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Initiating Salary Negotiations Within The Public Sector

Initiating Salary Negotiations Within The Public Sector

6 months ago By Emily Harris
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A new year and the possibilities of a ‘fresh start’, cause many of us to reflect on the previous year and what we want for the year ahead. Professionally, it becomes a popular time for people to take stock of what they’re worth and the value they are bringing to their organisation. However, for those seeking a pay rise in 2022, it’s important to remember that there is an art to initiating the salary conversation, especially within the public sector. Unlike the private sector, salaries within the public sector are often contained within salary bands that correspond to a job grade. Job grades are determined based on the work requirements and responsibility level of the job, and while the number of grades and the content of grade descriptors will vary depending on the public sector organisation, the overall process of job grades and salary bands is used throughout. 

While this means that you might have less flexibility when discussing salary there is still room for negotiation, you just need to think carefully about when to pick your moment. We look into when these moments might be and how to steer the negotiations in a positive and productive direction:

The best moments to raise the topic of salary within the public sector
  • During the final stages of your job interview with a particular organisation. Properly addressing or negotiating salary during the recruitment stage is critical because if you’re not happy with your starting salary, you could then face a lengthy period of time before raising the issue again. Furthermore, when you’re in the final stages of negotiating the terms of your employment, you also have some bargaining power. By this stage, you’ve demonstrated your suitability for the role in question and the organisation is interested in having you as part of their team, so are more inclined to accept your proposed salary increase (within reason). In fact, the organisation you interview with will usually address salary first -either in these final stages of the job interview or when providing a verbal offer. It’s important to avoid trying to negotiate salary after your employment contract is signed and your start date is agreed upon as terms have already been established, so if it hasn’t been addressed at this point, you should raise the topic. 

  • Your performance reviews. Performance reviews or appraisals are a chance for both you and your manager to discuss your growth with the company, evaluate your performance so far and look at opportunities for further development. This presents you with a great opportunity to demonstrate the value you’ve added to the organisation and team during your tenure at the organisation. There are also various agreements that apply to large sections of the Australian Public Sector which require organisations to annually review salaries and action pay increases to a particular percentage, so discussions around salary during your performance review shouldn’t seem unusual to your employer[1] (Department of Treasury and Finance Victoria, 2020). 

  • If you’re taking on more responsibility or ‘acting up’ in a role. This can often happen in the public sector – especially for those in contract positions and isn’t a formal promotion but rather an internal secondment. It usually occurs when an established position will be/is vacant for a significant period or a previous role is made redundant and the former role’s duties become part of another employee’s job responsibilities. If you are suddenly taking on responsibilities that are considered of a higher job grade and consequently a higher salary band than that of your substantive position, it’s reasonable to ask for a higher salary to reflect this change in responsibility and workload.  

  • Before the end of financial year OR before the organisation’s next budget sign off. This is usually the time where organisations will review and plan their budgets for the year ahead, so when raising the topic of salary at this time, your employers will usually be in a better position to advise if raises will be a possibility in the next financial year. 

Negotiation tips 

Ultimately, while it’s understandable to feel nervous or uncomfortable, we shouldn’t let fear stop us from negotiating salary. If anything, we should be fearful of not being paid what we’re worth!

Below are some tips to help overcome the nerves when going into negotiations and strengthen your chances of success:

1. Do Your Homework

No matter if you’re actively job hunting or preparing for a performance review, knowing how your current or proposed salary compares to the industry standard (especially within the public sector) is integral to the negotiation process; it sets a benchmark that can then guide your decision on what salary range to accept, what rate to set if you’re a contract worker and what would make a reasonable counteroffer.  

Researching salary rates can seem like an overwhelming process, but there are numerous organisations and online tools that can help. Australia’s leading online employment marketplace SEEK, suggest the best place to start is looking at different job postings for similar roles in your area so you can establish a ballpark range. Each state government in Australia should also have information on their website about award rates and their own pay calculator to help employees working within the public sector determine standard pay rates. This is highly beneficial to contract workers as hourly/daily rates can differ from organisation to organisation and industry to industry.  

