Millennials, It’s Not Your Fault You're Not Promoted

There could be a LOT of factors.
PHOTO: Pixabay

BS—or the friendlier word, “myths”—about us millennials are rife on the Internet and in real life. How entitled we are, how we hop from one job to another, how poor we are with money because we blow off our wallets for travel or parties or concerts. Creators of such myths forget that they were once young and bad with money—okay, if not they themselves, then maybe their friend, an acquaintance, or a schoolmate. This makes their criticisms against us weak; they sound more like critiques against the foolish youths in any and all generations. But assuming they are right about our generation’s distinct brattiness and carelessness, they fail to think that maybe they had a hand in shaping how we think and live—after all, didn’t they raise us? Didn’t they build or sustain this environment and the many systems we find ourselves in?

Recently, Forbes published an article titled “Millennials, This Is Why You Haven’t Been Promoted.” This seems like a response to our generation’s alleged rush to be up the rungs and how we whine about not being promoted. As of this writing, it has over 300,000 views. You’ve probably seen it on your Facebook feed too, with some of your friends or colleagues agreeing with it.


In her article, Caroline Beaton states that in a survey, 80 percent of millennials consider themselves as leaders, yet only 12 percent of them have had management roles. She then makes sense of the finding by listing the reasons why we millennials haven’t moved up, and the gist is that it’s all because of us—how hardworking we are that we overwork ourselves; how agreeable we are that we seem more like followers; how conscientious or “neurotic” we are as we seek feedback from our superiors.

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Such a list exists in spite of the fact that Beaton herself cites Lindsey Pollak, author of Becoming the Boss, who believes that we millennials have a “progressive understanding” of what it means to lead—that we believe we can be leaders wherever we are in the company ladder. Doesn’t that belief stimulate the best among us to work better for that most awaited promotion?

Well, that’s the ideal.

The problem with blaming millennials for not getting promoted is that it ignores unfair systems some companies have in place.

From the company’s standpoint, who doesn’t want cheap labor to cut down on costs and profit more? Why promote and raise an employee’s salary when they can overwork you and pay you a meager amount? And to make you stay with them, they tell you that you’ll be promoted soon enough without telling you how or when it will happen? Beaton writes:

“When an employee’s work is measured simply by how much time she puts in, she seems cheaper and more expendable—‘someone who is willing to do twice the work for half the salary.’ Promoting her would thus ironically oppose the interests of the company. As a result, over-dedicated employees are ‘rewarded’ not with a promotion but with more work at the same pay.”

But what keeps a company in check from thinking its workers are expendable if the director or CEO considers its employees to be so in the first place? Within it, what keeps a company in check from overworking its employees? If your company wants to overwork you without compensation, it will do so. It has nothing to do with how cheap you seem if they already think you are cheap—and since when was being industrious cheap? “Over-dedicated employees are ‘rewarded’ not with a promotion but with more work at the same pay” sounds like something a company from your worst nightmare would say.

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And yet Beaton writes “[E]mployees who volunteer to do work outside the scope of their roles are ‘the most likely to be promoted.’” How is this not “over-dedicating” oneself to the company? How is volunteering to do more work going to prevent an already abusive company from abusing you?


And that’s the thing: Your promotion boils down to a company being able to recognize and respect you for your hard work and your potential. Take for example Melanie, 23, who works for a mobile phone company and was promoted a few months ago. She tells me she began as a management trainee before she got to handle the brand’s flagship smartphones. It took her a little less than two years to be promoted. In that amount of time she got to work in different departments handling the brand’s different products. “I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary,” she says about how she got promoted. “I just did my job to the best of my capability. That’s all any of us can really do.” While she thinks she’s “just lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to do more than what was expected,” Melanie also says that the mortality rate in the company isn’t as long as she’d like it to be. “If you can make it through that [time] you have a higher chance of getting promoted.”

On the other hand there’s Audrey*, 25, who has been working in an ad agency for three years now and she still holds the entry position. She says she has done her responsibilities so well that her boss decided to let her do more work to prepare her for the higher position. “This happened in my second year on the job, and I thought that if I did these new tasks smartly and efficiently, I’d be promoted. The senior copywriter position has been open for a while, and I hoped I would be the one to fill it.” But after eight months of doing the extra work and clocking out at midnight with no overtime pay, she says the company hired someone else for the position she’s been eyeing. “I’m still so mad and hurt,” she says. “Right now I don’t see the point of working as hard as I did. How can I move up in the company when someone has taken that place? It’s like I just lost my future there.” And apparently Audrey’s case isn’t isolated. “Most of us stay because we love our job, the creative work. Sadly, staying in the agency also means staying in the same low position for years.”

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Holding millennials entirely responsible for their promotion not only disregards the way a company treats its employees, which is bad enough.

It also ignores the goodwill of an energetic workforce, making such companies fail to train possible successors or to help their young employees feel that their work is meaningful.

When we make rightful demands, when we bring up why we believe we are deserving of a raise or a promotion, the company can easily dismiss us as being spoiled, someone who wants things the easy way and doesn’t want to toil—all because we were born in the ’80s or ’90s. That way of thinking makes losers out of us.

And that’s all the more insulting when we consider IBM’s 2015 report, “Myths, Exaggerations and Uncomfortable Truths: The Real Story Behind Millennials in the Workplace.” This study of 1,784 employees from six different countries and from different industries has found that the same percentage of millennials (25 percent), Gen X-ers (21 percent), and Baby Boomers (23 percent) want to make a positive impact in the workplace. Meaning, we’re not any more untrustworthy or self-seeking than the older person, and that we’re as promising as the older fellow. Furthermore, it’s found that millennials prefer a boss who’s first and foremost fair, compared to a boss who recognizes their accomplishments. Meaning, we’re not all bratty compliment-hungry little children the older generation complains about. Praises mean little to us when we’re still treated unfairly, viewed as dispensable.

That we are entirely responsible for our future in a company is a big lie. The fact is, as with life, we can’t control everything. Articles similar to what Forbes published let companies evade issues like workload, career development, meaningful work, and financial reward—issues that, when dealt with, will make companies be better places for their workers. Employees want to be respected, to be treated fairly, to be rewarded when they’ve earned it, because the good ones want to work better. Regardless of whether or not we landed our dream job, the best among us will work well and will want to keep improving and learning—but the company has to help us progress and sustain that drive. A promotion is a reward and an incentive to do better; it motivates.

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If a company is smart enough, it’ll care about you and how you feel about the work and the company because the quality of the product or service you provide depends on how much heart you put in. If you work in a company that doesn’t value you or your efforts, remember that it’s okay to resign. Don’t worry about being criticized for being “just like other millennials,” whatever that means. It’s not wrong to know your worth and your rights. Besides, applying to another company with sufficient work experience is bound to get you the respect you deserve and land you in a higher position with better pay.

*Name has been changed. 

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