Unfortunately, when it comes to getting a pay rise (other than for inflation) market rules apply, says Philip Bonner-Steel, a retired capital planning engineer from West Wales. 'No employer is going to give you a pay rise on demand if he/she can avoid it,' he says, 'Particularly if the work place is in a desirable location where suitable alternative employment is scarce.
'In my experience, there is only one way of getting a pay rise out of your employer: if you are any good, apply for a better paid job elsewhere and take the letter offering you the job to your present employer - he will then know you mean business and offer you a suitable inducement to stay.
'This may sound a high risk strategy as you may find your employer does not rate you as highly as you rate yourself. However, if you are serious about getting a pay rise, this might be the only way of getting one.'
Don't be fobbed off by employers sowing seeds of better times to come, warns a graduate engineer, who previously worked for a small independent firm of consulting engineers. 'I spent more than a year shouldering far more responsibility than I was being paid for, on the promise that I would be rewarded once 'things had picked' up,' she says.
'Needless to say, I never received the pay rise I deserved - in fact I was accused of greed when I asked for it - so I eventually moved on. My advice would be to get promises in writing, especially before accepting any additional responsibility.'
Another reader explains how during most of last year he was averaging about 50 hours a week of chargeable time, at high multipliers or on very profitable fixed fee jobs. 'The projects I was managing all made good profits largely as a result of my efforts,' he recalls. 'Our clients were all delighted with the service they had received.
'The firm decided in October that I should receive a pay award of £1,000 (3.3 per cent). Swearing, banging the table and applying for another job - and the fact that colleagues in similar positions left - brought promotion and another £4,750. It is sad that employers will not pay what somebody is worth until they are walking out the door.'
Pay negotiation will probably be about compromise if the employer and employee want to maintain some goodwill in their relationship, says Sue Clemenson, a consultant with People in Business, an organisation established to help to improve relationships in the workplace.
She offers some key 'dos' and an important 'don't':
DO: ensure your timing is right - act when things are looking good for your organisation or department, not when you've just lost a big contract.
DO: be persistent - if your boss tries to put off the meeting make sure you agree on a replacement date.
DO: try to get a feel for the market rate for your role in organisations of a similar size and location.
DO: make a mental note of your successes in the past year; not to boast, but to make the point that you are worth the extra.
DO: think through any further justification for the pay rise: has your job expanded? Has your responsibility increased?
DO: think about how you could take on more responsibility or work to cover the extra pay, if need be.
And finally, DON'T: threaten to leave, unless you are really prepared to do it!
Coming up - Bullying
Bullying is a big problem in the civil engineering industry - at all levels. In next month's Careers Clinic (16 March issue) we address this sensitive subject. If you have experienced bullying or can offer any advice on how best to prevent it, please let us know (in no more than 120 words). E-mail your responses - remember, we will not use your name unless you want us to - to email@example.com,by 3 March.