am I being a brat about not getting promoted?

A reader writes:

I recently applied for a promotion at work and was passed over in favor of an outside candidate. I won’t go into all the details, but hopefully it suffices to say that I was a very strong candidate, I had a lot of internal support, and everyone I’ve talked to has been legitimately shocked that I didn’t get the job.

I feel really disillusioned after this turn of events. It’s a small company with an important mission and I had previously envisioned staying here for a long time, but now I don’t really see a path forward in my career unless I leave.

I’ve put in a pretty extraordinary effort over the past few years, taking on assignments well above my pay grade when the company was in a pinch (and knocking them out of the park), working on weekends to finish urgent projects, and becoming a trusted advisor and critical part of the leadership team — so I really thought upper management would have my back on this promotion. I guess I’ve abruptly internalized the lesson that a company is not a family, and employment is just a business transaction.

Consequently, I very suddenly have lost my motivation to go above and beyond. Since I got the news, I haven’t been checking email after hours or working on the weekend, and I even turned down a project that I didn’t really have the bandwidth for. Nobody has said anything to me, but I can only imagine that it’s noticeable.

I’m not slacking compared to an objective standard, but I am kind of slacking compared to my own previous high standard. Is that okay, or am I burning a bridge that I might need in order to find another job and leave?

It’s okay to do what you’re doing.

It’s also understandable. Anyone in management at your company who didn’t realize this would be a possibility when they didn’t promote you was being naive.

No one is entitled to a promotion — but companies also aren’t entitled to employees who go above and beyond if their work isn’t rewarded. It’s reasonable that after not getting promoted, you feel less motivated to go over and above in the way you used to.

To be clear, I’m talking about things that truly qualify as going above and beyond; it’s not a good idea to slack off on core expectations. But from the specifics you gave, you’ve just pulled back on the extras.

From a practical perspective, it is a good idea to compare yourself to the average performance on your team. If the changes you’ve made put you below average for your team, then yeah, there could be consequences in your job search, even if it’s just a more lukewarm reference. But if it’s just that you used to go above and beyond and now you don’t … carry on. This is a natural and foreseeable consequence of not promoting someone and then not bothering to have any kind of conversation with the person to help them feel good about what their future with the company will be.

That’s not to say your company necessarily made the wrong decision! They might have been absolutely right; it’s possible the other candidate was clearly the stronger hire. But you’re allowed to draw your own conclusions from that process and adjust your behavior accordingly.

For what it’s worth: it’s a good thing that companies aren’t families and that employment is a business transaction! When workers are convinced to believe the opposite, it’s usually to their disadvantage: they generally end up feeling pressed to prioritize the company above their own interests — to accept lower pay, work longer hours, avoid pushing back against bad policies, and feel guilty if they consider leaving. Meanwhile, the employer on the other side of that equation isn’t normally offering benefits that would justify any of that (nor should they, in most business arrangements). But it’s perfectly fine for work to simply be a trade of your labor for money, and for you to reassess what you’re willing to give in return for what your employer gives you.

{ 201 comments… read them below }

  1. Alligotwasthistshirt*

    I have seen this all too often where the company management thinks “Well, Jane will continue to perform at this high level for this low current pay, so we can bring in outside person and have 2 high performers” or they think “It will be too hard to replace Jane because she is always knocking it out of the park, so let’s leave her there where she is doing work we cannot live without and bring in someone else for the promotion”

    Both are ridiculous because as you currently rightly feel – the result isn’t that they get to have their cake and eat it too, but rather that their high performer will seek advancement elsewhere.

    Don’t be surprised when they are SHOCKED you are snapped up by another company for a better opportunity.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “It will be too hard to replace Jane because she is always knocking it out of the park, so let’s leave her there where she is doing work we cannot live without and bring in someone else for the promotion”

      OP, you may also hear this referred to as ‘the curse of competence’. It’s one of the reasons why it’s so important to advocate for yourself and make it clear that you have expectations surrounding the extra work you’re putting in. Which isn’t to say that you’ll always get your way, but it does make it harder for employers to relegate you to ‘high performing mid-level employee’ if you make it clear you have higher aspirations.

      I have no reason to think you didn’t do that in this case, but moving forward in your career it’s good to remember that even if it didn’t work out this time, it’s good to keep an open dialogue with your employer about your goals and ambitions so they know what it will take to keep you.

      What you’re doing now is perfectly ethical, and so is leaving if a better opportunity comes up. Even if it ends up leaving them in a tough spot. It can be especially hard to look out for your own best interest in mission based work – but mission based work often counts on that to keep you around. Remember, you’re the only one with you as a first priority.

