I promoted one employee and now her former peer is unhappy

A reader writes:

I have two employees who have been long-time friends. They were going out to lunch on a regular basis, had the same job title, came up through the same industry, and were basically a complimentary pair to the work they were doing. However, the time came when I needed to promote one of them as I needed a full-time manager for their team and my company is very hierarchal so I also needed someone with a manager title to help me push changes in the organization as well as represent their team on projects.

After a fairly lengthy observation and evaluation period, I finally picked one of them to promote and now there are problems. Basically, the new manager is treating her former peer and now employee almost like her personal assistant and is using him to deal with other team members instead of communicating directly with them.

To add to that, I’m fairly certain the person that wasn’t picked feels some resentment towards his former coworker because I know he wanted the job, and he is now looking to get transferred. Unfortunately, with their specific skillsets I can’t afford to lose anyone on that team right now, so a transfer is out of the question. In addition to his frustration, he officially cited in his application for another position that he was looking to expand his skills and learn new applications. I also know that he was expecting that if he didn’t get the job he would not be expected to continue coaching new team members when we finally had a formal manager in the role.

Aside from these recent developments, both are excellent employees so I am not looking to get rid of anyone either.

Well, your newly promoted employee isn’t excellent — at least not in her current role. She’s treating an employee who isn’t her personal assistant as if he is and she’s not communicating directly with other team members. So you have a big problem there that you need to address. You need to explain to her that neither of these things are okay, and you need to coach her on what good management looks like … not just leave her to operate like this.

As for the employee who didn’t get the job and now wants to transfer, you can certainly block his transfer because you “can’t afford to lose anyone right now.” But if you block opportunities for him to advance in your company, he’s eventually going to do it by leaving your company for a different one. So either way, you’re going to end up losing someone on your team; it’s just a question of how long it will take. If he can get a new internal position on his merits, standing in his way will only breed resentment and ultimately leave you with the problem you’re trying to avoid anyway. (And really, the concept of “letting” someone move to a different job that someone else wants to hire them for is hugely problematic. Guess how productive and engaged those people are after not being allowed to move?)

Meanwhile, though, your bigger problem is that you promoted someone to a manager role who doesn’t know how to manage. So your focus right now needs to be on managing well yourself — by giving her feedback and clearer guidance about how to function in her new role (and how not to).

{ 148 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Just a personal anecdote/observation here – as an employee who was recently blocked from an internal transfer myself, I can say I have spent the better part of my work time looking for a new job and interviewing with a vengeance. Have to agree with AAM, this boss is going to lose that employee regardless.

    1. Anonymous*

      Totally agree. Just interviewed for an internal position that is a better fit for me and the potential manager told me that I am his first choice. But we are both concerned I’ll be blocked due to “value” in current role. If that happens, I intend to leave as soon as I find something else.

      1. Megan*

        I know this is super-late, but what’s to stop you from giving notice at your current job and accepting the offer for the new one, within the same company?

        1. nofelix*

          They likely won’t get a formal offer if their current boss is against it. Generally the new boss will have other candidates to chose from whereas the current boss won’t want to start a hiring process. And the switch could be seen as ‘poaching’. So whoever makes the call over internal transfers would give the current boss priority.

    2. Jane Doe*

      I agree. Also, if the employee is offered a position in another department and you get into a tug-of-war with another manager over him, it’s likely that employee will not go out of his way to be accommodating or helpful in the future even if he’s in a position to do so.

    3. Mimi*

      I’ve done it myself – and it might have taken a little longer than I’d hoped, but I did end up leaving the organization in order to advance. It’s not a question of if, OP, but when….

      1. J*

        Just curious… How can someone “block” you from an internal transfer? Ultimately you are accepting a different position than your current role. Assuming you aren’t trying to transfer under the same manager, how can he/she block you?

        Employee: I am resigning to accept a different position.
        Bad Manager: No, I do not accept your resignation.
        Employee: Oh ok, I’ll just go sit at my desk and be quiet.

        1. jennie*

          Well you’re not resigning, you’re transferring. You’ll be employed by the same company. You’re free to resign from the company but not from a specific department to take a job in another department.

          So, in some companies, your current manager will have some say in whether you can transfer or not. This can be exercised by refusing to allow the transfer due to business needs, or in an even more underhanded way by giving a poor internal reference or not filing paperwork. It’s wrong and dumb and short-sighted but it happens.

        2. Jessa*

          Bad manager – refuses to put in paperwork needed (without which nothing goes forward and nobody else can do this.) This happened to someone I know they almost lost a transfer because their internal boss just refused to complete the process necessary to MOVE them to the other job. They finally got fed up and went above their head. But in a smaller company than a large national one this may not be possible to do. They missed the first week of training for the new job. Luckily it was a type of customer service that the first week involved elements of the job he happened to be DOING prior so he didn’t fail the training and lose the job.

          – refuses to provide the time off to go to the other department in order to do the processing (not required of them but permitted of them to give the time.)

          – gives reference that is decent but contains company killer language that leads other department to believe employee is not good enough for the job or in other way sabotage them via gossip.

          There are a dozen ways depending on the company culture where a manager can mess up someone’s lateral move even if they’re the best person for the job and a genuinely good employee.

  2. Joey*

    In think it’s also worth having a little heart to heart with the employee who didnt get the promotion to put things into perspective.

    1. Mike C.*

      Could you expand on this a bit? It seems to me that the employee who didn’t receive the promotion isn’t causing any problems and is in fact on the receiving end. Did I miss something?

      1. Joey*

        The op is fairly certain he’s resentful. If that’s true it’s worth telling him you’re correcting the issues with his supervisor, assuring him he’s valued, and giving him feedback about the lost promotion.

        1. BCW*

          I guess my problem is that your argument is that the OP is fairly certain he is resentful, but hasn’t actually given any examples. So even if he is resentful, if he is coming in and doing his job at the same level, the OP really shouldn’t have an issue with him. Its also possible he is a bit disappointed and the OP is just going on the assumption that he must be resentful. They are different emotions.

        2. Mike C.*

          Being resentful isn’t in and of itself a problem on the part of the employee. Sure, it stings that someone isn’t getting that managerial position and if they’re acting up because of that it’s something to have a chat about.

