manager won’t let me take internal promotion

A reader writes:

I have been with a company for almost 2 years and am one of the top people in my category. I recently went to my manager to ask about interviewing for other positions in the company that would further my career.  He said, “no problem, I won’t hold you back, but the transition time may be long.”

I then talked to the director of the other group, who informed me that she had positions available and I would be a good fit.  She came back a week later with a verbal offer, seeking approval from my chain of management.  My manager gave an unrealistic date of transfer (3 months) and they could not agree.  This process went all the way to the EVP level battling it out to keep me or promote me.  It was determined that I was too valuable in my current position and they decided to revisit in the 3rd quarter.  My manager showed me the email chain from the EVPs that were fighting over me but eventually the promotion side gave up.

Do I have an course of action with HR regarding this?  I feel like I am being unfairly treated and will more than likely leave the company regardless of outcome. The hiring manager said she could not keep the positions open so my chances of promotion later may be unavailable.

So you’re so valuable in your current position that their solution is to do something that’s likely to drive you away from the company completely (and probably without the three-month transition time your manager was requiring here)?

This is dumb. There can be legitimate reasons for not letting people transfer willy-nilly, but this isn’t how you handle it. If they felt strongly that they couldn’t move you out of your current department for three months, someone should have sat you down and talked to you about specific plans for helping you further your career in the company after that. They should have given you a clear path for what opportunities you have to move forward, so that you’re not left feeling as you now do — that if you want to advance, you’ll need to leave the company to do it.

As for what you can do about it now: Ideally, you’d say to someone in your company, “I’m interested in moving into ___, and I’d very much like to do that here rather than somewhere else. However, the way that this played out with the promotion into the X department has me concerned that that will be an obstacle in the future too. I’d really like to talk about what paths might be open to me for advancement here, and what we’ll do in the future if these same issues come up again.”

Now, I don’t know if the person you should have this conversation with is your boss or someone above him or someone who knows what they’re doing in HR. It depends on your relationships with them, how good they might be, and how things work in your company. But that’s the conversation you want to have with someone.

You can read an update to this post here.

{ 37 comments… read them below }

  1. Gene*

    If the other position was a promotion with higher pay, the OP should talk with the current boss and pretty much demand a raise commensurate with what the new pay would have been. If he’s that valuable, they should be willing to pay him for that perceived value.

  2. Anonymous*

    A similar situation happened to me at a previous employer. Promotions were based on, pretty much, getting onto a flashy new project and getting noticed. I was deemed “essential” for the projects I was on, so the new and interesting projects went to new hires. I ended up leaving, as I was really stuck in a dead-end there.

    I guess the moral is don’t be too good at what you do? :)

  3. Mike C.*

    I too was denied a promotion for “being too valuable at what I do”, and I’m working my best to leave the company. I suggest you do the same.

    Look, your company doesn’t care about you or your career. They’re not above bickering and turf wars that directly affect your career advancement. You have the proof of this right in front of you. You’ve been there for two years, why do they need another three months?

  4. Anonymous*

    We have a policy here that a manager can’t ask for more than 2 weeks transition time for internal moves, because if the employee quit the company to go somewhere else, likely that’s all they’d give.

    This ensures the new manager doesn’t demand that they need the person on Monday and the old manager can’t ask for a 3 month lead time.

    Our Managers often work together to find a date that suits their needs – whether it be the following Monday, 2 weeks or 4 weeks from now…they can decide amongst themselves. If they can’t agree, it’s a 2 week transition time.

    This works really well in our culture…but we’re also manufacturing for the most part so our employees flex and positions can be back-filled fairly easily.

  5. Chuck*

    Gene makes an excellent point.

    The decision-makers may have some sense of guilt and that may motivate her to give you a raise in light of how things played out in this situation. And, if you get the raise, it may allow you to leverage that higher figure into your next job. (I also agree with some other comments – it’s time for you to update your resume and start looking seriously at other career options.)

  6. Carol*

    Often when I hear someone say they were passed over for promotion because they were too critical to their current job, it’s because they are indeed too critical. When you go on vacation, is someone there to back you up, or does the work basically stop until you return (or worse, do you never take vacation)? What did you do to share intellectual capital, cross-train people in your tasks, and otherwise set up the best possible case for transition? I’m not saying you’re at fault here, but showing your manager that it’s taken care of before it’s official goes a long way to relieving their stress about losing you.

