Dry Promotions: Career Boost or Tease?

As “dry promotions” – those that do not involve a pay raise – increase, employees should balance career growth with personal well-being, write Kakoli Sen and Nassir Ul Haque Wani.

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In more traditional times, a promotion would come with a new title, some new responsibilities, and an increase in pay. Gone are those days. Since the pandemic, there has been an increase in “dry promotions,” a practice in which employees receive a promotion that involves a title change indicating movement (upward, lateral, or role expansion) with increased responsibility, and usually more workload, but no monetary compensation. According to Korn Ferry, there has been a 32% uptick in this type of promotion since the beginning of the decade, and it is only going to continue.

Dry promotions are appealing to companies for obvious reasons. There’s the cost management angle. Simply put, organizations can recognize hard-working employees without increasing expenses – this is particularly advantageous during economic downturns or moments of instability. Companies also give out dry promotions as a way to give a nod of approval and encouragement to those workers who have been identified as possibly having career progression within the company. It can also serve to boost a particular worker’s visibility within the organization. For companies, dry promotions can also fill gaps in their workforce by spreading responsibilities amongst employees instead of going for a new hire.

Of course, management teams do see dry promotions as a positive way to motivate employees, but it is not always well-received by those who are dry promoted, who might begin to feel undervalued and overworked if their pay doesn’t reflect their increased responsibilities. This can lead to demotivation and disengagement among employees who may begin to believe that it is not worth the time and energy to work hard for a traditional promotion. This sentiment can cause an increased turnover rate for the company, especially among high-performing employees who start seeking employment that will also provide tangible rewards for their work. This, in turn, leads to a loss of valuable skills and experience for the organization.

As, Annie Rosencrans, of HR tech company HiBob, explains in SHRM magazine, “When companies offer employees no-raise promotions, they must be willing to accept that they run the risk of losing that individual if they don’t feel like they are being fairly compensated for their work.”

mployees who are identified for dry promotions are often those who are high performing.

From the perspective of the company leadership, dry promotions serve to signal their commitment to the career of a particular employee. Yet despite this, the phrase “dry promotion” comes with a negative connotation. Why? Because many organizations fail to present the bigger picture in a transparent way – with a long-term vision – when they give such a promotion to an employee. Managers bestowing dry promotions should be clear that the individual is receiving it because they have been identified for new responsibilities and for their specific skills and proficiencies, rather than as a way to cut costs. The manager should clearly outline expectations and explain how this promotion helps in the worker’s career development. Otherwise, the chosen employees will remain confused and feel shortchanged. There should also be an open conversation about whether their compensation will be revised in the imminent future, to sustain the employee’s motivation and engagement.

It is very important that employees do not feel they are being treated as a replaceable resource but are in fact part of the value within an organization. Employees who are identified for dry promotions are often those who are high performing. The leadership team at the organization may indeed believe that the dry promotion is a reward, but without an open dialogue about the promotion, the recipient will feel quite the opposite. Furthermore, employees should have the opportunity to think over the opportunity and be able to reject it without negative consequences. A responsibility and role taken up under pressure or due to fear will not yield the desired results – for anyone – and will lead to stress and burnout for the promoted employee. Thus, it’s crucial for businesses to consider these factors and engage in transparent communication with their employees to reduce the negative effects of unexciting promotions on their motivation and commitment.

Promotions, whether accompanied by a salary increase or not, often impact career development in a positive way. Gaining increased responsibilities usually involves taking on higher-level tasks and obtaining more decision-making power. This shift allows individuals to consider various perspectives, fostering better preparation for decision-making. Additionally, embracing new responsibilities expands one’s skill set, encompassing technical skills, leadership capabilities, enhanced communication abilities, and refined decision-making skills – and these are all crucial for long-term career growth.

Moreover, promotions increase visibility and recognition within the organization, from senior management to colleagues. This often acts as a precursor to formal promotions, with organizations typically assessing candidates in these expanded roles before considering them for future positions. Furthermore, promotions open doors to new opportunities and mentorships, enhancing confidence and job satisfaction.

So, what should workers do when offered – rewarded with – a dry promotion? Each individual employee needs to weigh their own situation carefully and consider the following:

  1. Accepting a new role typically requires a substantial commitment of time. If the responsibilities align with your interests, you’ll likely enjoy dedicating time to them. However, if the role doesn’t appeal to you, doubts may arise, which can negatively affect both you and the organization. A job must be approached with full dedication and involvement; anything less will be reflected in the quality of your work.
  2. Does the role align with your long-term career goals? If you are considering the role merely to gain visibility or because you feel unable to refuse, you risk compromising both your career and the organization’s interests. Effective career progression within a company requires a long-term commitment, which is particularly important in a growing organization that benefits more from passion than caution.
  3. Consider the role’s impact on your work-life balance. If the demands of the role are incompatible with your personal limits and you find it unmanageable, you need to decide whether to accept or decline the role based on these considerations.

Dry promotions present nuanced challenges and opportunities in our modern workplace. While they offer career advancement and increased visibility within an organization, they also come without financial incentives, often leading to mixed feelings among employees. As mentioned, those offered such promotions must consider their personal career goals, the alignment of the role with their interests, and the potential impact on their work-life balance. It’s essential for both employees and companies to engage in open and honest dialogues about the true nature and expectations of dry promotions. This will ensure that these opportunities are genuinely beneficial for the individual’s career development and the organization’s growth, fostering a culture of appreciation and mutual respect.


© IE Insights.


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