Culture   //   December 12, 2022  ■  5 min read

WTF is a quiet promotion?

Ever had to take on a bunch of new responsibilities at work, but without a pay increase or title change? Well, now there’s a name for it, thanks to the latest fashion of adding the “quiet” prefix to ongoing questionable, at times passive-aggressive work behaviors. Enter: quiet promotions.

Although it can happen in any circumstance, it is more likely to happen following someone from a team quitting or being laid off. With the uptick in layoffs at the end of this year, workers might find themselves taking on an additional workload without having a change in title or higher compensation. A recent JobSage survey found that 78% of workers have experienced increased workload with no additional compensation and 67% absorbed the work of a coworker who left the company. After some time, this can lead that employee to feel resentful and lead them to look for a new job. The survey found that 57% of workers felt manipulated or taken advantage of when their employer asked them to do more work on top of their existing role.

What are the signs of a quiet promotion?

“Sometimes it’s explicit, like when someone goes on maternity leave and you have to act in an interim role,” said Jennifer Walton, a chief brand officer at an Ohio-based Sky Nile Consulting. “But usually you notice your work plan starts to evolve more and more. The way it’s positioned is ‘let’s give you an opportunity and chance.’”

It can sound like “we need you to lean in and help the team,” or “this person is gone now, can you pick up a piece?” Quickly workers might find that they are doing significantly more than they were a year ago, or even a quarter ago, with nothing to show for it. One tip is for workers to revisit their job description to see how closely it matches the evolved work plan. 

Quiet promotions can also happen during the waiting period for a vacant job role to be filled or even posted, which is why it’s especially important to see how work is being redistributed when a team is in a flux period. 

Why are quiet promotions dangerous for the workplace?

“It can be a real problem for employers and employees alike when employees’ efforts aren’t valued or fairly compensated,” said Katie Duncan, content manager at JobSage. “Being overworked can lead to burnout, which hurts productivity and increases turnover.”

Additionally, if a worker feels as if they aren’t being appreciated, it can be a blow for company culture.

“It’s always in the employer’s best interest to treat the worker fairly,” said Duncan.  

There is usually a threshold for how much extra work a person might take on. 

“Your job description when you get hired, usually it becomes a little more than that,” said Duncan. But, she added, “There comes a point where it’s like okay, this is creeping into the title above me.”

When it crosses that line where a worker feels like they are being taken advantage of or if there are no plans for a promotion down the road, that person might be likely to look for another job. 

“A question you have to ask yourself as a leader is ‘did I just tack on a bunch of new responsibilities to that person’s job that they may have not been expecting?’,” said Michael Grochol, ceo at government services company Iron EagleX, Inc. 

At Iron EagleX, they had one employee who was exceeding his work duties, but unfortunately they didn’t have the means to promote him. He left for a new job, but ended up returning to Iron EagleX when there was a position open for him in a higher role where his compensation matched his work more fairly. 

“We were honest with them and acknowledged they can make more in the market than what they were being paid, but we didn’t need that skill at the time, we needed a mid-level person,” said Grochol. “He ended up coming back because there was an open and honest relationship and communication across the board.”

How can you talk to your manager if you feel like you are being quietly promoted?

“If you don’t speak up for yourself, no one is going to speak up on your behalf,” said Walton. “No one is going to say ‘wow, you’ve been doing all this work and we’re going to reward you out of nowhere.’”

Walton herself felt like she had been quietly promoted in one of her previous jobs. She decided to gather all of the documentation of her increased performance and responsibilities, something that she recommends others do as well so that they can bring it to a manager when asking for a raise or title change.

“I was able to take the emotion and intuition off the table and just come with facts to say that I believe this is fair,” said Walton. “It is the importance of the trajectory and having a change in title so that in the event of leaving the organization, I could show growth for myself.”

Even if you receive pushback at first, which might be likely, circle back with your manager. If the company doesn’t have the financial means to provide additional compensation, there are other options. Duncan suggests asking for additional PTO, more flexibility in when or where you work, or other benefits so that it doesn’t need to come down to only financial compensation.

“Now is the time to really dig deep and figure out how to advocate for yourself,” said Walton. “Prepare for these conversations.”