Quick question: Would you like to do more work for no additional pay and no recognition?

It’s easy to see why the question isn’t asked in those terms. But the practice is nonetheless happening at workplaces around the country, and the negative effects on employees speak volumes.

Employees subjected to increased workloads without the benefit of promotions have higher rates of burnout, lower engagement and more turnover.

Identifying the problem

A so-called “quiet promotion” occurs when an employee is given additional tasks and responsibilities without a corresponding increase in compensation and title.

The data suggests quiet promotions have become a regular practice. According to a survey by JobSage, an employee platform company:

  • Nearly 80% of employees said they had been quietly promoted.
  • Almost 75% took on extra duties because a manager asked them to.
  • Close to 70% took on the work of a departing colleague.

Some employees willingly take on these extra duties. They view it as a way to showcase their talents and hope it leads to career growth. But most of the quietly promoted employees JobSage surveyed felt they were not compensated enough for the additional work. And more than 40% said their efforts were not being noticed.

In today’s climate of economic uncertainty and job insecurity, it’s tempting to try to get more work out of each employee. But gains in productivity may be short-lived.

Nearly three in five employees in the JobSage survey said they felt like their employer was taking advantage of them. Those feelings of resentment can erode work culture and decrease your ability to attract and retain employees.

Strategies to counteract quiet promotions

You may have heard of “quiet quitting,” when an employee does the bare minimum to keep their job. Similarly, when a manager scales back an employee’s role without providing substantive feedback, that’s known as “quiet firing.”

All of these “quiet” trends suggest a lack of quality communication in the workplace, according to an article by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

The causes behind worsening workplace communication are varied. SHRM notes a decline in interpersonal communication skills stemming from societal trends toward social media, text messages and other forms of electronic communication.

Other contributors include political discord and the physical distancing practices that started with the COVID-19 pandemic. One lingering effect of the pandemic is that more employees are now working remotely (all or part of the time) than ever before.

These and other factors have led employees to engage more in electronic communication, or avoidance of difficult topics, instead of face-to-face interactions.

A natural starting point for avoiding quiet promotions is improving workplace communication. Tips include:

  • Have supervisors hold frequent check-ins with employees on workload, morale, culture and other important workplace matters. This can help identify and address issues before they grow into bigger problems.
  • Ask employees for solutions. An effective way to combat the “quiet” trend is to give your employees a voice. Train managers and employees on workplace communication. Focus on how to have uncomfortable conversations and respectfully disagree.
  • Encourage your leadership team to talk openly. Be honest when business necessitates heavier workloads. But also encourage employees to ask for help when workloads become too much. In addition, make sure employees feel empowered to discuss alternative solutions when they feel they can’t handle the additional responsibilities.

Quiet promotions often demonstrate a lack of respect, SHRM notes. To counteract this feeling, employees and supervisors must feel psychologically safe to voice their needs. They must also believe their contributions are valued.

To create a safer, more connected work environment, talk about your company’s core values and how employees contribute to your mission. The ability to increase employees’ sense of purpose and satisfaction will separate organizations in the future of work, according to management consulting firm Gartner.

The JobSage survey suggests focusing on the following areas to help your employees thrive:

  • Flexible hours and autonomy
  • Competitive salaries
  • Manageable workloads
  • Supportive leadership
  • Recognition for performance
  • Ongoing professional development

An additional step to guard against quiet promotions is to regularly conduct employee engagement surveys. These surveys provide insights into employees’ satisfaction and engagement. If the results show a concerning disconnect, follow up with action-oriented questions about how your organization can help and what tools employees need to succeed.

Play the long game

There isn’t a one-time solution to end the practice of quiet promotions. But creating an environment where employees feel like they are valued and can speak freely will pay dividends for the long haul.

For more long-term solutions to improve employee recruitment, retention and engagement, talk with your benefits adviser. They can support your efforts with insights into workplace communication training, recognition programs, salary benchmarking reports and professional development opportunities.