Asking for a raise in this Dickensian economy can have you feeling like Oliver Twist asking for more gruel.
"Please, sir, I want some more."
But do good employees really need to fear getting beaned with the soup ladle when asking for their rightful helping?
Bill Gough, a flatbed truck driver from North Collins, said he is not intimidated by asking for a raise. Still, he believes someone with the guts to ask for a raise right now might encounter a scenario something like this:
"They might laugh and tell them to take a hike," he said. "Workers are a dime a dozen."
But Gough suspects companies are playing the rough economy card to their advantage.
"People are scared into thinking they're lucky to have a job, period," he said. "I think it's too easy for companies to trumpet the perception that the economy is worse than it is, and that keeps wages down. It lets them get more work out of fewer people for less money."
Even with that healthy dose of skepticism, Gough believes that workers who have distinguished themselves will be able to score the compensation they deserve.
And the experts agree.
"Companies know they need to be poised for an economic recovery, and rewarding and retaining top talent is critical to that strategy," said author Sandra Naiman.
According to a survey by consulting firm Robert Half International and job search Web site CareerBuilder, six out of 10 employers said they would be willing to negotiate a higher salary with qualified employees in 2010. And as the economy continues to improve, 40 percent of employers said offering raises would be their go-to method for retaining top talent.
Bob Confer, vice president of Confer Plastics, a manufacturing company in North Tonawanda, said he understands employees' fears that asking for a raise these days might single them out in a bad way, but he assures MoneySmart that is not the case. In fact, he said, it's just the opposite.
"I always appreciate the initiative of the individual. It takes a lot to request a raise; it can be really stressful for that employee just to work up the nerve to ask," said Confer. "It's kind of like asking someone out on a date. The fear of 'no' is pretty overwhelming."
Of course, Confer acknowledges that it is difficult for an employer to "pull the trigger on raises" during a period of dramatically lost revenue. Confer Plastics suspended its annual summer raises in 2009 because of the recession. But as things stabilized, the company decided to offer 2010's summer raise early and implemented it in February.
"It's rare that a raise request is unwarranted if an employee truly understands his or her role in the company," said Confer.
Here are some tips on scoring your own rightful dough, taken from Naiman's book, "The High Achiever's Secret Codebook: The Unwritten Rules for Success at Work":
Keep track of all your contributions and trot them out for your boss. Have you found a way to cut costs? Did one of your ideas raise productivity? Now is your time to shine.
"Showcase how your knowledge, expertise and efforts contribute to the success of the company and make you difficult to replace," writes Naiman. "This information not only validates your worth, it also helps your boss justify the raise to those who might have to approve it."
Now is not the time to shoot for the moon, salary-wise. You may feel you deserve a million bucks -- and maybe you do -- but don't expect to get more than what others in your field with your experience are making.
"Remember, this is about what you are worth, not what you need to meet your personal expenses," writes Naiman.
Approach a raise as bringing you up to speed financially rather than putting you in the lap of luxury. This shows you understand the state of the economy. Asking for a pie-in-the-sky number in hopes of landing a bigger raise will paint you as out of touch with the times.
"Show that you understand that budgets are tight and that you want to be a part of the team and continue to contribute," writes Naiman.
To find out what others are making, Naiman suggests turning to Web sites such as PayScale.com and Salary.com. But don't take to polling your co-workers.
"Salary conversations with anyone other than your boss are strictly taboo," she writes.
Don't make threats. Even if you plan on looking for a new job should your raise not come through, leave that part out.
"Such threats have no place in this conversation," writes Naiman.
Showing you're ready to walk away from the company at a moment's notice is not a helpful bargaining chip.
Look for other kinds of consideration.
"There are forms of compensation other than salary," writes Naiman.
Maybe your company can't justify adding a sustained, permanent expense. Perhaps your employer would be more comfortable rewarding your performance with other perks, such as a company laptop, more paid vacation, tuition reimbursement or paid membership in related professional organizations.
If you get turned down, it's not the end of your journey. Find out why your request was denied, and then set a specific date to check back in on a raise.
If your performance is cited as a problem, find out exactly what you need to do better and how long you have to get your act together. When that time comes, be prepared to show how you have met your goals and your boss' expectations.
"Get specifics, achieve them and document your results," writes Naiman.
If the economy is the reason you're being rebuffed, agree on concrete ways to measure when the economy has returned to a more hospitable state for raises, such as a specific increase in sales or a certain percentage increase in market share. Until then, remain gracious and positive.
"A 'no' today does not mean the answer will be the same six months from now," writes Naiman. "It's a lot harder to deny a raise after such conversations have taken place."