HR Pitfalls and the Dangers of ‘Quiet Promotion’

Giving responsibility or taking advantage?

by Kelli Mason

Thanks to all the talk of “quiet quitting” hitting the news cycles recently, many managers are newly suspicious of their employees’ intentions. As it turns out, the suspicions may go both ways. According to a new JobSage survey, a whopping 78% of American workers report receiving a “quiet promotion” — an increased workload without increased pay. And most of them are not happy about it, with 57% feeling taken advantage of or manipulated by their employer.

That’s not to say that managers giving workers more responsibility or work is always bad, or always intentional. Employees may seek out more challenging projects as they get more comfortable in their positions. Managers may start transferring or increasing responsibility to a worker, leading up to an official promotion.

However, when quiet promotions reflect a corporate strategy to squeeze more work out of employees for the same pay, then it’s a different story. And workers may be catching on. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of survey respondents reported working for a company that would suffer if employees refused to be quietly promoted.

A one-way work culture — where an employer consistently expects more of employees but gives nothing in return — can eventually breed resentment and frustration. In today’s tight job market, this may tempt employees to turn quiet promotions into very real quitting.

So, to increase employee engagement and retention, we’ve compiled four tell-tale signs that quiet promotions are going on in an office.

Signs of Quiet Promotions

A manager has asked an employee to take on work above their position. Nearly three in four American workers (73%) have been asked to take on work above their position. If employees can capably perform duties above their level, it’s easy to understand why they feel they deserve a corresponding pay increase. And it’s certainly not for lack of ambition on the part of workers, as nearly two in three (63%) are looking to move up or change roles in their company.

An employee has more work than others with the same title. With nearly every industry experiencing staffing challenges these days, all employees are stretched thin. If one employee consistently has more work than others at their level, though, it may be a clear indicator that they have been quietly promoted. More than two in three employees (68%) surveyed report having more work than others with the same title.

An employee has absorbed work after a co-worker above them left. One of the most obvious signs of a quiet promotion is expecting an employee to absorb the work of a departing co-worker above them, something 67% of American workers have experienced. Perhaps that’s because it’s hard (if not impossible) to justify why the employee should do not just the work of two people, but also two levels — all for the same pay.

The workplace or industry thrives on quiet promotions. While quiet promotions can happen anywhere, some companies and industries are more guilty of this practice than others. A massive 89% of workers in art and design and in hospitality report the practice. Following closely behind are food services and government, with 88% each.

That’s not to say other fields are free of the practice. The majority of survey respondents overall (63%) reported working for a company that would suffer if employees refused to be quietly promoted.

The Bottom Line

Employees put up with quiet promotions for all sorts of reasons. They may accept extra responsibilities because they fear losing their job, appreciate the challenge, or want to move up in the company. In fact, nearly seven in ten (68%) survey respondents have taken on additional tasks in the hopes of being promoted.

Still, that doesn’t make it right. While quiet promotions may save the company money in salaries, it can also devastate company morale. And in today’s job market, it may be easier than it has been in years for an employee to seek a better situation elsewhere.

Kelli Mason is a co-founder of JobSage, an employer review platform focused on what matters most to today’s jobseekers and professionals. Mason earned national recognition in Forbes 30 under 30 for her work as a leader in the field of workplace diversity and inclusion and has spoken widely on the topic.

This is a two-part feature:

Speak Your Mind

In Business Dailies

Sign up for a complimentary year of In Business Dailies with a bonus Digital Subscription of In Business Magazine delivered to your inbox each month!

  • Get the day’s Top Stories
  • Relevant In-depth Articles
  • Daily Offers
  • Coming Events