Your employer will view going above and beyond as a great quality. Your notable work performance, however, can sometimes make you the subject of a “quiet promotion.”
By definition, the term is “the managerial practice of increasing employees’ workloads and responsibilities without a pay increase, title change, or formal recognition of the additional duties,” according to Zenefits.
“Quiet promoting is particularly harmful for Black employees because adding on more work responsibilities without additional compensation creates inequitable workplace environments,” Mary “MJ” McConner, Ph.D., CD, founder and principal consultant of Inclusive Excellence Consulting, told AfroTech.
What Does A Quiet Promotion Look Like In The Workplace?
A quiet promotion may occur in a variety of ways, such as when you are asked to perform extra tasks outside of your contractual duties, your employer gradually increases your workload, or you take over for an interim role when your boss is absent.
“Absent instances where these practices happen disproportionately to people of color, women or other marginalized employees, I have not seen it happen intentionally. They usually happen when managers are faced with what they feel are competing interests; get more work done without impacting the budget. That is a larger corporate culture issue,” Nikki R. Lanier, JD, CEO of Harper Slade, explained exclusively to AfroTech.
Despite concerns about quiet promotion, Zenefits said it is widely practiced by managers and supervisors.
According to a JobSage survey, 78% of workers had a higher workload without receiving a similar increase in compensation. Additionally, 67% took on the workload of a coworker who no longer worked for the company. Also, 57% of employees reported feeling manipulated or taken advantage of when they were asked to do more than their pay grade.
“Unfortunately, what we are witnessing has been a prevalent issue for Black employees over the years,” McConner said. “’Cultural taxation,’ also known as the ‘diversity tax,’ was a term originally coined by Dr. Amado M. Padilla to address the workload burden placed on professionals with historically minoritized identities to carry out extra service or work for an organization. Like cultural taxation, quiet promotions often lead to higher burnout, lower morale, and increased turnover.”
It took Shonette Reed one year and a half to leave her marketing position at a nonprofit in Chicago, after she realized that two promotions, given within months of one another, did not result in increased pay or a title change, but rather increased labor.
“I feel like I was in a space where people said that the work that I was doing was valued, but when that happened, I thought ‘You don’t value what I’m doing and you don’t consider it important,'” Reed expressed. “The first time, I just remember immediately feeling like, ‘This is not a real promotion.'”
Reed said the “promotion” was announced during team meetings, which left her little time to consider the added responsibilities. She would have preferred a direct conversation. At the time this transpired, Reed was tasked with the responsibility of paying her rent in the city. She admitted that when she was quietly promoted, she was on the hunt for a new job. However, there was no luck at that time.
Additionally, Reed revealed there was a raise given to the staff during her tenure, but it wasn’t correlated to a promotion, rather it was given based on inflation for the following year.
After realizing that her trust in receiving a title change had been broken, she decided to leave her position in May 2022.
“I just want more employers to really show their staff that they value them,” Reed told AfroTech. “It’s one thing to say it, it’s another to show it. When you do things like quiet promotion and you don’t give them the titles that you say you’re going to give them, whether it’s that day or weeks following, you don’t give them the appropriate compensation for the added responsibilities, you’re giving them every reason necessary to go ahead and walk out the door.”
How To Stop Your Employer From A Quiet Promotion
Unfortunately, Reed’s story is all too common. Many have experienced the harsh realities of being quietly promoted. But, there are some preventive measures that can be put into practice. Consider if the tasks being allocated by your employer falls under “other duties as assigned” or if the tasks should warrant an increase in wages.
“From the employee’s perspective, it will be important to discern whether they are being asked to do more of the same work ,i.e. ‘other duties as assigned’ or whether this work requires an amplified competency set and/or additional training, etc,” Lanier told AfroTech. “Is this new work ongoing or is it episodic? Did it originate from another position that has since been vacated and is that position in my same job family or grade?”
You should open the conversation to your boss to have an understanding of what constitutes an increase in pay for your position. By doing so, you will not be left in the dark, and the transparency could also serve as a wakeup call to your employer to ensure your skills aren’t being exploited. One solution to hold an employer accountable would be a compensation model.
“Employers have a responsibility in ensuring that their workplace practices are fair and ethical,” McConner said. “One way to promote employees without taking advantage of their skills and talents is putting fair pay protocols in place. In other words, employers should fairly compensate their employees for additional labor. This can be achieved by creating a transparent compensation model, which helps establish trust between employers and employees. Another way to advance Black employees is by creating systems where work is evenly and fairly distributed among team members.”
She continued: “Ultimately, no employee wants to feel exploited. Members of the labor force know they have options, and businesses need to prepare for the continued ‘War for Talent’ by having fair, flexible, and inclusive work environments.”
It is critical that employers investigate why their organization carries out tactics that uphold a quiet promotion. Are there specific factors, such as race and gender, that lead certain workers to have certain experiences in the workplace? Does tenure and level of employees play a part in the use of this tactic? If there is a pattern of unfairness, employees will begin to question if your company is suitable to scale, and they will take their talents elsewhere if necessary.
“Employers who routinely practice quiet promotions are in fact contributing to their own innovative and competitive demise,” Lanier stated.