September 23

Here’s how to raise your social work salary in whatever careers you are at


Why write this?

When I first met my speaking coach, he asked me,

“John, how much would you charge for your first speech?’

‘Um… maybe £50?’

At this point, I was thinking: NO way! If people would pay me £50 to speak, goldfish would be millionaires! All they did each day was open and close their mouths.

‘No…£2000. That’s what you will charge for your first speech.’

Then he said something that stays with me till this day.

If you don’t value yourself, no one will.

That’s so important that I’m going to repeat it again.

If you don’t value yourself, no one will.

As social workers, we are very squeamish about money.

We are squeamish when we talk about our social work salary.

We think we are here for the people, not the profit.

Yet I’ve seen many social workers who put themselves through financial distress because they accept pays that are kind to their employers, but not very kind to them.

But today, if a mother is saved from her abusive husband, or if a teen decides not to commit suicide, or if someone has hope to live another day… can you really place a value on that?

Today, I share 20 tips to get a higher pay as a social worker.

This is not selfish.

Getting a reasonable pay for the long hours you work, the emotional traumas you experience, and for worrying about clients at night…

It’s okay.





1. Understand where you are in the process.

2. Stop saying ‘I’m not doing this for the money.’

3. See the benefits of asking for more money.

4. Ask: what are my limiting beliefs?

5. Value the work you do.

6. Check salary guides.

7. Do not lowball yourself!

8. Ask for $500 more.

9. Give a counterproposal when you are offered a job.

10. Never share your previous salary!


11. Start salary renegotiations during appraisal.

12. Practise salary re-negotiations with a loved one.

13. Build good relationships with your bosses.

14. Understand what your boss wants and what is important to him/her.

15. Have good relationships with your colleagues.

16. Have working relationships with colleagues you don’t like.

17. Ask: how can I help?

18. Develop yourself on your employer’s dime.

19. Grow together with your colleagues.


20. Go for a bigger job position, even if you are not qualified.




Before getting your first job

1. Understand where you are in the process.

Depending on where you are in the process, you have different approaches towards getting a higher pay in social work.

The first 10 tips will cover how to get a higher pay before you get your very first job. Tips 10 to 19 cover how you can negotiate for a higher pay during your job. Lastly, if you are finding a new job, tip 20 is for you.

However, I would recommend that you read through the entire document still, as the first part covers the myths and beliefs we have towards asking for more money.

2. Stop saying ‘I’m not doing this for the money.’

I’ve heard countless social workers say, ‘I’m not doing this for the money.’

But when we say that, we put ourselves in a false dilemma. We take the either/or position. We think it’s either serving clients, or earning good money.

It can’t be both.

But is this really true?

Whilst social work might be delivered by charities or local governments, that doesn’t mean they don’t have the money to pay you better.

It simply means that they are deciding to spend money on other things, rather than your wages.

As someone who once served as a board director of a charity with an annual turnover of SG$13.7 million, I’ve been part of the decision-making process towards allocating the limited financial resources we have.

Consciously, we decided to pay our people a living wage.

We then decided not to do other things.

Thus, saying that ‘I’m not doing this for the money’ puts yourself in a false dilemma.

It’s not people or profit.

It can be people and profit.

You can do good, and earn a good wage at the same time.

After all, if you’re not doing it for the money, how are you going to survive? Why not be a volunteer then?

3. See the benefits of asking for more money.

Often, we think that asking for more money as a social worker reflects on our greed.

We only see the cons, rather than the benefits of asking for more money.

social work salary
Having a better social work salary can help you value yourself better.

Here are some benefits.

Firstly, asking for more money motivates you to work harder for your clients.

Think about it this way. If you accept peanuts from your employer, you might sometimes think:

How can my boss expect more of me? He’s already paying me peanuts!

But when you ask for more, you start realising that your organisation values you. You don’t wish to let them down.

Secondly, asking for more money makes you a better social worker. Here’s a brutal fact. You only get as good as you value yourself. If you only value yourself as a lowly-paid social worker, you might not see the benefits of improving your skills by going for personal development. But if you value yourself highly, you will see yourself as worthy of more personal development.

When my employer gave me a generous pay package, I wanted to show my gratitude. I took every opportunity to improve my skills in social work.

Asking for more money is not about being greedy. It’s about asking more of yourself.

4. Ask: what are my limiting beliefs?

Even though we are social workers and explore the limiting beliefs of clients on a frequent basis, we might not explore our own that often. That’s dangerous.

When we dare not ask for more money, there is often a limiting belief or an assumption behind that. Some of the more common ones are:

– I’m not worth that much.

– I’m not good enough.

– I don’t deserve that.

– I don’t think my boss/colleagues like me.

– I don’t think I’m doing that much.

Do you see some of these limiting beliefs?

