In the grand tradition of “side hustles” and “quiet quitting,” there’s an “emerging” work trend that’s something old dressed up as new with a catchier name. (Sorry, you don’t have a “side hustle,” you have a second job and deserve to be paid more at your first job if it isn’t supporting you.)
This time it’s “quiet promoting”—a play on quiet quitting that describes giving employees more work and responsibilities without a promotion and/or pay raise to match.
So quiet promotions aren’t new, but we can still talk about how common they are, what they look like, and what to do if you get one—but would actually prefer an actual promotion and raise, thank you very much.
How common are quiet promotions, really?
In October 2022, employer-review site Job Sage conducted a survey of a thousand full-time U.S. workers about whether they’d ever been quiet promoted, defined as “receiving an increased workload in your position without additional compensation.” And the results show that doing extra work without a reward is as common in the American workplace as men in the C-suite or pizza parties. Which is to say, while it makes sense for it to happen at least some of the time, it’s way too prevalent.
The survey found that 78% of workers have been “quiet promoted.” So if you’ve suddenly found yourself responsible for completing more of the same work or entirely new tasks without a new title or raise, you’re in good—and abundant—company.
Fifty-nine percent of survey respondents also said they currently feel undercompensated for the work they do, while 42% feel like the work they do goes unnoticed by their employers.
What does a quiet promotion look like in practice?
Here are a few of the most common signs of a quiet promotion:
- Being asked by a manager to do work outside of your job description (73% of respondents)
- Having more work than others with the same title (68%)
- Absorbing work after a coworker leaves the company (67%)
- Knowing your employer would suffer if you didn’t take on more work (63%)
- Feeling manipulated or taken advantage of when asked to do more work (53%)
Keep in mind not all of these are definite diagnoses of a quiet promotion but rather symptoms—how many times in the last few years have you wondered if your headache was caffeine withdrawal or COVID? You’ll have to dig a little deeper to know for sure.
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, 68% of employees have willingly taken on extra tasks in the hopes of gaining an actual promotion.
But there’s a gendered aspect to it: 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. (It’s also worth noting that only 35% of respondents to Job Sage’s survey were women.)
Do people speak up when they’re quiet promoted?
Only 22% of employees have pushed back against quiet promotion.
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.
So how do you turn your quiet promotion into a real promotion or raise?
So if you think you’ve been quietly promoted, what can you do? Before you rush into your boss’s office, spreadsheets a-blazing, ready to demand that new title, consider what the idea of “quiet promotion” leaves out.
An issue at the core of quiet promotions—both the term and the practice—is that in many cases, going above and beyond the role you already have is a prerequisite for landing a real promotion. Think of the 68% of survey respondents who’d willingly taken on more work—we don’t know how many of them were eventually promoted.
We also don’t know how much extra work the quietly promoted survey respondents were doing. Even though most employees are given a certain set of tasks when they’re hired, it almost never stays exactly the same. People’s job descriptions are going to organically change when their employer brings in new people, shifts goals, or adopts new technologies. Plus, every role has some built in room to grow as you develop your skills and gain more experience but before you hit that next level where you gain a new title.
However, if your change in job duties is significant and ongoing—think along the lines of officially or unofficially managing direct reports or fully doing the job of a departed, more senior colleague with no end in sight—that’s more likely to be indicative of a quiet promotion that’s not being properly rewarded.
So with that in mind, you can follow some or all of these steps:
- 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 or check salary tools like the Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale, or Salary.com 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. (Check out our articles on Moving on Up: How to Ask for a Promotion, The Worksheet You 100% Need to Fill Out Before Asking Your Boss for a Raise, and The Ultimate Guide to Getting That Raise You Deserve for more advice!)
- 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.