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Leaders need to take responsibility and stop giving quiet promotions. Here’s how

When you hire an employee, you accept responsibility for their career growth too.

Leaders need to take responsibility and stop giving quiet promotions. Here’s how
[Source photo: DNY59/Getty Images]

Conventional wisdom goes that if you work diligently, leverage your talents, and collaborate well, you’ll eventually get promoted. Perhaps. You also may receive the job upgrade that everyone’s talking about, but no one actually wants: that’s a “quiet promotion.”

Much like quiet quitting and quiet firing, employees are quietly—or one might say passive-aggressively—”promoted” when their workload grows but their compensation does not. In a 2022 JobSage survey, 78% of respondents said they’ve experienced this phenomenon, and 67% said they had absorbed additional work after a colleague left the company.

Set aside the buzz-worthy phrases, and quiet promotions are a distressing situation for leaders and employees alike. As a CEO who wants my team to feel productive and satisfied, the idea of overloading my coworkers with an ever-growing task list makes me cringe. But while it’s tempting to imagine that people can just say no to more work, it’s rarely that simple.

When you hire an employee, you also accept responsibility for their career growth. That means leaders need to prevent quiet promotions from happening in the first place. The following practices can help you create an environment where workers will thrive—without any “quiet” tactics brewing below the surface.


Employees who notice and fill a need are indispensable, but it can be surprisingly tough to distinguish between someone who wants to stretch their skills and a capable person who’s shouldering too much responsibility.

“One of the challenges is that a quiet promotion and an actual promotion often start out looking exactly the same—you prove to your employer that you’re ready to take that next step,” writes Regina Borsellino. “In fact, 68% of employees have willingly taken on extra tasks in the hopes of gaining an actual promotion.”

Boundaries can help to prevent overwork. I urge our teams to unplug on evenings and weekends, and I try to do the same. Employees know I don’t want to see them answering late-night emails or monitoring communications outside of work. While there may be brief periods when we all log extra hours, such as before a launch, we keep these sprints to a minimum, and clarify exactly when they’ll end.


I’ve written before that workplace transparency means taking accountability and eliminating ambiguity. Leaders need to tell people what’s happening in their organization and why—even if they don’t have the answers yet. For example, I give a brief weekly talk that we record for teams in other time zones. It’s a chance to share updates, discuss opportunities, highlight achievements, and explore themes we’re tackling in our product. Questions are encouraged, and I try to stop before anyone’s eyes glaze over. My goal isn’t to deliver a business sermon; it’s to maintain an open flow of communication.

A transparent culture empowers people to speak up if their workload becomes unmanageable, or if they feel manipulated in any way. Employees should know it’s safe to raise concerns and address conflicts.


If an employee is drowning in to-do lists, managers and leaders should work with them to identify repetitive, manual tasks that are ripe for automation. Routine processes like invoicing, routing service tickets, tracking vacation requests, managing event budgets, and posting to social media channels can all be automated—saving hours of time for more meaningful work.

According to one study by McKinsey, workers in about 60% of the world’s occupations could automate at least one-third of their daily activities. That figure represents a vast number of mind-numbing tasks that employees could potentially delegate to ever-more-competent software.


In the same JobSage survey I cited above, 63% of workers said they want a promotion or another role in their organization. In fact, most people are eager for professional growth. As a leader, you can nurture their development by providing opportunities to advance, move laterally, or explore a new position. At Jotform, we have employees who started on a product team, for example, before shifting into data analysis or customer growth. Top-notch employees love to learn, and many get bored without a steady stream of creative challenges.

Leaders also should be vigilant during periods of organizational change. Even if you don’t intend to overload your teams, it can happen inadvertently when roles are in flux. A quiet promotion “can sound like, ‘we need you to lean in and help the team,’ or ‘this person is gone now, can you pick up a piece?’” writes Cloey Callahan. “Quickly workers might find that they are doing significantly more than they were a year ago, or even a quarter ago, with nothing to show for it.”

I agree with Callahan’s suggestion to revisit employee job descriptions and see how they align with the current reality. You might think a team member’s departure didn’t create a vacuum, but the additional workload might be significant. Decide when you aim to fill the role and clearly share your plans with everyone affected.


This should go without saying, but great employees are invaluable. They literally build your business and enable your success. Pay them as generously as you can and don’t make them responsible for your HR or business risks. When I started my company 17 years ago, I didn’t hire anyone unless we had a full year of their salary in the bank. We still follow that rule today.

Consider, too, that compensation is more than money. People crave meaningful work and a healthy balance between their careers and personal lives. You can honor these needs in a variety of ways, from providing flexible hours to consistently recognizing employees for their innovations, efforts, and achievements. Enabling teams to make decisions without having to first untangle layers of bureaucracy also can boost satisfaction. Do what works best for your company and the people you count on every day.

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Aytekin Tank is the founder of Jotform, an online form builder. More

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