How and when to ask for a promotion when you work shifts

Clea Grady

Feb 2023 ⋅ 5 min read

Man standing in field of corn looking up at a beautiful blue and pink sunset sky.

Some people might be confident self-publicists, but many of us feel anxious at the thought of asking for a promotion.

Plus, asking for more from your employer could feel like a risky thing to do in the current climate. You might worry that raising the subject of promotion when everything’s so uncertain will cause bad feeling at work, or even cost you your job.

While the cost of living crisis is likely to influence how you approach your manager, it shouldn’t block your professional progression indefinitely. Asking for a promotion is not about being unappreciative or greedy— rather, it demonstrates that you have goals and ambition, and want to make a more notable contribution to your company.

Is asking for a promotion more difficult when you work shifts?

Asking for a promotion may feel more complicated when you work shifts as opposed to being a salaried employee. This could be because of several reasons:

  1. You have irregular contact with your line manager
  2. You think your peers better understand what you do than your manager does
  3. You tend to work different shifts to your supervisors
  4. You work busy shifts, so are unsure of when’s the best time to approach the subject with your boss.
Man in a cafe looking worried and staring at his laptop screen, coffee cups in foreground

While shift work throws up challenges that those working a typical nine-to-five role may not experience, it also generates opportunities. And you can draw on these when preparing your case for promotion.

For example, consider how the following could be favourable if you’re a shift worker who’s wanting to move to a more senior role:

  1. You work autonomously a lot of the time
  2. You’ve already stepped into an unofficial leadership role
  3. You’re responsible for tasks that demonstrate that you’re able and trusted — opening and closing, sitting in on interviews or meeting candidates, handling complaints, processing orders etc.
  4. You know your customers and understand their wants and needs
  5. You’re at the ‘coalface’ of the business, so you have a solid understanding of how it operates and what it needs to be successful.

But how do you take your experience and ambition and translate it into something that you feel confident enough to present to a manager? And when’s the best time to do that?

Let’s break it down and look at asking for a promotion from both of those angles: when’s the best time to ask, and how do you prepare your case?

When is the best time to ask for a promotion?

Every business is different, but there are scenarios that can apply across the board.

1. You’ve been in your current role for some time and feel it’s time to step up

On-the-job experience counts for a lot and it’s beneficial for this knowledge to stay within the business, rather than being transferred to a competing company or risk getting lost altogether.

Use your knowledge to put your request into context so that it makes sense for the organisation as a whole. For example, increasing your responsibility could be one way of tackling a problem you know your company is currently facing. In this sense, your promotion would be part of the solution.

On a personal-professional level, being in a role for a while often makes moving up the ladder the next logical step. So your request for promotion should come as no surprise to a good employer.

2. The work you’re doing no longer reflects your current job title

As companies grow, it’s possible for staff to unofficially take on more responsibility as they stretch to meet the demand. If you’re already doing the work of someone more senior, then it makes sense to ask for it to be officially recognised.

The best place to start is with your job description, as you can document the tasks you’re regularly doing that fall outside of your current role.

If you can identify and communicate where and how frequently you’re doing more than is set out in your current job description, you’ll have a solid foundation to make a proposal.

3. You have a proven track record and know you’ve got what it takes to do the job

There’s doing a job well, and then there’s excelling at it. Only you and your line manager will likely know if your performance at work is considered outstanding, but if you’ve received positive feedback from your superiors then use it to make a case for being promoted.

Equally, praise from customers or suppliers — whether face-to-face, in online reviews, or via communications like emails — is really powerful.

You want feedback that relates to your current performance as much as possible, so don’t sit on it too long. It’s better to have fewer recent, quality examples, than a stack of them that could be disregarded as being out of date.

How do you prepare a case for promotion?

Preparation is vital when asking for a promotion. Not only does it ensure that your request is thorough and considered, but you’ll feel more confident when approaching your manager with it.

1. Research the job you want

This may seem obvious, but knowing as much as you can about the role you’re hoping to get is really important.

It’s likely that stepping up will mean you’ll have new responsibilities, and you’ll probably need to apply or develop different skills. So study the role’s requirements and prepare just as you would a job interview. Note down some questions or points for discussion, as this will show your line manager that you’ve given the role some serious thought.

Macbook, phone, notepad and pen, and a white mug of black coffee on a wooden table

2. Put together a pitch

Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that your manager knows everything you currently do or is aware of your full skill set. Existing employees often fail to sell themselves as overtly as they would if talking to someone they didn’t know — this is known as the ‘internal candidate trap’.

So record your wins, memorable moments, and anecdotes and build them into your pitch, because successes both big and small will help paint a picture of your ability and suitability. Plus, it’s evidence of the contribution you’ve already made to the company, and that’s never a bad thing.

3. Seek out constructive feedback

Before officially presenting your case for promotion, it’s a good idea to have a ‘scene-setting’ conversation with your line manager. This ensures your request doesn’t come out of the blue and they’re aware of your career goals and ambitions.

Conversations with colleagues can also be incredibly useful, especially if any have recently been promoted. An informal chat over a cup of coffee could provide valuable insight that might be relevant for your own application.  

4. Book a formal meeting

This is not a conversation you want to have beside the coffee machine or while other people are around. You need time and space to comfortably discuss your request.

So schedule some time with your line manager, and give them a heads up so they know what you’d like to talk to them about. You’ll feel more confident and professional, and they’re more likely to come to the meeting with the right mindset.

Wrap up

Asking for a promotion is daunting regardless of whether or not you work to a constantly changing rota, but breaking it down step by step is likely to make it feel a whole lot easier.

And remember, asking for a promotion is a good thing — regardless of the outcome. It may feel like a leap of faith, but it demonstrates your drive and commitment, and this is likely to be received favourably.

And as the old saying goes, if you don’t ask, you don’t get!

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