my employer promised me a raise and better title 3 years ago — and it hasn’t happened yet

A reader writes:

I work for a mid-size nonprofit doing fundraising. I have been here for 3+ years in a position that was a lateral move from my previous job. When I started, I took the same salary as my previous position because it was work I wanted to do, but was promised a raise and better title when it was available. That was three years ago, and I have not received a raise. Several people have been promoted over me, even though my performance reviews are stellar. I expressed my displeasure with this to my boss, but have always been dismissed with, “The opportunity wasn’t right for your (skills, location, etc.).”

Finally, last month, I was approached about running a new project. I was thrilled, as it came with a position bump and talks of a raise at the end of the year. It is, however, a lot more work. When I accepted, it seemed doable. Since getting more detail on the project, the scope has grown. I have done this kind of work before, but with a team of three. This will just be me doing the work of three.

When my boss finally sat me down to explain the exact work I would be doing, she threw in there, “Oh, and your title upgrade hasn’t been approved. You will continue to have your current title,” and then continued on with all the work I would be responsible for implementing. I was so shocked I didn’t respond.

I don’t know what to do. Should I continue with the promotion that isn’t even a promotion any longer? I feel like I have shown this company loyalty for 3 years and have been fooled repeatedly by promises of credit for my work, both in title and money. I am very disheartened.

You can read my answer to this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and often updating/expanding my answers to them).

Also, a note about my articles at Inc.: If you’re outside the U.S. or using an ad blocker, Inc. may ask you to register in order to read more than one article there. That’s because they otherwise aren’t able to earn any revenue from those page views, which they’re of course dependent on in order to continue to exist.

{ 47 comments… read them below }

      1. louise*

        Such a satisfying update! Turns out either the boss or the VP lied to the OP. Either way, OP ended up with the satisfaction of a QUICK job hunt and a position they were happier with. Win!

        1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          One or the other. The VP may be blaming his underling, the underling blaming the VP.

          In any event, those two guys should celebrate. They had your services for three years and paid you less than they should have.

          They should break out the Night Train, uh, “champagne”. And you? You’re going on to a better position. You are now more “trap wise”. This will likely not happen to you in the rest of your career – or, if it appears to be happening, you now know how to handle it.

          Curious to know – did they make any attempt to FIX the problem – such as a counter offer or a stay bonus (which, effectively is a retroactive “we’re sorry” raise)???? If not, then they NEVER had any intention of making the wrongs right.

      2. Adam V*

        I actually wonder about a further update. I’d be interested to know if the boss was called on the carpet – I’d be surprised if this were the only case where she treated someone this way (the update had mentioned that 1/4 of the department left in fairly short succession).

        1. neverjaunty*

          I doubt it was just the boss. Sounds like this was a severely dysfunctional and dishonest company overall.

        2. ThursdaysGeek*

          My sister was in a similar situation: her boss was jerking her around but claimed it was coming from his boss. When she gave her notice, her boss was good with it. But then the main boss asked why and she told him it was because he wanted her gone, told him some of the things her boss claimed he had said. Main boss said he wasn’t going to accept her resignation, and before the day was up, her boss was gone. That was really, really gratifying. But it also doesn’t happen very often.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Wow. I just done understand the motivation for the bosses in these situations. Anyway, this needs to happen a lot lot more.

          2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

            No, very rare. Usually upper management will back a bad boss – WITHIN LIMITS.

            The only time it happens – your sister may have been one of a group of others, and senior management said that enough was enough.

            OR – the company realizes it’s going to lose a lot of money – or potential losses, if an employee walks out. Example = layoffs at an engineering firm. An engineer is laid off, let go. OK.

            Said engineer calls his key contact at a client – for whom he’s working on a major project, to say good-bye. Fifteen minutes later, the client calls the engineer’s boss. “What’s up?” The big boss says “um, gee whiz, uh, enduring conditions/makeusleanerandmeaner/restructuring/efficiencies/so we can grow/ rightsizing/ blah blah blah, right?”

            Organic equine material aroma goes over the phone line. Client asks about delivery dates — “oh they will be elongated, we have to do this, to do it right…”

            Client says “I’m pullin’ the $3 million engineering contract unless Bobby comes back.”

            Ten minutes later, big boss is calling the guy laid off “oh, we were only KIDDING! We didn’t mean it!” and hopes and prays that the guy hasn’t accepted another job, or will just hold his nose and come back to work tomorrow.

            Seen it happen.

    1. videogame Princess*

      i just posted the link, but AAM filtered it out. It’s the bottom of the suggested links though.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Links go to moderation, but they’re not filtered out. They’re released once I see them, which is usually pretty fast! (Sorry if you already know that.)

