Can you hear that?
It's the collective sigh of relief from the mouths of American employees.
With the turmoil of 2020 behind us and a successful vaccination rollout, the economic optimism is palpable.
Employers are feeling more generous and planning on boosting their employees with greater earnings and other benefits, so it's no wonder that raises and promotions are on employees' minds.
That's why we polled 950+ American workers to tap into their raises and promotions experiences.
Keep scrolling to find out the golden nuggets that we uncovered.
Best Promotion Perks
If you're a contestant on Family Feud and Steve Harvey asks you, "Name the best perks of getting a promotion."
You'd probably shout, "Money!" But, would it be the top answer?
We wanted to find out what American workers actually valued the most from the promotions they'd gotten.
Out of our respondents, 88% had been promoted at some point in their career. This was true almost equally for both men and women.
We asked them, "What do you think is the best aspect of getting a promotion?"
"And the survey says!"
- More money/raise: 47%
- Greater responsibility: 24%
- The possibility of managing people: 14%
- Being able to make more impactful decisions: 13%
- Having it on my resume: 2%
- The title itself: 1%
Steve Harvey would be proud. Money is the top choice.
We thought that percentage would be higher, though. The fact that 24% of employees preferred having greater responsibility shows that money isn't the only motivator.
And if you add the other perks up, more than half of respondents said factors other than money were the best part of being promoted.
These other factors were especially relevant to those living in the West.
Just 28% of those residing in western states said that more money was their top perk. The same percentage cited "the possibility of managing people" as what they valued, and 27% said that "greater responsibility" was a perk.
Northeasterners valued the boosted bank account the most, 56% said that "more money" was what they most valued from a promotion.
And who's more likely to get promoted and enjoy those pluses?
Who's Getting the Career Boost?
Various factors come into play for who's selected for a promotion. Level of education can tip the scales in one direction, but unfortunately, so can gender, as our study confirmed.
In fact, 9% of men reported being promoted 5 times or more, compared with 6% of women.
It's worth noting that the pandemic has disproportionately affected women. A study by Qualtrics and the Boardlist showed that women are being left behind. Shockingly, 34% of men working remotely with children at home said they received a promotion, vs. 9% of women in the same situation.
There were also other factors which seemed to influence who had gotten a promotion.
For example, how did those with no college degree fare?
On the surface, it looks decent: 76% had gotten a promotion. But, when juxtaposed with the degree holders, not so much. A full 91% of college graduates had been promoted. That's quite a significant difference.
Also, region of residence played a role. 91% of those living in the Southwest said they'd been promoted at least once, compared to 84% of Midwesterners.
Perks are one thing, but how does promotion change our relationships with colleagues?
Half of our respondents said that the best part of getting a promotion was the respect they got from coworkers.
And now we started to see a pattern emerge. Men and the more highly educated were more likely to report getting more respect after their promotion.
In particular, people with no college degree were almost half as likely as those with no college degree to feel they gained more respect.
So how did most of these promotions come about?
Those Who Took Charge
"If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door."—Milton Berle
Almost half of those in our study had "built a door," 47%. It's been proven that expressing interest in a promotion directly to your supervisor can greatly increase your chances of getting one. It's best to make your intentions known.
Employees with a Master's or a Ph.D. were the most assertive in making their promotion requests. A whopping 59% had requested their most promotion. And the percentages went down with the level of education.
Of those with Bachelor's or Associate's degrees, 49% asked for their promotion, and a scant 21% of those who hadn't gotten college degrees appealed for it.
There was clearly a correlation between assertiveness levels and educational attainment. A natural assumption is that those holding degrees have greater confidence. And they're more likely to be employed in positions which have greater certainty and opportunities for growth.
Of course sometimes, even if you do put yourself out there and request a promotion, it may not be forthcoming. Maybe the timing was wrong, or you had trouble qualifying your achievements, or the company simply isn't in a position to offer a higher salary.
Getting the Dreaded, "Sorry, but…"
It can be gut-wrenching.
You know you deserved that promotion, but someone else got it. It's especially awkward when that person is your coworker.
Which brings us to an ugly reaction that came out of our study. A significant percentage were bitter to the point of being vengeful when their colleague got it instead.
When people saw that their coworker got the coveted promotion, 32% said it "made me try to undermine my colleague."
Other respondents reported:
- Feeling jealous (17%)
- Feeling awkward (13%)
While the rest said that it "had no effect on my relationship."
What were the takeaways from the respondents on why they didn't get promoted? Here's what they told us:
"I was very upset because I showed I had been working very well while the person who got promoted did less than I did."
"I felt I wasn't given one because promotions were given to those more connected to management which I felt was unfair."
"I didn't get it. Probably because I'm afraid to ask. I've just accepted that I'll never get a promotion."
And if you don't get promoted, chances are you won't get a raise, as the two go hand-in-hand.
A Penny For Your Thoughts—on Raises
Contradictions abound in proverbs, songs, and idioms on the topic of money. Money can't buy us love, but it makes the world go around. Both glorified and vilified, the bottom line is that it's a necessary evil.
So, who's getting that fatter bank account?
We asked our survey takers if they'd ever gotten a raise. Most of them, 91%, had gotten a raise at some point in their career.
