More Responsibility but Not More Money

by Nancy Ordman

A promotion without a raise? More job responsibilities without a raise or a promotion? Do either of these propositions sound like exploitation of an employee?

Not necessarily, but the pros and cons of these two related situations deserve thoughtful evaluation within an individual employee’s context—where they work, what their current job is and short- and long-term career aspirations are—before they say yes or no.

Why would an employer offer a raise-free promotion? A more senior job title is a reward for excellent performance and gives an employee a strong signal that the employer values service. Sometimes internal policies limit pay increases to specific times in the fiscal year or prohibit them at other times, like during the final end-of-year accounting cycle. In these instances a promotion with the guarantee of a raise at a specific future date might be the right incentive to keep a valued employee. Other companies offer what are essentially trial promotions, where the employee proves over the course of a trial period the merits of the promotion.

New work responsibilities give employees the opportunity to learn new skills, to work with different colleagues and to demonstrate adaptability and other positive qualities. Managers assign new projects or ongoing activities in part to test an employee’s mettle. If a colleague will be away from work for a while, such as for maternity leave, her manager will parcel out her responsibilities among the rest of the team. Whatever the situation, employees who inherit more work can accept it as a growth opportunity.

However, employees do not have to accept (or keep) more responsibility or a money-free promotion if such a move is not in their best interests. When additional responsibilities accrue over time, creating an impossible workload or sidetracking the employee from core areas of accountability, it’s time to discuss the situation with the manager. When a change is supposed to last for a finite time but drags on past the original end-by date, it’s time to speak up. If a promotion goes unrewarded for longer than promised, remind management. Do not assume that managers always know exactly what and how much each employee does every day, or that a promised raise did not materialize. The latter could be an accounting glitch and not a deliberate omission.

Whether more duties bring a promotion or a promotion brings a raise, the employee can score a career win. Both the extra experience gained from different tasks and a new title are currency an employee can trade on the job market for a new job—and higher salary—with another company. Continuing to work where job responsibilities and compensation are misaligned will eventually engender resentment and disappointment. Address the mismatch directly with the current employer or leave for a better position; either choice is a positive one.