Promotions Matter Most to Employees, but Pay Must Follow

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By Laime Vaitkus

Employees increasingly value career paths and promotions more than pay but still expect the money to follow soon after.

It’s part of a continuing trend of employees seeking purpose and recognition on the job, according to several HR consultants.

“People want to feel that they are contributing to something bigger than themselves; they want to see that their work has an impact” and a promotion is proof of that, Dennis Baltzley, Korn Ferry senior partner and the firm’s global head of leadership development, told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 4.

A Korn Ferry study, released Jan. 3, found that 63 percent of 1,200 professionals from around the world said they would prefer to get a promotion with no salary increase than a salary increase with no promotion.

Promotions are important to employees because “a raise alone is not demonstrating that I am valued; it isn’t the same kind of recognition,” Baltzley said.

The Korn Ferry study also found that many organizations may not provide enough opportunities for advancement for their employees: 56 percent of respondents who weren’t promoted within the past year said it was due to a “bottleneck, nowhere to go” at their company.

For employees who were passed over for a promotion, 84 percent said they would identify the reason and work to improve while only 6 percent indicated they would immediately look for a new job.

Show Them the Money

Employees stay or leave an organization for several reasons, including promotion opportunities, but salaries will always matter, according to Evren Esen, director of workforce analytics at the Society for Human Resource Management.

“Career advancement is important to employees, to get the skills they want and need for the future of their organization,” Esen told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 5. However, research from SHRM has typically found that for employees, job satisfaction hinges the most on pay, followed by benefits, with career advancement in third, Esen said.

Still, millennials place greater importance on job training and development, although it is questionable if that is more valuable to them than compensation, Esen said.

In practical terms, the majority of employees who receive a promotion will also get an increase in pay—or at least, expect to get a raise, Kerry Chou, senior practice leader at WorldatWork, told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 6.

An organization may promote employees so they can develop new skills, even as the employer lacks the money to provide an immediate raise; this can allow the employees to add more to their resume and give them a sense of personal accomplishment, Chou said.

“Some employees will relish the opportunity, but if the money doesn’t follow, it wears out their welcome very quickly,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laime Vaitkus in Wilton, Conn., at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at

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