  1. Anna*

    My ex-employer jerked me around in the same way for over a year…which is exactly why they’re my ex-employer. It’s like they were poking at me to see exactly how much work they could squeeze out of me.
    My new employer acknowledges my skills and pays me accordingly. My only regret is not leaving sooner.

    1. Lu*

      They took advantage of us. I think my last boss didn’t like me, she was manipulative, so that’s why. She does put on a façade when she sees me. I can see through her I won’t give in or be lulled into that again.

    2. Temperance*

      My pre-law school job was the same way. After 3 years of doing whatever craptastic tasks they threw at me as a carrot, with no chances in sight, I quit. My counterpart at another location was promoted ahead of me, and that did it.

      My “big boss” did try very hard on my behalf and we’re still close, but my direct manager liked me as an admin and did whatever she could to keep me as her assistant, because I was more reliable than the other person available to her to use.

      1. videogame Princess*

        Wow. Maybe you shouldn’t have worked so hard, and you would have been promoted faster. ;)

        1. Temperance*

          Apparently! Big Boss offered me a transfer to a different office (and away from direct manager), which I definitely took, but I was already out the door when that happened.

      2. OhNo*

        That sounds like a perfect example of the old advice: “Don’t be good at anything you don’t want to do.”

        1. AdAgencyChick*

          Although I am a loud proponent of “never be good at anything you don’t want to do,” this to me is a classic example of a manager who doesn’t understand the principle of “you can’t work for me forever.”

          Don’t care how awesome the employee is. You can’t work for me forever. I want you to grow and be awesome and eventually outgrow the position, at which point I will help you think over what your next move should be. I don’t want to hold onto people who are bored or just ready for a bigger challenge, just because I’m comfortable.

          Exception: if *you* don’t want to rise higher than a certain level, whether because you understand that the Peter Principle applies to you or because you have ambitions outside of work that make you want to limit your job in certain ways, maybe you can work for me forever. But even then, it’s unlikely a manager’s career path is going to align perfectly with a subordinate’s over the course of many years.

      3. Adam V*

        It’s sad that the big boss couldn’t have told the direct manager “too bad, hire a new admin. I don’t want to lose Temperance because you won’t let her stretch her wings.”

        1. Temperance*

          I think Big Boss did what she could; she did actually get me a transfer, but it was too little, too late (it was a lateral move to a different office). I had already been receiving law school acceptances by that point.

    3. JAM*

      Same experience here. My boss regularly did this to multiple people in a variety of roles. The interesting thing is that about 18 months after I left my boss did end up on following through on seeking promotions from higher up in the org for a few key people, namely ones that had people like me quit or people who knew his dirtiest secrets. Those who didn’t put up enough of a fuss or didn’t know his dirt got stuck where they were.

      Part of me feels a bit miffed that he couldn’t bother to promote me when I deserved it but I hope that he has learned a little and in the end, I know my new job put me in a better place financially and for my career. I would have had to put major life changes on hold for over 2 years if I’d waited around for someone to decide my future for me.

  2. Lu*

    My ex-employer did this kind of thing. Plus in team meetings I was the only one never given gifts for job well done, had to come in on my birthday when I was going on holiday, everyone else got them though. They were shocked when I gave my notice in.

    1. Nicole*

      That’s the part that gets me – when a company is shocked an employee who is getting dumped on leaves. It’s especially disheartening when you keep telling your employer you need help on something but they wait until you quit and then hire two or more people to replace you. If only they would just treat the hard workers well to begin with!

      1. Lu*

        Yes indeed they can’t expect loyalty when there’s blatant ignoring and dumping going on. I got my promotion about a month before I left, it was after another co-worker said to them they were too hard on me for no reason (I didn’t ask her to say a thing but the boss expressed maybe promoting me to her) the boss told her I didn’t work fast enough, that I exceed my job role but not enough to warrant praise, that I wasn’t as good as her brother.

        I am so glad I got out of there, new job; exceeding job role, no qualms from boss on my work performance she thinks I’m a rock star, I’m doing everything I am supposed to do and more, which is nice never been told that by previous employer weird to receive praise tbh! Also a top manager visited yesterday and praised my boss, my boss is really encouraging. I feel like the cat that got the cream. My job is a lot easier now I’m not fighting for recognition day to day.

        To be honest I think they don’t treat us well because they don’t want to manage us or don’t like us, or just want to push us out the company because they can’t fire us for personal reasons like just not liking us, or getting a long? Even though we’re doing everything right? That’s a fair assessment to make right?

