How Getting a Promotion at Work Can Be a Bad Thing

Dwight Schrute after a promotion to regional manager in 'The Office' | NBC

Dwight Schrute after a promotion to regional manager in ‘The Office’ | NBC

Earning a promotion can be (and usually is) a huge undertaking, and is a step forward that most people only make a handful of times during their career. In some cases, it means you actually have to switch jobs or work for a new company in order to earn another title. Or, you may just have to play the part of the corporate ‘yes man’ for enough years to finally get noticed. No matter how you do it, getting a promotion is usually a big deal.

But a big deal doesn’t always equal a good deal.

Promotions are typically sought-after feats because they come with additional responsibilities. When we’re given more responsibility, it usually means that we’re earning more money. Increasing your earning power, and stepping into a new role that offers a whole new range of possibilities and opportunities (perhaps you’ll finally get to work on a project you’ve been putting off, for example) are the chief reasons that most workers make the push.

So, how can that be a bad thing? Everyone wants to make more money, after all. But the responsibility part? Well, we may not want that. But if the money is good enough, most workers are happy to take it on. Where things get squirrely, and when a promotion can ultimately end up being a net negative, is where those two things don’t exactly line up.

A promotion and work-life balance

man rubbing his eyes while he works on a laptop

Man rubbing his eyes in front of a computer screen | iStock

When we work, we are essentially selling our labor — or our time — to the highest bidder. With that said, the question becomes this: How much is your time worth? If you at least have an idea, then you’re on the right track.

Now, when we earn a promotion and have to start shouldering new responsibilities, we need to recalculate what our time is worth. The real trick here is to figure out what, exactly, is expected of you in your new role, and how that actually impacts your life. If you’re a salaried manager now, for instance, whereas before you were an hourly drone, you may actually end up making less money per hour than you did before. It completely depends on your individual circumstances.

Perhaps you actively despise managing people and making tough decisions? Were you happier in a production role, where you were performing the tasks and completing projects that you’re now only seeing on a spreadsheet from a manager’s perspective? That’s going to differ from individual to individual, but the key question to ask yourself is whether or not you’re happier post-promotion than you were before.

The pay raise that came along with the promotion and the additional elements of respect and clout that came with your new title likely helped. But in each individual circumstance, you’ll need to ask yourself whether or not you’re actually in a better place.

For some people, they may have been better off earning less money, but being happier in a non-managerial role.

Time and money

Man calculates money on calculator along with piggy bank

Man calculates money on calculator along with piggy bank | iStock

As mentioned, time is money. You need to realize that in managerial roles — or at least positions higher up the chain — responsibilities compound, and you’re more likely to be spending more hours on the job. Your time is more valuable in these positions, but the stakes are higher. People (be it shareholders, board members, etc.) expect you to get things done, and not just shrug off your responsibilities and let your boss take the heat.

Again, for a lot of people, the pay raise that comes along with a promotion in these instances simply isn’t worth the additional stress that comes with these new responsibilities. That’s what you need to ask yourself before taking a promotion: How is this going to impact my health and happiness, not merely my paycheck?

If you work at a fast food restaurant, to use another example, and earn $10 per hour, would you be willing to accept a role as an assistant manager or manager, for a $2 per hour pay raise (or something similar), but with much greater responsibilities and longer hours? In that case, you may be better off staying in your current role, and keeping your sanity in check. Especially if you plan on using the extra time away from work to go to school or explore other career areas.

Before gunning for, or accepting a promotion, take some time to consider the trade-offs. Longer hours, more responsibility, and more money versus less stress and a lighter paycheck — depending on your personal preference, one may be a better fit for you. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t push for higher pay or a better deal with your employer (or a different employer), but giving the endgame some consideration before jumping into a new role should be the first thing you do when charting your career trajectory.

Follow Sam on Facebook and Twitter @SliceOfGinger

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