Performance review season is officially done for many workers who may, or may not, have gotten the raises and promotions they wished to receive. And while expectations around getting to the next level and opportunities to do so can vary greatly by industry, recent data shows many people across job levels can work for several years in the same role without ever moving up.
While about 60% of workers said they’ve been promoted in the past two years, some 15% said it’s been three to four years since their last promotion, according to a December survey of over 800 full-time U.S. workers from Nectar.
Nearly 8% said they haven’t been promoted in five or more years, and 14% said they have never received a promotion, the survey found.
It’s typical to experience a two-year itch when you haven’t been promoted yet within your company, said Niki Ramirez, founder and principal consultant at HR Answers, a human resources consultancy for small businesses. That’s especially true for Gen Z workers and those early in their careers with limited experience navigating the promotion process. To be sure, internal promotions at smaller-scale companies can take a bit longer to get than those at larger, more complex organizations with more departments and levels of leadership, she said.
“You have to work for about a year in your job to live through a full business cycle, and to really become good at it. And then after that year, that’s when you can start to shine and prepare yourself for a promotion,” Ramirez said.
Waiting years for a new job title often signifies a communication breakdown between staff and their managers, experts say. But it can also mean someone is in the wrong role or at the wrong organization and should start to look for opportunities elsewhere.
The art of advocating for yourself
In many cases managers are focused on ensuring employees can get the work at hand done while they can be less tuned into intentions for the future and career growth strategies, said Nancy Romanyshyn, senior director of total rewards strategy at Syndio, a workforce analytics platform.
“But we should be talking about what’s in the future, I think good managers do that, they build in that cadence. And I think really what we find is companies that are more intentional around performance management, they’re having better career conversations with employees that then lead to better outcomes like promotions,” Romanyshyn said.
But it’s typically on employees to facilitate conversations around promotions and their own performance. And they should happen more often than just during the end-of-year review season.
An August survey from Syndio of over 1,000 full-time U.S. workers found two-thirds have felt uncomfortable advocating for themselves and being proactive about their career development with their supervisor. But those who had performance-focused check-ins more often, even just two or three times per year, had more clarity on where they stand and what’s needed to get ahead, that survey found.
Use pay transparency and job site info to your advantage
Luckily, recent pay transparency efforts give workers a new tool to better advocate for themselves and understand the talent landscape in their own industries during talks about promotions. With more information about salaries and required skills and experience for roles publicly available, staff can clarify exact goalposts they should be hitting and how they should be compensated based on internal job postings and those for comparable roles at outside organizations at the next level they wish to be promoted to.
“Pay transparency has led to just broader transparency around careers. Employees are learning what their job should be paid, they’re able to do their own research online, and what they find is they also can do research on other jobs,” said Romanyshyn.
“Now they know better around where they want to advance, what they might be able to do, so then, of course, they want to have that conversation with their manager, and managers have to be ready to have those really meaty conversations around career pathing,” she said.
“Employees shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions, and employers shouldn’t be afraid of employees asking questions,” she added.
How to know when it’s time to go
Another challenge one might face when seeking a promotion is potentially getting offered a quiet promotion, or a new title and responsibilities without a pay raise.
It’s up to employees themselves to determine whether moving into that new role aligns with their career goals, and if it will provide them with other meaningful rewards and experiences that will eventually translate into a pay raise and greater recognition for their efforts. Opportunities to work with new teams on new projects in a new role could benefit them professionally and in some cases may be worth it, Romanyshyn said.
Staff should also take those offers as negotiations and see if there’s any potential for a raise, or at least a way to outline a clear timeframe for when one would be expected, Ramirez said.
But if the need for recognition and movement in one’s career continues going unmet for years, it’s probably time to have a real discussion and continue next steps.
“Sometimes when we open these conversations, we just have to be prepared for wherever it takes us and gosh, if the place that takes you is that there’s something different in your future then take the time to plan your next steps and no worries, everything works out over time,” Ramirez said.