Promotions Preferred to Pay Raises, Professionals Say

Most think promotions should happen every 2-3 years

By Stephen Miller, CEBS Jan 13, 2017
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For most professionals, getting promoted—even without immediately receiving a larger paycheck—is preferable to receiving a pay raise without a promotion.

Career advancement remains one of the strongest signs for salaried employees that they are appreciated and valued—and moving forward at work—although a promotion and pay raise would, assuredly, be even better. And if pay isn't increased eventually, promoted employees are likely to seek employment elsewhere.

Nevertheless, results released in January from a survey fielded last fall by consultancy Korn Ferry, with responses from 1,200 professionals worldwide, found that nearly two-thirds of respondents (63 percent) would prefer to get a promotion with no salary increase than a salary increase with no promotion.

Studies show the overwhelming importance of recognition in driving employees' job satisfaction, said Dennis Baltzley, Korn Ferry senior partner and the firm's global head of leadership development. To retain their best talent, he noted, organizations "need to put development and clear career-pathing plans in place, not just for top leaders but for those across the organization."

While 39 percent of survey respondents received a promotion within the last year, 45 percent expect to receive a promotion this year.

The importance of promotions in regard to the gender pay gap was revealed in another study, which found that 20 percent of women believe that gender has contributed to a missed promotion or raise.

Show Employees How to Climb the Job Ladder

Organizations can benefit from creating clear advancement opportunities for professionals. The survey found, for instance, that among respondents who were not promoted over the past 12 months:

  • More than half (56 percent) cited "bottleneck or nowhere to go" as the main reason.

  • Nearly one-fifth (19 percent) said office politics got in the way of their moving up the ladder.

The vast majority (88 percent) said that if they wanted a promotion, the No. 1 action they would take would be to have a conversation with their supervisor and identify growth areas that would enable them to move into the next role. If passed over for a promotion, 84 percent said the top action they would take would be to identify the reason and work to improve.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Developing Employee Career Paths and Ladders]

Conversations about career advancement "should start early on and include details on the exact key performance indicators that need to be achieved to earn a promotion, and there should be regular meetings to ensure progress is being made," said Peter Keseric, a managing consultant at Korn Ferry Futurestep, the consultancy's executive search and recruitment unit.

When asked on average how long they should stay in a role before being promoted, the No. 1 response (38 percent) was 2-3 years.

"The key is ongoing development and feedback to ensure the professional is ready to take on added responsibility in a role," Baltzley said. "Knowing that a promotion is a possibility is an excellent way to retain top talent."

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