Quiet Promotion: An Opportunity For Employees Or Mere Exploitation?

quiet promotion
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In the grand tradition of “side hustles” and “quiet quitting,” there’s an emerging work trend that’s something essentially an old practice with a catchier name. Quiet promotion is a play on the term “quiet quitting” that describes giving employees more work and responsibilities without a promotion and/or pay raise to match.

So, how does one know if they’re being quiet-promoted? There are a few common signs that one can observe. If your manager is asking you to do work outside of your job description, or you’re getting more work than others even though you have the same title, or you have to absorb work after a coworker leaves the company, then it is likely that you’re going through a quiet promotion. Even working because knowing your employer would suffer if you didn’t take on more work or feeling manipulated or taken advantage of when asked to do more work is a quiet promotion. 

One of the challenges is that a quiet promotion and an actual promotion often start out looking exactly the same – you prove to your employer that you’re ready to take that next career step. In fact, most employees have willingly taken on extra tasks to gain an actual promotion.

But it is worth noting that there is also a gendered aspect to it, where research shows that men are more likely to be promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on performance. In other words, women are more likely to have to take on more work to prove they’re ready for a promotion before they get it.

Although, does everyone speak up when they realize they’re being quiet promoted? Just like not everyone can quiet quit, not everyone can say no to a quiet promotion. Many employees in historically underrepresented groups, for example, already feel like they might need to go above and beyond just to keep their jobs in the first place. And workers on visas tied to their employment might similarly feel like they have no choice.

But people of any background can find themselves in a job where they believe (correctly or not) that saying no to their boss will lead to them getting fired, laid off, or passed over for those real promotions.

What can you do if you realize you’re going through a quiet promotion?

Evaluate your situation. How much extra work have you taken on and why? Is it permanent? Are you already doing a lot of the job of someone with a higher title? Take a look at a few job listings for the position you’d like, and compare the responsibilities listed to your own. Consider your compensation. Reach out to your network to see what you could or should be making. Every company is different though, so if there are others with the title you want at your org already, compare your job duties (and salary if feasible) to theirs. Have you been quiet promoted or are you just taking the first steps on the path to a real promotion?

Document everything. Keep track of everything you do at work—both inside and outside your original job description. Take note of the results of your efforts—the more specific you can be about the impact of your work on your team and company the better—and any positive feedback you receive from your manager, colleagues, or anyone you interact with as part of your job. If it helps, think of it as preparing for a performance review.

Fill in the gaps. Look back at those job listings. Ask yourself why (other than money) your higher-ups might object to promoting you. Then do what you can to gain the experience and skills you don’t yet have. For example, if you want to be promoted to a management position, you might want to gain experience managing other employees (as part of a project you’re running or similar), to make your case stronger.

Time your request. Decide when you’re going to approach your employer. Is a regular review cycle coming up? Are you about to finish up a project that’ll make your case for a pay bump even stronger? Or do you want to ask as soon as possible? How is the company doing overall? If your employer just laid people off or lost a major client, you may want to wait.

Prepare and make your ask. Whether you want to ask for a promotion, request a raise, or both, plan what you want to say and how. Take your experience somewhere else. If you’ve asked for more compensation or a new title for your extra work and been told no, or you just know asking is a non-starter, it may be time to look for that higher-level job you want at another company. Use your resume and cover letter to show how you already have experience with the job duties you’d be performing, and prepare some stories that show how the extra work you took on has prepared you for this next step in your career.


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