What To Do When A Boss Goes Back On A Salary Promise

A very common situation that many of us will experience in our working careers is the frustration that comes with not receiving a promised salary increase, especially if you have been promised it by your boss. Here are some strategies to navigate this challenging situation:


First, it’s essential to acknowledge the disappointment that comes with unmet expectations, especially when there’s a sense of betrayal from a boss who seemed supportive. Because you’re disappointed, you may be feeling emotional, and that emotion can make you act, in the moment, in ways which aren’t helpful. Try to wait until you feel calmer about it and can have a more rational dialogue with your boss. 


Once you’re in this calmer place, start by having an honest conversation with them about why they changed their mind. Why did they say you could and then that you couldn’t? What has changed? Try to be calm and understanding in this meeting as it’s about finding out information, not arguing your point. Try to leave the conversation with a sense of what’s shifted that has meant they have backtracked. It may be helpful to see his side of the story before going further and may reveal, for example, that whilst you can’t have a pay rise now due to budgets or future reshuffles, you could get one in six months or so (if they make any promises this time, get them in writing!). 


Next, get on a site like Glassdoor and reach out to friends in the same sector to see what others are being paid for the same types of work with a qualification (as opposed to without). I realise the data won’t always be entirely comparable, but it can give you a sense that you are in the right ballpark. If it turns out you are not justified, and you don’t have anything in writing from your boss, then you may have to chalk his hollow promise up to experience.

If you do find you warrant a higher salary, post-qualification, I’d go to your boss, let him know what you’ve found and let him know that if they can’t offer you a pay rise, you’re going to HR. Explain that it’s not about your previous conversation but now it is rather about the salary you deserve.


When you talk to HR, you will want to marshal the evidence that you’ve found – in particular data which clearly benchmarks your salary against others and shows it’s not high enough. Try to appeal to HR’s emotions whilst also presenting the facts. You were relying on this pay rise, you feel sad you’re not being recognised, etc. Coupling this with the facts will give you the highest chance of success.


Only threaten to leave for a higher salary if you’d seriously think about following through on it. Otherwise, it just sounds inauthentic and can raise hackles. But if leaving if you don’t receive a higher salary is a serious consideration, then it is worth sharing, as recruiting tends to be far more expensive than a salary increase and HR will know this. It can be easier and cheaper to offer a few thousand pounds more than to embark on trying to find someone new.

How to talk money at work: 

Did you find this post interesting? For more content like this, sign-up to my newsletter, ‘Dear Katie’, where I help solve real-life messy leadership problems.

Have a leadership problem of your own? Submit it via email – katie@katiebest.com – and I will answer it anonymously in a future issue.