Should you accept a promotion without a pay rise?

In today’s landscape of zero hours contracts and the “gig economy”, there’s more focus than ever before on paying employees fairly for their work.

But for licensed professionals, is there a different kind of manipulation at work – offering a promotion, but with the sting in the tail of no increased remuneration?

“Personally, I think any additional experience that will help you to progress in your finance career should be taken, even if a pay rise is not offered,” says Megan Wort, a management accountant.

“Experience is vital to any career and can be taken with you in any future. Not only are new tasks interesting, they add variety and can also provide a new challenge.”

What would be the advantages other than money?

Wort points out that there can be advantages other than the purely monetary. “I wouldn’t enjoy doing the same repetitive tasks over and over in my role, for example; so I would be willing to do extra without a pay rise as long as my work-life balance remained intact.”

It’s true to say that to an extent, much of the decision-making involved might depend on how far along your career path you are. “I believe people just starting their careers or in early stages of their careers should be willing and adaptable to any changes,” says Keith Masiyandima, Director, Haulage Central Ltd.

“Early on, I would jump at the chance no matter how much more work would be required. As the saying goes, if you’re willing to do more work than you are paid for, soon you will be paid for more work than you do!” But Masiyandima agrees that even so, “you should expect a pay review in the months following your promotion. If not, businesses face the risk of losing new talent to their competitors.”

The case against

“Taking such a promotion would depend on whether the work load increases hugely or not,” says Jannat Jahan, a student BSc Accounting and Finance at the University of Northampton.

“If it was a normal 9-5 job and the promotion included having to work a lot longer, with a lot more stress involved, I’d say no.”

For Jahan, professionals with experience under their belt should be wary of such a move. “If you can see you’re appreciated for the work you’re doing, however, you’ll feel better about it.”

New job title equals new opportunities

Does being given a better title mean you’d be likely to get more chances elsewhere?  “Yes, I think so,” says Megan Wort. “When applying for a new role, one of the questions you are often asked is ‘What is your current job title?’

A better job title usually means that you have more responsibility/exposure in your role. Some employers like to take candidates with more experience, as it can mean they’re able to spend less time training.”

Make sure you negotiate

If you do say yes to the promotion without pay rise, the key is to make sure you negotiate something in return.

Extra in-work benefits are one way to do this, but a much better approach is to be strategic about your long-term career. Build a timeline in; when you accept the role, ask for a pay rise to be given within six months, say, if you meet certain key targets. “Such caveats would be a good idea,” says Wort. “This would give motivation and a goal to work towards. Hard work is usually recognised – in my case I’m sure my line manager would reward me if she felt it was necessary. Other ideas could include additional days to take as annual leave, or extra flexitime.”

Would you not feel exploited though? “No, I wouldn’t. If I knew I was not going to receive a pay rise but still chose to take on the additional responsibilities, it would be because I wanted to, and because I knew I would receive other benefits. I would only feel exploited if I felt that I was working additional hours and everyone else on my team left on time, or if someone else started the same role as mine but on more money.”

Career stages

“When you’re younger, you’re very focused on the long game,” says Karen Mustard, Programme Leader, BSc (Hons) International Accounting in the Faculty of Business and Law at the University of Northampton.

“The young people I work with are very conscious of this – building skills and creating a strong portfolio of work leads in turn to good opportunities.” You won’t always get the exact position you want straightaway, Mustard points out, and as a consequence, “sometimes you are willing to sacrifice money to move to a role you want.”

But at the same time, young people are acutely aware of the current climate “where there is lots of talk of unpaid interns and concern about being exploited in the workplace.”

In the end, the individual has to decide whether this is a good career move or simply a way for their employer to save money. At stage in your career, she concludes, “an employer can offer you a job that, if you do it well, will mean you move up a pay scale.”

Should you or shouldn’t you? Key take-outs

  • It’s a good investment in yourself… “It’s always good to learn new things and rewarding to teach other people your new skills,’ says Megan Wort.
  • …but ensure you have long-term advantages. “Distinguish between whether you are being exploited or not,” says Keith Masiyandima. “Depending on the work environment, work load and commendations, you need to able to differentiate this.”
  • Money is not always the most important thing… “A better title can be an advantage in itself,” says Jannat Jahan; “it will look better on a CV and therefore you’d probably have more job opportunities or more chance of a promotion in other companies.”
  • … but it is a measure of your worth. “No matter how happy you are with your salary, it will irritate you if someone is paid more if you perceive they’re worth the same,” Karen Mustard says.

Why people are more likely to build their career vs earn more money

Research by consultancy firm Korn Ferry recently found that some 63% of professionals would rather receive a promotion without more money, than the other way round.

This perhaps surprising result suggests that when it comes to building your career, building up the whole of your more portfolio is more important than the quick hit pay rise – but you do have to make sure you don’t get taken advantage of.

The research does go on to point out that if they aren’t given pay rises eventually, “promoted employees are likely to seek employment elsewhere.”

Essentially, the bottom line is always to negotiate something from the deal. It doesn’t have to be financial – but it does have to benefit you in return for the extra responsibilities.

AAT’s Salary and Career Survey 2017 was carried out across all levels of the AAT membership. It gives you the opportunity to benchmark your salary, and help you to position your future career.

Mark Blayney Stuart is Business Journalist of the Year, Wales Media Awards 2017 and Former Head of Research at the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

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