(1) Be able to explain your rationale for wanting a pay raise. Think about what you bring to the table
(2) Demonstrate your added value. Focus the conversation about what you can do for the practice rather than what the practice can do for you
(3) Negotiate with tact. Consider the e-mail route
Being an optometry practice owner is hard. Wearing multiple hats on a daily basis is rife with challenges. One of the benefits, however, is the autonomy to make decisions as you see fit. The same cannot always be said for Associate ODs. Our hands are often tied when it comes to implementing changes for the benefit of the practice(s) or to ourselves. Likewise, owners can make as much money as they like - in a sense, the sky's the limit. On the contrary, Associate ODs usually have an income ceiling that is difficult to reach and rare to break through.
This article will tackle a challenging topic that is rarely discussed and can help employed ODs make the most of their income potential - how to ask for a raise. Here are three tips:
(1) Justify It
My experience working through countless negotiations between Associate ODs and employers is that the majority of employers are not necessarily against offering more money, they just want to know why they should. In other words, what are employed ODs doing that warrants a pay raise? As an Associate OD, how can you justify higher wages to your employer?
Are you a high producer? Are you generating a high revenue per patient? Do you excel at offering the best visual solutions for patients and feel comfortable “selling from the chair?” If not, why?
Do you possess a specialty skill set? Are you an excellent specialty contact lens fitter? Is low vision your passion? Do you love performing pediatric eye exams and practicing vision therapy for those that require it? In addition to the fields above, the list of optometric “subspecialties” continues to grow, including ocular surface disease, neuro-rehabilitation, and more.
Are you the only doctor in the office that speaks a second language? Do you have the intangible qualities of optimism, strong work ethic, kindness, and leadership? Are you personable? Do you receive raving reviews from patients?
Clearly, there is a lot that goes into how an Associate OD may justify a raise. These questions should serve as food for thought!
(2) Be Tactful
Demonstrating value is an important component of successfully asking for a raise. However, failing to communicate in an effective manner can hinder the chances of having an amiable discussion with an employer. Therefore, being tactful is crucial to negotiation success.
Most new graduates are Millennial and younger. Unfortunately, we have to battle the idea of being entitled from older generations, primarily.
One of the biggest mistakes I see new ODs make when negotiating is asking for a raise in a way that reinforces the entitlement perception. Employers are NOT interested in hearing about how Associate ODs “deserve” more money. However, one can completely alter the trajectory of a negotiation by shifting the focus from what the practice can do for you to what you have done for the practice. Focus the conversation on the value that you have added to the owner and the office. Make your points with respect, gratitude, and firmness by reinforcing the justification points addressed in the above section of this article.
Be prepared for "NO" | Please keep in mind that attempting to negotiate a pay raise in NO WAY indicates that an employer is going to acquiesce. With that in mind, it would behoove an Associate OD to consider how she/he would react if the employer says “No” to a pay raise. Would they be offended? Would they continue working for the company? Do they have leverage in terms of other opportunities? Would they submit their resignation notice? Would they instead decide to negotiate for an improvement of a different aspect of their contract (paid vacation, continuing education allowance, etc.)? These ideas are worth considering"
(3) E-mail consideration
Negotiating can be difficult. It can stir up feelings of discomfort, anxiety, and nervousness. Many employers understand this. Furthermore, negotiation is not well addressed at most optometry schools so the majority of new grads feel underprepared when tackling this arduous task. It comes instinctively to a few, but for most, learning to negotiate is unnatural. Fortunately, like most skills one can become better with practice. Unfortunately, most Associate ODs don’t have the opportunity to hone this skill to expert levels.
A common theme encountered during the innumerable contract review sessions that I have conducted is how poorly in-person negotiations have gone for many employed ODs. An optometrist can head into a pay raise conversation feeling prepared and confident. She or he can have a blueprint for how they would like the conversation to develop and have carefully crafted responses to potential questions brought up by the employer. That can all go to waste the second they step into the room/office where the discussion will take place and they take a seat.
Here’s an example of what I commonly hear:
"I felt great heading into the discussion. I knew what I wanted to say and was prepared to answer questions regarding why I felt deserving of a pay raise. However, as soon as I started talking and brought it up, the owner/office/manager/practice administrator interrupted and asked me if I had considered what a great work environment they created. They asked if I still felt like I needed a raise even though they offered benefits such as a retirement contribution plan and two weeks of paid vacation, etc. By the end of the conversation I questioned whether or not I actually should get a pay raise. I questioned my value. The chat did not go as I expected"
This may sound like heresy to some, but negotiations are often better conducted via e-mail. Personally, I was initially uncomfortable with this idea as I’m more of a “shake-your-hand-and-look-you-in-the-eye” kind of person. However, negotiating via e-mail has several advantages for employed ODs:
(1) Allows the explanation of ideas as the Associate sees fit.
(2) Creates a paper trail
(3) Avoids potentially uncomfortable conversations.
(4) Helps to “level the playing field” a bit between Associate and employer.
Asking for a pay raise can feel like a daunting task. Utilize the tips shared above for a smoother, more comfortable approach. If you would like to chat about anything shared above or if you are seeking advice on how to negotiate your own contract or ask for a raise, feel free to sign up for a time to discuss using the Calendly link below. Good luck!
Want to learn how to Navigate the Optometric Job Market? Check out The Optometrist's Career Center
Want to Learn how to Negotiate? Check out The Art of Negotiating and How to Excel Where Most Job Candidates Do Not