I was promoted, but my boss won’t tell anyone

A reader writes:

I work at a small media organization with a very casual environment. A great example of this: My boss doesn’t really “believe in” org charts. I began as a writer belonging to a very small team, but was promoted to co-manager of that team six months ago. The problem, however, is that no one in the company actually knows this. My promotion was never announced — no staffwide email, no mention in any kind of staff meeting. This has created some really awkward situations for me. I have to continually invite myself to meetings, insert myself in important conversations, and I constantly worry that I am not seen as equal to my co-manager. And so I have to keep telling people about my new role — “Hi! Did you know I’m actually co-manager now? Yeah, not a big deal, I just can’t keep track of who knows and who doesn’t!” — which is equal parts annoying and humiliating.

I have asked my bosses — twice — to make some kind of staffwide announcement, explaining both the uncomfortable position that not-announcing has put me in, and that this is making it harder to do my job. They’ve said that they will, they promise they will. No dice. May I repeat: It has been six months.

What do I do? If I have to ask them again, why should I believe they’ll actually do it this time? I just see them again saying they will, and then never following through, which leaves me right where I started.

I would bet money that this is rooted in your boss having an overly casual attitude about hierarchy (see “doesn’t believe in org charts”) and feeling vaguely uneasy about sending out a message that reinforces hierarchy … and maybe worrying that it will cause tension or issues with the people you’re now managing.

The biggest problem with that, of course, is that your boss does believe in hierarchy, as evidenced by the fact that she moved you into an inherently hierarchical role, and that she’s now asking you to do a job that depends on people understanding that you have authority, but without actually telling anyone that.

But I also bet that when you ask her to send out a staff-wide announcement and she says yes, she really does mean yes in the moment … but then her discomfort rears up and pushes it out of her mind.

That’s not reasonable, and it’s not fair for you. If she wants you to do the job she’s charged you with, it can’t be a secret.

So. Go to talk to your boss today, in person. Say this: “People still don’t know that I’m co-managing with Jane. It’s impacting my ability to do my job and causing problems like X and Y. You’ve said in the past that you’d send out a staff-wide announcement, but it hasn’t happened yet. Because of the impact it’s having on me practically daily, it’s important to me to get this taken care of ASAP. Can it happen this week — in the next day or two? And if not, can we figure out what’s in the way and how to resolve that?”

If your boss says that she’ll do it this week and then it hasn’t happened by Friday morning, go and talk to her again and say this: “I want to make sure you’re still planning to send out that announcement about my position this week.”

If she says yes to that and still doesn’t do it, then early next week sit down with her and say this: “I know you’d planned to send out the announcement last week. Is there something else going on that’s making you hesitant to do it? If there’s context to this that I’m not realizing, I’d really want to know.” It’s possible that there’s truly something going on that you don’t know about (some sort of internal politics, or who know what), but it’s unlikely that it’s actually warrants how this is being handled, and by framing the question that way, you might force your boss to realize that.

Also, at any stage of this, it could be helpful to offer to draft a message for her to modify (if the issue is that she’s busy and disorganized).

Alternately, while obviously it would be better if the message came from above you, sending it out yourself would be better than nothing. If you go that route, I’d first say to your boss, “Hey, it’s really impacting my job that people don’t know this, so I’m planning to send a staff-wide announcement about my role this week,” and then do it.

For what it’s worth, it’s easy to look at an issue like this and think your new job will always be plagued with problems. But I’ve seen this exact issue happen, and once the damn message got sent out, things were fine. (In one of those cases, the issue was that the boss had convinced himself that the message needed to be so perfectly crafted and would require so much thought that he kept putting it off … and didn’t realize how long he had put it off until the new manager got much more assertive about it.) Of course, it’s also possible that this is the sign of a boss who isn’t going to back you up when things get hard and will stand in your way when you need to, say, let someone go. But it’s not a definitive indicator of that, so I’d get this handled first and then see what happens.

{ 53 comments… read them below }

  1. Granite

    Is this be communicated in other ways? We don’t always have big announcements, but the title in your email signature and the employee directory and so forth are updated so people figure it out. Six months seems a long time for folks not to catch on.

    1. Roscoe

      This is what I was thinking. We have had people get small promotions (like to team lead as opposed to management) without a big announcement. But their email signature was changed and they were invited to the pertinent meetings. It seems if its a small company, then people should have picked up on this by now. At least the people who are directly impacted by this, especially if you are mentioning it.

    2. Student

      If the other co-manager is not on-board with that arrangement (or, worse, unaware of it!) then the lack of announcement allows the other co-manager to keep all power.

