The Best Time to Ask Your Boss for a Raise

Leadership Decision FatigueWhat’s the best time to ask your boss for a raise, or your CEO to fund an initiative that’s critically important to you? Early morning.

At least that’s what I’m deducing having read, “Do You Suffer from Decision Fatigue?” by John Tierney in the New York Times.

The article looks at a study of prisoner parole decisions that showed,

“Prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70 percent of the time, while those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10 percent of the time.”

They attributed the reason to “decision fatigue” affecting members of the parole board.  I found this passage fascinating and eye-opening:

The mental work of ruling on case after case, whatever the individual merits, wore them down. This sort of decision fatigue can make quarterbacks prone to dubious choices late in the game and C.F.O.’s prone to disastrous dalliances late in the evening. It routinely warps the judgment of everyone, executive and nonexecutive, rich and poor — in fact, it can take a special toll on the poor. Yet few people are even aware of it, and researchers are only beginning to understand why it happens and how to counteract it.

…No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?)

The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice. Ducking a decision often creates bigger problems in the long run, but for the moment, it eases the mental strain. You start to resist any change, any potentially risky move — like releasing a prisoner who might commit a crime. So the fatigued judge on a parole board takes the easy way out, and the prisoner keeps doing time. (All emphasis LP.)

So what does this mean for all of us as leaders?

1. It’s important that we get a little introspective with this knowledge.  Do you see this pattern holding true for yourself?  If so, think about what you can and should adjust in regard to how you work with your teams so that your own decision fatigue is not negatively impacting them.

2. We also need to consider our responsibilities to our teams when we “go to bat for them” with our own bosses and our boards.  Should we begin making our most important requests during the morning and early in the work week?

3. Widening the lens, what does this mean for us as leaders in society? Should we ask whether justice is being served given this particular study? What about the fact that we know political deals get done during the wee hours of the morning?  These examples are just the beginning… Do we as leaders have the ability to use this knowledge to make changes in critical processes?

Steve Woodruff and I will be addressing these questions and more when we host the next not-to-be-missed edition of Leadership Chat on Twitter tomorrow night, August 30th at 8:00 pm Eastern Time.  Please join us! ~

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Leadership Art: How Great Leaders Decide

Where Smart Leaders Look for Permission


Photo is Question Mark by the Italian voice.


  1. Fascinating. More than a little depressing. That being said, “a word to the wise is sufficient.” Perhaps understanding this propensity can give leaders the tools to counteract the occasions when they may be in a “late in the day” situation by default.

    This is going to sound like a completely crazy analogy, but when I am fatigued or distracted, I ALWAYS think of the legendary Michael Jordan and “The Flu Game.”

    Talk about a clutch player. It brings me to center. It makes me think about what I’m doing; what’s at stake and who I can help by focusing. Your blog post adds to that, BTW. Now that I know that others can be hurt by my lack of attention to details because it’s possible that I’m just sick and tired of deciding, I’ll dig a little deeper and hang in there.

    Thanks, Coach. :)

  2. LisaPetrilli says:

    @mckra1g Molly, I agree – the article was a bit depressing, especially as you start to think about ramifications. I wonder if the same holds true of when a college board reviews your application…?

    Yes, the flu game is such a great example and I think of it often as well. At the same time, the other side of the flu game is that if it’s not a national championship on the line right then and there, make sure you’re nurturing yourself and taking time for yourself. Flu game aside, we typically give from within ourselves best when we’ve taken care of our needs first. I think knowing when we are not at our mental best is important to acknowledge for all leaders.

    Hope to see you for the chat tomorrow night!

  3. This is very cool stuff Lisa. Understanding that the human condition is what it is. Psychology and human emotions play a much larger role in business interaction than we may realize.

  4. LisaPetrilli says:

    @MZazeela Thank you, and I believe you are absolutely right! If only we knew how much…

  5. mikepweiss says:

    It may sound silly, but I never take meetings before 10 am and rarely anything super important after 5:00 pm because I know I am not firing on all cylinders before or after those times. It took me a long time to accept this and have my staff accept it. But we all benefitted. Now, I cannot always adhere to this boundary and if I have to take an early meeting then I need to be mentally prepared for it and the same for late in the day. If a 7:00 pm meeting is set, then I make sure to take at least 15-20 minutes for a late afternoon walk to reset my brain and mind set. So much of being a good leader is understanding and accepting your limitations. My .02 cents.

  6. LisaPetrilli says:

    @mikepweiss Your .02 cents is worth so much more than that! To have allowed yourself *awareness* of your limitations, and then to have accepted them and chosen to smartly work around them – or with them as needed – shows how much you do want to serve your team, and your company, in the best way possible. The mark of a true leader. Thanks so much for the comment, Mike! Hope to see you at Leadership Chat tonight.

  7. @mikepweiss, it is definitely not silly. We are not robots. I think it is important to learn some psychology, in general, and to also focus on the traits of the individual whom we are dealing with. After all, asking for a raise involves a bit of salesmanship. Selling is best when we look at things as they would as opposed to trying to force someone to think and behave as we think they should.


  1. […] The Best Time to Ask Your Boss for a Raise by Lisa […]

  2. […] Lisa Pitrilli offers some observations about decision fatigue in this piece on her C Level Strategies blog: The Best Time to Ask Your Boss for a Raise […]

  3. […] The Best Time to Ask Your Boss for a Raise. Turns out there are some practical things you can do to help your chances, including asking early in the morning. Go figure. […]

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