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Nurses: Are you making your list yet?

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If the decorations decking the department stores are any indication, Christmas is practically breathing down our necks already. It’s time to start thinking about what you’d like to receive this year. The best gifts are almost always those that you pick out for yourself. You might be an expert at hinting to friends and family members about what you’d like to receive at Yuletide. But sometimes it pays to just come right out and ask plainly.

That’s certainly the case when it comes to your career. Santa may care whether you are naughty or nice, but your boss probably just wants to know you can get the job done. Here are some things to consider when planning how to ask your boss for what you really want this holiday season.

Impeccable Timing
You may have heard the advice to always ask for something at the end of a workweek when your boss is in her best mood. However, if she works in the healthcare field, she might just be exhausted and ready to toss in the towel instead. If your boss tends to be forgetful, the best time to ask for what you want might be at the beginning of a shift or the beginning of a workweek. That way, your boss will keep seeing you throughout the day and being reminded of your request. It puts a tiny bit of motivating pressure on her to really make a decision. Giving her the weekend to “think about” what you said just means she’ll forget.

The absolute best time to ask your boss for something like a more favorable shift is right after you’ve done her a big favor (or received an award for excellence). Do it immediately. Not next week or next month. It’s time to whip out your list the moment you hear the magic words: “You’ve really saved me on this one. Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.” If that hasn’t happened lately, you can try to orchestrate such a moment by finding a way to make your boss’s life easier. There may be lots of opportunities to play the hero during the holiday season if your unit is even more shorthanded than usual.

Strength in Numbers
This is a tricky one. Sometimes, it can be a big help to band together with other nurses to create change in your work environment. For example, if you and your coworkers are having trouble finding time to take your allotted lunch breaks, that’s definitely something to address as a group. That’s because it really will take everyone pulling together to make a difference. Hospital administrators may not like it if they are confronted en masse, but they’re much more likely to make necessary changes if they’re facing a whole group of nurses who are asserting their workplace rights. Ideally, you and your coworkers should already have a solution in mind and an idea of what it will take to implement it (in dollars and procedural changes) before you approach management.

Keep Money Discussions Private
Since RNs aren’t part of a strong, unionized workforce, the “strength in numbers” concept does NOT apply to asking for more money. In fact, your best bet for getting a raise is to keep it all very hush-hush. Don’t gripe to coworkers about how little you are paid; that makes you look like a troublemaker. Also, don’t talk about how hard it is to pay your bills. It reflects poorly on your money management skills (regardless of how good you are at budgeting). Appearing irresponsible has never helped anyone seem qualified to receive a raise or a promotion. The only person who should know that you want to earn more money is the person making the decision about whether or not to give you a raise.

Know the Territory
How you approach the pay raise issue will depend on many factors, including:

  • Your work environment (private practice vs. hospital)
  • Your license type (RN or LPN vs. NP)
  • Specialization (whether it’s hard to find nurses with your skills in the local candidate pool)
  • Years on the job (and years with the same employer)
  • If pay freezes or cutbacks are in effect
  • Whether you are really willing to change jobs to get more money

As an RN or LPN in a larger organization, there are usually multiple levels of approval involved in any kind of pay increase. If you aren’t sure how this works, ask your supervisor to walk you through the “org chart.” There are typically also standard percentage pay increases that may change from year to year. Use these numbers as a guide for how much you can reasonably ask for in a raise. If the average is 2 percent, don’t ask for more than 4 percent (and be ready to justify why you deserve more than the average).

Stay on Schedule
Above all, don’t let a performance review be skipped over. It may never be “caught up” and the loss can really add up over your lifetime of earnings. If an annual review is coming up, mention this to your boss a month in advance to let her know you’re looking forward to:

  • Discussing improvements in your performance
  • Getting feedback about ways to do an even better job
  • Talking about your expected pay increase

Always frame your negotiations in light of the great job you do, not your money woes or how much better you are than the other nurses on the payroll. Ask for money first, but always be ready to negotiate for other perks that you’re willing to accept in lieu of cold, hard cash. That’s why you need a list with more than one “want” on it!

Special Tips for Nurse Practitioners
An NP is expected to generate revenue for a practice. This means you need to crunch the numbers and figure out how much money you’re making for your employer to determine whether you would give yourself a raise if you were in their place. If not, find a way to bump up these earnings before asking for more money. This may mean double-checking coding/billing for all your patient encounters to make sure it’s being done correctly. Make friends with the office manager, since this is the person who will have the best ideas for how you can make the practice more profitable.

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