Should You Take a Job Promotion Without a Pay Raise?

Woman holding red piggy bank
Woman holding red piggy bank |

After years of hard work, late nights, and additional certifications, you got the good news you’ve been waiting for. You’re finally getting promoted. All your effort has paid off and you can’t wait to start performing your new duties. Visions of you in your new office dance around in your head as you smile and start making a list of goals for the first few months in your new role. You do your happy dance and pick up your phone so you can tell your friends the great news. There’s just one catch: You won’t be getting a raise.
You were excited — up until that point. As all the blood drains from your face, you’re starting to wonder if this is a good move. Maybe all that hard work wasn’t worth it after all. Or was it? Surprisingly, research conducted by OfficeTeam revealed that 55% of employees would accept a promotion without a pay increase.
When some employers face lean times but still want to reward employees, they might decide to offer a promotion or title change without the benefit of extra cash. It’s obviously a good deal for the company because they can get more work without having to stress their budget. But does that translate into a raw deal for you? When does it make sense to bite the bullet and accept a promotion or title change without the financial reward?
If you find yourself in this situation, you might ask these questions. You could also be ready to bail and start looking for a better-paying job. Before you give in to a knee-jerk reaction, take some time to think things through. The Cheat Sheet is here to help. In the following pages, we’ll outline some of the pros and cons of taking a promotion without a pay raise in addition to some advice for how to make the most of the situation if you decide to remain with your employer.

Making a decision

young woman is lying on the grass and thinking
Young woman lying on the grass and thinking |

Before you decide whether to take a promotion without a raise, first figure out where you see your career going. What are your short- and long-term goals? How long have you been with your current employer? Also, take stock of where your company is financially as well as what direction the company is anticipating in the next couple of years. Are your goals still in line with the company’s mission? Look at your situation from all sides and then proceed from there. If more money is not an option, but you’re just out of college and attempting to get your feet wet in your industry, a promotion may benefit you. However, if you’ve been with your employer for a while and you’re a seasoned professional, it might be time to move on.
Sean Martin, a growth marketing manager with Directive Consulting, told The Cheat Sheet the best decision depends on where you are in your career as well as what stage your employer is currently in. A young startup will not be able to offer the same benefits as a well-established global company.

If you’re working for a Fortune 500 Company with capital to spare, I would consider an unpaid promotion to probably be a bad idea. At a company of that size with that level of resources, taking on more responsibilities without a fair compensation might get you cast as the mule of your office and you may be overused and undervalued. However, at a startup company where leadership roles are up for grabs, taking on more responsibilities can show your superiors how capable you are and you can increase your value at the young company looking for new up and coming leaders.

Is it a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’?

Should you take that promotion? We reached out to our experts for their opinion on what to do in different work situations. Here’s what they had to say.

No — You’ll be doing a lot more work

man sleeping on office desk
Unhappy employee |

If you’ll be in a situation where you’ll be doing the work of two or more people, you might want to step away from that promotion. Doing a few extra tasks is one thing, but taking on the role of several people is bordering on being abusive. Offer to help out, but don’t give to the point where you’re being taken advantage of.
Jane Finkle, career consultant and owner of Career Visions, told The Cheat Sheet employees should be compensated if the new role requires working significantly more hours. “If the promotion demands a sizable increase in work hours along with added responsibilities, then the promotion may not be worth it,” said Finkle. It’s also important to carefully evaluate the stability of the company.

Yes — The company is financial trouble

Businessman presenting financial analysis with charts
Businessman presenting financial analysis with charts |

Take the promotion — and then hightail it out of there. If the reason you’re not able to get a pay increase is because your employer is barely surviving and can’t keep up with the bills, this is a red flag. In this case, it might be best to start looking for a new place to work. Thank your lucky stars that your boss practically put the red flag in your lap. But before you leave, take advantage of the opportunity to boost your resume. This upgraded role will put you in a position to negotiate a higher salary when interviewing for new jobs. Since there’s a possibility you’ll be laid off due to lean times at the company, you might as well make the most of it.

No — You don’t have the resources to do your new job

depressed woman
Depressed woman | Thinkstock

Whether it’s due to lack of education, job training, or staff, you’re already starting off on the wrong foot. If your employer expects you to do more with less, it’s a matter of time before you burn out. By that time, they’ll probably want to fire you. Avoid a potential disaster by declining their not-so-generous offer.

Yes — You find the work satisfying

happy worker
Happy worker |

Does the new role bring you joy? Do you find yourself giddy when it’s time to get ready for work in the morning? Then take the promotion. Few employees can say their jobs are satisfying. A Gallup poll found that roughly 70% of American workers are not fully engaged at work. However, Vicki Salemi, career expert for Monster, told The Cheat Sheet it’s wise to set a time limit on your willingness to work more for less pay.

When you have the opportunity to learn new skills, always go for it. That said, don’t be taken advantage of. Set a timeline for yourself such as, ‘OK, I’m taking the promotion without a raise but if I don’t have a pay increase within X timeframe, I’m out of here.’ [After that time], if the answer is wishy-washy or a flat out ‘no,’ you know where you stand. Take those new skills and beefed-up resume to another employer who will pay you properly!

No — You were promised a raise

An 'I.O.U' message on a piece of paper, sticking out of a leather wallet
An ‘I.O.U’ message on a piece of paper, sticking out of a leather wallet | Stokey

Has your supervisor turned down your raise request several times even after you’ve demonstrated how you’ve helped the company make or save money and despite earning an additional degree or certification? If you’re consistently giving more than you’re getting back and all you’ve received are empty promises, you may want to think about pursuing other opportunities.

Yes — The new role will significantly expand your network

Colleagues drinking after work
Connecting at a networking event |

If the new position will offer you the opportunity to network with a more senior-level group, this could prove to be a big benefit. For example, if you’re being promoted from manger to director, you may now have access to senior management that you didn’t have before. These connections may be able to help you land a better job and propel your career forward.

No — You’re not thrilled about the new role

unhappy worker
Unhappy worker |

If you’re unhappy about what you’ll be doing, not getting paid for the additional work will just make the situation worse. You’ll be so miserable that your job performance will likely suffer. Either decline the offer and remain in your current role or leave and find a job that better suits your career goals.
Brandi Britton, district president of staffing firm OfficeTeam, suggests that employees explain why they’re declining. “Explain why you prefer your current role or want to take a different career path. This is a good opportunity to share with your manager how you see yourself growing with the company, even if you don’t take the position he or she offered,” Britton told The Cheat Sheet.

Yes — The new position aligns with your career goals

businesswoman on the phone
Businesswoman on the phone |

Will the new position help you reach your career goals? If so, it may be in your best interest to say yes to the promotion and work out the details later. Until you can get a raise, you may want to think about having a meeting with your boss and discussing other ways you could be compensated. “Professionals may be able to negotiate more vacation, bigger bonuses, or flexible schedules,” said Britton. You may also want to consider negotiating compensation for professional development opportunities, such as a continuing education course. If you decide to stay at your job, also ask your supervisor if he or she would consider a compensation review in three to six months.
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