Until now, the consensus has been that getting promoted at work – whether in terms of pay, status or responsibility – is good for our wellbeing.
This briefing explores whether the evidence backs this assumption up. It is based on a systematic review of the evidence of how progression at work impacts wellbeing. It looks at what kind of progression is important to employees, and what the potentially negative impacts of progression may be.
Job progression is one aspect of job quality. Evidence shows that while being employed is good for wellbeing, being in a quality job is even better, as our Job Quality briefing from 2017 emphasised.
By ‘high quality’, we don’t mean a certain skill level, type or industry. It’s about what makes a job worthwhile for us. Things like:
- how secure it is
- the social connections we have
- the ability to use and develop our skills
- clear responsibilities
- opportunities to have a say in a supportive workplace.
You need to give everyone the same opportunities to progress, if people want to.
What are the key findings?
Progression was highlighted by the 2017 Taylor review of modern working practices, which explicitly recommended that
“Government should seek to develop a better understanding of what progression at work is and the public policy levers that can influence it”
For this systematic review we looked for evidence on progression that included: • monetary gains, for example, increased earnings as a result of an hourly pay rise, increased hours of work, or promotion • non-monetary gains, for example, progression into a more stable and secure job, which may result in monetary gains over the longer-term. The studies that were included in this review measured progression as: • people’s self-reported experiences of progression • changes in seniority • expectations of promotion This means it is difficult to specify what particular aspects of job progression are having an effect on reported life satisfaction, job satisfaction and mental health outcomes. Much of the evidence is classed as promising rather than strong, reflecting the relatively small number of studies conducted, even though they use nationally representative longitudinal data.
Why should you care?
Where you see the following symbols it indicates:
strongWe can be confident that the evidence can be used to inform decisions.
promisingWe have moderate confidence. Decision makers may wish to incorporate further information to inform decisions.
initialWe have low confidence. Decision makers may wish to incorporate further information to inform decisions.
One study in the review looked at the effect of promotions, measured by individuals’ selfreports on whether they received a promotion, on job satisfaction and several other job attributes, for example stress, control and security, based on a sample of 2,681 employed individuals between 2002 and 2010.
The greatest increase in job satisfaction was observed 0-6 months after promotion, when individuals reported:
• A small increase in reported job satisfaction (0.16 ‘standard deviations’ of job satisfaction).
• Similar increases in feelings of security, sense of control over their own work and stress.
After the initial six months, the effect of promotion on job satisfaction began to decline, and was statistically insignificant two years after the promotion. The research finds that promotions did have a more lasting effect on control, but also on stress levels: both measures remained at their higher levels more than three years after promotion.
One study used data from individuals in the UK between 1991 and 2007, which included a sample of around 17,000 five-year individual spells and more than 1,000 individual promotions. It measured the effects of transitions between non-supervisor, supervisor and managerial roles, on mental strain.
It found that:
• People who are promoted from non-supervisor to supervisor, or from supervisor to manager show no significant change in reported mental strain.
• People experiencing a larger promotion, from non-supervisory role to managerial roles, experienced an improvement in mental wellbeing in the first year. However, by the third year, mental strain of the people that had a larger promotion had worsened, compared to those not promoted.
A study using the US National Longitudinal Survey of Youth data for the years 1998-2006 with 30,000 individual-year observations, investigated the effect of promotions on job satisfaction over time, as well as the role of expectations for future promotions on job satisfaction. This was captured by the self-reported information on whether workers believed that a promotion was possible over the next few years or the job involved promotion opportunities.
Both actual promotions and positive expectations about future promotions had comparable effects on job satisfaction.
Individuals who were promoted had an initial increase in job satisfaction of 5%, (0.12 points relative to a mean satisfaction score of 2.4 out of 3), which faded over time. Those with an expectation of promotion also had 5% higher job satisfaction compared to their peers who did not expect one
In four studies, insecure employment was associated with poorer wellbeing for all individuals, and in two additional studies, insecure employment was worse for women only.
One study using data from Australia (males aged 15-65), found that the negative impact of casual employment on perceived job security and life satisfaction was much more pronounced for employees with a short tenure (less than two years).
One study analysed the effect of moving into both permanent and non-permanent employment on individuals’ life satisfaction and work satisfaction. Using the 1999-2004 British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) and a sample of around 19,000 male and 19,800 female employees, the study distinguished between permanent, fixed-term, temporary agency and other flexible contracts, including casual and
It found that:
• The effect of moving between permanent, fixed-term, temporary agency and other flexible contract types were statistically insignificant, except for women moving from permanent to ‘other flexible contracts’, which were found to be associated with a lower job satisfaction.
• Importantly, after controlling for individuals’ satisfaction with job security, moving into any form of non-permanent employment was associated with increased job satisfaction when compared to permanent work. A permanent contract does not necessarily come
with all the other aspects of job quality that are important to people’s wellbeing.
Consistent with the finding above, that promotion prospects matter for wellbeing, two studies found that the lower promotion opportunities available for temporary contract holders were an important determinant of the associated wellbeing gap between temporary and permanent work, in addition to the effect of decreased job security from fixed-term contracts.
What can you do next?
While this briefing provides evidence on the general wellbeing effect of in-work progression through different routes, such as promotion, wage rise or moves into permanent work, further research is required to understand how different forms of promotion affect different groups of people. This would include comparing within-employer job transitions with moving to an alternative employer, and the different effect on people based on their sector, gender, age, non-work commitments and career aspirations.
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