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

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You’ve worked hard, advocated for yourself, and gone above and beyond to make a strong impression on your boss. It’s only natural to get thrilled when offered a promotion. 

But then the disappointment hits you soon after the good news—there are no extra zeros tied to the promotion.

And so here you are, wondering what to do when you’re offered a promotion without a raise. Do you swallow your pride and accept the offer? Or should you negotiate for more money? What if you politely declined?

A wise response lies in understanding your organization’s policies on compensation and promotions and researching your options before making a choice. But that’s not easy without some guidance, so we are here!

This guide will help you navigate this sticky situation with confidence.

Is it Legal for Your Company to Promote You Without a Raise?

Yes, it is.

Under federal law and most states’ laws, employers can promote employees without increasing their pay, provided they don’t violate any employment contract or collective bargaining agreement.

It’s a common practice—39% of organizations often promote their employees without hiking their salary, a Rober Half report revealed. Surprisingly, over six in ten workers would accept a higher title without a raise.

Note that employees are considered “at-will” in most states. That means an employer can change the terms of employment for any reason (except an illegal one) without incurring legal liability. That includes:

  • Terminating employment
  • Adjusting work hours or locations
  • Demoting, promoting, or assigning new job duties and responsibilities
  • Reducing pay and benefits

But you’ll agree with me that’s not necessarily advisable. Employees passed over for raises tend to become unhappy and disengaged. In addition, low pay is the top reason people leave their jobs

Remember, federal employment laws commonly enforced by EEOC ban promotion or pay discrimination based on religion, color, race, national origin, etc. Learn more here. 

Along with the federal laws, please consider what your city’s or state’s laws stipulate about promotions and compensation. For example, Colorado’s Equal Pay for Equal Work Act has additional provisions for the prohibition against wage discrimination based on sex. 

It doesn’t hurt to ask if you think you deserve more money after a promotion. The worst your employer can do is say no. And even then, they may counter with a different offer that’s equally acceptable.

Why You May Have Received a Promotion But no Raise

Raises should go hand-in-hand with promotions, but that’s not always the case, as we’ve seen above. 

Below are the top reasons companies offer promotions without a raise:

  • The company is in bad shape financially
  • Your boss wants to keep you from jumping ship
  • They are trying to save money by promoting from within
  • Perhaps it’s against the company’s policies
  • Bad timing

The company is in bad shape financially

A situation where getting promoted without a pay raise is pretty common is when the company’s budget cannot accommodate a raise at the time. 

Companies go through financial ups and downs, often due to factors beyond their control. And it’s not surprising that some promote employees without a raise amid financial crises as a thank you gesture. 

Your boss wants to keep you from going to another company

Creating a new role and giving you more responsibility could be an effort to keep you from jumping ship. This can be flattering, especially if the promotion comes after another job offer fell through (or if you were thinking about looking elsewhere).

The company is trying to save money by promoting internally 

Some promotions are nothing more than “internal hires.” They’re only a way for the company to tap into their available resources rather than spending a bunch of money on outside talent. 

A raise may violate internal policies

A raise is unlikely if your income is at the top of the salary range for your current title. Asking for more money, in this case, will give the impression of being greedy and money-hungry.

Some companies don’t offer raises with promotions. If this is the case in your organization, it’s crucial to understand the specifics of your new job. 

For example, if your day-to-day tasks change substantially, but there won’t be more work in total, the promotion may be worth accepting despite the lack of a raise.

Timing issues

The company may not have gotten its budget sorted out yet, or perhaps it’s waiting for the start of a new fiscal year before handing out raises. If that’s the case, it could be worth asking about timing; Something like:

Is there any chance I could get a raise in January when your new budget kicks in?

You want to be sure whether the company can afford to pay you more — or if they simply don’t think your work merits it. That will help inform your decision-making process.

Check out: When Is It Appropriate to Ask For a Raise? [How to Decide]

What to Do When You Get a Promotion But Don’t Get a Raise

Sure, the most powerful way to make your boss happy is by accepting what they offer and working harder.

