The wags say that when you're talking about money, what you're really talking about is power, and when you're talking about anything else, what you're really talking about is money. Whether or not the old joke is true, it can be a productive one to ponder when you find yourself longing for a raise.

Sometimes, when we think we want more money, what we really need is to solve a problem, and money is just easy shorthand for doing so.

But since raises can be notoriously difficult to procure, before you ask, you may want to determine whether your problem really is your salary.

It can be a challenge to sort out which aspects of your job constitute the problem, but the main question is whether you love what you do.

If you enjoy your job but have trouble making ends meet, something financial will have to give. It may be your lifestyle, or it may be your salary and benefit package. Negotiations on both ends of this question should reveal a better solution.

But what if you're not in love with your job?

If every time you think about it you find you're bargaining with yourself, that's a different problem. If you often repeat phrases such as "this job would be great if only the X would go away," or "the money would be fine if X, Y and Z would change," then perhaps what you really need isn't money but an adjustment in your job's fit.

After all, the pressure you're under might not go away with a mere raise, and higher compensation can carry with it higher quotas on your productivity.

Just as pants can "fit" a teenager if the waistband hangs somewhere near their knees, but only fit a retiree if they button around the chest, finding the right job fit isn't the same for everybody either. Sometimes we can make alterations in our job fit via better working conditions, a better-focused area of responsibility, enhanced authority to solve problems, more vacation time, flexible hours, more opportunity for advancement, education or enhanced benefits -- or even a revolution in personal attitude.

Set the Money Aside

If a raise isn't forthcoming, then, you need to figure out solutions.

Go down the list of your complaints, responsibilities and benefits. Out of earshot of your colleagues and your boss, brainstorm with the items one at a time. If you had to fix your job fit considering each aspect, what precise changes, other than an increased salary, would make it work?

You can sort the list by degree of attainability, both for you and for your company.

Just guessing at this can be difficult. It may seem easiest for your company to send you to a continuing-education seminar to enhance your problem-solving authority, but that might not be true -- there may be invisible budgetary or man-hour constraints that your boss faces. So you'll need to ask your boss or inquire about coworkers' experiences, even if you have to pretend not to have a vested interest in the answers.

During the course of your research into the degree of adjustments available at your employer, you may even discover options that you didn't know existed.

In some smaller companies, bosses may be happiest to pick up the tab on nonsalary compensations that do not affect calculations for pension contributions and benefit packages. Others may have special relationships with educators that they are happy to set at your service. Another employer might have been hoping to improve the work environment but didn't have time to implement it. Who knows? You might be appointed to do so, and your questions may open more doors than they shut.

When you have your list straight and you've availed yourself of all the resources to find solutions, then it's time to bring it to your boss' attention, to find out what combination of adjustments can make your job more enjoyable.

This will show that you are in the business of solving your own problems, not adding to your boss' burdens. And it makes the important part from your boss's perspective -- to find out how your goals can best serve the company's -- easy to accomplish.

This, in turn, could point you toward something even better than a raise: a promotion. So now who wears the pants in your office?

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