where’s the promotion I was promised months ago?

A reader writes:

When I was hired, my new boss-to-be and I discussed promoting me in one year. Shortly after my year anniversary came around, I set up a meeting to discuss the promotion and we started rewriting my job description, etc. My boss’s boss okayed the promotion, and she got verbal approval from HR.

Fast forward seven months, and nothing has happened. I got an exemplary performance review in the spring, but my boss still hasn’t submitted the revised description to HR. I sent her an email in May asking for an update and if there’s anything that she needs from me. Nope, it’s “at the top of” her list. I just sent her another email reminder (two months later) and got the same response. Is there anything else I can do? Normally, I’d start looking for another job, but I’m pregnant and I need the maternity leave. (I don’t have any reason to believe that my pregnancy is impacting the promotion.)

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Rejecting a candidate for the second time
  • Applying for a job when I’m also on the hiring committee for it
  • What to expect in a third interview
  • What kind of help should I ask my outgoing manager for in her last two weeks?

{ 78 comments… read them below }

  1. KR*

    Hi OP! I’ve gone through something similar and it was totally frustrating! I think part of it was my manager didn’t know that I was almost at my breaking point and NEEDED the promotion to want to stay in the job. Totally agree with what Alison said about being really serious when you say this and asking for specific timelines. Think of it this way, as far as your manager is concerned she is making her money (presumably more than you) and doing her job and so are you, and she might not realize what a big deal a rasie/promotion can make in your life and career because to her everything is fine! Like my boss didn’t realize I Needed the new position because I needed full time work and benefits. It just wasn’t a priority for him like it was for me and he didn’t know it was causing me a lot of grief.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      You seem to be cutting your manager a ton of slack, KR. A small raise and promotion is one thing, but changing to full time and getting benefits? It should be incredibly obvious to a manager that something of that nature would be a massive change for an employee that would be worth making a priority. I think you’re giving them too much credit.

      I hope OP is able to speak with their manager and get this to the real “top of their list”. If it’s at the top of that manager’s list, she must not be getting anything else done besides answering the occasional email putting off her employees’ advancements.

      1. TootsNYC*

        heck, even a small raise and title change, slight bump in authority, etc., ought to be CRYSTAL CLEAR to any manager with the tiniest of managerial ability.

      2. Seriously?*

        It would bother me a lot to hear “it’s at the top of my list” for 2 months. It is such an obvious lie.

        1. Evan Þ.*

          Not necessarily a lie – OP’s manager could be pressing it with her superiors, waiting to hear back from them, or waiting because she knows it’ll be easier to get it approved after some big event. But in any of these cases, she should be sharing it with OP so OP knows she hasn’t forgotten.

          1. Zombeyonce*

            But OP’s boss’ boss and HR had already approved it, they just needed it submitted. It really is a jerk move to keep ignoring it.

            1. MCMonkeyBean*

              Yeah I was expecting a more vague “oh yes we’ll definitely talk about getting you that promotion” as the thing being pushed. But if everything has actually been approved then this is absurd! I’m assuming this promotion comes with a raise? If so they are basically taking money out of the employee’s pocket every day they wait! Unless they plan on backdating the raise, which seems unlikely. But at this point OP should consider asking them to do that I think!

              I changed teams and got a slight raise recently but still have the same grandboss-I really appreciated that he and my new manager were all about trying to process it ASAP so that my raise could come into effect as soon as possible.

              1. Michaela Westen*

                Where I work corp. finance is so slow it’s not unusual for increases or payments to the professionals to be delayed. In those cases it has been paid retroactively to the agreed start date.
                Depending on how OP’s boss, grandboss and HR might take it, she could request that her raise be paid retroactively to the agreed promotion date.
                Her boss sucks. As some others have said, it should be obvious to any boss that this is important to an employee!

      3. KR*

        There were a variety of factors at play which made me stick around before I eventually quit that job. One thing that worked for me was telling my manager, very seriously, that I needed to be full time and being part time and paid what I was was not working for me. He didn’t know it was such a big deal to me! Thanks for the advice but it’s long since handled!