      2. neverjaunty*

        It’s because they don’t care or think about the employee’s perspective at all. The idea that the employee is a person who has their own goals and interests, separate from their usefulness to the company, simply never enters their minds.

  3. Laurel Gray*

    I don’t get it – what is it with push back from management for job titles and title changes? I’ve seen this topic come up here and other places. I get that a “lead” or “director” can have completely different duties depending on the company but in some cases can’t a bump in title at least help with retention and morale if the budget can’t warrant a bump in pay? Is it really a stretch to give someone a title of “Senior Teapot Analyst” after 3 years working as a teapot analyst even if they aren’t getting an official promotion or raise? Do title changes like this really confuse things at the management/HR level? In the update of this letter the OP said the VP was ” was shocked that the organization would be making promises of titles”.

    1. Artemesia*

      I worked in situations where I got fancy titles but minimal raises for the most part. They used titles to make us ‘feel better’ about not getting paid enough. It isn’t nothing, but it is pretty close.

      1. Laurel Gray*

        Looking back, would you have preferred no title bump at all? The last sentence you wrote reminds me of the letter from last month about the 0.5% raise. I think I would take the fancy title over it!

        1. Artemesia*

          No. I think giving the ‘girl’ a title without giving her a raise is just a way of pouring oil on the water and not a sign of respect or appreciation. I think if you are getting jerked around and you have other options you should take them. I found the update on this letter very satisfying.

    2. Workfromhome*

      Very much agree with this.
      I understand that certain titles within a company might fit into a certain job code/salary band.I get that you maybe can’t throw Manager into a title without meeting certain critera or bumping a pay band.

      But if those are not obstacles why can’t companies be at least a little creative.

      I worked for 5 years as a “Senior Teapot Account Rep” with no raises despite great reviews.
      Then they took all the Account Reps and created a “teapot Consulting” service. We all became “Teapot Service Consultants”.

      Then I was given additional responsibility to supervise some other Teapot design projects. Yet they said they were unable to change my title?
      Its a new department and they gave us all the same “new” title. Really what’s the problem with calling me a Senior Teapot Service Consultant or Project Leader or any other title? Why not make something up if it doesn’t hurt anyone?

      My best guess is that while it wouldn’t hurt and really wouldn’t make any difference in how I do my job or am compensated maybe a better title makes you appear more valuable to outside companies so by keeping your title to something “lesser” they figure its harder to get a new job?

      1. GeekChic*

        So, at my company some manager did make up a special title to fit a specific employee once.

        I work for a company big enough that they have to standardise this stuff between a whole bunch of offices in different countries. They have fixed salary bands across all departments, and each job title maps on to a specific salary band – but there won’t necessarily be a job role in Department Y in pay bracket X. We had Teapot Engineer 1, Teapot Engineer 2, then we skipped a pay bracket before reaching Senior Teapot Engineer.

        My manager once had a great Teapot Engineer 2 who he wanted to promote, so he filled in the gap by creating a Spouts and Handles Engineer role that was exactly the right title for this guy… but now, years later, we mostly focus on Virtual Teapot Infrastructure, and it’s kinda funny to have a job that sounds like almost the exact opposite of what I really work on.

        tl;dr sometimes there can be a ton of bureaucracy involved in job titles, apparently!

      2. Golden Yeti*

        I’m in a situation where people have titles, but you wonder if they’re objectively qualified to have said titles. I mean, I could start my own business tomorrow and call myself Emperor Supreme of the Cauliflower, and it would sound impressive, but there is nothing outside of myself that validates that I am qualified to hold that title. I guess this is where credentials come in, but if you’re the beginning and end of your business, the credentials are under your control, too, so you can decide how loose to be with them.

        On the flip side, to third parties, we are sometimes referred to with titles that we do not actually have, and it bugs me. I have been referred to as a marketing manager, in-house IT manager, etc. and none of those are my actual job title, but I am responsible for at least aspects of all of them. So, it’s like we’re good enough to be referred to as such to those outside the office, but not good enough to be formally transitioned/titled/paid as such within the office.

        Makes no sense to me.

        1. Kristine*

          Your last line is basically my life. Everyone refers to me internally as the X Manager because I do manage X (and am the only person in the company who does), but my title is officially X Specialist. Specialist pays about $15k less than manager.

    3. Anon for this*

      Honestly, I think for many employers they don’t feel the need to promote someone and give them a raise if they can get them to do the work at their current level of pay and their current title. One of my co-workers handled it brilliantly, he told his boss that once his title and pay reflected the responsibilities that the organization wanted him to take on, he would be happy to accept those responsibilities. And, you know what, they gave him a big raise and a promotion as a result.