    1. Mike C.*

      I appreciate the proactive tone of your post and this can help in some workplaces.

      The problem with many workplaces in these times is that owners have decided that they’re going to have as few employees as possible. Crosstraining is a wonderful idea, but it assumes that there are people who can stop what they’re doing and take over. My coworkers are regularly working 10 to 30 hours of overtime over the two week pay period, so there’s no way this would work here.

      Frankly, your answer is too rational and reasonable. The issue going on here is one of office politics and turf warfare. The OP works hard, and her manager doesn’t want to let her go – assuming that she’ll always be happy doing what she does at the wage she’s currently paid. It’s beyond me to understand why so many managers don’t understand the human need for challenge, growth and development. We need it to be happy and functional adults.

      1. Anonymous*

        In my mind, while it would be nice to ensure someone knows how to do your job, or you have properly documented procedures so someone could take over in a pinch, I think it’s really up to the Supervisor to make sure this is in place. What happens if this employee gets hit by a bus tomorrow? Sure, they’re a critical employee but there HAS to be a plan for if / when they’re not around!

        1. Mike C.*

          Yeah, you’re right. This is totally and completely a management issue. The fact that it’s not taken care of adds more weight to the idea that people are simply being held back due to laziness.

          1. Anonymous*

            Being in a similar situation Management is definitely to blame. What kind of manager would put himself in a position that one person could be worth such value. Not wise for the business or for their future! Good people sometimes take a little extra effort to keep, but are worth the investment. Happy employees are more productive and cost a company less in the long run. I’m sure the writer has one foot out of the door already, as there is no winning this type of battle when the manager knows what flaws will be revealed with his style after this person leaves.

    2. Curtis*

      I know that our your post is a couple of years old, however, a similar issue happened to me working where I am at. The variance is this, first, the did not post thw position, second, there was a last minute interview – position was not posted, or let known, the interview candidate was hired, and the hiring manager after telling the group about his new hire came to me and stated “I was to valible to move up, and that i could not do both positions” funny thing is I was doing both, working till late, to make sure that nothing had dropped. I have been in management levels throughout my career, and I beleive this to be a case where the employer blocked me from interviewing for this position since the persons who would have interviewed me (my peers) would have approved.

      this has been a few months now and I am looking outside the company, but is there something that I can do legally?

  7. Anonymous*

    gotta love corprate favortisim and tough ego’s. Sounds like they are blowing smoke up your a$$. typical answer when they are backed in a corner. funny how they always find a way to end up in their favor. The other guy said it best “THEY DONT CARE ABOUT YOU OR YOUR FUTURE” only about their pay and taking credit for your work so they can get bonus’s for things running great. You can rest assured they will walk all over you untill you leave. it will never change, it is the nature of the hunger for power mentality/cut throat. cut your throat for their benefit. same people would let their buddies get promoted or change the rules when its their carrer in question.

  8. Anon*

    This happened to me. I have an MBA and specialize in a specific type of IT. I got laid off last year so I networked my way into a job servicing priority accounts. After 7 months, I was recruited internally for a job within my career scope at my new company making 2.5 times the current salary. The company had this job posted in the big 6 metro areas without a single qualified applicant in the 6 weeks it had been posted so they were inviting me to apply and waived the requirement of being in each position for at least a year. My department fought with the IT department. My Manager reported back to me that they couldn’t technically stop me from applying but that if I applied they would not give me a good reference and pretty much destroy my professional reputation because I hadn’t been in the position for the minimum year required. I knew that if I applied and DIDN’T get the job that I would be doubly screwed so I told them I wouldn’t apply internally. The sad thing is that this is that the reason they refused is because they would get dinged on their budget for having “high turnover” because while the position was in the same company, it wasn’t in the same department. You did not have to fulfill this minimum year as long as you were promoted within the same department. Afterwards to add insult to injury: my boss got promoted after only being in her position for 9 months to a position outside the department. I don’t really have any advise but I did negotiate two things from my manager by staying. 1) a small raise 2) a pre-emptive internal reference (where my boss sends a direct recommendation email to the hiring manager before they select who they will interview) for any job that I apply for, for which I am qualified once I fulfill the time obligation.

  9. Charles*

    “So you’re so valuable in your current position that their solution is to do something that’s likely to drive you away from the company completely (and probably without the three-month transition time your manager was requiring here)?”

    This is dumb.

