If you haven’t come across the term ‘quiet promotion’, it references the practice of employees assuming the responsibilities of a former colleague without formal recognition or compensation.
Sadly, this is not as uncommon as people might think. One recent study found that 67% of workers had taken on the responsibilities of a more senior colleague after that colleague left the company, while 78% had taken on additional workload without any additional compensation.
Quiet promotions can pose unintended consequences for the employee assuming these additional responsibilities, the leadership team, and the organization as a whole:
- It is likely the employee will not have the bandwidth to assume greater responsibilities, and if the employee receives little-to-no communication around this need, it is unlikely that they will be able to remain productive in an environment of increased responsibility.
- There could be training concerns over the employee – have they received the proper training to execute the new work/responsibilities?
- Giving someone new responsibilities without effective coaching will lead to engagement concerns. Even if an employee understands how to facilitate the additional responsibilities, without overall vision and the opportunity to demonstrate new skills that could lead to future potential with the organization, the employee’s commitment to and trust in the organization are likely to falter.
- All of this can lead to the employee potentially looking for other positions, which will result in a turnover cost that would be greater than the additional compensation saved through a quiet promotion. Turnover can cost up to 75% of a salary, and for more executive roles this number can rise to over 200% - which ultimately leads to a larger economic loss.
The Leadership Team:
- Choosing to quietly promote can fracture the relationships that management have with their employees. There is a surreptitious element to a quiet promotion, and this can cause employees to question the trust they have in their leaders, leading to a range of miscommunication issues later down the line.
- If leaders are choosing to quietly promote, they are likely missing the opportunity to analyze the role of the employee who departed the company. There is unrecognized opportunity to study the role of that person and assess whether there were any obsolete or inefficient processes in their responsibilities. This can be used as a starting point to decide whether the organization needs someone to replace this role or whether the actual usefulness of it can be fulfilled and absorbed by others. This then needs to be communicated with the prospective employee(s) taking on these new responsibilities, with considerations for future compensation and advancement, tied to successful performance of the new skills and responsibilities.
- Mismanaging a separating employee’s transition can have ripple effects on the productivity of a department, as outlined above. Additionally, these effects are not likely sequestered at the department-level; there are impacts and potential output concerns for the organization as a whole.
- Pay philosophy and performance motivation become weakened if employees are quietly being given more work to do without formal measurements of success, which is linked to the organization’s total rewards. Even if the employee is taking on a larger workload for a short amount of time while the company seeks a replacement, then ensure that gratitude is expressed to this employee through recognition programs, a one-off bonus, or additional benefits.
When it comes down to it, quiet promotions are unlikely to create cost savings for an organization. While initially it may seem like a smart move to save some money, especially in economically trying times, ultimately the costs associated with the loss of productivity, engagement, and potential increased turnover do not compare to the cost of effectively leading an organization through transition and providing rewarding career opportunities for committed and loyal employees.
If you would like to discuss strategies for supporting your business with its turnover rate, or how to manage an employee separation in a cost-effective manner, please do get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org