Job promotions: Some myths and realities


Is this a promotion?” That’s the question I received from a former student. He has a new job title, and he assumed he had more responsibility and believed he would get a pay increase.

Three months later, all he has is a new title.

Promotions promised, anticipated or awarded create some difficult conversations. I believe in rewarding employees who have developed new skills. When a person takes on new responsibilities, they should receive some recognition.

But on the whole, the subject of promotions makes my jaw tighten just a bit. I have had these conversations too many times.

I have been in this job for 15 years — give me a promotion.

You may be a well-liked, reliable and capable employee but have you developed new skills or shown that you can handle more complex work? What have you done to show the boss that you can handle more responsibility?

If a job requires a mix of technical skills, good judgment plus the ability to work with demanding or difficult people, then some years of experience should help.

But will a person with 15 years of experience have better judgment than a person with seven years?

Older doesn’t mean better. Younger isn’t better. Better is better. The boss needs to carefully evaluate the candidates for the position and hire the best qualified individual.

Here’s my certificate for a class I took — give me a promotion. If that training improves your skills and performance at work your boss should notice.

But sitting in a class for several hours doesn’t make you more valuable to your employer.

He only got that promotion because he is the boss’s “yes man.”

The boss doesn’t always make good hiring decisions. Then again, your opinion of your colleague’s work may not accurately reflect that individual’s skills and performance. The best thing you can do is be cooperative and keep your opinion to yourself.

Where’s the big pay increase that comes with my promotion?

Your boss should consider how your pay compares to your co-workers, what is the fair market rate for the new job, plus how much you will need to learn and skills you need to develop in the new job. If you were paid high in your old job your pay may be about right for a person learning a new job.

After you have been in the job for several months the boss can assess your pay based on how you actually perform instead of on what he was hoping for or predicting.

I want to be promoted to manager but I don’t want to give up overtime pay. If you move from a position that worked a lot of overtime into an exempt, salaried position you may feel like you made a bad deal.

However, overtime comes and goes. This past year may have been very busy and you enjoyed an income boost based on OT, but that was unpredictable income. As a new manager you have the opportunity to gain skills and move up and take on more responsibility and get another increase.

Your earning potential as a good manager is much better than your earning potential as an hourly worker — if you show that you have the skills and temperament to be a good manager.

I have to learn this new software — give me a promotion. Learning something new or taking on a new task doesn’t mean you have taken on more responsibility. It is doing the same job with different tools.

I wish I could have my old job back; I only took this promotion for the money.

It is a shame that so many people take a job (especially a supervisory job) for the money and then realize they like the money more than the work. Your performance will probably be lackluster if you don’t enjoy your job.

Give it a year of good effort before making a decision. If you still want to step back into your old job you should talk honestly with your boss and see if your job could be re-designed and you may need to accept a pay cut or frozen pay.

Ideally when someone is given a promotion it comes with a clear increase in responsibility or the employee has developed her skills and can now handle more complex work. My former student was flattered by a fancy title and his employer took advantage of him for several months.

Putting the job, pay and performance expectations in writing is a fair expectation and the best advice I can give anyone.

It is far better to make things clear from the beginning than to be hit by the disappointment of unrealistic expectations a few months down the road.

Virginia Detweiler, based in Walla Walla, provides human resource services and management training to businesses with her consulting firm HR Partner on Call. Her columns are written as a service to employers and employees and rely on reader questions and comments for topical material. Contact her by email at or phone at 509-529-1910. Because of job and employer sensitivities, care is taken to protect identities.


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