          But what’s really bugging me is that in addition to being treated as a personal assistant, this employee is having all internal forms of advancement blocked. Wouldn’t resentment for this be perfectly reasonable and natural?

            1. FiveNine*

              I disagree that it sounds salvageable — the employee (1) didn’t get a promotion he wanted (2) lost a friendship (3) is being treated as a personal assistant to the former friend he lost the promotion to (4) has applied for a transfer internally (5) stated in that request he wants the ability to expand his skills and (6) OP is actively doing everything to block that employee’s transfer and advancement while doing nothing about his treatment under the new manager. What exactly looks promising here??

              1. Joey*

                You may be right, but since it sounds like everything was great up until the recent events its certainly worth trying to salvage him.

        3. EngineerGirl*

          “Assuring him he’s valued”

          * two complimentary, equal, and valued employees. One gets a promotion, title, and pay raise. The other gets…extra work, and being humiliated by being treated as an assistant.
          * the one employee seeks growth opportunities and is blocked

          Tell me again how he’s being “valued”. I don’t see it. How are you SHOWING him he’s valued?

          OP, you deserved to lose this employee. First by treating equally performing employees differently, second by not addressing clear performance issues with the promoted employee, and third by blocking growth opportunities and not offering any yourself.

          1. Min*

            I agree with you on 2 and 3, but if you have two equally skilled employees and only one managerial position to fill, you have to make a choice. Or are you suggesting that the OP should have created a co-manager position since they perform at the same level?

            1. EngineerGirl*

              You don’t have to offer the same rewards – you have to offer equal ones. So the non-promoted employee could be offered a title change to technical consultant and maybe be given additional training. That is something for the OP to work with the non-promoted one.

              So many times I see management and HR types confusing “same” and “equal”. Same is not the same as equal. But it’s even worse in this case – the OP treated equal employees unequally.

              1. OP*

                Unfortunately, the company does not give me latitude to change job titles at will.

                I had one promotion to give and to simply not make the hard choice because it’s hard isn’t good leadership either.

                I’m not saying the situation is ideal and I am fully admitting that the new manager’s performance is not as expected. I did anticipate resentment but I think the situation is exacerbated by the new boss’ actions which will be corrected.

                1. EngineerGirl*

                  But you didn’t make the hard choice, which would push for equal treatment for equally performing employees. You took the easy way out by promoting one and hoping for the best.

                  You should find a way to reward both employees equally lest you come off as arbitrary and capricious . You could reward the other employee by prestigious stretch assignments, high visibility projects etc so your upper management would support you in rewarding employee.

                2. Mimi*

                  I’m not sure why you didn’t meet with employee #2 after employee #1 was promoted – at the very least, to acknowledge any disappointment he may feel. He might have expressed his desire to advance, and you might have been able to suggest some opportunities for him to expand his current skillset. Are you saying there was no conversation with him at all, following the other employee’s promotion?

                3. Jessa*

                  But you also didn’t make sure the newly promoted employee actually MANAGED. You let them run roughshod over the other employee, then blocked the potential of the 2nd employee as well.

              2. Joey*

                That’s just crazy! So everytime multiple good internal candidates apply for a job I need to offer equal rewards to all of them?

                Sorry, but that’s naive. There’s a business to run and I can’t go around coddling employees everytime they don’t get a promotion. Business decisions are made in the best interest of the business. Its wasteful to do those things when there’s no business need.

                Sorry but that’s how promotions usually work, there’s only so many opportunities, you can’t go around creating them just because it makes someone feel better.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Agreed. If someone doesn’t get a promotion, you should give them feedback about why, but you don’t have to come up with a consolation prize. If they’re very good, you should also talk with them about other development paths they might work on, but you should be doing that anyway if they’re great.

                2. EngineerGirl*

                  No, but if you want to keep valued employees you need to find a way to be fair. In this case he treated two equally performing employees very very differently. That will have a ripple effect through the organization.

                  The business has a need for hard working talented people. Cross training the one employee is a very low cost way to make the employee happy while creating a deep bench. Yet the OP is basically doing everything to prevent that – blocking transfers, deferring training to ambiguous sometime next year, and expecting the employee to shoulder non-performing employees work.

                  The key isn’t offerring consolation prizes to the employee that didn’t get a promotion. The key is offering equal (not the same) development opportunities to valued employees. It doesn’t have to be promotion but it does have to be growth.

                  If you can’t offer it then expect your good performers to leave when the economy gets better.

                3. Joey*

                  Sometimes there just aren’t opportunities to give. And if employees leave over it that’s fine too. I always expect someone every now and then to be ready to progress before I’m ready to give them opportunities. And if they find that opportunity externally before I can, well I just consider myself lucky to have had that high performer as long as I could.

          2. Chloe*

            Totally agree with this, promoting one of these two particular employees was a receipe for problems. Getting an external candidate might have been a better option. There is no way this couldn’t end in resentment, in my opinion – do I want to me managed by someone who is no better at my job than I am? No.

            And having made the promotion, now they’re treating me like their PA, and OP isn’t doing anything about it. Do I want to keep working for this person? No.

            Now OP is blocking my only chance of actually enjoying working at this company, because it doesn’t suit OP’s own needs. Is there any reason at all to continue being loyal to this job? No.

            1. Tori*

              Hiring an outsider is asking for twice the resentment. If two people perform equally and one is promoted, the other may feel resentment. But if two people perform equally and an outsider is brought in to manage them? Yikes.

  3. BCW*

    Yeah, it doesn’t sound to me like the one who didn’t get the job is the problem. Its the person you promoted as well as you. Most people would be somewhat resentful at not getting a promotion, its a normal reaction. But based on what you said, they seem to be handling it fine (unless there are things you left out). It wasn’t clear, but it seems as if he is also doing some things, like coaching, that fall under the job description of new manager. So yes, another reason that person has the right to be somewhat miffed. They are doing at least some manager work and not getting manager pay, while the person getting that pay isn’t being professional.

    As for you, you do realize how selfish you sound by saying a transfer is out of the question right? His reasons for wanting a transfer seem very legit, and your reasons for blocking them are petty. Frankly its malicious, first you deny him a promotion then block a transfer. Not cool. Maybe all 3 of you should have a meeting a lay things out. Bring up that you know he wants a transfer, and maybe you can offer something, like professional development opportunities, to entice him to stay, since it seems his reasons are wanting to expand his skill set and not necessarily pay or general unhappiness. But as Alison said, at this point you are on borrowed time with him anyway.