      1. Emily

        As I read this letter I instantly thought of the episode of Scrubs where JD and Elliott both get promoted to to Chief Resident when there’s usually only one. Because of some payroll issue, JD’s paycheck says “Co-Chief Resident” on it while Elliott’s just says, “Chief Resident.” The Janitor takes it a step further by installing a tiny panel that says “Co-” in front of the title plate on his office door. And of course everyone is unwilling to bring problems or questions to JD because, “I just wanted the Chief Resident to look at this, and you’re on the Co-Chief.” Through the whole episode Elliott is all breezy and, “Don’t be so hung up on tittles, it’s not a big deal!”

  2. Jen

    Yes, update your email signature and copy your boss on emails where you explain your new role.

    1. AMG

      And maybe also draft a warm, happy announcement for him send it over. That will take a lot of the work and stress out of it for him, especially if you collaborate with your co-manager too. You could sign it from the 2 of you so it seems more friendly and less formal.

  3. KarenT

    It’s also possible that people are confused by the concept of “co-managing”? Has your boss been explicit about what this means? I’ve seen departments with two managers, but there’s always a clear divide such as Sally and Jane report to Veronica, and Suzie and Jeff report to Bob. Or one person is an assistant manager and one is the true manager.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yeah — this and what LQ wrote below is what I’m thinking needs to be explained — not just the title, but what it means and for who.

  4. LQ

    I agree with Granite about the email signature being a big tool. Is the issue of other people not including and wrapping you in internal people? If so even pushing for an email that says “OP should be included in X Y and Z as co lead.” If the message is more about actions that need to happen rather than the promotion then it might be more acceptable to the boss.

    1. Ultraviolet

      Focusing the message on action might also drive home to the boss just why OP needs this announced. (I know they explained it to the boss already, but maybe it’ll sink in this time.)

      I suggest OP write a short staff-wide email announcing her promotion and what various people need to do about it, then send that message to their boss and say they’re planning to send it out on Friday, unless boss would rather do it?

  5. Jack the treacle eater

    Whatever, you definitely need to sort this out per Alison’s advice. I took on a job where I was expected to be in a position of authority, but – for whatever reason – the boss not only did not announce it but told the workforce I was not. This made the job a nightmare, frankly, and caused a lot of knock-on issues – including the boss repeatedly failing to support me. You need to know where you stand, because it’ll be a nightmare otherwise.

  6. Ama

    Something kind of similar happened to me. I was promoted as part of a big restructuring — my original department was combined with another, but I was assigned to report not to that department head but the C-level person, both of whom had also just been promoted. As a result, there was a little confusion over who was responsible for sending out the announcement email (which is standard in our office). I myself was distracted with a pending deadline and didn’t realize people were unaware until the office manager sent around a new directory with my old title on it.

    For me it was a little annoying (since six other people got promoted in the two months before and after I did and they all got email announcements), but ultimately didn’t affect my work since my role is largely a subject matter expert, and my coworkers treat me as the authority on certain issues regardless of my actual title. However, in the OP’s case, since it actually is affecting how her coworkers work with her, I agree with Alison that she needs to have a conversation with her boss and emphasize that people are leaving her out of important conversations because they don’t realize she is of a level to be included.

    1. KR

      Yeah – if it wasn’t affecting the employees work I would say to let it go or continue just telling people as she sees them. But her work is being affected.

  7. motherofdragons

    I personally would start by offering to draft something up for your boss to send out. I try to approach things like this from the standpoint of assuming something innocuous, like they just are super busy and haven’t had time to get around to it, than jumping right into telling myself a story that there’s a bigger issue. It helps keep myself from stressing out about it, and I like to think it makes me seem like I’m willing to pitch in to the solution.

    1. ADL

      +1 I would suggest offering this to the boss in the next/first meeting you have with him/her about the promotion announcement. And having to ready to go for approval when you get back to you desk.

      1. Elsie

        +1 I would definitely have a message drafted that you could offer to forward your boss. Best case scenario is you forward it in the meeting and your boss modifies and sends it while you’re sitting there.

  8. Amber

    I actually was in a very similar situation because when I was promoted, the role that I was filling belonged to someone who almost got fired (instead he was moved). So they didn’t really announce my promotion since they didn’t want to call attention to the other person.

    So what I did was add my new title as my email signature, eventually pretty much everyone knows now without me having to say anything.

