Getting a promotion is so last century

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Can we all just stop talking about promotions like they matter? A promotion has meaning when someone is moving up the corporate ladder at such a slow pace that every small step is grounds for celebration.

But there are no more ladders because no one stays long enough at a company to get up the whole ladder. And even if someone did try to climb, they’d probably be laid-off outsourced or off-shored before they got to the top.

So what is the point of a promotion? Titles do not matter because they are accoutrements of hierarchy in a nonhierarchical workforce. And no one cares about getting MORE responsibly that implicitly comes with a promotion, they want the RIGHT kind of responsibility — which means interesting work and a chance to expand one’s skills set.

So all that’s left to justify continuing to talk about promotions is getting a raise, which is hardly a notable event. Here is a headline from “Raise Outlook Better than Employees Expected”. The article goes on to say that the average raise was something just above three percent. Let’s say four percent. This means if you were making $100,000 a year, you’ll get $4,000 a year more. SO WHAT? After cost of living and tax adjustments you are looking at a little over a thousand dollars. That will not change your life in any significant way, that’s for sure.

When someone tries to give you a promotion or insult you with a $1000 a year raise, tell them you want someone that really matters. Here are some suggestions:

1. Growth opportunities

Learning new skills is worth a lot more to you than some ridiculous 4% raise. Ask to get on a team that will teach you how to do something you think is important. Ask to work with the clients who are doing the most innovative projects. Request a training budget and send yourself to a bunch of seminars. The best way to learn is to role-play, which everyone hates to do, so go to a seminar where someone is forces you to do it.

2. Mentor opportunities

Ask to be matched with a mentor in the company. This is not a revolutionary request. Human resource executives have been studying this process for more than a decade and they know how to pick someone good for you. They just need to spend a little time doing it.

3. Flex-time opportunities

If you are so great at your job that you have earned a promotion, suggest that you keep your current job but do it from home or do it four days a week. After all, you’ve already shown you perform well. Heck, ask to work from Tahiti; you should be able to do the job however you want as long as you maintain that stellar level of performance.

4. Entrepreneurial opportunities

Just say no. To the promotion, that is. Now that you have a sense of how much time and energy your current job requires, now that you’ve mastered the scope, you can try something on the side. The safest way to experiment with running your own business is to do it while you still have a regular paycheck. Who cares if it doesn’t include that 4% raise? Think of that paycheck as a research grant for your ideas for a side business.

Instead of letting last century’s carrots dictate your workplace rewards, think about what is right for you, right now. What do you really need? You don’t need a promotion. It’s something else. Think about what would really make a difference in your life and then make it happen. While the rest of your organization is focusing on titles and money you can slip under the radar and get something truly meaningful.

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  1. Karen Kay
    Karen Kay says:

    Perfect advice for one who is simultaneously working on a home biz and finishing an MBA, while wondering what to do about my full time job.

    Thanks for your insight!


  2. John Stuart
    John Stuart says:

    I really don’t agree with this. As a senior executive in a niche IT company my experience has been very different. If a promotion can give you more control and reduce the effect that incompetent managers can have on you it is well worth it – even at zero pay rise!

    It is a well known fact that middle managers are most stressed since they have the worst combination of pressure to deliver versus control over resources. A promotion out of this layer can do wonders for stress reduction and job satisfaction.

  3. Matthew
    Matthew says:

    Worst advice I’ve ever heard. Position title and more responsibilty are only 2 reasons why a promotion is a good thing. Stability with the same company, showing that someone believes in your work is another, an increase in pay (slight or not), different set of tasks, broadening your responsibilities to make a more rounded employee with good knownledge of many things, as well as many more. Pay may not always increase immediatly with a promotion, however many times the ceiling to how much you can make goes us. As well, when you interview and are able to say that you have been promoted, it is one more thing for someone to look positivly on.

    The thing is your basing your comments on the thought of what you consider a promotion to considered to be worthwhile. Maybe a higher position title, more responsibility, staying with same company, and more money (regardless of how much or little comes immediatly) isn’t enough to you. But the rest of us living in reality, that have been out in the field know that you have to work hard to get somewhere. Those that don’t will be doomed to fail. This may be a new era in the way people think about jobs, however that doesn’t mean that the old situations do not still apply. People still want to be sucessful, and still want to provide for their families.

    When I saw this article on I thought I’d be getting good advice. Just shows me again that “experts” in this sort of thing usually have no concept of reality.

  4. Derek
    Derek says:

    You insinuated in your column that the average promotion received a 4% raise. There are many more raises than promotions so one can infer that while raises may average 4% most promotions are more than that. I agree with your premise that a promotion isn’t everything and people need to look for other opportunities for a rewarding job, but your facts seem to be misinterpreted .

  5. Elle
    Elle says:

    I think your advice might be relevant for those looking to advance in small companies, where the career path isn’t as defined. Or for those who make several jumps between companies. For moving up within large organizations, though, your advice just doesn’t jibe.

    In large companies and government, promotions between grade levels can involve substantial salary changes.

