You May Get A 'Quiet Promotion' And Not Realize Until It's Too Late

There's a difference between a stretch opportunity and this exploitative behavior.
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Quiet promotions can lead to quiet quitting. Don't let this happen to you.
Delmaine Donson via Getty Images
Quiet promotions can lead to quiet quitting. Don't let this happen to you.

If you have ever felt like you are doing work that goes above and beyond your job title, you might have gotten a “quiet promotion.”

They often take place after a company layoff or when a co-worker goes on leave. With your team short-staffed, extra responsibilities and the duties of your departed colleagues may be piled on you without a change in pay or job title. “You do the job of two people for the price of one,” said career strategist Ana Goehner.

Too many of us feel like we’ve been given a quiet promotion. When JobSage surveyed 1,000 full-time U.S. employees in October, three out of four said their workload has increased without additional compensation.

If you keep being asked to do more and be a team player, you could be dealing with a quiet promotion.

Ana Goehner, a career strategist who has been quietly promoted a few times when she worked in corporate jobs, said for her it stemmed from not knowing how to say no to additional work.

“As an over-achiever immigrant, I wanted to be a team player and get things done. I thought a heavy workload was the only way to receive a promotion. I took on backup work from peers, and it became my responsibility. I did more than my colleagues, earned less and kept the same title,” she said. “It took me years to realize that doing the job of two people was unsustainable. I got very sick.”

Goehner said the constant cycle of job-related stress took a toll on her body and mind. She would emotionally eat and sustained back and knee issues, stomach pain and migraines, and she needed physical therapy.

“I felt in a state of fight-or-flight daily,” she noted. “My mental health was affected, and I didn’t know how to relax and get out of that anxious state. I was experiencing burnout, working with therapists and trying my best to keep going.“

“It took me years to realize that doing the job of two people was unsustainable. I got very sick.”

- Ana Goehner, career strategist

Ultimately, Goehner spoke up about boundaries at work and decided to leave those situations when there was not any change. “When I had the courage to stand up for myself, I began to have tough conversations. I started to discuss my workload and priorities. I turned off work notifications after-hours and focused on building my confidence to ask for a promotion. After a few tries and no progress, I left those environments. Life is too short to feel resentment and extreme burnout.“

Oftentimes, these additional assignments get framed as stretch or learning opportunities. But there’s a tipping point at which these tasks become just another quiet promotion.

A good stretch opportunity for your career should have clear time and energy limits, and the primary goal should be for you to learn and grow. “When it’s a well-defined project, takes up just a few hours a week of your time and can be done within your typical workweek, I don’t find this problematic,” said Bonnie Dilber, a recruiter with app-automation company Zapier.

But if it is taking up more than 30% of your time to do it, then the development opportunity has become a problematic quiet promotion, Dilber said. “Where I think it’s really taking advantage of the workforce is when you are actually doing something that is saving the business money and helping them get away with not hiring an additional employee or hiring a contractor to do the work, and instead you are doing that,” she said.

To get clarity on whether the tasks you are being asked to do are helping you or are holding back your career, ask yourself, “Are they going to you for the opportunities that you really want to grow your career or are they going to you for the things that nobody else wants to do and you keep picking them up?” said Valerie Gordon, career and communications trainer for her company, The Storytelling Strategist.

“That to me is where the quiet quitting comes from. We get frustrated with how much we are doing that nobody seems to care about,” Gordon said.

“Anytime you take on a substantial number of new tasks, you should be able to renegotiate something about your compensation,” Gordon said, noting that you could ask for benefits that go beyond an increased salary, like the ability to work from home more and avoid a commute.

Watch out for jobs that keep asking you to do a manager’s job without a manager’s pay or title.

If you are being asked to operate at a much more advanced level than the role you were hired for yet are being paid the exact same, you also may have just gotten a quiet promotion.

“Once you’re actually doing more advanced work, that should be recognized and rewarded.”

- Zapier recruiter Bonnie Dilber

Dilber said this can happen when individual contributors are given a significant amount of their manager’s work: They are onboarding new team members, sitting in on meetings their manager once joined or are coaching a low performer, for example.

If you are a high performer capable of taking on managerial tasks, this should then come with a promotion to a senior level or with a larger raise as your work has become more complex, Dilber said.

“But instead, it’s often framed as an opportunity for growth and to ‘prove’ readiness for the next role,” Dilber said. “That readiness should actually be shown by excelling in one’s current role –– once you’re actually doing more advanced work, that should be recognized and rewarded.”

Gordon noted that if you keep having to prove yourself for a promotion that does not come, you should be getting an explanation as to why. She defines quiet promotions as “times where you feel like you are giving your all at work but you are told you need to give more.”

“If you’re still not ready, they need to explain to you why,” Gordon said. “What is it that you are missing that you need to still prove? At some point, you are being taken advantage of.” She noted that employees should also be advocating for themselves and ask their manager about what is a path to the next level, too.

If you have employees who keep doing managerial tasks without any reward, then you should not be surprised when the employee decides they have had enough and quits.

“At one employer, I had a direct report who was interested in management, and we had an opportunity for them to cover a parental leave,” Dilber shared as an example. “This seemed aligned with the growth plans; I advocated to compensate them for this period and was told this was against our policies and we should frame this as a development opportunity for them. I ultimately didn’t have any power over this but was not surprised when the employee left a few months later for a full-time management role.”

Ultimately, quiet promotions are a lose-lose for employers and employees. Companies can lose high performers to competitors who will give these workers actual promotions, and employees can set themselves up to fail. It’s a potential risk for employees to have more and more put on their plate without a formal conversation about the change in responsibilities, Dilber said.

“The company is getting a lot of benefits from it while you are taking on the risk of the work,” Dilber said. “Because you are maybe stretched thin, that can also then be held against you. Versus like, had you actually been promoted into a different role or had your role changed and been given coaching and on-boarding and been able to fully focus on it, you might have been set up for success.”

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