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Getting Promoted Often Leads to Jumping Ship, New Data Reveal


Promotions are typically considered milestones that solidify an employee’s place at a company. That is not always the case, new research shows.

A large number of employees leave soon after their first promotion, according to new data from payroll-services provider ADP. Analyzing the job histories of more than 1.2 million U.S. workers between 2019 and 2022, the ADP Research Institute found that 29% of people quit their jobs within a month after their first promotion. It estimates that the departure rate for similar workers who weren’t promoted was 18%.

The ADP analysis examines the pandemic era of work, a period marked by a red-hot job market and a wave of workers’ quitting and finding new jobs. The findings suggest that promotions, rather than enticing workers to stay, sometimes signal a flight risk. They show how challenging it has been for employers to retain workers, given one of the main tools they have to inspire loyalty doesn’t appear to always be so effective.

Employees jump ship after promotions for a host of reasons, recruiters and hiring managers say. The weeks and months after a promotion are critical to ensuring newly promoted employees are fulfilled and supported in their new roles, says Nela Richardson, ADP’s chief economist, and sometimes companies fall short on providing the training and assistance they need. A promotion can also give a worker the confidence to seek a better job somewhere else.

“You think there’d be this euphoria and commitment,” after a promotion, Richardson says. Instead, “people are thinking, ‘What is the next step?’ “

People working jobs that require little to no training, such as warehouse or hospitality workers, left at especially high rates post-promotion, she adds. So did those in roles requiring graduate school or an advanced technical degree. Labor Department data show that, more recently, the rate of people quitting jobs for whatever reason has edged lower as demand for workers has cooled slightly.

Too little, too late

Sometimes a promotion comes too late, and the employee has already started looking, Richardson says. Other times, a LinkedIn update with the job news causes outside recruiters to take notice.

“If I’m a recruiter, and I’m looking for certain skill sets regularly, my feed is going to show me Jimmy’s made a move,” says Dani McDonald, vice president at staffing agency Kelly Services.

McDonald makes a point to follow up with such people post-promotion. After three months, she says, that person will know whether the new role is really what was described to them. By six months, they will “really, really know” if it is a good fit. The ADP data show that, after six months, the likelihood a recently promoted employee will leave is the same as for other workers.

Yehuda Nelson, a systems engineer, received a promotion at a software company several months after he asked for one. By then, he had already started “casually” looking for opportunities elsewhere.

“It came later than I expected,” he says, adding that the raise that accompanied his promotion wasn’t commensurate with the work he was doing.

Nelson, who is in his mid-20s, left a few months afterward to join another company. There, he has a more senior position, higher pay and better hours, including no on-call obligations, he says.

When some of his family members voiced surprise that he was leaving so soon after being promoted, “I was like, ‘This is just how it is,’ ” he says. Changing jobs is sometimes the only way to get a better job and salary, he told them.

The move into management

A first-time managerial role or move into middle management can be a rocky experience, and in recent years, more managers have reported feeling less engaged, and less loyal, to their employers, Gallup research shows.

In a survey of more than 18,000 U.S. employees earlier this year, 31% said they were engaged at work, the lowest number in four years. More than half said they are considering a new job or actively seeking a new job, the highest percentage since 2019.

Managing teams has gotten tougher with hybrid and remote work, and many new managers are caught in the middle, balancing bosses’ desire for buzzing offices with employees’ desire for greater autonomy.

“They’re sort of left on their own to adopt a whole new style of management that for many of them is very foreign,” says Heather Barrett, a director at Gallup, who co-wrote the research report.

Companies must do more to support the move into management, says Erika Tedesco, vice president of human resources at Diversified Automation, a provider of industrial automation systems.

“A lot of times as employers, that’s where we drop the ball—we just don’t give them the infrastructure or the interpersonal tools to be able to manage people,” she says.

Her office assigns mentors to managers who have been promoted for 12 months, on top of extensive training. Her team also checks in regularly with anyone who changes roles and is adding responsibilities, such as leading people, every 30, 60 and 90 days. Manager peer groups, in which leaders can share experiences and tips, are also helpful, she says.

“That just creates a longer-lasting commitment to the organization,” she says.

Write to Ray A. Smith at [email protected]

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.