      I think too often we are trained to take on new responsibilities in our current roles with the idea that it will be noticed and we will be rewarded for a job well done. I just don’t think that employers really think that way these days. Where I work they don’t counter anyone’s offer, so we have lost good people in the past, precisely because they started taking on responsibilities outside of the scope of their position and were never rewarded either with a title or compensation.

      1. Over Development*

        Honestly, I think for many employers they don’t feel the need to promote someone and give them a raise if they can get them to do the work at their current level of pay and their current title.

        I work in an industry where 2 years at a company is considered a long-time, and average tenure for people at the Director level is 18 months. That’s not enough time to actually settle in and get things done. But the expectations and workloads are ridiculous and the pay is minimal.

      2. Eric*

        The good ones think that way. At my company, for the most part, job responsibilities are incrementally increased. At annual review time, if they see you are doing the job description of the higher position, they give you a promotion. But I guess you need a culture where people trust that this will happen.

      3. ThursdaysGeek*

        I’d like to hear Alison weigh in here, because she’s advocated showing that you can do the work before asking for the compensation. I’d prefer to go the way of your co-worker.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It depends very much on the details of the situation. Insisting on a raise before you’ll take on any new project or responsibility would be ridiculous; that’s not how things generally work. It’s also true that taking on new stuff can be exactly how you work your way into a higher level role (if not at your current company, then by parlaying it into a better job somewhere else). But there are some requests that really would push you over the line into something that should be a higher rate of pay or different title. So it’s a judgment call based on the details of any given situation.

          Here are two different situations with differing advice for each:

        2. Anon for this*

          I think in this situation it helped that the employee in question had an excellent track record with the organization and he also had work experience with the new area of responsibility. I don’t think this type of strategy works if you aren’t a known quantity and if you aren’t prepared to hold your ground with the organization. It probably also helps that this is a small non-profit, and there aren’t clear paths to advance.

    4. Doriana Gray*

      Is it really a stretch to give someone a title of “Senior Teapot Analyst” after 3 years working as a teapot analyst even if they aren’t getting an official promotion or raise?

      You couldn’t do that at my company – our salary and performance guide clearly says that if you give someone a title bump, you need to increase their salary to match (this company is very concerned with paying people market rate for their positions). The only time this isn’t true is if the job grade suddenly changes due to a market shift – your division doesn’t have to automatically adjust your pay to match, but they are strongly encouraged to reevaluate the affected employees’ pay in six month intervals until they reach the new grade (assuming the person would have reviewed performance-based raises anyway).

  4. Not an IT Guy*

    And this is why it’s important to get everything in writing. Had a similar incident happen with me, manager promised a title and raise within 90 days. Nothing came of it and I was afraid to say anything for fear of losing my job. Three years later he removed me from his department citing “unhappiness”, and stuck me in a position that I can’t get out of. But at least the OP’s story has a happy ending!

  5. LSP*

    DH’s company is doing this to him as we speak, but it is with a position in a different department.

    I know internal positions are never guaranteed, but they’ve (directors and managers) told him to apply 3 separate times! “We created this position for you because you rock and we love you, please don’t leave” times 3! He finds out over company-wide email that they’ve hired an external person instead (also 3 times). WTH?

    I was just telling his last night that his company was just taking advantage of him at this point.

    AAM has written about this before right? Commencing Google Custom Search…

  6. Brownie Queen*

    [Quote] he told his boss that once his title and pay reflected the responsibilities that the organization wanted him to take on, he would be happy to accept those responsibilities. And, you know what, they gave him a big raise and a promotion as a result. [/Quote]

    Honestly, in this economy if I did that at my job, I would no longer have a job. :(

    1. Owl*

      Sure, it depends on the workplace, and the supervisor in question. Usually situations like this don’t have responses that are appropriate across the board.

  7. Lauren*

    You know how AAM sometimes does questions with all the same advice like ‘Your boss sucks. I’m sorry.’ Maybe there needs to be a series, of ‘Your boss is lying to you. Run.’

    I used to believe everything my bosses told me like – you are not ready for a promotion, a raise just isn’t in the budget, it hasn’t been a good year even as we are planing to have a 25k holiday dinner for like 18 people. He would constantly think out loud about how my successes Y/Y might have been dumb luck. Maybe its just how women are lied to so often, and they internalize it and start questioning themselves into thinking that they can prove themselves in time. I don’t know if OP is a woman, but it doesn’t matter. Some people don’t recognize the signs that the excuses are BS, whatever you are looking for will always be just out of reach forever as they string you along. Sometimes the answer is ‘your boss is lying to you, run.’

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