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What to ask for when a pay rise isn't on the table

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Household incomes are falling with no relief - like pay rises - in sight, writes Sharyn McCowen. So what can you ask for instead?

The Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) report released today has confirmed what many Australians already felt in their hip pocket: household incomes are falling.

The survey follows 7000 households each year, and collects data on income and employment, relationships, health and education.

Real median annual household disposable income has fallen from $77,157 in 2012 to $76,225 in 2015.

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"Household incomes have stopped growing. Since 2012 we've actually had a slight decline in average household income," the report's author, Professor Roger Wilkins, from the Melbourne Institute at the University of Melbourne, told the ABC.

In June, the annual Hays Salary Guide found that 11% of Australian employers did not plan to increase salaries this year.

The most recent Hays Quarterly Report found "job seekers across most industries and sectors want to work for organisations that offer additional perks, and are not so easily swayed by an attractive salary", says David Cawley, regional director for Hays Accountancy and Finance.

"More organisations are becoming aware of this and are therefore offering benefits that might entice new, and retain existing, employees."

So with wages stagnating, what can employees ask for instead?

Flexible working conditions

Flexible work is one of the most sought-after benefits, says Cawley.

"Whether it be to spend more time with family and friends or attend a leisure activity, we all have our out-of-work commitments that are important to us and flexible work helps us to achieve our desired work-life balance," he says.

The Hays staff engagement report found 86% of employees wanted flexible work options including the ability to work from home.

"If staff are able to obtain a better work-life balance or work from home and save themselves from long commutes and long working days, this will improve their wellbeing," says Cawley.

Health and wellness

More than 40% of employees would like access to a health and wellness program through their employer, Hays research shows.

"Our health is important to all of us and signing up for health programs can be costly, therefore having this on offer through your organisation is highly beneficial and gives employees a sense of being valued," says Cawley.

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Extra leave

Almost half of all employees want more annual leave, with research from Hays showing 45% would like more than the standard 20 days a year.

"People don't just take leave days to go on actual holidays; they use them for other obligations such as weddings, funerals, volunteering or to get some personal chores done," says Cawley.

"The ability to meet these commitments as well as have time to relax would be a highly valued perk."

Financial support for studies

Offering financial support for additional training can pay off for both employees and employers.

"If an employee wants to upskill but doesn't have the means to do so, they might feel held back," says Cawley.

Providing opportunities for additional training helps workers feel valued, while the company gains a better-equipped employee without the cost or time involved in hiring someone.

Rewards

A whopping 95% of employees told Hays that recognition of their hard work is a very important engagement factor. This can include vouchers, certificates and social activities, says Cawley.

"Providing a reward to employees lets them know that their hard work has been recognised and that it's appreciated."

How to negotiate

So how can you increase your chances of landing these perks?

Research, says Cawley.

"Find out what other benefits are being offered at organisations in the same sector; this can also be used as a comparative."

Then reflect on your achievements.

"Just like you would for negotiating a salary increase, prepare a list of all your achievements and remember to include any increases in workloads. Highlight where you add value as this will give you leverage to negotiate."

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Sharyn McCowen is Money's online producer. She has a degree in journalism from Charles Sturt University, and was a newspaper reporter before moving to magazines and finance.
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