    1. Joey*

      I think you’re wrong. Being disappointed is fine. Holding onto resentment and letting it affect the workplace because you didn’t get a promotion is not.

      Its also not realistic to be resentful of duties being taken away that were temporary to begin with.

      And I’m not so sure about the maliciousness. If the boss thinks the company is better off by denying the transfer that’s his obligation. There’s no maliciousness about it since it doesn’t sound personal.

      1. km*

        I don’t know, I think the OP is assuming the person is frustrated in a job-performance-affecting way but not citing a ton of hard evidence. OP says that they’re “fairly certain” the person feels some resentment but doesn’t say why, doesn’t mention any particular attitude, behavior, verbal complaints, etc. The only evidence the OP has is that the non-promoted person “officially cited in his application for another position that he was looking to expand his skills and learn new applications.” Which is weird because I feel like the OP is trying to make a point of highlighting this as obvious evidence of the employee’s seething amount of resentment and frustration, when to me that reads like an incredibly bland, relatively reasonable and fairly diplomatic reason for wanting a transfer.

      2. BCW*

        I guess the problem is, to me, it doesn’t sound like the employee is doing anything to show their resentment for not being promoted, its just perceived by the OP and maybe the new manager. No where did it say that it was affecting the workplace. Even if there is resentment, being treated like a personal assistant and being made to be the go between so new manager doesn’t have to talk to other employees, that is fair to be resentful about.

        As for the coaching duties, I’m a bit unclear about it. I read it like they are still being made to coach other employees, even though that was a duty that the manager was supposed to have. Again, something that is fair to be upset about.

        And the blocking the promotion, OP doesn’t seem to think its in the company’s best interest, she thinks its in her best interest to not lose him. Very different. Plus, if another manager thinks its in the company’s best interest to have someone with his skill set, why not let that manager decide?

        1. Joey*

          Blocking the promotion is definitely short sighted, but it doesn’t sound like there’s any malicious intent.

          To me just the request to transfer is likely a sign of resentment. That’s problematic. Sure, there are issues with the boss’ behavior, but as long a the op takes care of it it doesn’t sound bad enough to leave over. I’d be more concerned that he can’t get over the lost promotion. That’s why Id sit down with him, tell him he’s valued, put the promotion issue to rest, let him know I’m taking care of the supervisor issues and talk about what we need to do to get him where he wants to be. And obviously most of that would be what he needs to do to get to the next level.

          1. Colette*

            I don’t see a request to transfer as a sign of resentment.

            It’s a sign that the employee isn’t where he wants to be (in a job where a friend was promoted, is treating him as her assistant, and where he’s doing roles he believes belong to the manager role that he’s not getting paid or recognized for doing), but that doesn’t mean that he has any hard feelings about not being chosen, or that he would have made a different decision he he had had to pick.

            In fact, in this situation, I’d be surprised if the one that wasn’t picked didn’t think about leaving.

            1. Joey*

              The op is fairly certain of it so thats what I’m basing it on. Of course the op would want to clarify that or at least say something like “I’m getting that you want to transfer because you’re unhappy with your job?”

              1. Colette*

                Here’s what the OP said about it:
                I’m fairly certain the person that wasn’t picked feels some resentment towards his former coworker because I know he wanted the job, and he is now looking to get transferred.

                I don’t see anything there that spells out resentment. It’s possible that he is resentful, but that isn’t clear in the letter. It’s also possible that the manager is projecting how she’d feel in that situation.

                1. Joey*

                  They sound like they’re in close proximity to each other. While that’s not a confirmation of resentment it sure is a warning sign.

            2. Lisa*

              a friend was promoted, is treating him as her assistant, and where he’s doing roles he believes belong to the manager role that he’s not getting paid or recognized for doing

              This is awful and the OP is letting this person farm out the job vs. doing the job. This is why the person is resentful, not because they were passed over, but because they were passed over and is DOING the job while the friend gets the title, the raise, and the credit. That would make anyone who was ok with not getting a promotion go mad.

          2. BCW*

            I didn’t necessarily see asking for a transfer as a sign of resentment. There are some job where you just aren’t growing anymore. It seems like he is there. He thought he had a chance to continue to grow in the department by getting a promotion. That didn’t pan out, so he is looking to grow in a different department with the company. That seems completely fair and valid.

            1. Jamie*

              Me too – it’s perfectly plausible that it’s exactly this and when he didn’t get the promotion he went to his plan B to grow in the company.

              Unless there are actions at which to take issue I don’t even see where resentment comes into the picture.

            2. Also Kara*

              Yep. It sounds like the employee is looking to grow; he thought the promotion was the way to do that. When it wasn’t, he sought growth another way. If the OP blocks him, he’s not going to shrug all “OK then, I guess I just won’t grow,” he’s going to look for growth opportunities at another organization – as well he should. I see nothing in the OP’s letter that would inspire loyalty. Sometimes you have to move on to move up, and everything in the OP’s letter indicates that it’s that time for this employee.

          3. Mike C.*

            Joey, you seen fixated on this concept of resentment. Why do you see being resentful as an issue in and of itself that needs fixing, rather than any sort of actions or attitudes which stream from that resentment?

            From my perspective, it would be like trying to correct an employee because they are angry or upset or experiencing any other negative emotion. If their work is going down the toilet or they’re becoming insubordinate that’s something that should be fixed, but not the emotion itself.

            Or are trying to express something else when you bring up the idea of resentment?

            1. Jamie*

              Right. My actions and attitude is the business of my employer. My feelings aren’t.

              If I can be professional, civil, and pleasant how resentful or angry I am is between me and my stomach lining.

            2. Joey*

              Its not either or its both. Resentment leads to turnover. Its my job to prevent that. While obviously its ideal to prevent the behavior that causes resentment that’s not always going to be possible. Managers are going to screw up. As an employee you’re unrealistic if you expect a manager to never screw up. So when a manager causes his employees to resent him, yes the problem needs to be corrected or the manager needs to be managed out. Employers can’t prevent managers from doing bad stuff, they can only correct it when they see it. And its just as important for employees to let go of their resentment for that bad behavior too. Too many employees have bad experiences and have a hard time letting them go.

