Quiet Promotions: How Corporate America is Stealing From You as An Employee (and Customer!)

burnout at work stress during job search

Getting passed over for a promotion you deserve may cause feelings of anger, frustration, and disappointment. What’s even worse is having the workload and responsibility of someone above your position without a corresponding pay increase or title change. 

A new JobSage survey suggests that this is exactly what’s happening at businesses all around the country. Known as “quiet promoting,” this phenomenon refers to employers giving employees additional responsibilities without the benefits of a genuine promotion.

Of the over 1,000 full-time employees we surveyed, a whopping 78% have experienced an increased workload without additional compensation. Most of them don’t like it. In fact, more than half (57%) have felt manipulated or taken advantage of when asked to do more work. 

Employers, however, appear to benefit from the practice of quiet promotions: nearly two-thirds (63%) of companies would suffer if employees refused to go above and beyond.

Industries Most Likely to “Quietly” Promote You

While quiet promotions can happen in any workplace, some industries engage in this practice more than others. The two worst offenders on our list are art and design (89%) and hospitality (89%), followed closely by food services (88%) and government (88%). As many teachers already know, those who work in education (81%) are also likely to have a higher workload without higher pay.

It probably comes as no surprise, then, that only one of these fields (art and design) made our list of industries where employees “thrive” the most. That’s because after work-life balance (46%) and the work itself (32%), career advancement (22%) came in third place for what “thriving” at work looks like to employees.

hustle culture

The Warning Signs of Quiet Promotions

Whether you suspect you’ve received a “quiet promotion” or have never thought about it that way, a few tell-tale signs suggest you’re working above your pay level. 

If a manager has asked you to take on work above your position, you have something in common with nearly three-quarters (73%) of our survey respondents. Another pretty clear sign that you’ve been quietly promoted is absorbing work after a coworker above you left, which is an experience that 67% of our survey respondents have had.

Perhaps you think your higher-ups want to take advantage of your work ethic, but don’t want to give you an actual promotion. You may be right. Another sign to watch out for is having a heavier workload, higher expectations, and/or more responsibilities than others working at the same level as you. Over two-thirds (68%) of employees surveyed reported having more work than others with the same job title.

How Companies Get Away with Quiet Promotions

So, how does corporate America get employees to do extra work without extra pay? Fear of losing your job can of course play a role, but the justifications are often much more subtle. Workers may take on a higher workload due to seasonal or staffing pressures, to help out a colleague, or to curry favor with the boss. In fact, nearly 7 in 10 (68%) have taken on additional tasks with the hope of being promoted. 

A paltry 22% have actively resisted their employer’s attempts to quietly promote them, such as refusing to do extra work without extra pay. The reason that more employees don’t get genuine promotions isn’t for lack of desire on their part. Our survey showed that 63% of workers want a promotion or other role within their organization.

The Good News

The good news is that work appears to be changing. All the talk of “quiet quitting,” “quiet firing,” and now “quiet promoting” suggests an increasing awareness of the disconnect between employers and employees. Employees know what they want, and at least some employers are giving it to them. In fact, 63% of our survey respondents reported currently “thriving” in their positions. 

What creates the proper conditions for thriving in the workplace? The two most important factors reported by employees are work-life balance (60%) and enjoyment of the work (46%). Other ideal conditions include flexible hours (43%) and a favorable salary (41%). Employees also believe they work best under supportive managers (41%) who trust employees, recognize their accomplishments, and understand their needs.

build a strong employee-employer bridge

The Industries That Are Getting It Right

If you’re looking for career advancement, you may consider a field more likely to offer true—rather than “quiet”—promotions. According to our survey respondents, engineering (77%) and government (73%) are the two industries most likely to regularly promote their employees. Employees also report regular promotions in architecture and construction (69%), legal services (69%), and nonprofits and NGOs (68%). 

To really boost your occupational happiness, consider joining a field where workers thrive the most. If you’ve ever thought about selling houses, you may enjoy learning that real estate (75%) topped our list of thriving industries. Two industries that appeared in our top five for regular promotions also made the top five for thriving employees: nonprofits and NGOs (71%) and architecture and construction (66%). Other industries where workers report thriving include finance (69%), art and design (67%), and technology (66%).

What You Can Do

A quiet promotion does sometimes indicate that a genuine promotion is on the way. If that promotion never comes, however, you may have to ask your manager why and what you can do about it. If your career has stagnated despite requesting feedback and making changes, you might need to formulate an exit plan. While jumping ship is never easy, you may find it more than worth it in the end to find an employer who respects you—and rewards you accordingly. 

Regardless of whether you stay in the same field or try a new one, reading online employee reviews and asking the right interview questions can help you find your happy place. Ask how the employer rewards employee accomplishments, what the work-life balance looks like, and how the company invests in your career development. According to our survey, these factors make a winning workplace combination that may help you “quietly thrive.” 

This guest post was authored by Kelli Mason

Kelli Mason is the COO and co-founder of JobSage, an employer review platform focused on what matters most to today’s jobseekers and professionals. Kelli has earned national recognition in Forbes 30 under 30 for her work as a leader in the field of workplace diversity and inclusion and has spoken and written widely on the topic.


Ms. Career Girl strives to provide valuable insights you can use. To see more from our columnists and guest authors, check these outOr subscribe to our weekly email featuring our latest articles. We’re also present on Medium!

Ms. Career Girl

Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.