    2. Lab Boss*

      “Well, Jane will continue to perform at this high level for this low current pay, so we can bring in outside person and have 2 high performers”

      I think this is another symptom of an overarching issue- employers/companies assume they are the only ones with options and strategies- they have the right to hire and fire and make “purely business” decisions, but seem shocked that employees aren’t perfectly loyal robots who will always give their all to the company no matter what.

      1. Resentful Oreos*

        To many employers, it will always be 2010 and they will be able to pick and choose among hundreds of desperate applicants for every job. Jane doesn’t like it? Why there is a line out the door waiting to warm her seat!

    3. Choggy*

      Yup, many times management effectively blocks their high performers for this exact reason. I have dealt with the same for many years. If I did not have a great 401K and a pension, I would have left. Retirement can’t come soon enough.

      1. No Longer Looking*

        Yeah, killing pensions is absolutely what created job-hopping as a primary strategy. People were loyal to companies both because of the bad reasons AND because there was a potential reward at the end of the stick.

      2. Reluctant Mezzo*

        I would have left my job, for the same reason, but we had to have the health care.

      3. Thetidesturnforeveryone*

        That happened to me. I was passed over for the management job that I had done for over a year because I was considered more valuable at a lower level. I left that job for another job, in management doing the same thing but at a higher pay. It was glorious.

    4. Bast*

      It still baffles me that companies don’t get this, and are shocked when people leave. I personally have had it happen (was promised a promotion, and was sat down a few weeks later and was told I was too valuable where I was). I quit within two months for a higher position and better pay, and they were actually, genuinely shocked. I couldn’t believe it. You royally screw me over and are SURPRISED when I leave? You should be more surprised if I stayed. It just is not logical at all.

      1. boof*

        “you are too valuable for us to compensate you for your value” “wait why are you leaving?” wish anyone who tries to pull this really thought about it for a moment! But obviously not a move of competent/savvy employers

        1. MM*

          I think they think people will be gratified to be told they’re excellent, important, and needed–which this type of talk says in words, but does not reward in practice. And to be honest, there are people who do fall for that. Some people become almost addicted to being “indispensable,” when what they actually are is exploited.

          1. Resentful Oreos*

            I also think some companies are still stuck in the Great Recession mentality, where your bonus, raise, or promotion, is that you get to keep your job. That’s all.

            Times have changed, but I think there are still employers who honestly feel their star employees don’t have other options.

      2. Testing*

        For me it took six months. By that time they had started trying to create a new position for me, but it was too late both practically and mentally.

      3. Antilles*

        I’m just surprised that companies are shocked by it.
        I can understand that you’re running a business and that sometimes the correct business decision might not be best for an individual employee. The outside hire very well might bring something to the table that the company needs. And no, we don’t need TWO managers, so we can’t give the role to both of you. That could absolutely be the right call, with apologies to the OP.
        But at least have the self-awareness to admit that you’re making that choice. And to recognize that the consequences of that choice likely involves OP making their own business decision to find another opportunity.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          Yep, it’s not the hiring of the outside person that is where the company went wrong. It’s in the not then sitting down with OP and talking about their path forward, and what they want from their job development at the company. And occasionally you may have to seek a new opportunity for that–we had a lot of higher level scientists leave my old job because they were ready to be directors, but the company didn’t have director positions for them (and it made sense–you don’t need 7 directors for a group of 40 people, that’s nonsense). A good company will tell you if the position you want isn’t likely to materialize when you’re ready. But what happened to OP is not acceptable. You’ve got to have the conversation with your internal person.

      4. Sunflower*

        Companies still think they have all the power. Probably leftover from the days of sweatshops and factory work. If you quit/fired, then you go hungry. But unless you live in an economically depressed area, people have choices. And employers, especially those whose company loyalty is their life, don’t understand that.

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          They still look back to the wonderful days of the Great Recession when people would line up by the hundreds for a part-time, rotating shift position with no benefits.

          And one notices that some commentators are trying to bring on a crash because they loved that time so much.

      5. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        At the very least, if you’re too valuable in your current position to move to another one, at a minimum they should start throwing money at you to make it worth your while to stay. Obviously, that may not make it worth it to you to stick around, if part of the allure of the promotion was getting to do different things. Still, if you’re so valuable, they need to demonstrate that to you. With money.

    5. Parenthesis Guy*

      I think management also sometimes thinks that this person may be good at some things required to move up, but they’re not quite ready in other areas. Then they get surprised when someone else disagrees with their opinion.

    6. WantonSeedStitch*

      I think to be fair, it’s possible the role the OP applied for could require a skill set they don’t have, or don’t have to the extent that the person who got the role did. I once had two internal applicants to a management position–basically the lowest management rung on the ladder, managing a team of several people. Both were great candidates. One was both more experienced and probably a bit more skilled as an individual contributor. The other, however, showed a much better understanding of the role of a manager and how to manage people. This was such a vital part of the role that it only made sense to give it to a decent individual contributor who showed more potential as a manager. We were lucky we didn’t lose the other person, and have tried hard to show our appreciation for their contributions–we’re even looking at trying to create another promotion path from that role that doesn’t involve people management, because we want to be able to retain those rock stars who aren’t necessarily the best people for a management role (of which we only have so many anyway).