    2. Artemesia*

      A boss has to be really lacking in empathy and concern to not realize how important this is to a subordinate especially when s/he has been reminded several times. Yes, face to face. And even though pregnant and needing the maternity leave, prepare for a job search. Of course you don’t want to pull the trigger yet, but get the ducks lined up, the resume done, a basic cover letter and survey the options, so you can hit the ground running when it is time to move on which is when this insensitive boss continues to stonewall.

      I have had a long struggle over a raise but I KNEW that it was difficult within our organization for various idiosyncratic reasons and that the boss had in fact done what he could and was willing to stay on it. But in the end what got it done was the boss going to bat one more time and discovering the file was sitting in someone’s inbox where it had been for months. Central higher ups kept telling him it would get done after various other events, but it turned out they didn’t realize either that one incompetent was just sitting on it and not doing what needed done. so even when the boss has done what s/he can, sometimes pushing is needed.

    3. MLB*

      I was a contractor back in the early 2000s and was told by my recruiter on numerous occasions that they loved me and wanted to hire me as an FTE. They kept dragging their feet so I started looking for a new job. When they got wind of it, my boss made it happen and they hired me. Found out that there was 1 manager that I had worked with that didn’t like me because I told her no (following policy) and was trying to keep me from getting hired. Not saying this is the case, but I’m guessing there’s something going on that her manager doesn’t want to disclose and just keeps brushing her off.

    4. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

      I get what you’re say and I genuinely admire your empathy for your boss in this situation.

      However – I’m at the point in my career where I finally realized that a boss who doesn’t care about their report’s professional development is one that I don’t want to work for. Like I get that my boss has their own separate job and responsibilities and that my day-to-day might not be on the top of their priority list. However, I firmly believe that as a manager, one part of your job, by default, should be the professional development of your reports. Of course there are plenty of managers who are bad at that aspect (but still decent overall) or who are overworked to the point that something has to give (and maybe that’s the thing that does). That was a big thing for me in me recent job search – was looking for a role (and direct manager) where growth/development is encouraged and at least a factor in company culture.

      1. KR*

        Thanks for the advice but I don’t work there anymore and there were other factors at play than what I listed in my comment. It was handled long ago. My intention was to tell OP and others in the situation that the boss isn’t always realizing what is a big deal to their superiors or completely focused on professional development. It’s a frame of mind to approach the conversation.

  2. Digiroo*

    Does it make sense to ask someone to be a reference if they only worked with you for three months at the beginning of your time with the company? I am in a similar situation. I’ve been with my company for two years, but my first manager left after three months. I’d like to use her as a reference, but I feel like she only knew me and my work when I was just starting out. I’ve gotten a lot better since then.

      1. o.b.*

        Unless Alison disagrees, I think this is relevant enough (also, love your username, Zombeyonce!!) These are old letters where comments are likely not useful to the letter writer, so if the comments can be useful to a current commenter, that’s great in my book.

        My answer would be “it depends.” Not ideal, but if there’s no other option, permissible. Nobody reasonable will expect you to use your current manager as a reference (thus disclosing you’re looking and jeopardizing your current job), unless you’re in a field like academia where I understand this could be the norm. So yes, use her as a reference if she knows your work well /enough/, but try to have some other references who have worked with you for longer.

    1. hbc*

      It depends, both in your case and for the OP. If you think she’d be capable of helping your candidacy (you had great accomplishments in that time frame, you picked things up fast, she’s the only person who can speak to your skill in something), then sure, it’s better than not having the reference. If you think she’s only going to be able to say, “Well, I dunno” or “He wasn’t great at X, but he was still learning the ropes, so he probably improved,” then probably not.

    2. Curious Cat*

      I think if you worked on a sizable enough project under that manager for those 3 months I think it would be fair to include her! Interns consistently use their supervisors as references even though most internships are only a few months in length. It’s not about the length, necessarily, but about the work you did while they were there. If you do feel hesitant, but know she would say something good, list her at the bottom of your references.

  3. Sigrid*

    I was in a very similar situation to #1 a while back, and when I said something similar to Alison’s script, the response I got to “can you let me know what a realistic timeline is for this” was “I don’t know. It will happen when I get to i. Stop bothering me about it.”