              1. VintageLydia*

                I’m still not sure what you see this employee doing wrong that he actually needs to be coached on. It sounds like this employee is ready to move on regardless–whether it’s the promotion he didn’t get, an internal transfer, or an external job.

                1. Joey*

                  He’s not doing anything”wrong”. But he may be letting his resentment cloud his judgement. I’d just want to be sure that’s not the case.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I don’t think Joey is talking about chastising the employee, just talking to see where he’s at and if the manager can help raise his morale.

              2. Chloe*

                I think you’re expecting too much of this employee.

                They were passed over for promotion. They are being treated like crap by someone they thought was their friend, and is now their boss. They are being blocked for a transfer. They are doing some of their new boss’s work.

                You would have to be superhuman not to be resentful. Your idea of sitting down and having a discussion and putting the whole issue of the promotion to rest is just unrealistic. I think their decision to move on is actually the mature and right decision, and all the manager is doing, by blocking the transer, is guaranteeing the company will lose this person forever.

                1. AnonEMoose*

                  I agree with this. I’m also not sure of how productive a conversation with the non-promoted employee would be at this point. Because if I were the non-promoted person, I wouldn’t trust the OP as far as I could throw the Incredible Hulk.

                  Not because of being passed over for promotion. But because of the OP allowing the new manager to mistreat me and not addressing it immediately. And that’s even before I found out about the OP blocking a transfer attempt. What the OP’s actions would tell me is that the OP doesn’t care about my development or satisfaction, and the best thing I could do would be to get out as quickly as possible.

                  So if the OP were to initiate a conversation with me at this point, I’d smile and nod and make all the right noises. While getting my resume out to anyone I could think of.

                2. Rana*

                  Yes. Personally, if I was (a) passed over for a promotion, (b) turned into a personal assistant by my former friend who had been promoted, and (c) denied the opportunity to transfer to a better or at least different position elsewhere in the company, I’d be a bit vexed myself.

                  If my new manager’s supervisor, the one who’d put me in this position, then came to me to see if I was “feeling resentful” and to see how to “fix” that “problem” I would move beyond being resentful to actively irritated and even pissed. It would feel patronizing, at the very least.

                  I’d rather have a conversation about how to move forward in a way that minimizes the unpleasant side-effects of my co-worker’s promotion, and reassures me that I’m not stuck in a dead end job, than one in which someone tries to tell me what I should be feeling about the situation.

                3. Joey*

                  You’re absolutely right. Most people dig in their heels and get defensive if you describe them as resentful. I’d never do that. I’d tell him the issues with his manager are being taken care of, talk to him more about why he wants to leave, and discuss a plan to get him to where he wants to go (whether that’s a promotion or leaving the team).

                  But personally, it wouldnt surprise me if he wants to leave because he cant accept that he wasnt promoted and he doesn’t think his boss’ boss values him very much. Whether or not the boss promoted the right person is irrelevant at this point. Instead of dwelling on the lost promotion he should really be looking ahead.

        2. Pussyfooter*

          I reread the post and it says “In addition to his frustration… he was looking to expand his skills…” OP seems to think that looking for another job is proof of his frustration.

          OP never says if the not-promoted employee was correct in expecting to be free from coaching once a new manager was chosen. If he was, and is now having to shoulder even *more* of that because the new manager isn’t handling it herself, then it’s reasonable for him to want out of there.

      3. Mike C.*

        This manager is basically telling the employee “I don’t think you’re good enough to be a manager, and I’m going to prevent you from advancing in every other way as well. While that’s going on, I’ll stand by and let the person I did promote treat you like his new personal assistant”.

        Only the first is reasonable. The others basically rub the unpromoted employee’s face in the situation in a very ugly way.

        1. Ruffingit*

          +100. The OP better step in and start managing the manager because otherwise she’s not going to have to worry about the resentful employee. He’ll transfer right on out to another company.

  4. Sarah*

    AAM, thank you for addressing the issue of not allowing the unpromoted employee to transfer! This is just another underlying issue that goes “unnoticed” too often! It has happened to me and like you describe I became unengaged and left.

  5. MR*

    Alison’s second paragraph was my first reaction to this.

    Remember, nobody is irreplaceable. What if something happens to this employee tonight and they are never able to return to work? Guess what, you are looking for a new employee anyways! You might as well do what you can to help this person out, otherwise, it’s just going to get ugly. Besides, I’m sure the company would rather have a person transfer internally, as opposed to leaving the company all together.

  6. Anonymous*

    It doesn’t say that duties “were taken away” – it says that one person got promoted and now the other person is now taken on part of their new position’s duties – being a manager.

    And it’s perfectly natural to “resent” that fact you didn’t get a promotion and to “resent” that person after they’ve treated you like a personal flunky. It may not sound personal, but it does sound like poor management. The OP has promoted someone who they hadn’t coached and set them loose on a entire department.

  7. Anonymous*

    When I felt that one employee was being groomed to be promoted before me, I had no problem with the idea of her being promoted per se. She was great at her job and very friendly, so it made sense. However, I was looking to advance myself, and the idea of her being promoted before me, when I’d been there longer, did worry me. Was I doing something wrong? Was my performance sub par? Was I even worthy of being promoted. It prompted a lot of anxiety about my own performance, but any time I tried to talk to my manager about it, he would shut down the conversation entirely, or try to talk me out of wanting that role. He never came out and said I wasn’t lead material, but it was obvious that’s what he wanted to say.

    So he may have some negative feelings for not being picked, but if you shared with him why you made your decision, and what he could do to have a better shot at a promotion in the future, as well as address how his newly appointed manager is treating him, he may feel better about the situation.

    1. jesicka309*

      And follow through!

      I went for a promotion and got knocked back because of my lack of admin experience and emotional maturity. I spent a year doing my own studies (at my own expense!!) and working on the emotional part privately.

      A year later, the job came up again, and I applied, only to be told that my external studies looked like I had my foot half way out the door, and that they wanted someone that planned on staying for a very long time…not to mention, they’d been grooming another employee for the role.

      If I hadn’t had my foot out the door then, I do now! Honestly.

  8. B*

    The employee who did not get promoted is not the problem. He is being treated like a personal assistant, doing the work of the manager by training and addressing his coworkers, and yet is not being paid for nor given the proper title. And by blocking a transfer you will most certainly lose them, I would not blame them one bit. In fact, I am upset for the atmosphere you and the new manager have created for this person.

