The top management in the company I work for recently made an announcement in a management meeting that, due to the sluggish economy and poorer than expected sales trends, all raises would be limited to 2 percent cost-of-living raises. I told my staff that they shouldn’t expect more than a percentage or two when it comes time for me to do their reviews. I could ask for more, but I doubt I’ll get permission for it.

I then discovered that a peer, who hasn’t been here as long as I have, got a 5 percent raise at his recent review. As far as I know, he hasn’t done anything spectacular for the company. What can I do about getting the same kind of increase or better for my staff and myself?

This is a nightmare that top management and human resource people have to deal with all the time. And it’s really a nightmare that they’ve brought on themselves, because they’ve trained people to consider paychecks as acknowledgement of value to the company. Then they wonder why people talk among themselves about the numbers on their paychecks.

You pretty much have two options: Do nothing or try to make a case for why you, or your staff, deserve a comparable raise. Don’t even consider storming into your boss’s office and demanding an explanation. You’re a manager, so think about how you’d feel if one of your staff members came in voicing loud complaints about unfair compensation.

If you want to pursue equity, the first step is to research IT salary information available on the Web. Here’s a short starting list:

Research your own compensation package value, but also keep in mind the compensation packages of your staff. If you heard about the other guy’s increase, chances are your staff will as well, and they might show up in your office demanding explanations.

Always keep in mind when looking at the numbers provided in databases and surveys that the numbers are self-reported for the most part. That means that the survey respondents supply the numbers and, take my word for it, many people report a higher level of compensation than they actually receive. So, check to see if the data came from the respondents or from government data or corporate reporting.

Look for any information that adjusts the compensation levels by industry and by region of the country. Never use a national average for a title as your baseline for deciding if you’re being paid the going rate. Always make sure to add in any additional compensation to your base salary, such as bonuses, a value for perks, and try to weigh how much contribution the company makes for your benefits.

If you work with a recruiter and you are friendly with the person, you can ask the recruiter for his or her general opinion of why something like this would occur. Don’t give the recruiter all the specifics because you can’t guarantee that he or she won’t inform your superiors about your questions.

If you really feel bold, you can get friendly with the person who got the bigger increase and look for clues that you can use to deduce an explanation. Don’t ask the person outright why he got the increase; it is none of your business. Try to find out if he has been working on special projects or if he is related to the owner of the company.

The next step to asking for a bigger raise
If you honestly feel, after doing your research, that you should receive a larger percentage increase (or someone on your staff should), then get prepared before you ask your boss for more money.

Review your recent performance to make sure that you are delivering an excellent return for the company’s investment. If you are just marking time or your department’s results are average, then defer the conversation until you’ve got some results you can talk about proudly.

You may search for valuable information about your performance and your long-term prospects at the company during this conversation. When I asked for a raise at my first job out of college, the company’s president told me that not only wasn’t there any more money for my job, I shouldn’t plan on getting any big raises as long as I stayed with the company either.

The problem wasn’t my performance—that was fine. The problem was that the company didn’t value my job as highly as it did others in the organization. When it came time to divide up the money, no one in my position would ever make a decent living. That was news to me. I always thought that if you did a good job, the raises would go on forever.

Unless you’re a top dog in a company, you don’t get to set the salary range or determine how much the company values a certain position. However, you need to know the realistic upper compensation range for your position, and that’s a perfectly reasonable topic to bring up in a discussion with your boss about increases.