Should You Ever Accept A Promotion Without A Pay Rise?

As if there wasn't enough for us to worry about at work, the number of young women being promoted but not offered pay increases seems, anecdotally at least, to be on the rise...

Should You Ever Accept A Promotion Without A Pay Rise?

by Anonymous |
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Traditionally, getting a promotion has been cause for celebration but, it seems, more and more young women are being promoted under less than ideal circumstances - namely, without a pay rise to match.

If this hasn't happened directly to you, you'll probably have a friend who was doing a kick ass job and took on tons of extra responsibility only to find they weren't going to be rewarded financially. 'Yeah, so what?' you might be thinking. 'That's just how it works in competitive industries.' Sure, this may be happening all the time, but that doesn't make it right. Working women already have ten thousand other things to worry about and endlessly fight against: the gender pay gap, workplace harassmentand parental leave to name a few. So, why should this be another thing we just have to roll over and accept as ‘part of life’?

Around a year after being hired at entry-level, I was told my job title would be changing from 'junior' to 'senior'. My manager said I was doing the work of a senior staff member and that I'd taken on responsibilities above my current title. It felt great to hear my dedication hadn't gone unnoticed. I was already thanking him profusely and mentally popping open the Champers when he explained my snazzy new title didn't come with a pay rise. The tone changed so quickly I didn't even have time to fully register what he'd said. One minute later, I was being ushered out the door and steered back to my desk. I was angry with myself for keeping quiet and not demanding more money. At the same time, I was really confused about where I stood. Did this kind of thing happen all the time? What were my rights as an employee? Would I have been sacked if I refused the promotion without a pay rise?

Having now chatted with countless young women who've been put in this exact situation, I've realised just how common it is. Georgie*, now 26, was a journalist at a national magazine when it happened to her. 'I was a junior features writer when the publication made eight of my colleagues redundant,' she tells me. 'Afterwards, I was given a title promotion to features writer and began writing for the showbiz desk, too. One of the showbiz writers had been made redundant, so I essentially took on her job as well as my own.' Surely all this extra responsibility and workload, plus a title promotion should have come with a pay rise?

'When I asked about pay, I was told I should be happy with the new title as it'd be “a good stepping stone for future jobs”.' Georgie's editor also advised her to count herself “lucky” – after all, she hadn't lost her job. 'It felt like a real slap in the face,' Georgie adds. 'I didn't feel valued at all. I was backed into a corner and made to feel that if I demanded more pay, I was being unreasonable and ungrateful. After that, it was disheartening going into work every day knowing my salary didn't reflect the amount of work I was doing.' Unsurprisingly, she handed in her notice a few months later.

This certainly isn't just happening in media. Amy*, now 26, tells me, 'A couple of years after university I landed a job in a creative/arts industry that I'd been trying to get into for a while. It was an entry-level role. Although I had a bit of experience under my belt, I was grateful to finally have my foot in the door.' In the two years she spent in that position, the words 'promotion' and 'pay rise' were floated her way a number of times.

'When my pay review came around, I was told that the company couldn't offer me a promotion, but they proposed a “job title change”. This came with increased responsibility, but no pay-rise.' Sounds familiar, right? To make the whole thing even more infuriating, her boss also said they were hiring a temp to carry out some of the duties Amy ‘wouldn't have time to do’ in her ‘new role’.

'I'm terrible with confrontation and didn't want to cause any trouble,' she says. 'But I booked a meeting with my manager. It was clear that the decision wasn't hers, but I was determined there should be some monetary recognition for me taking on more responsibility.' Amy made her case and her boss managed to negotiate a ‘very small’ pay increase with the HR department.

Although she'd successfully challenged her manager, Amy wasn't exactly chuffed with the outcome, 'the whole experience was incredibly disheartening’she says ‘I left the job less than a year after that as I found it too hard to stay motivated.' Shortly after handing in her notice, a female colleague discovered a document left in a printer detailing their team's salaries. And – shocker – their male colleague at the same level was earning £10,000 more than them. 'It was incredibly hard to walk away with that knowledge, especially considering how hard I'd had to fight to get a fraction of that,' she adds. 'Looking on the positive side, the experience did force me to stand up for myself and have the awkward money conversation. I now find it much easier to talk about my salary expectations, which I know a lot of my female friends still struggle with.'

So, what exactly is the protocol when it comes to the old promotion-but-no-pay-rise conundrum? I'm sure we'd all love to roll up to the HR department and give them a piece of our minds, but what can women actually do in this situation? Laura Holden, a career expert at employment agency Reed, tells me it's only natural to feel disappointed and undervalued if you're offered a promotion without a pay rise. 'You’ve proved your worth so expect to be rewarded financially for it,' she says. 'Different employers will determine salary structure on a number of factors, including performance, skills and experience, length of service and market demand. Some companies have policies in place where they'll only hand out raises at the beginning of the new financial year,' she adds. 'But whatever the reason, this shouldn’t deter you from broaching the subject with your manager if you’ve been offered a promotion without the pay packet to match.'

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Laura says you absolutely should have ‘the talk’ if you're faced with this, 'Ask for a salary review within a given timeframe (six months, for example), and be sure to a get a commitment in writing from your employer. Push the business to define what needs to be achieved during this time, so both you and your employer are totally clear.'

To anyone afraid to instigate that awkward chat, she says you should never undervalue yourself. 'Make sure you know your worth and remember you’re not obliged to accept an offer you’re not completely satisfied with,' she advises. 'When you meet with your manager to discuss salary, come prepared by doing some research around the new role. You also can use an online salary checker or look at job adverts for similar roles in other organisations to get a feel for the average salaries on offer.'

When it comes to deciding whether or not you're going to accept the promotion, Laura suggests asking yourself if the title change will help your career. 'If the answer is no, and you’ll be lumbered with extra work, you may want to graciously decline the offer.'

If the idea of discussing money one-on-one with your boss sounds like your own personal hell, I assure you, you're not alone. But, speaking up in this situation is so important. Kerri Watt, founder of marketing and publicity agency Rising Tide, says it's actually crucial to speak up for yourself when it comes to salary and being compensated correctly for your time and energy. 'I left my job aged 24 because I found out a man at same level (and younger than me) was earning more,' she tells me. 'Even though it was only £2,000 a year, it stung. When the managers brushed off my challenging them, I quit.' Unfortunately, most of us wouldn't be able to pay rent or, y'know... eat, if we quit our jobs without another one to walk into. But Kerri's resolve is admirable.

'As women, we may have to voice our opinions more often, but it absolutely can be done in a way that isn’t confrontational or uncomfortable. I’ve seen this happen too many times and have myself been offered promotions without a raise and turned them down,' she continues. 'I’ve seen too many peers not challenge their workplace, and take on extra responsibility without asking for a raise because they’re afraid they’ll lose their job. To quote Spider Man, “with great power comes great responsibility”. I believe with that extra responsibility you should be rewarded financially for your efforts.'

*Names have been changed

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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