It’s also worthwhile to reach out to recruitment consultants that work within your particular industry, as recruiting for a number of diverse organisations gives them a unique perspective on competitive salary rates and what a realistic expectation would be based on your experience, location and overall career goals. There are even online platforms and bodies which can help calculate your worth. Global job site Glassdoor for example, has a ‘Know Your Worth’ tool which can provide a personalised estimated market value based on their available and previous job listings within your industry. Alternately, compensation software and data company PayScale, has developed a Salary Survey that employees can use to determine a customised salary report.

2. Prepare your business case

When asking for a salary increase the inevitable question from employers will be, why? Why do you deserve a pay rise? Having a list of examples prepared that demonstrate how a business will benefit from your skills and experience, will help justify your request. Try and make your examples quantifiable to further illustrate the value of your potential contributions, for example, the graphic design skills and video editing knowledge you provide, save the company $xxx in outsourcing to a marketing agency. Preparing examples ahead of time will help with your confidence levels and being able to justify every additional dollar you’re asking for will reassure you that your demands are reasonable and present a more persuasive case to the company.

3. Remain Professional

Research indicates that you won’t be refused a higher salary for simply asking the question. However, you will if you don’t ask in the right way. It’s important that you request a salary range, rather than an exact figure and that this range is consistent with the market trends and the organisation’s own salary bands. This demonstrates that you’ve done your research and that you don’t want to be unreasonable. Furthermore, you want to be confident and enthusiastic when discussing your request but like with any work conversation you must remain professional and polite. Remember that negotiations should result in both parties feeling like they’ve achieved or gained something, so try and convey your goal for a win-win solution in your tone and demeanour. Ultimately, you want your employer to feel as comfortable with the final arrangement as you do so you can start your working relationship on the right foot.

4. Practice

Before raising the topic of salary, practice the conversation and your business examples with a trusted colleague or mentor – ideally someone that’s familiar with the workings of the public sector or the particular organisation. The more you practice, the more comfortable you will feel and talking to someone who’s had a similar experience can help you prepare for the unexpected and make a stronger case.

What if There’s No Room For Negotiation?

A challenge when negotiating salaries is organisational budget restrictions. Indeed, the economic fallout from COVID-19 has forced many organisations to tighten their purse strings. Furthermore, many government organisations will have strict budget guidelines that they have to adhere to normally. If your organisation is inflexible on your suggested salary range or rate - especially if it’s the starting salary you’ve proposed - there are still a few options available to you. If you’re starting in a permanent role, it’s important to remember that the dollar value of your salary represents only part of your total package. There are many other non-salary forms of compensation that can be used to help come to a compromise, including childcare, health and fitness benefits, flexible work schedules, university course reimbursement or training and professional development opportunities. Even contractors might be able to negotiate additional workplace flexibility depending on the government agency. With so many of us now working remotely and a greater importance being placed on maintaining work-life balance, perhaps having greater flexibility in your work schedule or being reimbursed for a particular certification that will help your career advancement is more valuable than an additional $2000 a year? 

Secondly, you can ask your prospective employer how often they engage in performance reviews and how regularly opportunities to advance within the company are provided. Traditionally, performance reviews provide employees with the chance to discuss their salary, so knowing how often these are conducted (quarterly, yearly etc.) gives you an idea of when you can next broach the subject. Similarly, if you know the organisation routinely promotes from within, you know there will be future opportunities to progress (with the right amount of dedication) and this could be a quicker way to increase your salary.

If you’re still being met with resistance, it’s important to consider how important this salary increase is to your lifestyle and wellbeing. Should you look for another role or is having job security more important? Regardless of what you decide, it never hurts to keep up to date on comparable roles within the marketplace and their salary offering. While doing this, you can also focus on making yourself as marketable as possible. Things like partaking in additional training, industry activities and mentoring and volunteering opportunities ensure that you’re better prepared for any future roles that catch your eye, or for presenting your sales pitch when you have your next performance review.

If you’re interested in finding out more about your salary expectations and how they compare to the current industry trends, especially within the public sector, you can reach out to our team of consultants for a confidential chat. You can contact us at: info@publicsectorpeople.com.au

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  [1] Department of Treasury and Finance Victoria. (2020). Victorian Public Service Enterprise Agreement 2020. Victoria State Government. Retrieved from: https://www.dtf.vic.gov.au/funds-programs-and-policies/victorian-public-service-enterprise-agreement-2020