40% of Employees Won’t Ask for a Raise or Promotion — Here’s Why

Benjamin Brandall
November 10, 2015

Career Paths Header

While 82% of employees want to discuss their career prospects with their managers at least 1-4 time per year, a shocking 40% never do.

A recent study from Robert Half revealed a disconnect between managers and their employees on one of the most wanted aspects of any job. So important, in fact, that 32% of more than 11,000 employees surveyed by LinkedIn cited ‘Strong career path’ as the number one thing they look for.

Discussing career progression is important for employees because:

  • Employees know where they stand
  • They know if they have a shot at promotion
  • They know whether to start looking for another job
  • It’s clear what they need to do to get the promotion or pay raise they want

For managers, it makes even more business sense.

  • A good relationship founded on communication about key issues increases employee happiness
  • An employee who feels as if they have a chance to further their career is more likely to stick around
  • An employee vested in their future at the company will be more productive
  • An uneasy employee who doesn’t know their value will be looking for work elsewhere

why employees won't ask for a raise or promotion

If progression is so important, and most employees want to regularly discuss it, why don’t they?

1. Fear of rejection

For employees not entirely comfortable being straight with their superiors, asking a direct question about their future in the company can be daunting.

Fear of rejection is a common aspect of human nature wherever you look, and employees could even think it might harm their chances in the future if they seem too eager or too focused on their own career over the good of the company.

At 2014 study by Accenture shows that asking for a promotion or pay raise is the most effective way of getting it. According to the report:

“More than half (57 percent) of all respondents have asked for or negotiated a pay raise, and three out of four (77 percent) who have done so have received one. Slightly less than half (44 percent) have asked for a promotion, and more than two-thirds (68 percent) who have done so received one.”

2. Poor self-image

Employees might think they are already being overpaid in their manager’s eyes, and not want to push it. Even if the employee thinks they deserve a promotion or a pay raise, they know it’s not their call and ultimately up to how much their manager recognizes their value as an employee.

Employees with poor self-image likely make up the bulk of the 40% who never discuss careers with their manager; they’re happy plodding on with the same position they’ve held for years, believing that they aren’t cut out for more responsibility.

Career coach Marty Nemko says that many employees think “If you’re barely worth what your boss is paying you, your boss might fire you for asking for a raise”, but what they should really do is “remember that you suffer more from not asking than from a rejection. You can survive a rejection, even 20 rejections, but if you consistently don’t ask, you’ll get only what life hands you.”

3. Fear of the truth

Employees might be worried about being told the truth — that their career is not looking like it will progress any time soon.

Situations like this trigger a fight or flight response; the employee must decide whether to stay in the job and fight for a promotion or to look for a better option elsewhere. This isn’t a position any employee wants to find themselves in. When it comes to knowing who is next in line for promotion, some would rather blissful ignorance over the hard facts.

Nike Engineering Manager Nishant Bhajaria says in the article How fear almost cost me a promotion:

“in our age of overexposure and self-salesmanship, it is criminal for deserving candidates to hold back on account of fear or modesty. Wisdom may not need to scream as loud as volume, but silence does not get you any victories. Ask with class and confidence, but do ask.”

Employees who won’t be getting their target promotion are better off knowing so they can look for a job where it will be possible.

4. Managers don’t want an awkward conversion

When there are limited opportunities for career progression in a department, if managers speak with every employee about their career prospects and find each one of them wants the promotion, the manager is at risk of making one employee happy at the expense of disheartening the rest.

No manager wants the difficult “we’re actually not promoting you and nope — no raise either” conversation, so the tendency to avoid disappointing people is only human.

Jessica Miller-Merrell in the article How to say ‘no’ when your employee asks for more pay offers advice for this situation:

“If there’s a specific reason the employee doesn’t qualify for the raise at this time, be honest about it. Also, let your employee know what he can do to potentially qualify for the raise later on. Don’t sugarcoat or fluff your answers. Be kind but don’t be afraid to tell your employee exactly how it is. A good employee will generally appreciate the feedback and honesty and hopefully make the necessary changes.”

5. Managers might not have the resources

No matter how badly an employee wants a raise or a promotion, it could just be a simple fact of no open positions or not enough money to afford it. Which manager would want to admit the department can’t afford to pay its employees a higher salary? That’s the sort of thing which would induce panic in the office and create a feeling of hopelessness in every employee.

If there’s no opportunity for employees to have a real discussion about their career prospects it could be because there’s no room for advancement right now.

The Catch 22 situation

Jocelyn Goldfien describes asking for advancement as a catch 22 situation. In her article How to ask for a promotion, she says employees have the idea that “if you have to ask, you’re presumed not to deserve it”. Contrary to 95% of the material out there on getting promoted, Goldfien is dead serious about not asking for a promotion. She goes on to say:

“In a good company, you don’t get a promotion by asking for it (or by being well-liked, or lucky, or kissing up to the boss.) You don’t even necessarily get a promotion by performing well at your job. you earn a promotion by possessing the qualifications of the next level.”

From this perspective, which is more tailored towards startups than enterprises, career communication is worth a lot less.

In reality, conversations about career paths don’t just mean asking for a promotion or a raise: they are valuable times to focus on something other than deadlines and projects for an hour in the year. They are a time where employees can feel happy about how their manager views their performance and know what they need to be working towards to start moving up.

In short, managers and employees should take this relatively small time out of their loaded calendars to discuss something they feel extremely important… but they don’t, because they’re scared of what might happen if they did.

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Benjamin Brandall

Benjamin Brandall is a content marketer at Process Street, and runs Secret Cave on the side. Find him on Twitter here.


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