We also asked, "When was your last raise?"
- Last year: 34%
- 2-3 years ago: 26%
- This year: 17%
- 4-5 years ago: 12%
- 6-8 years ago: 6%
- More than 10 years ago: 2%
- 8-10 years ago: 2%
It's not surprising that there were few raises so far this year. The year is only half over.
That should start to change.
The return of summer and a largely vaccinated population means that economic momentum is predicted to increase. Pent-up households were able to save about $4.1 trillion in the first quarter, which is up from the pre-pandemic savings amount of $1.2 trillion.
The wallets are coming out now that things are opening up. And more spending means a stronger economy, which translates to companies feeling more generous.
Similar to those who had asked for a promotion, 41% polled had asked for their most recent raise. What does this tell you?
When you can see that a raise is warranted—speak up! Talking to your boss increases your chances of getting one.
A striking 51% felt that they'd deserved a raise at some point, but not been given one.
The younger crowd were more proactive in requesting raises than older respondents. A full 52% had asked for their most recent raise, vs. just 34% of those over 39.
And if you don't ask for a raise, it's less likely that you'll get one.
Speaking of not getting a raise, how did our respondents react to this situation?
When asked, "Have you ever left a job due to not getting a raise?" a significant percentage—40% said, "Yes."
So it's clear that age is a factor, but how much does gender play a role in who gets the monetary rewards?
Gender Difference in Raise Requests
It's well known that men are more self-assured and vocal when it comes to asserting themselves. Our study showed that men asked for a raise more than women, 45% vs. 36%. This theme was in line with other studies.
According to James M. Walton Professor of Economics Linda Babcock, in "Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide," only 12% of female master's degree students negotiated their starting salary, compared with a startling 52% of men.
Babcock also found that men ask for raises four times more than women. This can lead to income losses of up to $1.5 million over the course of women's careers.
Think of it this way. If you make $40,000 per year and ask for a 5% pay raise, you'll get $2,000 more annually.
That's a decent domestic vacation, a couple of iPhones, or great new clothes for the new position. Or an emergency fund for those of us who are more pragmatic.
Unfortunately, a raise is sometimes not in the cards. The reasons for this vary, as our respondents reported:
"I haven't gotten one because I haven't asked. I don't expect to be given anything without asking."
"I didn't get one because I am a female."
"I don't think I was given a raise because the company didn't want to spend any money on me, only on themselves or getting things for the company. I was angry that I didn't get the raise because I worked hard and believed that I was due for one."
Regarding gender, men were more likely to throw in the towel if they felt they didn't get the raise they deserved.
When asked, "Have you ever left a job due to not getting a raise?"
- 44% of men said "Yes"
- 36% of women said "Yes"
Perhaps this is an indication that men are less willing to compromise in their careers?
Of course, promotions, and money are all well and good, but what else do employees desire and value?
What Employees Value
It's unfortunate that the U.S. is one of the only industrialized countries which does not guarantee paid medical benefits, nor paid parental leave.
So we thought it would be interesting to know what the employees in our study would prefer:
- Extensive medical benefits or a 2% pay raise?
- A promotion (with no raise) or 6 months paid parental leave?
In answer to the first question, more than half (54%) chose extensive medical benefits. The respondents also preferred the paid parental leave (52%).
This shows that American workers not only want the Benjamins, but access to fuller medical benefits and time to bond with their newborns.
To Wrap Up
We all want to advance in our career, but some of us are more proactive when it comes to putting it out there.
Our study showed that those who got the career upgrades asked for them. Unfortunately, women were a bit more reticent than the men in requesting promotions and raises, which means less chance to reap those rewards over time.
Here's a summary of the golden nuggets on promotions and raises from our study:
- 57% of men said they'd accept a promotion without a raise, compared with 46% of women
- The younger generations requested promotions and raises significantly more than the 38+ crowd
- More than half of the respondents felt that they received more respect after getting a promotion
- 32% wanted to undermine a colleague who'd gotten a promotion
- 45% of men requested their most recent raise vs. 37% of women
We surveyed 952 respondents online via a bespoke polling tool on their raises and promotions. All respondents included in the study passed an attention-check question. The study was created through several steps of research, crowdsourcing, and surveying.
The data we are presenting relies on self-reports from respondents. Each person who took our survey read and responded to each question without any research administration or interference. There are many potential issues with self-reported data like selective memory, telescoping, attribution, or exaggeration.
Some questions and responses have been rephrased or condensed for clarity and ease of understanding for readers. In some cases, the percentages presented may not add up to 100 percent; depending on the case, this can be due to rounding, or due to being part of a larger statistic, or due to responses of "neither/uncertain/unknown" not being presented.
- Bolotnyy, Valentin and Emanuel, Natalia, "Why Do Women Earn Less Than Men?
- Consumer Finance, "Asking for a Raise"
- Kostea, Vasilios D., Job Satisfaction and Promotions
- Lipman, Joanne, "Women are still not asking for pay rises. Here's why"
- Pandemic fallout: Men got 3 times more promotions than women (cnbc.com)
- Sethi, Ramit, The Ultimate Guide to getting a Raise & Boosting Your Salary
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