    My manager was shocked, SHOCKED when I handed in my resignation a month later. She had absolutely no idea why I would want to leave.

    1. Artemesia*

      Oh I love that you were able to do that and I hope the new job is better in every way and that the old boss is stuck with an incompetent in your old job.

    2. BRR*

      I’m also in a similar situation. Unfortunately I’m pretty sure my manager wouldn’t be shocked if I left, she just seems to not prioritize trying to retain me (I should mention I have outstanding reviews, she’s admitted several team members are not performing well, and we’ve had trouble finding qualified candidates for our open positions).

    3. Bea*

      I’m glad you left. What a selfish dbag thing to do to an employee.

      The look of shock in the eyes of such a scummy person is delightful. I remember when I did it to Voldemort, he gasped and didn’t say a damn word to be just wide eyes and the wheels turning. You made it clear I’m not important so bye bye bye!

    4. Bend & Snap*

      I’m curious because I’m facing something similar. Did you tell her that was the reason or just happy face out of there to keep the relationship intact?

      1. Artemesia*

        If asked I’d say ‘Oh it was important to me to be promoted and get a raise and I realize that was not possible here’ rather than ‘you stiffed me you DB’ —

    5. Not Today Satan*

      lol, that reminds me. One time a boss was so mean he made me cry and continued to scold/talk to me for 20+ minutes of active crying (like.. tears actively streaming down my face). I resigned that afternoon and he said was a straight face, “Obviously, I didn’t see this coming.”

      1. hbc*

        It’s amazing, isn’t it? The reason for leaving changes from, “I don’t want to be around someone who acts that way” to “I don’t want to be around someone so stupid that they didn’t see that this was a potential consequence of those actions.”

    6. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      And when you give your resignation – you will be asked “why?”
      If they say “what can we do to keep you here?” and you mention this — and the response is “I can’t do anything about that”…

      You say “YES, you CAN! ” then put the phone in front of them and say “call who you have to, to get it done. And it might be nice if it were retroactive to when it should have happened. I’ll be back in an hour.”

      That manager will be on the phone…..

  4. HMM*

    For LW #1 – ask for backpay to cover the last 7 months of waffling. We do that for our employees when everyone agrees they need to be promoted/given a raise but negotiations take longer than expected. Hope your org will do it for you too.

    1. k.k*

      In the case of a promotion, would this only apply if they had started doing the higher level tasks? In the letter OP said that they rewrote the job description, but I can’t tell if that means they started doing more, or just planned to when the promotion kicked in.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        I think it should only apply if they’ve been doing the work of the new job description. In my large company, you can’t get a reclassification unless you can prove you’ve been doing the work of the new class for a while already (which I think is a flawed system) so getting backpay for the 7 months would be reasonable. But it’s definitely different from one place to another.

      2. HMM*

        Yes, definitely for my org at least, promotions and reclassifications aren’t very rigid. People are almost always already doing the work at a higher level before they’re formally promoted and the backpay is meant to recognize that. It wouldn’t happen if, for example, a person is promoted because team members left and this is a stretch role.

    2. Jadelyn*

      We do that if the employee has been doing the actual work of the new position – I got a retro for about a full year’s worth, and we just processed a retro for someone else for *two years*. But if they aren’t actually doing the work of the new/higher-level role, then I wouldn’t think most companies would be willing to retro back on that just because the proposal was initiated that far back.

      1. HMM*

        Definitely agreed. I assumed the LW was already doing the work of the new role, because if not her than who was doing the work in the interim? But it’s an assumption for sure.

  5. ExcelJedi*

    OP3: I agree with Alison’s advice, but I think she should have been a little clearer that legal and ethical obligations aren’t always the same. In my industry, it would be considered highly unethical to do the phone screenings while considering throwing your hat into the ring. You would be expected to get out now and ensure that all your phone screenings are rescheduled, or your window would be completely gone. You should make your move ASAP, or resign yourself to sit this one out altogether.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      And while it may not be the case at all, it looks a little bad that OP waited this long to become a candidate, like they wanted to check out the competition first. That may make OP come across badly since they already know a lot about the current candidates. I think the board also deserves a reason why OP waited until now to apply if only to mitigate the problem of them looking like they waited for inside information to improve their chances.

