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5 Ways to Talk to Your Boss — So You Can Be Happier at Work

Two businessmen talking together

Talking to your boss, and asking smart questions, can help you be happier and more successful at work. — Getty Images

En español |There are plenty of ways you can lose satisfaction in your job.

You may have outgrown your position and feel you're overqualified. You're stuck in a rut, bored by the day-to-day routine. Or you're angry and frustrated at not getting the opportunities and accolades you've earned.

Take a breath. You can get things back on track. But you will have to gather up your courage and have the "talk" with your boss.

In the AARP Bookstore: Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy ... And Pays the Bills

If you're like me, the whole idea of meeting with your boss to talk about your future is scary. But if you want change, speak up. Your happiness depends on it.

The conversation needn't be contentious. After all, your boss probably has no idea of your frustration. Instead, use this chance to showcase your ability, skills and objectives. Be clear about what you offer your company and what direction you'd like to take your career.

Asking your boss these five questions could make all the difference.

1. Can I have a raise?

Simply put, money can make you happy. It's hard to find the courage to request a pay bump. That said, "I've never heard of anyone getting fired for asking for a raise," says career coach Phyllis Mufson.

The good news is that, according to a recent survey, firms expect to raise base pay in 2013 by an average of 2.9 percent.

But waiting to ask for a raise at your annual review is usually too late, says Suzanne Lucas, who blogs as the Evil HR Lady. "You've missed the boat. The money for the year has already been allotted and your boss cannot increase your pay without taking away from your coworkers — and that isn't going to happen."

Instead, ask for a raise three to four months before your annual review, Lucas suggests. Or ask for one after you've finished a major project or fixed a tricky problem with a client. Take advantage of those signature moments before your work is forgotten.

One big no-no: Don't tell your boss you need a raise because you can't pay your bills, your adult children just moved in or your husband left you. "Your boss doesn't care. Your salary isn't determined by how much you need to spend, but by how much value you bring to the company," Lucas says. "If you're going to ask for a raise, show that you're awesome."

That means making a list of your job responsibilities and how you've contributed to the company's bottom line. Print out all those "Great job" emails.

Check out websites such as, and for national averages and pay ranges in your industry, city and region. Have a figure in mind, but don't ask for a specific number: Suggest a range instead.

If your company is laying people off and reducing costs, you might have to cool your heels until things improve.

2. Can we change my job?

If you've been in your position for a while, and have taken on extra responsibilities over time, ask about a promotion. Or consider a title change or revision to your job description, which may help get you the recognition and respectability you've wanted.

A more prestigious title has a future payoff, especially if you decide to switch jobs. A prospective employer will be impressed by it, and you may have an easier time landing a higher salary.

If you can't move up, offer to work on something not in your current day-to-day. Is there a special company initiative or a project no one wants to take on? Perhaps there's a job-share available that would allow you to work for another department for a few months. If there's an employee out on leave, maybe you can fill that job in the interim.

Explain how your new responsibilities will help the company. You'll be able to bring a fresh perspective, produce creative ideas or provide experienced leadership to a particular project.

3. Are there nonsalary ways you can boost my compensation?

If a raise is out of the question right now, your boss might have an easier time offering you a one-time bonus or stock options to show his or her appreciation for your contributions. Or she may give you a few extra personal days or comp time for some long hours you've put in on a project.

If you're interested in continuing your education, might your boss support your desire to go back to school for a certification or an advanced degree?

4. Can we change my work schedule?

There are a variety of possibilities: telecommuting, compressed workweeks, job sharing and part-time schedules.

Landing a dream schedule can take some convincing. Many bosses are leery of losing control if their employees aren't close at hand. You need to calm that concern and show how much more efficiently you can do your job with a less rigid workday.

Write a proposal that explains what your work schedule would be and what's in it for your employer. For example, you might opt for a reduced salary while the company keeps an experienced worker onboard who is willing to work reduced hours.

When you're telecommuting, you cut out wasted time getting to and from the office. With fewer intrusions by coworkers, you'll likely be more efficient. If you work from home or have a part-time job-sharing deal with a coworker, you will likely save the company office space and money. It's generally a good idea to agree to a trial period of a few months so you and your boss can see how the plan works out and fine-tune if necessary.

5. Can I mentor someone?

Many big corporations offer sponsorship and mentoring programs. If yours doesn't have a formal mentoring arrangement, let your boss know that you're interested in working with a junior staffer or a new hire to show him the ropes and be there to support him with advice when needed.

It's flattering and empowering to have the experience and gravitas to help a less experienced colleague.

Kerry Hannon, AARP jobs expert, is a career transition expert and an award-winning author. Her latest book is Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … and Pays the Bills.

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