But while negotiating for a raise might seem like the right thing to do after a promotion, approaching the matter wrong could hurt than help your career. Now what?

Here’s what to do when you’re offered a promotion without a raise: 

  • Don’t accept the offer on the spot
  • Research the new title’s market value
  • Talk with your boss
  • Consider other benefits or forms of compensation 
  • Take the job with the guarantee of a salary review later
  • Look for other opportunities to earn more money, either at your workplace or elsewhere

Don’t accept the offer on the spot

By all means, take your time! (I recommend a day or two)

Even if your promotion is due to your competence, you may not be familiar with all aspects of the new role. That’s why you should request a clear job description before accepting the promotion

Your old job description (if you had one) probably won’t cut it anymore. You’ll need something more specific — what do they expect from you now? Does it mean longer hours? Will you be managing a team? Does the job come with a higher workload, yet your boss expects you to maintain the same level of productivity? 

Next, consider what you want. How will the promotion impact your future? Do you need the new title on your business card? Is your aim to be part of something bigger than yourself? 

If the new position allows you to learn new skills or give you exposure to other areas of the company, it might be worth taking on some extra responsibility, even if it doesn’t come with a raise.

However, if your boss wants to promote you but hand over all the extra work without compensation, that’s different.

Research the role’s market value

When it comes to a pay raise discussion, it helps to have data. Start with understanding how much people in similar jobs make. 

You can look up government salary data, including city and state employees’ salaries, at websites such as DataUSA. Websites such as PayScale, Glassdoor, and Salary.com can provide insight into the average market value for your new position. (The ranges will vary by industry.)

If your new salary is below average, then argue for more compensation. You also should review your company’s compensation policies or guidelines to see whether they apply to your new role.

Talk with your boss

Next on what to do when you’re offered a promotion without a raise is meeting with your boss. They will be more receptive to the conversation when in good spirits and relaxed. Similarly, don’t mention salary over email or in a hallway conversation.

Before diving into your salary concerns, take a moment to express how grateful and excited you are about the new role. But you want to balance your enthusiasm with the impression that you think you deserve more money. 

With a clear idea of the job’s market value and what your peers in a similar role make, seek to know why no raise is attached to this promotion. Only then can you decide if there’s room for negotiation or not.

If possible, reference the research you conducted (without being confrontational) and present a case for why you deserve more money.

The employer might have tight budget constraints but expect to offer a raise in the coming months when things get better. That could be reassuring—the situation is temporary. But it’s also a good idea to set an expectation with them regarding when and what kind of compensation increase to expect, so there are no surprises later on.

Consider other perks or other forms of compensation

If it’s clear that the promotion will not pay more, step back and consider the non-salary benefits of the job. 

Maybe there’s more flexibility in terms of hours or responsibilities, which can mean more leisure time. Working from home could be an option with this new position (something many people want these days). You could also negotiate to reduce your workload, let’s say, by 20-30%. 

Perhaps there is more room for advancement with this new position, for example, additional training opportunities. Also, think about other forms of compensation, such as bonuses and stock options.

Try to get the best deal possible regarding what you get for your time and effort—with all forms of compensation on the table—not just your salary. 

Take the job with the guarantee of a salary review later

Even if there’s no money at present, negotiating a salary review at the end of your probation period is another way to increase your chances of getting a raise.

It’s also helpful to map out specific goals or milestones that would result in a raise. That formalizes your relationship with your manager and implies you’re willing to do the work instead of just asking for more money.

Speaking of your future conversation about a raise, approach it with data on your achievements since starting the new job. Better yet, focus more on the outcomes than the hard work and time it took to hit or exceed the milestones. That way, it’s easier to demonstrate why your current salary no longer reflects your contributions and compel your employer to grant your raise request. 

Look for other opportunities to earn more money, either at your workplace or elsewhere

If the negotiation doesn’t yield the expected results, consider these two ways to get more money: 

  • Level up your skills
  • Get paid more for the same work

With the first option, think about where you can increase your value at your company. Perhaps you can enroll in a training course that will help you qualify for raises in the future. You might consider additional tasks typically assigned at a higher pay grade.