    Yep, it sure is dumb; but unfortunately, not rare. So many bosses and organizations shoot themselves in the foot with stupid decisions like this; as Mike C says, sometimes you will just have to work harder to find another organization to sell your services to. And, even then some folks are so dumb thsat they still won’t get why you left!

    Good luck OP!

  10. Anonymous*

    How many levels of management does it take until all common sense is lost? You would think with all these EVP’s someone would have had the common sense to point out how ridiculous this is…..and then they will probably be that company that is shocked when the OP leaves after “all they’ve done for them”….

  11. Anonymous*

    Been there. Heck, am there now. My position, I am the same level as my co workers, but I understand this project better than any of them. When my boss goes on vacation, I am left in charge. My boss goes to meetings, I am in charge. My boss does not want to talk to them, well you get the picture.

    I have already been passed over once for promotion as I am too valuable to the project that I am on/ it would harm our team too much to move me to another task in the department. While all these others who are not as important get promoted, I sit in team heck. I agree about never make yourself too valuable. They will not pay you what you are worth and WILL pass you over for promotions for fear that they will lose a good employee.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Would you ever consider talking with your manager about your desire to advance and your hope that you could do it without leaving the company?

      1. Anonymous*

        Not the guy above but being the OP I have talked to my manger about this topic and even followed up with an email chain to him and his boss. No resolution, no discussion about my future, and possibly get a raise if they feel it is justified. My boss also told me that he has heard enough about it and he doesn’t want to hear anymore. I will be working for him until I quit he said. Kinda makes the point clear about what the management team thinks about guys who have given everything, worked ridiculous amounts of overtime to ensure projects are done on schedule, sacrificed their personal lives. Means nothing when they are trying to look good and justify their own positions by taking credit for your efforts.

        1. Mike C.*

          Be sure to write a review of your company when you leave on It would be nice thing for those who come after you.

        2. Gene*


          Not only is it time to look for a new job, but it sounds like time to start doing the minimum your job requires. And start stealing every office supply in sight. ;)

        3. rascal*

          I think you and I work for the same company….managing several jobs at once with no way out, 12 hour days at work then more at home, shouldering the burden and the blame day in and out while others are recognized for either doing something small or taking credit for your ideas.

          Funny how competence and ability are viewed essential but not as important as employees in the big picture of company success. Limiting mobility doesn’t work, people simply find another way to be appreciated.

          Good luck OP, and keep the faith in finding a way out.

      2. Anonymous*

        I talked to my supervisor once about it, when someone I recommended to our company was promoted to running a team on a separate project within a few weeks of starting and I was still in our team. I was told that the client (we provide services for one client only) was very aware of what I did and that they wanted me to stay on this part of the project because I have become such an expert. I regularly get CC’ed by the client on conversations that I really do not have any direct interest in, just so that I am able to keep the team on track. While it is nice to be noticed, it would be nicer with the $$$ that the job I am doing actually gets paid. Basically, I was told that I will not be raised any higher as long as this project is ongoing (which is a multi-year project). This even though I was promised in the interview that the entry level position was only temporary and if I showed them my ability to lead that promotions would be relatively quick.

  12. anonymous*

    This situation is all but too common. I was in one place where they actually attempted to put the applicant on probation – retroactively — to prevent her from advancing. She had been offered the new, higher position, and her boss attempted a punishment maneuver to hold her back.

    How was it resolved? The employee resolved it herself. She asked to meet with her manager and the director. She told them – I am either going to that new position or going out the door. You have five minutes to decide the issue.

    Given the fact that no sober HR department would allow a ‘retroactive probation’ to stop an employee from advancing — hoo boy the lawyers would love that one! — they had to wave the white flag of surrender. It would have been a lot better of them to say “great, good luck, but let’s work out a transition, OK?”

  13. Chloe*

    One thing I would advise you on. If you don’t already have them get a copy of all your past reviews before you leave the company (preferably NOW). Copy as much of your HR folder as the company will allow you.

    1. Long Time Admin*

      The same thing has happened to me, as well. This was in the 70’s and all the managers were on serious power trips, and trying to build their own empires. It was more about their egos than business. The happiest day of my life was my last day of work there!

      I agree with Chloe about copying your personnel folder. Do it, and take everything home. If you leave it in your desk, it could disappear.

