Ask a Recruiter: ‘Have I Been Tricked into a Quiet Promotion?’

"Before you assume you’ve been quietly promoted, know that taking on additional work to keep the ship afloat is not always cause for concern"
Emily Durham, senior recruiter at Intuit (Photograph: Emily Durham)

Welcome to CB’s work-advice column featuring Emily Durham, a Toronto-based senior recruiter at Intuit, public speaker and content creator known for her funny and relatable TikToks about all things work. Each month, Durham answers reader questions on topics that affect our ability to thrive in our jobs, and offers her real-world insights on how to handle even the most rock-and-a-hard-place conundrums. Have a work-related question? Send it to [email protected].

Q: There’s been a lot of turnover at my company over the last year, and gradually my boss has been giving me more work—work that was previously done by senior members of my team. I’m happy to be on higher-level projects, and I value the experience, but I haven’t received a title upgrade or salary bump based on this increased workload. Have I been “quietly promoted?” And am I entitled to ask for more money?

Working on high-visibility projects with increased responsibility can be an amazing opportunity to grow your career. However, it can also lead to “quiet promotions,” which you correctly point out. Unlike a “quiet firing,” which is often when responsibilities are taken away from employees, this trending term is used to describe situations where folks take on additional responsibilities at work…without additional compensation. For many, this scenario sounds very familiar: Nearly eight in 10 American workers have been given an increased workload without a bump in compensation or a job title change, according to a 2022 JobSage survey.

Related: How Do I Find a Mentor?

But before you assume you’ve been quietly promoted, know that taking on additional work to keep the ship afloat is not always cause for concern. Sometimes managers need all hands on deck for a temporary stretch of time, like during a particularly busy period or when a team member has left. But when this stretch feels indefinite, the risk of being taken advantage of increases, and you’re more prone to burnout.

The signs of a quiet promotion

Ultimately, whether your increased workload is aligned with your career growth or is actually just a quiet promotion comes down to the objectives your manager has created with you—not for you. A great leader is not one who prescribes your career plan by throwing work your way. Instead, a great leader engages you in open conversations about your goals, and presents opportunities for you to reach them through stretch assignments—projects or tasks that go beyond your standard job description. Suddenly managing a small team may be an opportunity to flex your leadership skills, whereas doing admin work for that small team is likely not about your personal development, it’s about your employer leaning on you to get things done. 

Related: How Do I Push Past My Imposter Syndrome and Get the Job Done?

If your increased workload has come directly from regular career conversations with your manager, that is a good sign. In my role as a senior recruiter at Intuit, I have conversations with my boss weekly where we discuss my career ambitions. Often after these conversations, my boss presents an opportunity for me to take on a new project or initiative to help accelerate my career in the direction we discussed. Because these conversations are rooted in my own development—and I am given a choice to take these projects on—I never feel like I am doing more work for free. However, in cases where you are continuously taking on more work, without direct correlation to your career growth (and without an end in sight), you might be in a different boat.

How to ask for a real promotion

In these instances, it’s best to have an open conversation with your boss. Book a 30-minute meeting to share that you are excited by the additional work you have received, but would like to talk through what career development looks like for you. Framing the conversation around career growth instead of a salary increase can ease any tension, and gives your manager an opportunity to share your development path at the company. 

“A promotion without a raise isn’t a promotion—it’s simply more work”

Your manager may reveal that this additional work is temporary, or that they intend to promote you in the near future. Or, you may learn that your manager sees this workload as the new standard. If you find yourself in the latter camp, inquire whether your compensation will reflect the increased expectations of your role. Express your gratitude for the learning opportunities your boss has given you, and state that you are excited to continue your career at the company. It is entirely appropriate to say that with the increased workload, you’d like to understand how a job title change or salary bump may come into play. From there, let your manager do the talking and walk you through their longer-term plans for your development. But if your boss’s vision for your career doesn’t align with your own, you may have a difficult decision to make.

If your employer is not able or willing to compensate you for your increased responsibilities, even after a reasonable discussion, then it might be time to start looking elsewhere for a job that does compensate you fairly. Because, ultimately, a promotion without a raise isn’t a promotion—it’s simply more work.

Emily Durham
Emily Durham
Emily Durham is a Toronto-based coach, public speaker and content creator known for her funny and relatable TikToks about all things work. Follow her on TikTok and Instagram at @emily.the.recruiter.