If the above strategy is unfeasible or doesn’t appeal to you, please explore employment opportunities outside work. 

How do you find new opportunities? It’s a question best answered with another: Which job seekers are the most successful? There are several ways to tell, but the most significant indicator is past hiring.

So, keep your resume updated with relevant experience and skills wherever possible. The best strategy is to be as specific as possible in your descriptions so that potential employers know the exact proficiency you bring to their organization.

Job boards and online ads might be excellent sources of new opportunities. But researching companies and applying to openings here can be time-consuming and overwhelming.

The best alternative is to tap into your professional network

These are connections at companies that might need your experience and skills, friends and colleagues employed by other organizations, and even professionals you’ve met at conferences or seminars. They can help you discover and land opportunities before they’re listed publicly. After all, 80% of job openings are filled internally via mutual contacts. 

What is a Reasonable Raise When Getting Promoted?

If you’re fortunate enough to be recognized for your hard work, likely, you’ll also receive a raise in addition to the new title and responsibilities.

But how much of a raise should you expect from a promotion? 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual review, the average raise for a promotion is 4.5%-5.0%.

Raises vary significantly by industry and area of the country. For example, in 2021, financial services professionals received an average salary bump of 3.3%, while leisure & hospitality employees received 8%.

In terms of geography, according to the BLS, workers in Mississippi received an average compensation bump of 6.1%, while New Jersey workers received 4.5%.

The size of your raise also depends on your company’s business situation. If business is good, you’re more likely to receive a sizeable raise or bonus than if times are tough. Still, even if your company isn’t doing well, there may be room to negotiate an increase in compensation, though it may not come as a traditional pay raise or bonus.

But did you know you can receive between 10-20% by abandoning ship? Yep, some employees are lucky enough to get upwards of 50%. 

Can I Refuse to Take on More Work Without a Raise?

Yes, it’s okay to refuse new assignments without a raise, especially when swamped with work and if the additional responsibilities don’t enhance your career growth. 

But this is not the sort of thing that comes without consequences. 

In most cases, declining tasks make you seem difficult. Some companies will write you up and discipline you. Someone else will have to take on the work when it piles up and becomes unmanageable. It’s hard to see how either of those outcomes would benefit you.

The best resolution is to hold an open and honest conversation with your manager:

  • Be professional and polite. Start with emphasizing your respect for your boss and appreciation for their trust in you and the new opportunity. 
  • Demonstrate how the extra workload can affect you, your role, and the company. 
  • Go ahead and suggest how your boss can help alleviate the workload. Perhaps they can shift some of your responsibilities or get some of your colleagues (who are making more) to step up and help out. 

But should you find common ground for a salary negotiation, please take advantage of it. 

Should You Accept a Promotion Without a Raise?

It depends. 

There are pros and cons to accepting a promotion without a raise. Weigh all options and determine what’s best for you.

Pros:

  • You may be able to leverage your expanded responsibilities for a raise later on
  • A new position could come with additional perks, like better health insurance or access to a company car
  • You’d gain valuable experience that could help you land an even higher paying job somewhere else down the road

Cons:

  • You’re placing more responsibility on yourself without being compensated.
  • Your boss will probably expect you to do everything, even if it’s not in your job description.
  • Your boss might think they can get away with giving you extra work without a raise.

If you’re approaching a promotion without a raise as a stepping stone, make sure it can equip you with experience or training relevant to your marketability.

Summary

And folks, that’s what to do when you’re offered a promotion without a raise, 

It might seem your company is nickel-and-diming you if they don’t give you a raise with the promotion. But with the guidance provided here, you can determine whether accepting the offer is worth it in the long run or not. For example, would receiving the title or holding out for more money be the best decision for your long-term career prospects? 

There are many factors involved, and it would be wise to weigh them all before deciding one way or another. If this post helps, then my work here is done!

As always, all the best!