HR, Clutch Report

Employees Disagree on Favored Promotion Plan

December 20, 2016

by Amelia Peacock

Part 4 of 4: Clutch HR Employee Feedback Survey 2016


If you ask the average employee what they hope to get out of their job in the next year, most likely a promotion and a raise will be on their list. Knowing exactly how and when a raise or promotion is coming can make or break an employee’s experience within a new company.

People need to know what they are working towards and how to get there in order to stay proactive and efficient. That’s why it is so vital for managers and HR professionals to create a promotion plan that employees find satisfactory.


However, according to a recent survey of 1,000 full-time employees by Clutch, creating a successful promotion plan may prove more difficult than it appears. Unfortunately for managers, the factors by which employees want to be evaluated for promotions vary widely from person to person. When asked to rank desired evaluation factors in order from most important to least important, Clutch found that:

  • 40% of employees ranked behaviors and attitudes first,
  • 36% of employees ranked measurable outputs first,
  • 13% of employees ranked certifications and education first,
  • and 11% of employees ranked tenure and seniority first.

The order in which employees ranked these factors correlates to specific demographic information, specifically gender, age, and the size of the employee’s company. Understanding how employees would like to be evaluated can shed light on why employees put more effort into certain areas of improvement over others.

Managers attempting to maximize employee engagement need to internalize their employees’ desired evaluation factors and translate that either into an alternative promotional plan, or a comprehensive explanation as to why employees may not be judged for the reasons they’d prefer.


Age can have a huge impact on how employees would like to be evaluated. Employees seeking a raise tend to justify why they deserve it based on things they have come to value through both personal and professional experiences. It is no wonder that an older employee values different qualities than a younger employee.

  • 45% of Millennials feel behaviors and attitudes are the most important evaluation factor for a raise, while only 35% of Gen-Xers feel the same.
  • Millennials are more likely than any other generation to value certifications and education over other factors.
  • Retirement-aged Baby Boomers are more likely than other generations to value tenure and seniority over other factors.

These results are largely unsurprising. The Millennial generation (18-34 years old) has long been touted as having a more communication-oriented work style than older generations, so logically they would place more emphasis on qualitative factors like behavior and attitude.

“What’s interesting is that probably 20 years ago the two would've been reversed. There would've been more emphasis on measurable outputs as to opposed to behaviors/attitude. That's telling of a generational shift that is taking place but also the realization that organizations that just measure output end up with, in many instances, a poor corporate culture.”
Joe Carella, Assistant Dean, Eller College of Management, University of Arizona

Millennials are also the most educated generation to date with the most education-related debt to date. Considering the time and money the average Millennial has put into education, they expect to receive more future gains from the investment than older generations.

Similarly, retirement-aged employees (65+ years old) have committed the most time and gained the most hands-on experience than any other generation and expect to be compensated as such.

Company Size

HR professionals are slowly but surely abandoning the more traditional employee promotion strategy of using strictly quantitative metrics to determine whether or not a given employee receives a raise or promotion. Rather than attempting to boil an employee’s achievements down to a score out of 5, managers are looking to more holistic means of providing feedback and giving rewards.

“Traditionally, the emphasis would be on if you're not performing, you're managed out. Today, there is a real shift towards what do we value inside the organization. How do we make sure that our people display those traits?”
Joe Carella, Assistant Dean, Eller College of Management, University of Arizona

However, this change is easier said than done.

The holistic approach to feedback, evaluation, and promotion grows incredibly difficult as the size of a company increases; managers and HR professionals aren’t able to provide endless detailed, personalized feedback to every employee. This is one of the main reasons why enterprise organizations are slow to adopt new strategies for employee promotions.

Interestingly, employees seem to understand, and actually prefer, the tendency for enterprise organizations to stick to measurable metrics when deciding which employees will receive a raise or promotion.

  • Employees at small businesses (1-50 employees) are more likely to prefer behaviors and attitudes (45%) rather than measurable outputs (34%) when being considered for a raise.
  • Within enterprises (4,999+ employees), we found the reverse to be true: only 34% prefer behaviors and attitudes, while 42% prefer measurable outputs when being considered for a raise.

While the push to reform enterprise feedback practices should not be abandoned, perhaps employees are not as averse to quantitative promotion factors as HR professionals thought.


Gender is one of the most visible, defining traits in the workplace, and managing a work environment fairly for each gender can cause a whole host of challenges. Societal expectations influence how men and women understand workplace success. Because each gender is taught to prioritize certain qualities over others, a divide is created between men and women when it comes to their preferred factor for raises and promotions.

  • Female employees (45%) would prefer to be evaluated on their behaviors and attitudes than measurable outputs (30%).
  • Only 37% of men prefer to be evaluated based on their behaviors and attitudes as opposed to the 41% that prefer evaluation of measurable outputs.

This gender divide is especially important when examining the trend in large and enterprise businesses to favor quantitative outputs over qualitative strengths when considering employees for promotions. The feedback practice of assigning numerical values based on measurable outputs will privilege male employees who are more likely to enjoy this mode of evaluation.

“Men are traditionally more comfortable and confident in saying ‘these are my numbers’, presenting stats and figures in a short elevator pitch, and are less likely to feel guilty when showcasing their success. As Sheryl Sandberg and other famed female leaders have championed, opportunity exists for women to better own their results, and follow their male counterpart's example.

Women often expect that their managers see their results, vs. needing to hear them. We assume that our boss sees us working late, sees us being a team leader, sees us contributing to a great culture, but to really make things clear, we will also need to communicate and "manage-up" our contributions.”
Morgan Chaney, Head of Marketing, Blueboard

As businesses continue to grow more adept at treating men and women equally in terms of pay, promotion, and leave, it is vital to be aware of how these differences can unintentionally exasperate gender discrimination in the workplace. Rather than add to the problem by continuing a promotion plan that privileges one gender over the other, managers should work with their employees to find an appropriate amalgamation of these factors. 

Take Away

The Clutch survey shows that while managers can begin to get a general sense for the qualities that their employees most value when being considered for a raise, it is nearly impossible to create one system that pleases every employee at your company perfectly.

Instead, managers should focus on pulling in all of these factors to some degree when considering an employee for promotion. Just as important is the manager’s responsibility to explain transparently and consistently how promotions are decided. By creating an open line of communication, managers are able to hear directly from their employees if there is frustration with the current system, and are able to adjust accordingly.

For more advice on renovating your employee feedback system, check out Clutch’s expert interviews with leading HR professionals.


About the Survey

Clutch's survey included 1,000 respondents who are fulltime employees in the United States.

Respondents worked at companies with 1 to 49 employees (38%), 50 to 4,999 employees (43%), and 5,000+ employees (20%).

Data was collected throughout September 2016.

Reach out to [email protected] with questions or comments.

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