What to Do If You're Offered a Promotion Without a Raise

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 Getty Images/Thomas Barwick

The best possible circumstance is when your manager offers you a promotion accompanied by a raise that’s even larger than you expected. But that’s not always how promotions play out. What should you do when you’re offered a promotion without any increase in your salary or hourly pay?

The situation may be more common than you realize: According to staffing firm OfficeTeam, 39% of employers commonly offer a promotion without a raise. What should you do if it happens to you?

The Benefits of a Promotion, Even If There Isn’t a Raise

First, let’s talk about what happens when you get a promotion.

Typically, you’ll get a better title and additional responsibilities. With a promotion, you may get to work on more interesting projects, or ones that are more important to the bottom line. Or, you may begin to manage people or projects.

This can be good news for your long-term career. With a better title, you’ll be able to: 

  • Apply for more senior jobs at other companies 
  • Grow your skills and experience, thanks to additional responsibilities 
  • Add impressive bullet points to your resume
  • Potentially have more visibility at the company 

These advantages may be precisely why 63% of employees would prefer to receive a promotion without a raise, as opposed to a raise without a promotion, per a Korn Ferry survey.

But there are some potential downsides to a promotion without a bump up in salary (aside from not getting additional money). 

You may feel resentful or taken advantage of, which isn’t very conducive to performing at your best. And, if the promotion leads to twice as much work, you may begin to feel burned out.

Why Companies Offer a Promotion Without a Raise 

It can feel offensive to be offered a promotion without a raise. But that need not be the case. Here are some reasons companies may offer a promotion without a raise: 

  • It’s a sign you’re performing well: Sometimes, a promotion is a way for the company to let you know you’re doing a good job. 
  • You’ve already taken on the duties that accompany the title: You may organically have taken on the responsibilities of the new title. In other words, the title is new, but the work won’t change. 
  • The company isn’t flush: You may be doing a good job, but the company as a whole may not be performing well. So, in some cases, the employer may want to give you a raise, but can’t. 
  • Internal policies: Perhaps your earnings are already at the top of the salary range for your current title and the proposed new title. Or, in some cases, companies have rigid guidelines around the timing of raises. It is, of course, also possible that the company is poorly run or that your manager isn’t a strong advocate. 

Keep in mind that sometimes a promotion comes without a salary raise, but it may deliver other benefits such as an annual bonus, additional vacation days, and so on. 

What to Do When You’re Offered a Promotion Without a Raise 

Take Your Time 

Are you feeling surprised or perhaps even offended by a promotion without a raise? While there is no need to share all your emotions with your manager or the HR person who offered the promotion, do feel free to inquire about the company’s rationale. That way, you can find out the why behind the offer. 

Remember, you don’t have to make an on-the-spot decision. As with a job offer, you can take some time. When you’re offered the promotion, it’s a good idea to start by expressing your appreciation for the offer. 

Then, you can ask, “When would you need a response?” Or, alternatively, you can say that you’ll need X days to think the offer over and discuss it with your family. 

You have every right to turn down the promotion, but to avoid harming your relationship with company management, you should do so very professionally and politely.

Research Compensation

You’ll want to research the salary levels for the title in general—that is, what people with this job title typically earn within your industry. Additionally, you can use salary research sites like Glassdoor and PayScale to find out more information. 

Also dig into how people with this title are paid at your specific company. This can be challenging, since typically people don’t want to share personal salary details, and it’s awkward to ask.

Even having a general sense of the typical payment for this role—at your company and at others—can help you make a powerful case for why you deserve a raise as well as a title shift. 

Determine Your Next Steps

Your next steps depend on your particular situation and whether you find the company’s offer of a promotion without a raise justified or not. Some potential options include: 

  • Take the offer but ask to revisit your salary at a specific later date: Have an open conversation with your manager and be clear that you would like your salary to be reconsidered later on. If possible, set a timeline for when this salary reassessment will occur. 
  • Establish milestones: It can also be helpful to map out specific goals or milestones that would result in a raise. Get the details in writing; you don’t want to rely on memory here. 
  • Negotiate: Arrive at the negotiation meeting prepared with information on how others in similar roles in your industry are paid. It can be helpful if you’re willing to take other compensation, aside from salary, such as more flexible hours, more paid time off, additional training, additional support from other team members, and so on. 
  • Take the offer as-is: In some cases, this may make the most sense. After all, the title change may be helpful to your career in a long-term way, and you may feel that the company's reasons for not giving a raise are justified. 

Key Takeaways

  • Promotions Are Generally Good for Your Career Whether it comes with or without a raise, a promotion is generally beneficial to your career in the long term and a sign that your company values your work. 
  • You Can Always Negotiate Even if you’re not offered a raise with your promotion, you do have the option to ask for one, inquire about other benefits, or ask for a salary review later on.