If you’ve ever found yourself with an increasingly heavy workload – and gradually putting in longer hours at work – it’s possible you may have had a ‘quiet promotion’. Being promoted quietly means being given more work without any additional compensation – and research shows it’s a common problem.
In 2022, the employer review site Job Sage carried out a survey of 1,000 full-time workers in the US, asking if they’d ever been given extra work without any financial reward.
Of those polled, 78% of workers have had this experience – and 73% said they’d had a manager ask them to take on additional work. When an employer has asked them to do more work, 57% have felt manipulated or taken advantage of.
Being quietly promoted isn’t the same as taking on additional work during busy periods. Instead, it’s about being expected to take on additional responsibilities that change your role without adequate recompense.
This might mean doing more of the same work or fulfilling new tasks – or taking on the work of a senior colleague who has left the company – which can lead to stress, burnout, frustration and dissatisfaction.
The problem with quiet promotions
It’s common for our job descriptions and roles to change over time as a business grows and develops. You may need to learn how to use new technology, or there may be a shift in goals.
However, a significant increase in responsibilities can lead to you putting in longer hours, which can take its toll on your health and wellbeing.
Reports of burnout among workers in the UK have reached record levels, with many workplaces understaffed and workers feeling disillusioned.
And when people are frustrated at work, morale and productivity tend to fall by the wayside – especially if workers feel they’re being taken advantage of. A survey of 2,000 people taken in 2022 found a third felt undervalued at work, while more than half said they’re more productive when they feel appreciated.
Quiet promotions vs actual promotions
One of the challenges associated with quiet promotions is that in some cases, taking on extra work and going ‘above and beyond’ may lead to an actual promotion.
According to the Job Sage research, 63% of workers said they wanted a promotion or another role within their organisation, while 68% said they had taken on additional tasks with the hope of being promoted.
However, we don’t know how many were actually promoted – and if taking on additional responsibilities actually paid off in the end.
And the issue is complicated further because research shows that men are more likely to be promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on their performance.
So women are more likely to do extra work – without additional pay – to prove they’re worthy of a salary increase, which may or may not happen.
Claire Reindorp, CEO at Young Women’s Trust, said the issue is contributing to an already significant gender wage gap.
“We know from our own research that when it comes to promotions and pay rises, young women are less likely to make a request than young men,” she says.
“Young women take home £5,000 less per year than young men and incidents like ‘quiet promotions’ are contributing to this income gap.”
How to tell if you’ve had a quiet promotion
Everyone has busier periods at work, so it can be difficult to tell whether you’re being taken advantage of or not.
However, if your change in job duties is significant with no end in sight, that may be symptomatic of a quiet promotion.
Make sure you have evidence
Ultimately, quiet promotions are a way for businesses to cut costs by avoiding raising salaries, while squeezing more out of their employees. But before you march into your manager’s office and demand a raise, it’s important to have evidence of the extra work you’ve taken on.
Take note of any additional tasks you do or responsibilities that now fall under your remit, so you can compare your role to the one you were advertised at the start. It helps to be as specific as possible, so include any relevant data and positive feedback from colleagues, bosses or clients.
You should also consider how long you’ve been doing the extra work. If it’s just a few weeks, and it’s not having a significantly detrimental impact on your life, it may be that you’re on the path to an actual promotion.
Find out how much you should be paid for your role
It’s also important to find out what the average salary is for your role and what you could potentially earn at a similarly-sized company.
There are a number of ways to do this, including looking on job websites such as Glassdoor or looking at similar roles on LinkedIn.
Request a pay rise
Once you’ve got evidence of your extra work and a figure in mind, it’s time to speak to your employer about a raise.
Arrange a meeting so you can calmly talk about your value and the skills you bring to the company. Have a salary range in mind so you can be flexible and come to an agreement with your employer.
Take your skills elsewhere
It’s always possible that your employer will reject your request for a pay rise, in which case, you may have to consider finding a higher-level job elsewhere.
Before you jump ship, make sure there’s no opportunity for a promotion in the near future – and think about whether it’s worth putting up with the extra work until that happens.
Employers need to avoid quiet promotions
Finally, employers need to make sure their business practices are fair. Quietly increasing people’s workloads may seem like an easy way to save money and get more from employees, but research shows it can do the opposite. Instead, it leads to low morale, lower productivity levels and a high turnover, which can be expensive for businesses.
“Employers can do so much to prevent quiet promotions from happening, such as having transparent pay scales and clear processes for pay reviews, as well as collecting data on their gender pay gap and putting in place targeted action plans to address it,” says Reindorp.
“It’s great that some employers are already doing this and we have resources available on our website for companies that are committed to making a difference.”