      1. VelociraptorAttack*

        To be fair, “I’ve gone back and forth a lot about whether or not to apply and because I wasn’t planning on applying if we had some applicants who I thought were really fantastic. Although some of the candidates are strong, I think I could be of better service to the organization” makes it seem like they 100% wanted to check out the competition first.

        I’ve worked for a lot of nonprofit orgs and sat on some boards and as a staff member, board member, a rejected applicant, or community member/donor (trying to be as broad as possible as it isn’t specified what type of org this is), I’d side eye this a bit if the OP here went through phone screenings and then applied.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Yes, this.

          The OP needs to get out and come clean ASAP if s/he wants to apply. It’s the only way this won’t look unfair.

        2. hbc*

          Huh. It doesn’t sound like she was checking out the competition in an unethical way, like stealing all of their ideas or asking them trick questions to undermine them. If she explains clearly that she thought she’d be outclassed by the candidates but now thinks she’s competitive, and she has a history of not being underhanded or political, I’d believe her. Especially if she raised it right before a round of interviews rather than after.

          1. VelociraptorAttack*

            Being aware of her competition gives her an automatic advantage as she is only applying because she’s seen the other candidates. I don’t think she has to steal ideas or ask trick questions for it to be unethical.

          2. Yorick*

            But she could know weaknesses of the other candidates and make sure to communicate her strengths in those areas. That makes it super unethical.

        3. LouiseM*

          Agreed. Even if the OP didn’t mean it that way (and I’m sure she didn’t set out to do anything unethical), the optics are a little squicky.

        1. Artemesia*

          If I were on the board I’d be very inclined to not hire this person for just this reason. If you are going to play dirty at least manage it so it appears you were sought out when the search was not producing great candidates rather than appearing to hijack the system. And absolutely do not participate in the hiring process.

          1. AcademiaNut*

            I think I’d go with that too. Once the application process had started and they had participated in it, they would be ineligible for that round of applications. If a later job came up, they could state their intention of applying and withdraw from the hiring end before seeing any applications, with no problem.

            It basically comes down to ethics – the OP has seen the applications and participated in phone screenings. They have privileged information about the other candidates, and they’ve had the opportunity to reject the competition. There’s no way to undo the advantage at this point.

    2. Higher ed*

      That’s my experience, too. If you don’t throw your hat into the ring before the process starts, the perception is either a) you’re flaky and don’t know what you want, or b) you’ve tried to gain an unfair advantage by scoping out the candidate pool.

    3. JSPA*

      “I could be of better service” might be a polite way of saying, “I appreciate the people I’m now managing, and I have yet to see a candidate I can bear to foist on them.” Or, “nope, they’re good on paper, but the board would not work comfortably with any of them.” Or, “at the salary we’re paying, we’re not going to get all of the requirements on our list plus that special something; I’m in a position to do the job for the salary offered, even though I’m overqualified.”

      These are all realizations that can very reasonably only dawn on someone after the hiring process is well underway.

    4. BenAdminGeek*

      I had a similar situation in the past, and regardless of ethical or legal restrictions, it felt awful. I was an internal candidate, interviewed with someone, then she decided she wanted to apply as well and got the job. She was a strong candidate- I’m pretty sure the company made the objective right decision to choose her over me. But it feels awful and is very demoralizing- it does feel like you gave your strengths/weaknesses to someone and then they got promoted over you.

  6. pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

    #1 This is an old letter so the OP will probably never read this but I do think the pregnancy was impacting the promotion — not directly in the “I won’t promote a pregnant woman because she’s on the mommy track now and she won’t work as hard or be as productive once the baby arrives,” but more like the boss knew that OP was in no position to resign and so she was in no hurry to do that “top of my list” item. The OP had little/no leverage to use to speed things up.

    1. CatCat*

      Except that she may not come back from maternity leave and pursues other opportunities while on leave. She just gives her notice when her leave is expiring. “A great opportunity at [promotional level] came along at [new employer] and I just couldn’t turn it down!”

