The economic downturn has forced employers to tighten their belts and do more with less. With fewer resources available, many companies have refrained from handing out raises, even when an employee is given additional responsibilities and a title change.
According to a recent study from OfficeTeam, a subsidiary of staffing firm Robert Half International, about one in five human resources managers have acknowledged that awarding promotions without salary increases is at least a "somewhat common" practice at their company.
Being offered a promotion without a bump in pay is a bittersweet moment and often a tough pill to swallow, says Robert Hosking, executive director at OfficeTeam. It's only natural to feel off-put by the situation, "but the opportunity for a promotion is always a positive one because you can add to your resume, learn something new and take on more responsibility."
The first step in responding to a promotion offer without a raise is to have an honest conversation with your manager to understand the reasoning behind the move, says Hallie Crawford, an Atlanta-based career coach.
"People are too passive and too concerned about making someone mad," she says. Inquiring about why your company is employing such a tactic is far from out-of-bounds. Having a direct conversation will help illuminate the financial condition of the company as well as how they view you as a future piece in their organization, she noted.
Related: Best Months to Get a Promotion
Schedule a Follow-Up Talk
If the offer seems legitimate, the most important thing you can do is to set a timetable when you can come back and reevaluate the situation, says Dr. Steve Moysey, a management consultant and degreed psychologist with expertise in conflict resolution and negotiation.
"Don't go into it open ended," Moysey suggests. "Agree to a negotiated set of metrics of how you will be measured and a specific time frame when your salary will be revisited."
"You need to push them on this," Crawford stresses. If they resist, the promotion may be more of a vanity title to appease you rather than an actual opportunity for advancement.
Arming yourself with information on what the job pays in the marketplace can give you leverage in the follow-up meeting, Hosking adds. Online resources like GlassDoor.com, Salary.com and Robert Half's Salary Guides can help you identify a wage scale for the position in question.
Related: Seven Tips on Navigating Sticky Workplace Conversations
Get Your Hands on Something, Anything
When presented with a promotion offer without a salary increase it is imperative to negotiate for non-monetary perks, such as additional vacation time, a more flexible schedule and professional development opportunities, the experts recommend.
Coming to your superiors with an incentive-laden bonus structure is another way to make sure that you are compensated appropriately.
The importance of negotiating for extra benefits goes well beyond the perks themselves, says Moysey. If you accept the position without setting any stipulations on your end, "you basically just stamped 'doormat' on your own forehead," he said.
"You have a finite window of power," Moysey adds. "It can't be one-sided. There has got to be some kind of balancing act."
If the company really wants to keep you around, they will make certain concessions, says Crawford.
Asking to think about the offer overnight will give you the chance to come back to the table with specific requests that will make the situation more palatable. Negotiating a deal with your current employer is a sensitive matter, and one that shouldn't be done in haste.
Remain positive, tell your employer that you will take the position but would like X, Y and Z, Crawford suggests.
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Is it OK to Say No?
Turning down an offer for more responsibility can be a dangerous proposition. It's almost a Luca Brasi situation, says Moysey, referring to the infamous scene in The Godfather. "Either your brains or your signature will be on the contract."
In this economy, there is always someone else lining up for your job, says Crawford. "So I would really weigh the offer seriously and only reject it if you feel like it goes against your career path and who you are."
If that is the case, it is important to clearly explain your reasoning behind passing on an opportunity for more responsibility, says Hosking.
"It's all about how you present it," he said. Explaining how your current job is leading you down your career path of choice will help soften the blow for your employer.
In addition, make certain to ask your boss whether rejecting the offer would prevent you from being considered for another promotion down the road, Hosking adds. "It's a tough question to ask, but it will give you a pretty strong gauge as to where you stand with the company."
Not having a good explanation for passing on a promotion will make you look stubborn and greedy, says Crawford, and it could number your days with the company.
Related: How to Negotiate the Salary You Deserve
Write to Beecher Tuttle here.