see what fills your tank (or depletes it!).

2. Anchor high.

Research by Linda Babcock shows that a higher target leads to a better negotiated outcome.  This has been repeatedly proven.  It’s the proverbial “shoot for the moon, land in the stars”.  You would be happy with a 10K raise?  Then ask for 20.  Maybe you get it, maybe you don’t, but you will almost always land higher by asking for 20 than by asking for 10.

A quick note on gender differences here:  men tend to over-estimate their value, while women under-estimate theirs.  In one study, participants were asked to do an activity, then pay themselves what they earned and pay others, who did the same activity, what they earned.  Not surprisingly, women paid others 48% more than themselves, while men paid others 20% less.  My point here is that we tend to undervalue ourselves, so if you want you are asking for doesn’t make you uncomfortable, you are probably asking for too little.

3. When you ask, highlight the benefits to others.

This is THE KEY to negotiating successfully as a woman without burning bridges.  When you ask for something, highlight the benefits to others.  For example, if you are asking for a promotion, emphasize how much more you can deliver for the company at the higher level.  One client in sales framed it this way, “As you know, I’ve exceeded the quarterly target by 20%.  With a VP title, it would be easier to access the real decision makers, and I could deliver even more revenue to the company.”



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