  9. Camellia

    I actually didn’t think about titles in emails until I started this job. When I created my signature I put “Teapot Designer”. Later that day my boss came to me and said, uh, NO, that should be “Senior Teapot Designer”. I was taken aback that she even noticed and thought about it, but learned a good lesson that day. Titles DO matter in business.

    1. TootsNYC

      Titles matter because the communicate things like, “who should make the final decision on this?” and “How much can I trust them; do they have the authority to make this decision, or will it get reversed later?”

      1. Koko

        Yes…there’s a reason B2B lead gen forms almost always ask your title level (Professional, Manager, Senior, C-Level, etc). They want to prioritize people who are likely to have budget authority.

  10. irritable vowel

    Something similar happened to me – my boss first asked me to take on additional responsibilities with the promise of a title change/salary bump, then after about a year that actually happened, then months went by before he felt comfortable announcing it. I did the update-my-email-signature thing about 2 months after the new position was formalized, and he saw it and actually wrote to me telling me not to do that until an announcement was made! I felt embarrassed and wished I hadn’t done it, but I was tired of waiting for him to tell everyone when I had already been doing the work of this position for over a year with zero recognition. (His rationale was that he wanted to make sure he was able to demonstrate the value of the new position *before* the head of our organization heard about it, which seems crazy to me and definitely left me with a bad taste in my mouth.)

    1. motherofdragons

      “His rationale was that he wanted to make sure he was able to demonstrate the value of the new position *before* the head of our organization heard about it”

      Yeesh. That seems yucky to me, too.

    2. Michelle

      The head of the organization had no say in creating/approving a new position? We have a parent organization and I assumed the head of that organization did not know the minute details of what went on at our location (internal promos/raises/new part-time staff). Two days after an internal promotion and raise, he was at our location and walked right up to me, congratulated me on the promotion & raise and shook my hand and said he looked forward to working with me. He also welcomed the new part-time employee that day as well.

      1. Koko

        Right? Shouldn’t the head of the org have already been convinced of the value of the position before it was created? OP’s boss seems to be suggesting she could be demoted in the future if it turns out that they don’t think it was a valuable role after all…that’s pretty crummy for her, and also a waste of money from the org’s perspective to let managers start paying larger salaries apparently at their own discretion with no approval!

  11. OriginalYup

    The last time this happened to me, I drafted the email for the boss to send. Not the warm fuzzies announcing part, but the bullet-pointed “Original Yup how handles Teapot Items D through M; going forward, please see Fergus on Items A, B, and C.” If it’s a mental block like Alison describes, you can you offer, “Do you want me to quickly put together a draft for you?” and move the boss along.

  12. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

    I can understand the reasons for NOT announcing it; your boss is probably fearful of some type of flak from the other employees.

    I once had a promotion put off for a year – but was asked to continue to do the job of a team leader. It was easy to see that one of the others in the group would have railed over being passed over. And I told my boss that it was going to make it very difficult for me to lead… I’m the leader but I’m not the leader but I am and, oh gee….

    “If I promote Jane, Betty might throw a fit” – but there’s going to have to be a day of reckoning. Also – without that public vote of confidence in you – without that statement – it’s going to be difficult for you to perform your new functions. Do stress that.

    1. I'm Not Phyllis

      I see your point … but if management is to the point of being “fearful” over someone’s reaction, they may want to consider whether that’s someone they want to keep on their team.

      1. misspiggy

        Same thing happened to me (with even more shillyshallying from the boss), and the upshot was that after almost a year of faffing, both the person he was worried about upsetting and I left the organisation.

      2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

        I-N-P

        Yes, but if that potentially reactionary person has allies, it can create a problem. Especially if that person feels he or she should have received the promotional nod.

        And often , people get passed over for promotion because they are deemed too valuable in their current position. This is a problem that is too often, only resolved with a resignation and some type of counter-offer.

        Management CAN be pro-active; if there’s a promotion that could have gone to either of two people, and you chose one of the two – it’s important to address the person who was passed over – that is, if you care about him/her, and maintaining order and harmony. It is possible to do so. There’s a cost to be paid for it, but it’s do-able.

        You might be truly candid – say “you could have done that job but I’m going to Betty, it was an agonizing decision for me. Now, before you get angry – here are two things. One, I want to congratulate you on your promotion from Teapot Designer to Senior Teapot Consultant. And there is a salary increase of $x for you, effective immediately. Your promotion will be announced on the same memo as Betty’s promotion.”

        And – “if you TRULY want a management opportunity – within this company – when one comes up – GO FOR IT, as the sun now sets I can fully support and recommend you.”

