Should You Take a Promotion Without a Raise This Year?

The raise you’ve worked hard for has been cut from the company budget. Here’s how to protect your interests.

Published: Nov 17, 2020

A promotion had been on Teresa’s development plan since 2019. But when her boss finally offered her the new position in October, it didn’t come with a pay increase. Though Teresa had worked to earn the promotion, suddenly she wasn’t sure if she should accept it.

A Willis Towers Watson survey found that 35% of companies have reduced their projected 2021 salary increase budgets from earlier projections. Economic uncertainty is driving many—though not all—companies to cut back on raises this year. The same survey revealed that 50% of companies kept their salary increase budgets intact.  

The offer of a promotion without an increase could feel like the company is trying to placate you, but career experts say that companies won’t give more responsibility to employees who can’t handle it. “The offer is recognition from your manager, so take that as a positive thing,” says Korn Ferry Advance coach Esteban Domínguez-Boonefaes. 

The offer of a promotion without an increase could feel like the company is trying to placate you, but companies won’t give more responsibility to employees who can’t handle it.

Consider the following tips for negotiating an agreement that leaves you feeling valued. 

Make sure it’s more than a title.  

Something as simple as a more important title in your email signature can help you build your reputation internally and with clients. But experts say to make sure the promotion comes with more responsibility and decision-making power. 

Even if pay isn’t negotiable, your responsibilities are. Go back to your reasons for wanting the promotion—do you want to manage people or processes? To lead strategy? Make sure your new job duties are in line with the career progression you want.  

Ask about the possibilities for other perks. 

You’ve earned greater benefits, so ask your manager to work with you to secure them. “A good manager should advocate for your growth and advancement—and they don’t want to lose you,” says Domínguez-Boonefaes.  

Some suggestions: performance-related bonuses, commissions, food or gas vouchers, home fitness benefits, education reimbursement, or less tangible benefits like building leadership or public-speaking skills. 

Lock in a pay bump in the future.  

You may not be getting a raise right away, but you still deserve one. Talk to your boss about the possibility of locking in a bump at a certain time, perhaps in six months. Write out the agreement and set a meeting at the agreed-upon time to review what you discussed. You can even ask to have the raise backdated, so you’re still on track to get the next one you’re up for.

“You’re agreeing to take on more responsibility with less pay, so put the company’s side of the deal in writing,” says Domínguez-Boonefaes.  

See the long-term benefits. 

If you aren’t happy with what the company is willing to agree to, you can always turn down the promotion. Or you can accept it and begin looking for a new job internally or externally. Keep in mind that in the long term, your new title and responsibilities will help you start at a higher point with a recruiter—and you might be able to make up your lost pay raise and earn even more with a new offer.  

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