When we hold these limiting beliefs about ourselves, we prevent ourselves from fulfilling our fullest potential.

We stop our potential from budding and blossoming.

5. Value the work you do.

Okay, I want you to write down the list of successes you’ve had with previous clients.

It can be something simple like applying for financial aid for someone. As you look at that list, ask yourself,

‘Why am I not valuing the work I do when so many people have been helped by my work?’

As social workers, we are naturally averse to compliment. When someone compliments us, you say,

‘oh, it was nothing, don’t worry about it.’

But if you don’t celebrate yourself, who will?

If you don’t value yourself who will?

6. Check salary guides.

Websites like Glassdoor tell you how much former employees at the same position earned. Checking those salary guides gives you an idea of how much to ask for.

Different countries also have different policies towards salary guides.

For example, in Singapore, the government has tried raising the salaries of social workers to attract more people into the sector. They have thus put up recommended salary ranges for employers to follow.

Knowing the range of salaries helps you to understand what is reasonable to ask for.

7. Do not lowball yourself!

I know you might be thinking… in this uncertain job market, I will put my expected salary at the lower range so that they will hire me.

As an employer myself, I get suspicious when people ask for the lower end of the salary range. It shows me two things.

Firstly, they are not confident enough to ask for what they are worth. Secondly, they might not have the quality skills that I’m looking for.

There’s a reason why we pay $1000 for Apple iPhones when there’s a cheaper $200 Huawei around. We think paying more money is getting higher quality.

So, if you are tempted to lowball yourself, you might be doing yourself a HUGE disservice.

8. Ask for $500 more.

Whatever currency you work in, add $500/month to your asking salary. The chances are that you are underestimating how much you are valuing yourself.

The problem with undervaluing yourself is that once your employer accepts your asking salary, it’s MUCH harder to ask for a raise.

But if you ask for something that is too high, it’s much easier to say that you will accept a lower pay.

9. Give a counterproposal when you are offered a job.

Congratulations on getting your first job! But before you accept the proposed salary, counter-propose.

How do you do this?

As Sarah Vermunt shares in her book, Career Rookie , first express your enthusiasm at getting the job.

Then, repeat the value you bring.

Finally, ask for more. Give a number or a range.

As I previously said, it’s easier to reduce your asking salary than to ask for more later on.

The worst thing you want is to put a low number, have it readily accepted, and then go:

GOSH! I should have asked for more!

10. Never share your previous salary!

Depending on where you are from, there are different cultural expectations towards this.

For example, in Singapore, employers expect you to write your previous salary on the application form. If they do this, just put a dash.

Alternatively, you can write, ‘Confidential due to previous company policy.’

It’s likely that they will not question this.

But the general rule of thumb is to NEVER share your previous salary.

When you do that, you give the employer wiggle room.

If they see that you were earning a low amount, they might question why you are asking for so much now.

During a job

11. Start salary renegotiations during appraisal.

Appraisals are often an ideal time to start salary re-negotiations because that’s when a review of your successes (and failures) is done.

If you have an agenda that is circulated before the appraisal, add ‘Salary’ to the agenda.

It’s ideal to warn your boss that you would be having such a conversation, rather than springing it on her!

When your boss asks you if you have any questions, share, ‘I would like to chat about my current salary.’

To have a productive conversation, say something in the format of:

  • Over the year, I believe I have brought greater value to our organisation in terms of , and .
    • This shows the value you’ve brought, and the value you’ve left behind.
  • I hope that you will be able to adjust my salary to reflect my positive contributions to our team.
    • This is a gentle suggestion to your boss, rather than demanding it.
  • I would be willing to take on additional responsibilities to justify the increase.
    • This gives your boss assurance that raising your salary is not going to be for nothing!

12. Practise salary re-negotiations with a loved one.

Let’s face it.

As social workers, we are not the best when talking about money.

We feel that it’s like trying to sell ourselves.

You might even have moved away from a sales job to social work!

Practising and rehearsing how you might take this negotiation is a good way to prepare yourself for the conversation. This prepares us mentally so that we are not shocked by unrehearsed questions.

Loved ones are also kind faces to build your confidence. You wouldn’t want to enter into a high-stakes salary negotiation without any practice!

13. Build good relationships with your bosses.

Maybe you don’t believe in bootlicking or flattery.

But this is not about having good working relationships with your bosses for the sake of a higher pay.

It’s simply because a good working relationship makes it easier to get things done.

When your boss doesn’t like you, you can be sure that your life as a social worker…might not be that enjoyable.

Ideally, you want the support of your boss.

That starts with having a good relationship with him/her.

Ask if anyone wants tea or coffee when you nip to the pantry. Buy occasional snacks for your boss.

It starts with simple things.

14. Understand what your boss wants and what is important to him/her.

As social workers, what we value sometimes might not be what your boss values.

