An email with the subject line “Good news” arrived in my inbox from my supervisor this morning. The good news I hoped for flashed across my mind as I imagined him saying he was moving to another state, and I’d be getting a new supervisor. He didn’t like me, and I didn’t like him. Instead, he told me I was being offered a promotion. Later, he didn’t look pleased but said “Congratulations” and handed me the paperwork I needed to sign “to make it official.”
“Who’s my new supervisor?”
“You’ll still report to me.”
“What’s the raise?”
“About that. This is a dry promotion.”
“A promotion without a raise. They happen all the time.”
“No. But you can always turn it down.” I had the sense he wanted me to do that. I almost signed but instead asked, “Could I have a few minutes to think about it?” and left before he could stop me.
Here’s my question: Do I say “yes” to this promotion or “hell no”?
Say “yes,” unless this promotion results in a pay decrease, a reactivation of probationary status or a staggering work overload. Then say yes to handling this festering supervisor drama.
Accepting a promotion, even one without a raise, makes sense
Accepting a promotion generally benefits your career. Accepting the promotion gives you the opportunity to tackle new duties and projects and the chance to develop additional skills. This promotion may allow you to supervise, lead or manage others and to collaborate with new colleagues, often at higher levels in your company.
A promotion enhances your resume, giving you leverage you can use to gain a more senior role at a future employer, where you can negotiate a higher starting salary. Your promotion also gives you leverage to negotiate a later raise at your company.
You may also want to accept this promotion because saying no might jeopardize your job security and the opportunity for future promotions — with raises.
Why your employer may have offered you a promotion without a raise
Your employer may have offered you a promotion without an attached raise because they lacked the money to reward you but wanted to signal they valued you. Employers occasionally give employees enhanced job titles because they realize the employees already handle higher-level duties. The staffing firm OfficeTeam reports that 39% of employers offer promotions without a raise. When Korn Ferry surveyed 1,200 professionals, they learned 63% would prefer a promotion without an attached raise to a raise without a promotion.
When to say “no”
You may, however, serve yourself best by saying, “Thanks, but no.” If the promotion lifts you into a job status in which you’re ineligible for overtime, it could cut your annual compensation. If the promotion reactivates your probationary status because you’re a new job category, your employer can more easily fire you. If this promotion requires you to absorb additional duties while handling all your current duties, accepting the promotion might lead to burnout.
Steps to take
Given the simmering dislike between you and your supervisor, ask HR for more information. A simple “I would have expected an attached raise” works.
If you can arrange it without igniting your supervisor’s temper, meet with the manager above him. Explain you greatly appreciate the promotion and want to make sure you meet expectations. Ask if you’ll be expected to handle all your former duties along with the new ones. If you effectively communicate with this manager, you may wind up leapfrogging above your supervisor.
If you can’t meet with the manager above your supervisor, try having this same discussion with your supervisor. Chapters 15 and 17 of “Navigating Conflict” outline ways to make this discussion productive and keep it from escalating tension. Again, start the meeting by thanking your supervisor for the promotion and explaining you want to meet expectations. Ask what concrete results you need to achieve and document your understanding in an email.
You may learn that while your employer can’t grant a raise now, they may be able to in a new budget cycle. Learn when that cycle begins. Your promotion gives you leverage to negotiate for a later raise. Alternatively, you may be able to negotiate for other forms of compensation, such as increased flexibility enabling you to work from home; increased paid leave; or an assistant to whom you can delegate work.
Finally, given your testy relationship with your supervisor and the fact that this promotion makes you more marketable to a prospective employer, you may want to launch a job search using your new job title as evidence of continued career growth.