Promotions, the act of changing someone's title and possibly increasing their pay after they reach some milestone.

Are they dehumanizing? Here I'm not referring to a specific company's promotion process, but of the very act itself, the act of assigning another person a title and reward based on some criteria.

What does it mean to be dehumanizing? I'll define it as something that treats people as objects, instead of people. It treats us as a means to an end, rather than another human to partner with.

To what end do promotions use us for? To know that, we need to know the goal of promotions.

There's a potential positive goal of promotions, which is to reward employees for good work. Another potential positive motive would be to share successes and profits with those who help create them.

There are some other goals, though. Companies promote to increase motivation (so that employees work harder to get the promotion). They also promote for retention. They may hope to convince an employee to stay through the hope that they will be promoted. The company may also hope their employee will be (temporarily) satisfied by the promotion.

Are these reasons good or bad, humanizing or dehumanizing? What other options are there?

If we define dehumanizing as treating people as a means to an end, you could consider these reasons to fall into that category. These reasons use promotions to get us to continue working, without regard to the joy we receive from the work or the people we work with.

What would be an alternative? To create a workplace where we find meaning and joy from the work. To create a culture where the people genuinely enjoy to work together. To create a business that actually shares profits with those who create it.

At that point, you wouldn't need to use arbitrary titles to convince people to stay.

Could the problem be that some companies have products that don't create joy, cultures that are toxic, and a pay model that hides profits from workers?

Why do we trade our humanity? We also need stability and income to survive. We can find humanity outside work. But this is unfortunate because some of us spend the bulk of our waking hours at work.


  • Some companies have products that add no value to the world or even actively make the world a worse place. They need something else to motivate people.

  • Some people see work as transactional and the workplace as something separate from their real life, so they're not interested in acting with humanity.

  • Some companies have no way to tie profit to the output of an individual employee, so they wouldn't know how to share profits correctly even if they wanted to.

  • Sometimes things just need to get done and maybe they'll never create joy, but someone needs to do it. I wonder if these types of tasks are even rewarded with promotions, though?


  • Are there any successful companies without promotion ladders?

  • Are there any successful companies that share profits more directly?

  • Do mission-oriented companies benefit from lower turnover?

  • If both parties agree to the lack of humanity, does it become ok? Do workers really have a choice here if there are no alternatives?


So act that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means. (Kant 1785:429)