    You need to sit down with this new manager and explain that is not how you manage. If they are leading a team, lead the team. If there is an assistant use that person, if not then do the work yourself or at least spread it around if it is a must. And if you truly value this person, let them transfer. You never know when they may come back to you.

    1. Anonymously Anonymous*

      And ” you never know when they may come back to you.”

      That needs to stew a bit for the OP. It seems like this person is doing everything right but he is being used and his chances are being blocked.

    2. Mike C.*

      And if you truly value this person, let them transfer. You never know when they may come back to you.

      A saying here where I work: “The foot you step on today may be connected to the ass you must kiss tomorrow.”

  9. Chinook*

    DH twice went through being blocked for a transfer because his boss couldn’t lose him. All this led to was his being resentful of the boss and the organization and looking for work elsewhere. Ironically, if that boss hadn’t blocked the transfer but, instead, had let it live or die on its own merits (i.e. the transfer wasn’t guaranteed if the boss agreed), DH would probably still be there today (but then I wouldn’t be back in Alberta, so I am not complainign.)

    1. Lynn*

      I’ve worked at companies that have a rule that your manager cannot block an internal transfer because they “can’t lose you”; all internal transfers must stand or fall on their own merits. After seeing too much of this at other companies, I can see why they made the blanket policy. “The graveyards are full of indispensable men.” –Charles DeGaulle

  10. Rich*

    Like Anonymous’ comment about being blocked for an internal transfer and looking for a new job, I will second this. At my most recent job, the environment was fairly abusive, I was turned down for a promotion, then told there was no way for me to move to other departments, etc. It wasn’t a difficult choice to leave. The lesson for supervisors: dead morale will work against you.

  11. Katie the Fed*

    well this is terrible leadership – on the part of the OP.

    First off, did both employees even want the job? I missed that part – did they apply?

    If they did, you should sit them both down for separate conversations. To the new manager – why they got the job, what you expect, and then start coaching and training. Being a new manager is HARD! I was there a year ago. It’s terrifying and different and bewildering. It’s even harder when you have friends you’re managing.

    For the one who didn’t get the job – explain why (as gently as possible) and explain what the person needs to do to be more competitive for promotions in the future. And yes, recognize that the person might do better in a different department – would help the new manager, and would help the employee get more experience/opportunities. I think it’s bad management to keep someone from transferring – at the very least explain the reasons and what conditions would need to be in place for you to support a transfer. My old boss tried to keep me from doing rotations because I was too mission critical. That’s why he’s my old boss.

      1. WWWONKA*

        I also feel the OP is a POOR manager. To allow this to go on is just wrong. You ARE going to lose the other person. It’s just a matter of time.

    1. fposte*

      And also discuss with the not-chosen employee what growth possibilities might be available in the future. But generally, don’t forget free will: if you want an employee to stay, make them *want* to stay. All I’m hearing in the post is making them want to go.

  12. Pussyfooter*

    *If* your new manager is not doing the duties you promoted her for, you can’t let those duties fall on someone else’s head instead of holding her to her job responsibilities. I’ve never been a full manager, but if I was burdened with my new boss’ work for a while, then her boss came down, set things right, and apologized to me, that could keep me in an otherwise good job.

  13. Mena*

    The employee that you promoted is the problem, not the one that was not promoted. The promoted person doesn’t seem to understand her role or responsibilities; as her manager, you need to define these and coach.

    As for the unpromoted employee seeking a transfer, do you really want to block a successful employee from persuing another opportunity within the company? Either way, you’re going to end up with a position to fill.

  14. dejavu2*

    I agree that the promoted employee (not to mention the OP) sounds like the root of all difficulty here.

    If the non-promoted employee is stuck performing a bunch of managerial “coaching” duties that were supposed to be handled by the promoted employee, AND the non-promoted employee is so indispensable, can you promote the non-promoted employee? Perhaps the manager can be the only team lead, but maybe the other guy can get a title/salary bump to somewhere between where he is now and the manager role?

    As an attorney, I used to do some employee-side employment law, and it would *amaze you* to know how often all it would take is a nominal promotion to turn a very unhappy employee into a happy employee. Sometimes people really do just want a modicum of recognition and a glimmer of empathy.

  15. Brittany*

    OP – imagine you’re reading this letter as if it was coming from your employee to Alison:

    “Dear AAM,

    My current job up until recently has been great. I really enjoy my coworkers, one in particular who I’ve encountered frequently in my career path, and we work very well together on a team.

    Recently, the time came for one of us to be promoted and it was my coworker. I was very happy for her and encouraged to move forward with the progression of my own career. However, since my coworker has taken on this new role, there has been an obvious shift in workload. I am now not only doing the tasks I was responsible for previously, but my new manager is treating me as if I am her personal assistant. In addition to this, she is having me take on the role of facilitating a majority of the discussions she should be having herself with the people she manages, which makes me uncomfortable. Prior to the promotion of my colleague, I was also coaching new team members, which was expected to be taken off my place when we finally had a formal manager in the role, but it hasn’t.

    Because of these recent events and because I like my company and enjoy the work I am doing, I submitted an application for a transfer. I am looking to expand my skills and learn new applications, but I don’t believe this is possible considering the feedback I’ve gotten from my manager. What should I do in terms of next steps?”

    Alison’s feedback would most likely be for your coworker to speak with you. Part of being a good manager is having the uncomfortable discussions – that’s why you’re a manager. You need to sit down with both employees and explain what the expectations are and stop the personal assistant nonsense. It upsets me that you see it but haven’t nipped that in the bud. Even if you were not blocking this employee transfer for your own agenda, he will most likely have his resume out there due to the bad blood and uncomfortable situation it’s going to create with the new manager. I hope you’re able to salvage this before it’s too late.

  16. Lydia Pinkham*

    I think there’s an underlying issue here – if you can’t afford to lose a single member of a team, it’s likely you are actually understaffed. Is the reason that the new manager is using her former peer as a personal assistant because she so swamped with her new responsibilities? I agree that the new manager needs some guidance, but what you are seeing might be the symptom, not the cause.