      1. pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

        Bosses know that there’s no guarantee that she’ll get another job shortly before or just after giving birth while on maternity leave though so it’s still not really leverage to imply “I might use up all of my maternity leave and then not come back.” In that case the only leverage OP would have would be if she really could afford to just quit. This had been going on for a year–so prior to the OP getting pregnant. In all that time the OP could have been job searching, but didn’t, and then she got to a point where she probably couldn’t risk losing both the leave and her medical coverage, and the boss probably knew that and thought — “this is not a priority for me.” I wish the OP had sent an update. It looks like she responded briefly in the comments back in 2014. I bet that promotion never materialized.

        1. CatCat*

          I was not suggesting she imply anything. Alison’s script is more than sufficient to deliver the message that the employee may quit over it. That is pretty much always the leverage, but it would just pan out a little differently in this scenario.

      2. Yorick*

        Well, that’s more likely to happen if you string her along about the promotion at Current Job.

        1. Yorick*

          Oh, I think I misunderstood CatCat. I thought she was saying that’s a reason for the boss to not process the promotion.

  7. lmia*

    I’ve actually been formulating a letter just like #1! My job has been supervisory for a few years now, but I was making enough in overtime (avg 45-48 hours per week over the year) that pushing for exempt/mgmt status was not a priority for me. Fast forward to this year, and OT is cut in half. My role is to finally be shifted to salaried with a couple new duties to make it legal. This was in November. I’ve since asked, face-to-face, two or three times – once in a meeting I scheduled specifically to discuss the issue. Each time it’s “I (my manager) need to pull the salary info,” or some other small detail, with an apologetic expression. Meanwhile, this has cost me money and productivity while I’m forced to cut my own hours. It’s one symptom of a mismanaged organization.

    1. Mad Baggins*

      Sounds like your manager is trying to avoid talking with you about it in hopes that you’ll go away and she won’t have to deal with the problem, but you’ll keep working under the current conditions.

  8. Not Today Satan*

    #1 happened to me (“only” for 3 months past the promised date though). I basically had to threaten to quit for it to happen. But basically, the damage has been done and I’ve lost all confidence in my managers. I *really* resented/resent having to basically beg for something that was already promised/owed to me. I really don’t know why so many employers are so careless this way.

    On the positive side, I probably got more of a raise than I would have if the promotion happened at the intended time, because they knew how pissed I was.

    1. BRR*

      I’m in the middle of the “I want was promised to me” situation and it’s really killed my morale. My mindset is basically “what’s the point in going above and beyond?”

      1. Sam.*

        Ugh, seriously. I ran myself ragged on a couple of projects last year, working a lot overtime (which is frowned upon in our office) to make sure a couple of giant last-minute projects were completed. Shortly thereafter, my office went through its standard process for reviews and raises. My evaluation was off the charts, but I got such a negligible raise – it was literally just covered my rent increase for the year and was no larger than I’d gotten in previous years – that I scaled way back on what I was willing to do. My quality of work is still high, but I refuse to go to those lengths again, since it’s clearly not appreciated.

      2. Bea W*

        It happened to me a few years ago, and it totally killed my morale. I was doing all the extra things that were supposed to prove I was worthy, got glowing reviews speaking about advancing my career and moving to the next level, but every cycle I was given some excuse why it couldn’t happen. I eventually had to have the come to Jesus talk with my manager to get any action, and I was so gun shy that I pulled back on going “above and beyond”. I just couldn’t anymore.

        My company also had this horrible review scoring system where everyone go the same middle of the road score no matter what. That was an even worse morale killer, knowing that those of us who were doing our work and even going above and beyond and often picking up slack were getting the same score as people who were mediocre at best or just outright refusing to pull their weight. We’d spend all this time and effort writing these reviews too. Even after getting the promotion I was promised, year after year of this beat my morale into non-existence. What’s the point of being a super star when other people can put in minimal effort, blame others for their mistakes, and have the same outcome. It’s absolutely soul crushing.

