What Is a Dry Promotion? And Should You Accept One?

Dry promotions will net you more job responsibilities but without a raise to compensate you. Here's how to handle it.

New job description and new job responsibilities, but the same old paycheck? Congrats, you just got a dry promotion.

This type of promotion is great news for a company’s bottom line, since it means they’ll be extracting a greater value from their worker. For the worker themselves, however, it’s a trade-off that sacrifices a potential raise for nebulous payoffs that may never arrive.

In short, there’s a lot to question about a dry promotion, and not as much to gain. That doesn’t mean the concept is entirely without merit in some situations, though. Here are the pros and cons to weigh.

What Is a Dry Promotion?

The term “dry promotion” is a recent invention, designed to refer to a job promotion that does not come with a raise in pay.

This promotion will likely come with a new job title, adding a bit of prestige that isn’t without value — it looks good on future resumes. However, since it will definitely come with more difficult responsibilities or a larger amount of responsibilities for the same pay, it is in effect a pay decrease: You’ll work more hours for the same pay. After a dry promotion, you’ll be receiving less value from a company in relation to the value you put in.

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How dry promotion functionally decreases your pay

Inflation in the US has been soaring across the last handful of years, which means that for any year in which you didn’t get a comparable pay increase, you received an effective pay decrease. And a lot of that inflaction might have actually been price-gouging all along: Studies found corporate profits accounted for 53% of inflation over the second and third quarters of 2023.

A dry promotion is a similar to these shrinkflation tactics: Your take-home pay stays the same, but the shifting circumstances surrounding it means that it has less buying power relative to the work you put into it than ever.

Why Dry Promotions Occur

What’s the reason behind dry promotions existing at all, given that they’re worse for employees? Companies have plenty of top-down pressures that can lead to them. Here’s a quick list of the common reasons:

  • Budget constraints or poor budgeting decisions
  • Employee recognition — some managers want to highlight a worker’s efforts with a new title, but without more payment
  • Employee retention — similarly, managers want to keep employees around, but without allocating a budget towards this goal.

As with many corporate concerns, there’s often pressure to deliver good results for each business quarter, which leads to short-term thinking. Giving workers more responsibilities for the same pay is good in the short term, but leads to employee burnout and lowered morale that is bad in the long term.

Why You Might Hear “Quiet Promotion” Instead of “Dry Promotion”

A dry promotion might also be called a “quiet promotion.” This is a riff on another recent bit of business jargon, “quiet quitting,” which refers to employees who have stopped going above and beyond in their job duties.

Some have suggested that the dry or “quiet” promotion refers to a similar phenomenon, but one that the executive class benefits from, rather than the laborers who are lower on the food chain and have a lower stake in the business’s overall success. However, this isn’t quite accurate. The quiet quitter is still meeting their target goals rather than requiring lower ones, while someone who has gotten a dry promotion is suddenly meeting higher target goals relative to their pay, rather than simply meeting the same target.

A more accurate reversal of quiet quitting would be if a company never offered its workers a cash bonus even if they performed above and beyond their exact job targets. For most workers today, the term for this state of affairs would be something like “normal.”

Dry Promotion: The Pros

If you’re offered a promotion without a raise, should you accept it? There are a few reasons why it might be the right move for you, at least in the short term.

First, you might be desperate for a job. Most people need an income to afford room and board, so accepting a dry promotion makes more sense than quitting on the spot. In fact, the new job title could help make your resume look that much better.

Second, you may be able to negotiate other benefits. Perhaps the new promotion will come with a free relocation, better equipment, or more employees to deligate your workload to. You may even be able to negotiate a four-day work week.

Finally, a dry promotion might be worth it if you believe that it will put you on a fast track for a fat raise with your next promotion at the same company. This is the riskiest reason to consider a dry promotion, however, since it means trusting your company to value your contributions — and if they’ve given you a dry promotion, they’re indicating they don’t.

Granted, the definition of “value” can be a tricky one when it comes to your work. Strictly speaking, if you’re paid a typical wage, you’re already not being paid what you’re worth — The core concept powering capitalism is that those with capital should leverage it in order to extract value from the labor of those without capital. If you need to work for a wage, you’re the one without capital.

This is a deal that most people can accept, as long as they’re still paid a market wage. But a dry promotion flies in the face of this norm, highlighting a disconnect between wages and labor that rankles most workers.

Dry Promotion: The Cons

As you might be able to tell by now, there are some clear downsides to a dry promotion, both for the worker and for the company itself.

We’ve already covered these downsides in greater detail above, but here’s the nutshell version:

  • Lower employee morale
    • Worse company performance
    • Potential for a vicous cycle of decreasing morale
  • Lower relative pay
    • Sets a benchmark that may lower your starting salaries for future positions
  • Greater relative work hours 
    • May lead to overwork and burn out

For those with young children, one additional downside is that Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” song may become even more difficult to listen to.

How Should I Respond to a Dry Promotion?

If you’re afraid your next promotion might be a dry one, you’re not completely out of luck. Depending on your relationship with your manager, you may be able to pitch a few tweaks that can help you avoid the worst of a rough situation.

Start by considering what might be driving the lack of a raise. Knowing the exact reason behind the decision can guide you towards the best counter-offer. For example, if they don’t have the budget for a raise, they may be able to offer other benefits.

Your best options are likely these three:

  • Negotiate better non-monetary benefits
  • Negotiate fewer hours
  • Set a timeline for your next raise — and see if it can be retroactive

Finally, remember your worth: They wouldn’t be offering you a promotion in the first place if they didn’t need you. Budgets may be tight, but your company should always be able to compensate you in some way that’s more lasting than a simple job title.

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Written by:
Adam is a writer at Tech.co and has worked as a tech writer, blogger and copy editor for more than a decade. He was a Forbes Contributor on the publishing industry, for which he was named a Digital Book World 2018 award finalist. His work has appeared in publications including Popular Mechanics and IDG Connect, and his art history book on 1970s sci-fi, 'Worlds Beyond Time,' is out from Abrams Books in July 2023. In the meantime, he's hunting down the latest news on VPNs, POS systems, and the future of tech.
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