How to Advocate for Yourself During Workforce Changes

Get the pay and promotion you deserve with our step-by-step script.

Two women discuss work in a conference room, using note cards and a clear glass board.
(Image credit: Getty Creative)

Imagine it’s your fourth week in a row of struggling to stay afloat at work. With too many deadlines, projects, and “strategic priorities”—but not enough time. You’ve been pulling late nights and catching up on weekends. While it’s important to you to prove your value, thanks to the normalization of hustle culture, you’re feeling more drained by the minute. 

Thankfully, you’re expecting some relief in the coming days when pressures should ease somewhat. Then, just as you start to take a breath, BOOM. Your boss informs you the team’s been downsized and you need to take on your soon-to-depart coworker’s tasks. So much for that zen moment!

As organizations conduct mass layoffs left and right and many workers actively seek new, more satisfying positions, the employees who remain often take the brunt.

But this trend isn’t exclusive to global organizations. Any business that reevaluates its priorities is going to make careful decisions about who contributes value. Often, the decidedly valuable employees assume responsibilities of those who have left the company—with little to no increase in compensation.

Sometimes, employers will offer a promotion in an attempt to justify the additional workload but couple it with, “Revenue took a hit last quarter, so there’s no room in the budget to increase your salary alongside your promotion.” 

In a situation like this, your hands are tied, right? Wrong. You have the right to negotiate the terms when a manager comes to you with additional responsibilities, so your hard work is reflected in your paycheck and title.

Let’s look at a few ways you can advocate for yourself during workforce changes.

When Offered a Promotion Without a Raise

When budget constraints are to blame for your stagnant salary, here are three ways to handle the conversation:

1. The hard “no.” 

You are under no obligation to negotiate. If you cannot swing more responsibilities (or just don’t want to!), you can say:

"I really appreciate the vote of confidence and the fact that you want to see me advance, but I’m not able to accept this promotion without a raise."

2. The conditional “yes.” 

Maybe you’re in a position to put in some extra hours so long as you see something added to your salary. Bring this to the table:

"I’m excited about the idea of taking on broader responsibilities. I understand the budget’s tight at the moment, but I feel certain I’ll create more value for the company in my new role and I’d like to be compensated accordingly. I’m asking to get 50% of the raise now and the other 50% six months from now."

3. The contingent “yes.”

If you’re really jazzed about some new responsibilities and would be willing to ‘take one for the team,’ here’s how to secure the promise of compensation: 

"Thank you for the promotion and the recognition of my work. I understand the budget constraints, and I’m willing to be a team player. While I’m disappointed this doesn’t come with a commensurate salary increase, can you and I pinpoint what the raise would be, and when it will be effective?"

When Offered More Work Without a Promotion or a Raise

You may also find yourself in a scenario where you’re not exactly up for a promotion, but your employer still tries to hand you more work. Chances are, you don’t have a ton of free time in your schedule waiting to be filled with tasks! 

Acknowledging your company’s difficult position while advocating for yourself often has a favorable response from the boss, according to a study by George Wu, the John P. and Lillian A. Gould Professor of Behavioral Science at Chicago Booth.

Here’s a quick script you can make your own when you want to acknowledge the situation yet stand up for what’s right:

"Thank you for trusting me with these new responsibilities. I have some concerns about increasing my workload. Our team has been reduced by half, and I’m already picking up work that used to be handled by others."

You can continue to justify your response:

"I’m concerned about maintaining quality performance. I’m happy to help on a short-term basis, but my salary has been level for the last 2.5 years and I’d like it to reflect my efforts. Can we agree that we’ll reassess my title and salary in our next meeting/by [Date]?"

Remember, beyond the practical challenges involved, working harder and longer can have a significant negative impact on your performance, lead to burnout, and make you feel downright unhappy at a job you once enjoyed. 

So, instead of working yourself to the bone to “help out,” use this advice for leveling up your career, your check, and your job satisfaction. You deserve it.

Selena Rezvani
Career management consultant

Selena Rezvani is a recognized consultant, speaker, and author on leadership. She’s coached and taught some of the brightest minds in business, addressing audiences at Microsoft, The World Bank, Under Armour, HP, Pfizer, Harvard University, Society of Women Engineers, and many others.