  17. Anonymously Anonymous*

    Also OP you stated that ‘I know he was expecting if he didn’t get the job that he wouldnt be expected to continue coaching new team members’

    It sounds like you are the source of these problems. Was this discussed during your observation and evaluation period when they were vying for the role. He’s not resentful only because he didnt get promoted but because of a failed promise as well. Now you want to add to that by blocking his transfer?

  18. Anonymous*

    “Unfortunately, with their specific skillsets I can’t afford to lose anyone on that team right now, so a transfer is out of the question.”

    The arrogance and cluelessness in this statement is astonishing. It seems like AAM gets a fair number of questions from good managers in tight spots. Other times, it seems like awful managers turn to her to validate their own poor decisions and lack of skills. Reading this blog has been a real eye-opener into the managerial mindset.

      1. Chloe*

        + 1,000.

        OP just seems so detached from what they need – motivated employees. This whole scenario is basically How to Demotivate An Employee and Guarantee They Will Leave 101.

  19. Mike C.*

    In addition to everything said above, if your employees are so great and they’re looking to move on, it’s time for some upward salary adjustments and public recognition for hard work done.

    If you “can’t find it in the budget”, and you can’t see a way to let them advance, then be prepared for them to leave as you can no longer afford them.

  20. My 2 Cents*

    My hubby had a terrible manager, but even that terrible manager realized what the OP hasn’t: Hubby needed a change and wanted to transfer to a different role for a few years. He talked to his manager and the manager said “I hate to lose you, but if your heart isn’t in it and I don’t allow you to go then you’ll just quit, so I would be dumb to stand in your way. At least you stay with the company this way.”

    OP, I don’t think you are at fault here, but I also don’t think you realize that your department is in crisis level NOW, it won’t be in crisis when the employee leaves.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      This is a good point. And there is always the future possibility of changes in the department, which means the employee can always transfer back. If you lose him, he’ll be gone forever.

  21. Gilbey*

    I am a little concerned about the OP’s managerial skills. The person she choose to promote is not doing the job well and the OP doesn’t seem to want to address that issue. If the new manager is delegating her duties, tell her to stop and do the job she was promtoted to do.

    Maybe the co-worker that didn’t get the job is just plain ticked because the new manager is just bad at her job and that is not being dealt with.

    Who wouldn’t want to then leave the position ? A good manager would encourage development and understand why an employee would need to make that decision and not block the transfer.

    I think the OP has lost the employee at this point. No promotion, doing the job of the manager promoted over him and being treated poorly and now being denied a transfer? What exactly did he do wrong to deserve all this?

    You choose who you thought was best and apparently that was not the right decision. Be a manager and do something about that.
    The other employee wants to transfer. Help him. Yes you will need to hire but that’s business. He could have easily just given you a notice and good bye. You have a chance to know up front and start looking for someone to replace him.

    OP, you have some major thinking to do regarding your part in this.

    1. OP*

      I think you’re making some pretty major assumptions. Look at my reply below as to why this has not already been addressed. I purposely wrote this in because I knew I would not see my new manager until this week.

      I know this is pretty emotional for people, but please judge me on the facts and not by trying to fill in the blanks with information you don’t have. I don’t say that to be harsh, I’m sure you’d want to be treated the same way.

      I’m not perfect. I may have even chosen the wrong person. Your manager will make mistakes. Now all I want to do is fix this before I lose a good employee and possibly two if this gets out of hand.

      1. SC in SC*

        OP…I agree. I believe some have gone a bit overboard with their evaluation of the situation and come to conclusions not based on fact but on conjecture. Based on your additional comments it looks like you see where you’ve made some mistakes and all you can do now is damage control. As in most business, good communication is the key so you have a couple of employees you need to work with for different reasons. I don’t see this as a lost cause although you’ll feel some pain for a bit. Good luck.

  22. OP*

    So sorry I was not able to respond sooner. It has been an incredibly busy day and I just now saw this question was answered.

    I did glance at some of the responses and I do see the ire about blocking the transfer. The only position available is on another team that also reports up to me and it is a lateral move, so I am not blocking him from advancing or additional pay.

    His concerns about his current skillset and desire to learn more is duly noted and we will be starting a cross-training program early next year. There will also be other training opportunities for him to learn new skills. Honestly, if he was able to walk into the other role and already had the right expertise I wouldn’t be able to stop him.

    I am worried that I will lose him and if I do I’ll take responsibility for it. It’s a risk I have chosen to take and hope we can alleviate it by fixing the manager problem.

    I am disappointed in the performance of my new manager but Alison is correct that she needs coaching. I have not addressed it already because either she or I have been out of the office on travel assignment or vacation for the last 2 weeks. I agree with her team member that the manager should be coaching our junior team member. I will be meeting with her this week to talk about the attempted transfer, not dealing directly with DIRECT reports, and making sure she understands that expertise is more important than hierarchy. In my world view I am not “better” than any of the team members but I do shoulder the responsibility of running the teams. She needs to do the same and remember that she needs her team to support her which means treating them like she needs them more than they need her.

    1. Anonymous*

      OP, your original words were, “a transfer is out of the question.” With the way you’re backtracking now, does that mean you’ll let your employee go when something else opens up? Which is it?

      If people are critical on here, it’s because a good many of us have worked for someone like you. You sound like a nightmare.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Hey now. I don’t think we have enough information to say that. I do see problematic behavior here, but I think that’s unwarranted.

        That said, OP, one thing I’m hearing in your follow-ups is sort of a lack of sense of urgency around this stuff. I hear you that you’ve both been traveling, but this stuff can cause resentment and cause bad patterns to form really quickly. I hope you’ll address it ASAP!

        1. OP*

          Thanks. I feel like I’m being pretty harshly judged by this one incident.

          FYI – When I took over 5 teams from a previous director the teams were running well but they were also somewhat ruled by fear by my predecessor. I come from a different school of thought and morale has improved a great deal in the last year. This is the first incident we’ve had to deal with since I took over.

          I have good managers working for me and they have good employees. Up until now these teams pretty much ran themselves and I’ve been routinely communicating to the teams about corporate changes. We are in a transition and there have been a lot of layoffs. It has been a struggle to maintain morale but I’ve found being upfront about changes and proactive about addressing concerns has kept the teams efficient.