  14. FrauTech*

    It could be that while your manager considers you too valuable that a higher up who was stopping this just doesn’t like you for some reason. I have been in the same position before, lost out on a higher paying job in another department. The first few people in my chain of command didn’t even know anything about it until it was over. It was an executive who sort of knew me and decided that he knew better than the hiring manager and that my “place” was in the department I was in already. Executives often don’t realize the pay increase you might be looking at as they’ve already cashed in, and they certainly don’t realize the time that drags on in a position that you are overqualified for.

  15. Cruella*

    You don’t say what your position is, outside of being “one of the top people in (your) category.”

    Are you in a position that it would take a long time ( like, say 3 months perhaps) to locate and train your replacement?

    Is the position you were interviewing for one that someone could more easily be trained for green off the street than the one you would be vacating?

    These questions could have played heavily into the decisions of all parties.

    If you truly feel your manager is holding you back, that situation is unlikely to change and it might be time to look for a job elsewhere.

    1. Mike C.*

      It doesn’t really matter because the other department actually wanted him, but were stymied by the current management.

      1. Cruella*

        But were they stymied because of one of the two questions asked above? It’s really hard to tell with just this side of the account.

        It sounds like the OP was “too valuable” in the current position, in part, because it could possibly take a great deal of time to replace him. It could have been determined that it was easier to fill the new position than the one he was vacating.

        If the current management didn’t want him to leave, the manager wouldn’t have said “yes” to the request to interview in the other department. A manager wanting to keep someone would have said “I’d really hate to lose you, what can I do to keep you?” It is also doubtful the manager would have shared the email exchange with the employee he was underhandedly trying hard to keep, because that fact would then have come to light. If the other department really wanted him, they would have kept negotiating.

        The OP writes that they will most likely leave regardless of the outcome. Perhaps he should move forward with that.

        1. Mike C.*

          You’re thinking rationally here, stop that! :p

          Look, it’s entirely possible that the current manager figured it wouldn’t go as far as it did or that they would put a stop to it if the hiring process did – which is what happened.

          A good manager who wants to keep someone ~AND~ actually cares about employee development would say something like “what can I do to keep you”. A manager that simply wants the status quo will simply figure that no one has the guts to leave their job in this economy. There is no incentive to care when you believe those under you have no other options.

          If you read the article, the e-mail chain was shared with the poster. It shows the bickering between the two departments and the crazy requirement for a three month lead time. “My manager showed me the email chain from the EVPs that were fighting over me but eventually the promotion side gave up. ”

          So this is really a matter of “my manager doesn’t give a rat’s ass about me”, and the responses from the poster support that assertion.

          I just hope if ever put into that position I would have the guts to say, “I’m moving on to a new position, either with a new department or a new company”.

  16. Anonymous*

    Update…. I finally sent a follow up email with all of the previous (few weeks of no response) emails to HR, and the boss’s. After a day of silence and a weekend, I received a call the next Monday from the Director who said what can we do to keep you, we screwed up and your management didn’t handle this very well. Next day I was informed I would be allowed to take the job with a 2 month transition period. I have been in my new position for a month and some change and still work with and help out the other guys from my old team. I guess sometimes you just have to go for it and see what happens.

  17. T*

    similar situation, I had been applying for internal positions, my company merged with another company so more opputunities opened up, got to the point the recruiters would just call and say we are going to skip the phone interview, and you are scheduled for xyz interview, those interviews went great after the fifth and getting rejected yet again, one of the recruiters called me after hours and was like I want to give you a heads up all the interviews you have been on they wanted to hire you, but your manager is not giving you a good review which I dont understand cause your performance reviews you are exceeding all goals and you haven’t been written up, you need to talk to her. Next day I went in her office and asked why she was giving me bad reviews, when at my last performance review she encouraged me to seek other oppurtunities, she was like I want to mold you for team manager, I was like that is not want I want I have been manager for a call center before not interested. I told her I think you are keeping me back because I am only one on team meeting and exceeding goals and overall top department performer. I dont want to have to escalate this up. I applied for a senior position in another department, interview went well and she showed me what she was sending to recruiter for my review and I got the job.

  18. CYCO1631*

    My company wants to promote me, promised me a promotion, started me at my new task. Then, the company’s union said no. The solution they came up with was to fire me and rehire me in the new position. Wouldn’t be an issue, if I didn’t have to loose the time spent, and the back pay that I was promised to compensate for doing the new job at the old rate. Feeling F*&#ed.

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