        Of course, if the person wasn’t qualified – you say so – and provide career advice, and that person may decide to leave anyway.

        But in any case, it’s a typical problem for management – a textbook example of a Q&A that they might teach in management training.

        1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

          Addendum – if the scenario is true – two highly qualified people – you had to pass one over – the solution above is cheaper, more stabilizing, and better for workplace morale than telling or implying to the passed over person “there’s the door, don’t let it hit your a** on the way out.”

          And much easier than dealing / gambling on a counter-offer.

  13. animaniactoo

    The one time this happened in my company (that I know of), the owners were outright refusing to tell someone who had been difficult that the new person they’d hired was her new boss. While telling her new boss that yes, she was supposed to be managing that employee.

    New boss left after 6 months. It was the only appropriate response.

    Difficult woman finally got fired about a year and a half later.

    It was one of the times where their tendency to be conflict avoidant ran right into reductio ad absurdum.

  14. I'm Not Phyllis

    I’d just draft it and send it to your boss with the “seeking your input … can we send this week?” kind of email. But I agree with other posters above that you may want to seek more clarity on how your boss sees the “co-manager” role, if you haven’t done so already. As much as I think sometimes I don’t like hierarchies, the co-boss thing is a bit confusing to me. Like if you disagree with your co-manager (assuming that this is someone who is supposed to be your equal) and you can’t reach a compromise? Someone kind of has to be the boss, or you might need slightly different job descriptions even if you have the same title … but you should be very clear on what your boss expects.

  15. Anonymouse

    Actually your boss promoted all your co-workers to co-managers and told them the same thing he told you, he would announce the promotion sometime.

  16. Augusta Sugarbean

    What has the other co-manager been doing the last six months? If it’s a matter of each of you being in charge of half the team or half the projects or half the duties, has the other co-manager been saying to the team members, “Actually, OP is in charge of that. Please meet with her.”?

    And who is organizing the meetings? Can you meet with that person/those people and let them know your position has changed and you need to be on the invite list?

    1. Elsajeni

      I’m wondering about this also! OP, if you have to invite yourself to meetings, does that mean that your co-manager is getting invited and NOT saying “Oh, you should invite OP also, she’s now managing XYZ functions of the department”? If so, that suggests there’s more going on here — maybe the co-manager isn’t entirely on board with no longer being the only one in charge, or views you more as an assistant manager, and some of the boss’s discomfort with making the announcement is that she knows it’ll lead to conflict with the co-manager.

  17. B.

    So you’re Pam and your manager is Dwight?

    “So you would be the regional manager and the assistant regional manager, Andy is your number two. And *I* would be the *secret* assistant regional manager.”
    “Mmm, let’s call it secret assistant to the regional manager.”
    “Got it.”
    “Do you accept?”
    “…Absolutely I do.”

    (All in good fun; Alison’s advice is great!)

  18. TootsNYC

    Those announcement emails are important.

    I had a boss order me to do one once.
    Someone on my team had left, and I recruited my steady part-timer to the full-time slot. He asked me to NOT send out those emails, because he thought they were stupid, and they generated all the “congrats!” reply-alls, and everybody who needed to know would know.

    So I deferred to his wishes.

    My boss pointed out that there was speculation about whether we were going to fill that slot (bcs visually nothing changed), and that this was bad for morale across the entire floor. Plus, that email gave him authority when he interacted with people who had thought he was “just the part-timer” and didn’t realize that his status and authority had changed.

    So I sent it. And have since realized how powerful they are.

    I have a few stories that illustrate the idea that “status” signals (like promotions, titles, and window offices) are not about status and ego, but about authority, and decision making and clarity. It matters!

    1. Doriana Gray

      Amen. The fact that people don’t do this is mind boggling to me. Even in my most dysfunctional workplaces, promotion/lateral move announcements went out. Hell, my current division invited me to a team meeting prior to my official start date to publicly announce my promotion to Senior Teapot Adjuster after sending the whole team a staffing memo saying the same thing. I thought this may have been overkill, but some people don’t read internal emails and would have had no idea of my new authority level had it not been brought up in that meeting.

  19. AGirlCalledFriday

    Uh oh. Ok, so this happened to me once. I was pulled aside with another coworker and we were both promoted – I with the larger role, as I had the experience and background (In fact, I had more experience and background than the manager). The manager never communicated this to the rest of the staff, though I did request it a few times. When the company founders started requesting I do this or that, the manager began to prevent my carrying out their orders, complaining about me to other coworkers, and then while I was on vacation, gave my job to his buddy without speaking to me about it. I mean, in my case my manager was clearly threatened by me and was soon demoted for sexist behavior as well as incompetence, but I’ve learned to always insist on getting something in writing when I’m promoted to a new role.