    2. tj bag dog*

      also happening to me right now. it’s really hard to continue the level of work i was doing when it keeps getting pushed back (3 times now)

  9. Bea*

    All my gears are grinding because my “list” is actually written down. If you’re at the top, my God I’m grinding at it every spare moment. That is such a crap way to blow you off on a huge change for you and should not be dangling.

    1. Irene Adler*

      I agree.
      I’ve gotten “but we think of you as [higher position].” A sure sign the promotion ain’t happening. Ever,

  10. Imaginary raise*

    #1 – I wish more managers would realize how incredibly demoralizing this is for an employee. I am the lowest paid person in my role despite having seniority and regularly being singled out as a top performer. My manager promised me a substantial raise last July. He keeps talking about it and reassuring me that it’s going to happen…. but it has been nine months.

    Honestly it just makes me even more bitter about being underpaid. It went from something I thought about occasionally to something I think about almost every day. I wish he would just stop talking about how it’s totally going to happen. If it was a priority for him, it would be done by now. Anyway, I’m resigning in a month.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      Good on you for moving on. I wouldn’t be surprised if your manager was shocked when you resign, too, out of obliviousness.

  11. Bea*

    It feels like this delay is all too popular. Now I have more of an idea why everyone I work with are ecstatic about how fast I process things like raises or reimbursements and immediately tackle any paycheck issues. It rattles my cage because it’s so simple and I’ve been this way even when pounding out 60hour weeks.

    People tend to care deeply about their money and their time, I do not ef with either if those things as my number one rule for staff, clients and vendors.

  12. SCAnonibrarian*

    Maybe a touch off topic, but I had a question for Alison: the top letter made me wonder if you ever get fun updates from people who see their letter re-run here or on Inc?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, sometimes! And recently I’ve tried to start emailing them ahead of time to let them know I’m reprinting, but I admittedly haven’t been consistent about that. This month with all the pre-publication stuff leading up to my book coming out on May 1 has been a little crazy, but I’m hoping to be able to do it more consistently after that.

      1. SCAnonibrarian*

        That’s really thoughtful of you – I hadn’t even considered that. I also wondered how many of those early letters are part of the commentariat now. Updates forever!

  13. Margo the Destroyer*

    I was in a similar situation back when I started in my current position. I came from another area closely related to this one, so I had vast knowledge and needed far less training, but was hired in as a Level 1, whereas people coming from outside the organization were being hired in as level 2s. It was very frustrating. It took a while to be promoted and the reason I was given was budget. They could promote me, but I wouldn’t get the pay increase deserved, so they waited until they had some extra funds to pay me more. It also tied into when our annual merit increases fell etc. They don’t promote and give those raises within so many months before those bc it disqualifies from the annual raises. I understood, but it was really frustrating, esp since I had the experience required under the level 2 job descriptions.

  14. Sal*

    For the third interview. I’ve been to something like this before and they offered me the job there in person. Obviously that’s not guaranteed, but since it’s possible I would be ready to at least talk about salary and anything else that’s important along those lines!

  15. NYC*

    Re: the third interview

    I have sometimes called people back for a last interview because we need the top-ranking person to officially sign off.

    I remember one time, I had made my decision but went to my boss to explain it and get permission to hire, and to see if she needed to meet the candidate. She said, I’m going to trust your judgment, but I would like to meet with them before we officially offer. I feel I need to have done that.
    So I told the candidate, “You need to meet with my boss. She’s going to give me what I want, which is to hire you, so the job is yours unless you screw it up Don’t spit on her.”

    She didn’t, and my boss OK’d her.

  16. LT*

    I was in a situation similar to OP #4 not too long ago. My initial interview was phrased as a “phone screening,” followed up by an in person interview with the same people from the phone screen, followed up by a meeting/interview with the hiring manager’s boss (the director of the department I’m in). I think that was standard process for the company, or at the very least for my department. Basically, that third interview was a way for me to meet my future director, and for him to meet me, since he wasn’t present at the first two interviews. It was essentially a way for him to give his approval, and it’s not like we went through the interview process for a third time where my skills were assessed, etc. The people in the first two interviews weren’t even present, so it was an informal getting-to-know-you-since-we’ll-be-working-together chat.

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