    My last promotion, which was from one grade to another – grades that are standardized across the company – came with a 10% raise in salary. My supervisor promoted me before my anniversary date, so I got the yearly 3% raise on top of that. I’ll be making the extra 13% every year. Maybe that sounds piddly, but I definitely feel it.

    Your advice to seek training or other benefits instead of a monetary raise might be true for someone who job-hops a lot and is looking to pick up specific skill-sets not relevant to jobs available at their current company. Of course, asking for irrelevant training might make the boss wonder.

    And in a large company, asking for a benefit that’s just flat not available to your group, say flex-time, just won’t work. It doesn’t matter if you ask for it in lieu of a raise, offer your first-born, or what. You won’t get it.

    Incidentally, training and raises aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. My (large) company has a decent tuition reimbursement program. It doesn’t get counted against your salary – I wouldn’t have to forego a raise to take classes.

    Also, “being open to new ideas” sounds like something Fortune 500 executives (who probably aren’t your audience) tell themselves to explain the fact that they don’t do anything concrete to justify their enormous salaries. Middle management in a large company, at any rate, is not about “being open to new ideas”. It’s about delivering your part of the budget.

    Overall, the advice you give seems a bit glib, and is probably more relevant to advancing in small companies, or a series of small companies.

  6. Darren
    Darren says:

    Good advice for business-oriented work, and bad advice for hands-on technical workers. Off-shoring? Wrenches don’t easily travel from India to the U.S. and back again. Someone here has to do the work.
    Further, promotions in this area require that employees promoted be knowledgeable from their (new)level down to entry level.
    This requires leadership by example, and not just a bunch of bright ideas.

  7. Buck
    Buck says:

    I have to say that the responses from the people above actually do support this article very well. The responses so far show the reason why we still have old school, last century, thinking prevalent in our society. When you work for the man, YOU WORK FOR THE MAN!! That means, for the majority of us, whatever salary or promotion you are given is ‘usually’ only done to increase the amount of return that the executives in the company are going to get from you doing the work. 99% of the time this is the reason it’s done. Obviously, the brighter/nicest folks will be given these opportunities since they seem to be the ones that will less question the real intentions of raises and promotions and will be more likely to be content doing what they are told/given to do. As she says, these are usually people that excel in their specific job and are easy to get along with. This by no means says these folks are management material.

    That said, I do agree with the response that going from one grade level to another can make life less stressful, but this really only applies to going from middle management to executive…and look, thats what that guy did.

    But in reality, promotion from midlevel management to executive positions are very, very rare. I’ve been in IT for 15 years, worked at small, medium, large, very large companies, been an engineer, team lead, manager, etc. I can maybe think of one or two instances where someone in mid management was promoted to executive level. Typically, you see executives come into being an executive or taking executive positions via 1 or 2 ways: friendships and/or likeablitiy/ability to be a figure head and ‘display’ leadership – which is different from leading. I’m not saying this is always true, but i would say that 85% of the time it is.

    I’m just saying be realistic folks. Penelope has a good handle on the current corporate climate and its very easy to be fooled by the man, when you work for the man. Its not like the old days. True, they are not going to outsource mechanics anytime soon, but the tools you use may start coming from India or China, not the usa…that means some poor guy in the US didn’t get promoted to upper management and lost his tool making job to an outsource…

    This article was clearly geared for folks that are not executives – this is for the average person in the average company in an average position. I completely agree with Penelope’s points here. If you disagree, then you are only compounding the corporate problems we have today.

  8. FutureK
    FutureK says:

    You’d have to ALREADY be pretty far up the food chain at a large corporation for any of this “advice” to be of any use. For the rest of us, $100,000 a year (which you’d have to make to get $4,000 out of a 4% raise) will never happen. We have to fight to get a raise from $35,000 to $40,000 a year. And, while in your elitist world that extra $5,000 wouldn’t pay for a pair of shoes, to those of us familiar with the term budget as something we personally stick to, an extra $5,000 a year means maybe, just maybe, we can take our kids on vacation this summer. Of course, you couldn’t do that. You’re too busy working to actually spend the ridiculous amount of money you make on anything memorable or – God forbid! – fun. May I ask what’s the point of earning it, if you never have time to spend it?

  9. Mark Brown
    Mark Brown says:

    What a smart article! This article serves the big corporations in keeping the ambition of the employees low. The advice to the ordinary should have been “Get promoted before all the skill based jobs are exported overseas”.

  10. Christiaan
    Christiaan says:

    This, I believe, is a very insightful article. Promotions these days come with a price whether it’s time or workload. Remember, the company almost always has its interest at hand. And for those of you who focus on stability must have fallen asleep 20 years ago and haven’t waken up yet. With major corporations losing money, laying off workers, and reneging on workers’ pensions, you should always have a back up plan in place. That’s why I totally agree with the notion of starting a business on the side. With the steady rise of globalization and outsourcing of jobs, we are turning into an entrepreneurial age. And those who can’t adapt will be left behind.