  20. Fish Microwaver

    Could I use this script (appropriately modified of course) to speak to my managers about increased responsibilities and opportunities for growth that are promised but never realised? I feel really disheartened that I ask for more responsibility and to learn new skills and they say “oh you can do such and such new skill thing” but it remains just words, and no opportunity is ever provided. I am too valuable churning out enormous quantities of excellent but oh so boring grunt work, that they will not let me do anything else that might grow my skills, which is extremely frustrating.

  21. Title-in-limbo

    In regards to Alison’s comment “It’s possible that there’s truly something going on that you don’t know about (some sort of internal politics, or who know what)” – it’s no excuse for a 6 month delay, but there could definitely be more to the story so keep an open mind if you can! One of my coworkers is currently in this conundrum, although unfortunately *I* am partly the cause of it whether he realizes it or not. I was previously Teapot materials team lead but have since been promoted to a newly reestablished assistant manager type role, and my coworker has taken on the team lead role that I used to have. The trouble is, my job description and raise have all been approved, are in effect, but upper management for a few legitimate reasons (changing trends nationwide in our field, union/contractual guidelines regarding job titles) have been going around and around about what my actual new title should be (looking back this should have been part of the original proposal, lesson learned!).

    Maybe it was somewhat selfish on my part, but at meeting with this coworker & the boss, I asked the boss to delay announcing until he was ready to announce both of our position changes (and he’s made it clear he’s not ready until they formalize my title). Without formally announcing my promotion in tandem with the coworkers role change, it would sound like I had been demoted/removed from team lead. I know this is tough for my coworker and they are upset with me for asking this, upset about waiting for management to figure out my role first, but I’m super grateful my boss was willing to delay because it would have looked really odd — it notoriously takes them 1-2 months to resolve this type of thing and no announcements are made around here until things are set in stone.

    I’m not saying my boss should have agreed to my request, I’m sure there might be some better ways to approach this – but just putting it out there that there could be more you aren’t aware of. Like Alison says, just ask point blank if there is more context.

    1. CM

      Seems like it would be better for your coworker if they announced you had been promoted (title TBD) and he is now the team lead.

  22. The Strand

    Oh dear… My experience has been that the people who are uncomfortable with authority, themselves have a lot of difficulty leading and delegating, and then cannot back their people. This kind of avoidance doesn’t usually change over time. Not without a lot of intention to change.

  23. Catherine W

    I used to have a manager who kept the org chart a secret! The most egregious example was when I thought I reported directly to her, and so did a friend of mine. Turns out the manager wanted me to report to my friend, who would then report to her. This only came up when the manager wanted my friend to do my yearly employee evaluation, and both my friend and I were totally blindsided by the fact that I was apparently now reporting to her, and had been for a year!

    Another great case was when someone here thought he was the manager of a certain team, and went around acting as though that were true — supervising other people’s work, weighing in on things, being in meetings, telling people to improve, etc. But actually, he was incorrect. He was NOT anyone’s manager. It was really awkward when he had to be told that he was actually NOT in charge of his coworkers.

    The result of not having a physical org chart was that everyone began to construct a mental org chart, populated with incorrect information. There were many times I wasn’t sure whether a certain person would be considered “above” me in the hierarchy or a “peer” or “below” me, so I wasn’t sure how much consideration to give them, etc. The executive team wanted it this way because they wanted a flat, democratic structure, but in reality, it just led to lots of strange situations, politics, and behind-the-scenes jockeying for power.

    That particular secret-keeping manager has moved on, and now, after asking for literally 15 years, we finally have an org chart written down on paper.

  24. CM

    I’m shocked at the stories of people not knowing who was managing them, or “secretly” managing others! Who could possibly think that’s a good idea?

    For the OP, I wonder if the co-manager is supporting them by saying, “OP is in charge of that part of the project?” If not, that’s a problem that also needs to be resolved.

  25. Neelhtah

    My boss wasn’t sure what to send to the staff when my role changed, and started trying to craft some perfect message, and I said, “why do you just send them my job description?” It made a much easier launching point. I figure my job description isn’t a secret, so he pasted that, then a little more about what it means for the intended audience, then whooooosh. There was still an adjustment period (particularly for those who weren’t happy with the change), but it’s better than no word at all for sure! Six months is a little weird, for sure.

Comments are closed.