For example, I used to think that having good relationships with my clients by spending quality time with them was the most valuable thing I could do!

However, my boss wanted us to have more clients for more funding to be secured. This meant that quantity, rather than quality of relationships, mattered more to her.

When you go for lunches or informal chats with your boss, ask him what is troubling him now. What is difficult? What does he wish his colleagues would do more of? What is important to him?

Then, think about how you might be able to solve that problem for him.

When you do that, you are demonstrating your value to the organisation by easing your boss’ pain-point.

Working in this way also guarantees that you are working in a focused manner, aligned to the organisational needs, rather than your personal desires.

15. Have good relationships with your colleagues.

We might think that getting a pay rise is about showing that you can do good work.

But it’s also about showing that you work well with others. Some people say that you should have professional relationships with your colleagues, and not treat them as your friends.

But during my last student placement, I chanced upon a moving quote that I share below.

We started as colleagues. We worked as friends.

As social workers, we are going to go through some very tough situations. We will wonder whether we did the right thing.

We will worry about a client who expressed suicidal ideations.

We will think about clients with imminent risks.

In times like these, you need colleagues who can support you.

Don’t be a social worker island. Be a social worker country.

16. Have working relationships with colleagues you don’t like.

We work in teams as social workers.

Whether you like it or not, you are going to have a colleague that you don’t like. Try and keep a cordial relationship with him.

When appraisal comes, your boss is going to ask your colleagues and immediate supervisor what they thought about you.

You can be sterling in your relationships with others.

But if your conduct towards one particular colleague is horrible, it destroys the positive impression of you.

social work salary

17. Ask: how can I help?

Having an outward mindset, is about being oriented towards the needs of others and seeing beyond ourselves. This is vital to getting a higher pay as a social worker.


It demonstrates how you are not only helpful in your own field of work, but also to others.

As social workers, we might tend to have blinkers over our eyes, focusing on the immediate clients we see. We forget that we are within a wider organisation, with their own problems too.

Getting plugged into working committees and projects that help the organisation show that your skills aren’t only in social work! It shows that you are also great at other areas.

Today, rather than asking, ‘How can others serve me?’, think:

‘What can I do to help others solve their problems?

18. Develop yourself on your employer’s dime.

As social workers, we are required to undergo a certain number of hours of professional training each year.

Thus, most employers set aside a sum of money for you to go for courses to upgrade yourself.

Developing yourself with your employer’s money is a very good deal!

Don’t miss the opportunity.

19. Grow together with your colleagues.

Who doesn’t love training? After all, there’s free food, tea, and lunch!

But often, we come back from training and wonder if anything has really changed. Training doesn’t seem to filter back into practice. I used to struggle with that.

One day, I chanced upon the Learning Pyramid . It shows us how we retain information.

As you can see, teaching others is the best way to retain the information you have learnt!

Instead of keeping it within you, why not tell your boss to give you 10 minuets during the next team meeting to share?

Doing this shows that you are an asset to the team.

You show that you are selfless, nurturing others too.

Finding a new job

20. Go for a bigger job position, even if you are not qualified.

Research (Artz et al. 2018) shows that many females tend to have a stronger social motivation to hold back from asking for promotions and a higher pay as they are more likely to encounter backlash.

We tend to read the qualifications needed carefully.

We comb through the years of experience needed, the degrees needed, and the accomplishments they desire.

Look, it’s a guide, not a straitjacket!

If you’ve done fantastic things in your current job, don’t hold yourself back from applying for a bigger job.

What’s the worst that could happen when you get rejected from the bigger job that you applied for? You could get rejected.

Okay, can you deal with that?

Sometimes, nobody is holding you back but yourself.


You might be squeamish when talking about your social work salary.

At the end of the day, remember, it will be okay.

Asking for a raise is okay. The world won’t end.

You might not get the raise, but at least you started valuing yourself.

And that’s what matters.

About the author

John loves supporting social workers to understand, unlock, and unleash their fullest potential.

He studied social work at the University of Nottingham before moving to Singapore to work as a social worker. He won a full academic scholarship to pursue his bachelor’s degree abroad.

In the U.K., he was nominated for the Student Social Worker of the Year and shortlisted for the Vice-Chancellor’s Global Graduate Prize.


Artz, B., Goodall, A. H. and Oswald, A. J. (2018) ‘Do Women Ask?’ Industrial Relations, vol. 57:4

Kumar, A. (2007) Personal, Academic and Career Development in Higher Education – SOARing to Success. London: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group

The Arbinger Institute (2016) The Outward Mindset: Seeing Beyond Ourselves. Pakland: Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

Vermunt, S. (2019) Career Rookie: A Get-It-Together Guide for Grads, Students, And Career Newbies. Ontario: ECW Press.


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