  11. Dafe Charles
    Dafe Charles says:

    Good advice as long as one is in your part of the world. But from where we are in Lagos, Nigeria, your arguments won’t necessarily hold water. There are people issues to deal with (egos etc). There is the economic side of things (where every Naira increase in income means a lot). There is ‘respect’ that comes with promotion in our cultures (it shows progress and strenght).

    Down here, most of us don’t even have choices in the jobs that we end up with. We just find ourselves doing job we shouldn’t be doing in the first place. Jobs we didn’t train in school for. And even if you trained for it, that wasn’t what you wanted in the first place, but because you couldn’t get admitted into school for your preferred field of study, you end up studying what is thrown at you.

    From the foregoing, a Nigerian might not really agree with most of what you’ve postulated above. But had I been in the U.S or any other Western society, I’ll buy your ideas, hook, line and sinker!

  12. Samara
    Samara says:

    This is a great post. I was thinking if I was offered a raise or promotion I could use your advice and work at home 3-4 days a week and come into the office once or twice a week to check in.

    This would help me save $800 a month on childcare expenses and I can be with my family more. A total savings of $9600. I rather save money than get maybe a $1 or less raise.


  13. Elle
    Elle says:

    Face it, this advice is all about making the best of a bad situation – when your company is too cheap to recognize your true worth as an employee. These alternatives aren’t as good as a raise, any way you slice it.

    First off, extra training and mentoring should NEVER be in lieu of salary, only in addition. If you aim for that, then you’re aiming low – and that’s what you’ll get.

    I’ll leave out the “entrepeneurial possibilities” since that doesn’t make any sense. You can get a raise and still start a sideline. So that leaves flex-time. So. Flex-time in lieu of a raise?

    Of COURSE a company always has its interest at heart, and of COURSE there is no job stability anymore. That’s WHY I prefer cold hard cash to more nebulous benefits like flex-time. A raise means more money in my 401k. Flex-time? Not money in my 401k.

    A higher salary at my current company will help me get a higher salary at my NEXT company, so taking the raise/promotion over flex-time is a good strategy *especially* in an unstable job market.

    Unless, of course, my job category is offshored, in which case flex-time won’t be worth a damn anyway.

    Do executives settle for extra training, mentoring, or flex-time in lieu of their sweet fat bonuses? No, of course not. I think I’ll take my survival cues from the most money and power savvy – and most self-interested – of the bunch.

    But, to each his own. I’m secure in my own strategy, and don’t need others to agree that it’s viable to know that it is. If others settle for flex-time, mentoring and training in lieu of raises, that’s just more money for me. :)

  14. Promotion
    Promotion says:

    Interesting article. But these tips depends on your promotion. Certainly would be great if you get a huge raise and promotion. Anyway, thanks for the article. Cheers

  15. 5 Star Hotels
    5 Star Hotels says:

    Great article Penelope. Well I do agree with you to some extent with the points you have mentioned. Sometimes a promotion can be major pressurizing situation. But most of the people really do thrive for promotions.

  16. electrical goods
    electrical goods says:

    Your blog is certainly interesting indeed. I just thought to drop a word in this article too. i really do agree with you about the promotions. Recently I got promoted and since then the pressure and the intensity is really too much. And all that for a small amount of raise.

  17. Pam @ Soma Online
    Pam @ Soma Online says:

    Hey there again. Well I could somewhat agree with this article. Getting a promotion is certainly a good thing but it comes with loads of strings attached. no to mention the pressure to perform more. It’s really awesome to see you writing about these stuff and enlightening us :)) Thanks a lot

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    Temporary Tattoos says:

    I can agree with your article. Getting a promotion is a great thing from a pay perspective but it often comes with increased responsibility, greater pressure and often more hours. Thanks for your article.

  20. Michael
    Michael says:

    You’ll actually be rewarded only if you’re likable. So spend your days trying to figure out what people need and what people want, and how you can help them Mens swimwear. Empathy makes you likable.

  21. Roger
    Roger says:

    Right on! Promotions are usually tremendously overrated, especially in this economic environment. At this stage in my life, time with my family and friends, and time to volunteer in my community is increasingly becoming equally – if not – more important than being promoted. I’ll find ways to cut back on spending and live within my means at my current salary. Now, to those who claim that this is some sort of rant to keep workers down: Um…I’m not sure where you’ve been in the last decade, but corporations are already keeping workers down, and blog entries like these have very little to do with that trend.

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  25. Joseph
    Joseph says:


    I loved your post. I think it is very insightful and right on point concerning the corporate climate. I am not against one being promoted; however, in light of today’s economic climate, some promotions are not worth the trouble. In many instances, they prove to be more stressful and the pay increase may not always validate the added pressure. Success is something desired by all; however, having a clear goal as to what will benefit one later on in life is what should be honed upon. I like money just like everyone else; however, as with anything, balance should be considered. You make more money but you loose more time with family due to increased responsibilities. Life is to be lived and enjoyed, not focused upon accumulation.



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