Background: I started with my company about 4 years ago in a role that was client-facing and was hired as a non-exempt employee. The culture of the firm is that people work a lot of overtime, especially in the winter months (80 hour weeks are typical, sometimes approaching 100 hours). While I am not a fan of overtime (I have 3 kids so it obviously cuts into family time) at least I was compensated for every hour I worked. About a year and a half ago I had the opportunity to work on the development of an internal software product that would be used throughout the whole US firm and several international offices as well. It as a very large undertaking, with me assuming the lead business analyst/program manager role (though not officially a management position). The project was completed on time and was very successful. Last year my wife became pregnant with our third child and we wanted to move back to our home town all the way across the country on the West coast. My boss agreed to allow me to go and I made the move, working remotely from home and traveling back to the East coast offices every 3 months or so.

Current Situation: We just had our annual review and I was rated the top rating amongst my peers (it's a relative rating scale). The managers were impressed with my work and wanted to promote me to the next level up. All of the levels that are above my current position are exempt, and also as of this year my current level and the one I would be promoted to are not eligible for bonuses (but all levels above that are).

However, I have been wanting to leave the company for awhile so I can focus on growing my career as a business analyst or getting into program management in the software field, which I would not be able to fully focus on in with this company.

Given the following:

  • I have stayed at this company due to a prior lack of other opportunities that pay a similar rate (overtime accounts for around 30% of my pay so it's quite significant).
  • The software project I work on is mainly owned by me and I'm not sure there would be someone suitable to take over the project in the same capacity.
  • The "promotion" would result in a pay cut (approximately a 30% reduction in total pay without a reduction in hours), and raises/bonuses are non-negotiable as they are determined in advance and each level has a certain pay-range.
  • My company allowed me to move back to my home city and work remotely

How much of an obligation should I have to the firm to take the promotion I don't necessarily want? How best can I make preparations to leave so that I do not burn any bridges?

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    @Ryan I have made it a habit (sometimes painful) to live within 60% of our total net income as much as we can. It is incorrigible to work 80hr weeks and hope for your case that your family didn't grow to require that money. A 30% reduction in pay would be more than satisfactory for me to work 40hr weeks and spend time with my children. Commented Jun 18, 2012 at 14:00
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    If you decide to stay, you can respond to the promotion offer by saying something like "I appreciate the offer but this does not make financial sense. What can we do to account for the de-facto pay cut?" Commented Jun 18, 2012 at 14:39
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    @maple_shaft I could probably make a 30% reduction in pay work, however this reduction in pay does not come with a reduction in hours. So to think that I am giving up 30% of my pay and as a trade-off I will get to spend extra time with my family is not the case - my hours will not change.
    – Ryan
    Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 0:13
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    @Ryan Why in the world would you take the promotion then, it sounds like a punishment. Do you mind my asking what industry and specialty you work in? Is this kind of abhorrent treatment of employees the norm for this industry? Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 15:12
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    This does not make any sense, why are (where) you even asking? "You are the best, you'll get a promotion, which actually means you'll get a paycut"… wat? Does not compute. The only sane answer is "Obviously not, are you insane?".
    – o0'.
    Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 10:38

3 Answers 3


You shouldn't feel any obligation at all. Refuse the promotion, find another job and leave.

I have felt obligations to companies who have done me favours in the past. The one thing I've learned: They don't feel any obligation towards you for any favours you've done them. You're not immune when they're in trouble and redundancies or pay cuts come around.

Your employment with a company is at best a mutually beneficial agreement. As soon as it's not beneficial to either side, it's time to cut the ties.

  • The payment of salary fulfills whatever obligations they have to you. In most places, you work before you're paid, so you are automatically in a "deficit" by default.
    – Nelson
    Commented Sep 24, 2021 at 3:38

You shouldn't feel any obligation because you did the work and they paid you. That is the employer-employee relationship and is as it should be.

As to the more subtle part of the question, this is quite a 'it depends' question.

Factors that I would consider are:

  • decide what work you want to be doing in 2 years time
  • what your financial obligation are.
  • what your spouse wants and where they work.
  • what you enjoy doing
  • how important your friendships are at work. Sometimes it's better to work with friends. You are remote but maybe you maintain remote friendships with work colleagues.
  • how imprtant their reference is (though this might determine more how you leave than if you do).
  • With regards to that last point - is it possible that my employer would provide a negative reference even if all my reviews throughout my tenure were positive and my behavior was never characterized negatively while I was with the company (provided I'm giving at least a 2 week notice). I can see them being angry at my leaving, although that wouldn't change whether I gave 2 weeks or 2 months notice - it would never be enough.
    – Ryan
    Commented Jun 18, 2012 at 3:10
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    @Ryan: It's possible, but unlikely. They wouldn't risk being sued for libel. If you have copies of performance reviews, keep them to hand, just in case.
    – pdr
    Commented Jun 18, 2012 at 15:27
  • Even if they are disappointed, and they may well be, they should not hold it against you or blackball you. If they do the latter it is time to talk to a lawyer. +1 for holding on to reviews.
    – kleineg
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 19:59

A promotion with a pay-cut is not a promotion. I'm curious, are all your peers non-exempt? Do your peers look at overtime as 30% of their salary as well? If such is the case, how do they get anyone to accept that "promotion", ever?

Not knowing anything beyond what you put in your question, you have no obligations towards your employer beyond what they pay you for.

If they want to you accept this new position (which you would be thrilled to take and give your absolute best) they have to offer a fair pay. That is: either continued expempt status, or a base pay equal to what you make today, plus a bump reflecting your, now, increased responsibilities. Non-negotiable goes both ways.

  • 1
    Most of my co-workers do not get paid overtime. Those that do have the lowest classification of staff and we had transferred to this group and were able to keep this job classification (actually we were acquired by the group). Promotions of this nature are not typical, but that's also because the job that I have been doing and the duties I have be performing in my role are also not typical. Usually people at my job classification remain at this class their whole career, as there is no upward mobility in that sense.
    – Ryan
    Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 0:16
  • 30% is an huge cut in salary, usually for that kind of amount people change jobs...This is the best answer, a pay cut is never ever a "promotion", and more importantly for such an huge cut. I have heard about people losing 10% when promoted, it is not unheard of, but 30% is crazy. Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 18:47

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