          What they have NOT seen is that behind the scenes I have been fighting for their jobs. I was asked to let someone go and was able to justify keeping their position. I had another employee request a transfer that was a step up, a pay increase, and a good career move and I supported him even though he was valuable as well. The difference was that he was going to be able to step into that role where the open position really needs a person with senior level experience on the skills required. I spend much of my time promoting the work my teams do so we stay off layoff lists.

          The manager with the open position handled the transfer issue and I think he did it well. We will close the loop after I talk to the new manager this week. Alison’s advice was excellent and I thought an outside perspective would be helpful. It was. Although I had planned on coaching the new manager more, and am surprised at how poorly I think she is treating her friend and now employee, the transfer request caught me by surprise. However, I do not want to address it directly until I’ve had a chance to talk to the new manager because ultimately she needs to make this right.

          That said, we (Meaning myself and my management team) do need to get more aggressive about instituting a cross training plan and I am rethinking the timeline. I don’t want to lose a good employee and I hope to see him eventually develop into a leadership role himself someday. I think the concern is partly that his specialized skillset does not transfer to other roles well and if he gets laid off he will not be able to find another job in this area. (Also, he is in no danger of getting laid off but I apparently need to have a private conversation with him about that.) His desire to expand his skills is reasonable and we can provide that without taking him away from his current position. I believe that is entirely separate from his treatment but I think it was just a “straw that broke the camel’s back” moment for him.

          1. Chloe*

            This is very interesting and I’m glad you added some background. It sounds like the promotion was handled without any input from either candidate, and that (to me) is quite odd. Asking people to apply, interviewing, then discussing the reasons for the appointment would have been a courteous way to deal with the situation. Then you unliaterally decided that this person could not transfer. In other words, this person has no control over the job they are doing. No-one wants to be in that position. Add to that all the new manager’s problems, and honestly, there is very little about this scenario that I would find even remotely appealing.

            I’m sure you’ve done many good things, and yes you’re possibly being judged harshly, but you did talk about this employee in your question to Alison as though they were simply a resource to be used as you see fit, and not as a whole person. Of course, ultimately its your perogative to treat your team members as you see fit, but it seems like you want to do the right thing by this person.

            I hope it all works out for you, and I think if you can put yourself in this persons shoes, you’ll have a better chance.

            1. Chloe*

              Plus, one thing that no-one has mentioned so far is the major blow to his pride – he was an equal with this person, and now they are managing him. If that was me, I’d probably feel embarassed and disappointed, and like I was being judged by everyone.

              I’m sure many will disagree with that, but honestly, this is a human not a robot and being passed over for promotion can really hurt.

          2. EngineerGirl*

            Wow. Have you considered that the employee is being bullied by the promoted employee and is sucking it up because he knows he is less employable than others? His transfer was an attempt to get out of an intolerable situation and remain loyal. But you blocked it.

            The employee has seen you help others but not him. Your words of value are chaff in the wind.

            I see you talking these issues far too passively. Let him out from under the abusive employee. Tell him he is now staff and give him a special assignment. Do it NOW.

            1. SC in SC*

              Wait a second…now we think the employee is being bullied? I haven’t read anything that would support that. There are problems that need to be addressed immediately but bullying doesn’t appear to be one of them. As for promoting the other employee, that may not be possible. First of all you don’t offer consolation prizes to people. There was one spot and it was filled for better or for worse. Second, we know nothing about this organization and how they make decisions about staffing, pay increases, titles, etc. It’s very easy to just tell the OP to promote the person now but that may be impossible.

              1. EngineerGirl*

                No one – absolutely no one – is calling for consolation prizes. It’s a ridiculous concept. What people are calling for is treating two equally valued employees equally and fairly. They are saying that it is wrong to offer growth opportunities to only one when there are so many ways to offer growth. It’s naieve to think that a badly treated emloyee is going to stick around.

            2. Elizabeth West*

              Meh, I don’t see bullying in this. I see ineptitude on the part of a new manager, who may think that managing means “Oh, I get to delegate,” and doesn’t understand quite how to do that. And who also may have possibly developed an attitude along with it, because now she is at a higher rank. But the OP does need to deal with this fairly quickly before it gets any worse.

          3. Elise*

            “Unfortunately, with their specific skillsets I can’t afford to lose anyone on that team right now, so a transfer is out of the question.”

            “The difference was that he was going to be able to step into that role where the open position really needs a person with senior level experience on the skills required.”

            Which is is? These are not the same thing.

            If the first…why are you now trying to make other excuses?

            If the second…why wouldn’t you let him apply and let the other manager decide if he is right for the role?

          4. BCW*

            After reading this, you honestly don’t come across any better. You seem to be trying to justify your lack of action because you think you were judged harshly on here. Let me be clear, I am quite often in the minority of opinions here, so I get how it can be. However, we can only judge you by what you wrote in. Your posts in the comments don’t really line up with your original letter. Your original letter basically made it seem as though this guy had the skills to transfer, but he was too valuable TO YOU to let go. Now you say thats not the case. Also, the transfer issue is actually a very separate issue from how the new manager is treating this guy, however your saying you need to give her the chance to make it right seems like you are treating them as the same. Its very possible that even if she was treating him great, he still would be looking for challenges elsewhere. Then you mention what will happen if he gets laid off, but follow it up by saying he isn’t in danger of it happening… so why bring it up. If he wants to find another place who will appreciate his skillset more than you, fine. Thats very different than him being laid off, which now you are putting on the table.

            I’ll be honest, you really just don’t seem like you have your stuff together at all. You have a bunch of completely objective people telling you the things to work on, and all you seem to do is try to find ways to rationalize your poor managerial decisions. Even your acknowledgement that you may have hired the right person didn’t come with you taking much responsibility for letting them be a bad manager.

          5. WWWONKA*

            Your 5 teams and everything you have done has nothing to do with this situation. The OP has blown it in my book. I have seen these exact situations continue to fester because nothing proactive was done. All I hear are excuses.

          6. Min*

            OP, there is one thing that confuses me – Your letter read as though your issue is with the employee who wasn’t promoted, not the new manager who is abusing her position and failing to manage. I think that is what a lot of people are reacting to here.

            If you had written in to ask for advice on the best way to fix the situation with the new manager, the reaction in the comments may have been more sympathetic.

