Is today a good day to ask for a raise?

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As a full-time freelancer, I’m in the enviable position of being on intimate terms with my employer. “I need a raise,” I tell myself. “Sure,” I always reply.

Of course, then I get all heavy-handed and I’m-in-charge-here and say hurtful things like “So go out and earn it!” (In fact, truth be told, sometimes I hate my boss. But don’t tell me I said that.)

Those who are not self-employed have neither the advantages (nor the difficulty in selecting pronouns) that I do. When they want a raise, they have to talk to a different person, one to whose thoughts and mood they are not privy.

So how do they decide the time has come to ask for a raise?

Eduardo Andrade and Teck-Hua Ho, professors at the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, recently researched that question.

They found that employees are more likely to ask for a raise if they think their boss is in a good mood—unless they know that their boss knows that they know that their boss is in a good mood, in which case they prefer not to ask for a raise because they don’t want their boss to think they’re trying to manipulate his or her good mood in order to get one.

Simple, isn’t it?

Andrade and Ho divided 122 students into “proposers” and receivers” who were then asked to decide how to share a small amount of money.

Proposers—equivalent to employees asking for a raise—got to suggest how to divide the money. They could either offer to split it 50-50 or propose that they keep 75 percent and give 25 percent to their matched receiver. However, the receivers—equivalent to the bosses—got to decide the size of the pot, anywhere from zero (meaning they completely rejected the offer) to $1 (meaning they fully accepted it).

Proposers were told before they made their choice whether their matched receiver had watched a happy clip from a sitcom, or an angry clip from a movie.

When proposers knew their receiver had watched a sitcom, nearly 70 percent of them chose to propose the “unfair” option of them keeping 75 percent of the money. When they knew their partner had watched an angry film clip, that percentage dropped to 52 percent.

But that all changed when the proposers were told that the receiver knew that the proposer knew which clip the receiver had watched. Under those circumstances, the percentage of proposers willing to make the unfair offer fell to 55 percent.

From this, Ho and Andrade concluded that employees are more likely to ask for a raise if their boss is in a good mood. (Gee, you think?) What’s interesting, however, is that employees expect a happy boss to be less generous, despite his or her happiness, if the boss knows the employee is trying to benefit from the boss’s happy mood.

Is that intuition correct? Well, that will be the focus of further study. Experiments are already under way.

This doesn’t just apply to raises, of course. In fact, the researchers begin their paper with an entirely different example: “Cindy, a teenage girl, hopes her father’s favorite football team will win the Sunday game. If it does, she will ask his permission to spend spring break in Florida.”

Which means that, should the Roughriders win their semi-final playoff game against Calgary on November 11, one can predict scientifically that on Monday, November 12, we can expect lots of Saskatchewan employees to ask their bosses for raises—and lots of teenage girls to hit up their fathers for permission to do, like, whatever.

I’ll be at the game. Maybe I should ask my boss for a raise after the Riders’ win.

Except even if I’m in a good mood on November 12 because of a Rider win I’ll know that I know that I’m in a good mood, and I might just be using my good mood to get myself a raise, so I might actually be inclined to be even meaner than usual to make up for my clumsy attempt to use my good mood to…

Ow. My head hurts.

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