        2. Another Anon*

          It was overly harsh at the end, definitely, but I think it highlights another problem that could be brewing: If outside observers feel so strongly about this situation, what about other employees on the team (other than the two friends) who have witnessed this play out? It’s very possible that other employees could see what’s going on, think, “I don’t want that to happen to me,” and also start looking for a job elsewhere. Damaging one employee’s morale frequently has a ripple effect.

          We don’t have enough information to know if that’s happening here, but I think it’s a potential problem the OP should be aware of.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          I don’t understand the need to dogpile. This isn’t constructive. Obviously the OP cares or wouldn’t have written in for advice. Yes, I think he/she is a bit misguided too, but let’s cut her a little slack, no?

    2. AnonEMoose*

      Here’s the thing, OP. You have already severely damaged any trust the non-promoted employee had in you by allowing the new manager to treat him poorly with no comment from you (that I know of). A conversation in which you try to tell him that his is valued, unless you immediately follow it up with action (stopping the poor treatment and coming up with some kind of stretch or learning opportunity for him) is only going to come across as manipulative self-interest on your part.

      And even then, it’s probably going to take time to rebuild that lost trust. Actions speak louder than words, every time. Every time I’ve trusted a manager’s words over his/her actions, I’ve been burned. Every time I’ve paid more attention to the actions, at least I haven’t been surprised.

      1. OP*

        He’s actually pretty aware of how impressed I am with him. We did not transition him out from under me in time for me to get away with offloading his performance review, so I did it.

        My mistake may have been in not discussing why he was not promoted. I didn’t want to rub salt in the wound but now I think it was wrong.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          At this point, it doesn’t matter what you told him in his performance review. You passed him over for the promotion (you may have good reasons for that at the time, but you still passed him over) and allowed him to be treated poorly in the aftermath. Now you’re blocking what he may see as his best opportunity to get out from under the situation with the former friend.

          Those actions speak WAY louder than any words that came out of your mouth or anything written in his performance review. You’re kidding yourself if you think otherwise. It’s going to take time, consistent action, and a lot of effort on your part to fix it…if it can be fixed.

        2. Joey*

          Yes, give him feedback that tells him why he wasn’t selected. I bet he has no clue or is way off the mark. If you haven’t I’d also tell him that you’d like to see him move into a leadership role and these are the things you’d like to see him improve upon to make him a stronger candidate.

        3. Another Anon*

          “Get away with offloading his performance review” ? Seriously?!

          Look, I know that can’t have been an easy conversation. I know you were probably dreading it. It must have been an incredibly awkward situation for both of you, and I understand that. But your language here shows that you know it’s your responsibility and you were trying to worm your way out of it.

          Being a manager is difficult. But at the end of the day, it’s your job. Do it. And don’t try to take shortcuts – this isn’t the place for them.

          1. Sophia*

            +1 I hope the OP takes a day to step away from this post, and returns to it later, so she can read through the comments and take in the critical feedback, and think about ways to change her own behavior and manage both the new manager and the passed over employee. It can be easy to take everything so personally and be defensive right off the bat, but I feel as though everyone has made really insightful comments from a POV different than the OP, and hope she can learn from them.

    3. dck*

      Why can’t you talk to the employee about the attempted transfer? Since the new manager has already shown that she is treating the employee poorly I can imagine that letting her know you will ensure her flunky stays around could have a negative effect on her treatment of him – now she knows he has no recourse against her.

  23. M*

    This was me about a year ago in my last job. I was denied two promotions by my director because I was ‘too valuable’. I didn’t even find out about these opportunities until 6 months after the first time, and a month after the second by my former manager (he was trying to promote me because he knew I wanted more). Two months later and I handed in my notice. Hell they could’ve promoted my title only to Team Lead (which I was doing anyways) and I would’ve stayed much longer. Careers go upwards not stagnate because someone is “too valuable”.
    10 months later and I’m still a little bitter towards that company.

  24. A Teacher*

    I read through all of the comments and there is a lot of insight and valuable information that I hope the OP takes to heart. OP, you come across like you’re treating your “team” as a bunch of objects and not as people. Each person brings something unique to the table but they are not your possessions that you own and that’s what your post reads like. I know Joey suggested explaining that your employee that didn’t get a promotion was a valued member of the “team” but I’m not sure how you’re going to accomplish this given the treatment he’s received.

  25. Chocolate Teapot*

    One thought which did occur was that “Promotion” does not automatically mean “Manager”.

  26. Chocolate Teapot*

    True, I was thinking generally, that if somebody is looking to advance in any position, it might not be in a supervisory role.

  27. Frustrated Admin*

    Yes, you WILL lose this employee. My boss just blocked me for transfer a couple weeks ago and basically admitted to me that it was because he doesn’t want to lose me as his Assistant, although he admits I was the preferred candidate. He also is being very difficult in helping me with the information I need with the distance learning course I am doing which is very much supported by the higher ups – just not by him . and I feel it is because he thinks that this way he can stop me from progressing.
    Guess who’s looking for a new job? Yup.

  28. Ilyas*

    I was blocked even after my boss first told me she will approve my transition, then she lied to me about her discussion with the new boss but the new boss told me what has transpired between them. I did not want to leave the company but I no choice. I started job searching and landed a great job with great company and handed her my resignation (2 weeks) 3 days after receiving $3,600.00 of bonus. Guess who got the last laugh!

  29. anonymous*

    I have a manager who has become buddy buddy with a co-worker and during my one on one he said too me that he was going to promote that other employee. He also encouraged to act like that other employee which it’s not what I wanted to hear. He also bribed another employee by asking for full support in exchange for a visa. Now we are having a meeting with his mtgr for feedback….what should I do? Should I give feedback?

  30. Gary*

    It is a year later and I’m reading the blog wanting to know what happened as I experienced something similar to this.

    From my perspective what OP needed to do was give a sincerely apology. Not this apology “I’m sorry you didn’t receive the promotion, it is because…”, but this one “I’m sorry. I really messed up and undervalued your contribution. We need you to stay on our team. What can I do to make you happy in your job again?”

  31. Jim*

    Basically…the manager has no guts(or lacks leadership skills). Its typically a two-way street with talented people because they have options. Believe it or not, its actually hard to find talented people. Learn to back your boy up or he’ll bounce. It sounds like he is an asset to the company and you’re a barrier. If you’re manager blocks you, it means you have no future in the company. Keep in mind, most managers have to feed their family first.

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