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        “I think to be fair, it’s possible the role the OP applied for could require a skill set they don’t have, or don’t have to the extent that the person who got the role did.”

        Yes, but when they pulled the “passover shuffle” on this employee, did they sit back and say “how long would it take this candidate to acquire that skill set?”

        Especially if he/she ticks all the other boxes. Then management starts rationalizing what they did. And if OP were to pack his/her bags and go – then – they find out.

      2. Lady Danbury*

        “I think to be fair, it’s possible the role the OP applied for could require a skill set they don’t have, or don’t have to the extent that the person who got the role did.” This is where communication comes in. As a valued employee who has gone above and beyond, the least they could have done was to sit down with her and discuss what those gaps are after they hired the other person. Ideally, they would have had a conversation about what her goals were, what gaps existed to reaching those goals and a plan to close those gaps long before this job became open, so that it was a natural fit for her to move into the role. The best employers make employee development and succession planning a priority, as they often go hand in hand.

      3. MigraineMonth*

        I was willing to wait for a promotion that I knew my manager was working towards (they needed to get a new high-level individual contributor position approved, since otherwise the only way to advance was to go into management) due to other benefits and clear communication. Make sure the person knows what you’re trying to get approved for them, do what you can to make the current position rewarding, and you may be able to hang on to them.

      4. Kevin Sours*

        It honestly doesn’t matter. When you pass somebody over for promotion like this you are strongly signaling that if they want to move forward with their career they need to do it elsewhere. Nor is it unreasonable for OP to return to doing the job they are being paid to do instead of the one they hoped to get and didn’t.

        While as Alison said, it’s possible the company made the right decision for them, the shouldn’t be surprised by the consequences of that decision. You show your people they are valued by valuing them.

      5. Kella*

        The last bit you said here is the important part and what seems to be missing from OP’s situation. Their employer should be looking at TWO goals here: 1. Hire the best person for the open position 2. Invest in OP’s future career growth.

        When they hired someone other than OP, they demonstrated that this specific path to OP’s career growth had been closed. It sounds like they’ve made no effort to offer a new one or demonstrate that they are invested in this at all. That’s what’s making OP feel disillusioned and unappreciated.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          Yes! It would be one thing if they said to OP “We hired Vince because he has experience in X which we found would be important to this role. We want to talk to you about what kind of path you see forward in the company. Would you like to learn X? Are you more interested in Y and possibly moving into that department at a higher role?” and then really making a path with OP. I strongly believe that 1-you own your own career development and should go after what you want but also 2-if you’ve shown the company what you want (by going after a promotion/other job role), they then can have the conversation with you about how to advance your career. After all, if you’re super interested in learning Y, but they know that the funding for that department goes away when contract A expires in 18 months and they’re not sure they’ll get a renewal, driving you to Y may not be the best choice.

    7. Michelle Smith*

      Ding ding ding! Do too good a job at your current level in some companies and they’ll never promote you because they want you exactly where you are for exactly what they’re paying you.

  2. Czhorat*

    When promotions are rare it’s very hard to “miss” one to an external candidate; I one hundred percent understand that sometimes the message is that the only way up is out the door.

    In your position (and I have been there) I’d talk to management about feeling disappointed at not being chosen and asking what the chances/time frame for moving up would be. If there’s no clear answer — see previous comment about the way up being out.

    Your feelings are valid; even if they DO say there’s a path up, if you genuinely think you’d be a good candidate for the higher-level position there is nothing at all wrong with looking for that position elsewhere.

    This is the risk employers take when they hire an outside candidate rather than promote from within; part of the cost of that outside hire will always be a risk of your emcumbent employees feeling slighted and eventually leaving.

    1. JelloStapler*

      I’d pay close attention to what that path up is- if it’s a carrot with a foggy timeline or a way for you to keep ding more work indefinitely until they decide.

    2. Mina*

      Management has to earn the trust required for an employee to tell them they’re unhappy.

      Unless there’s an immense amount of trust, or the external candidate truly was a superstar who was a clear choice even knowing how strong OP is, I wouldn’t be comfortable going to leadership and outlining my concerns knowing that I was likely on my way out and wanted to keep the target off my back.

    3. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

      I would also ask your management why they made the choice they did. It could be an uncomfortable conversation, but might yield a few benefits:

      1. First and foremost, the answer will give you valuable intelligence about the integrity of your company. If they blow you off with vague or obviously false answers, you know what you need to know, don’t you?

      2. A true and specific answer might still be one that confirms your sense that this is not a place to stay at, for a variety of reasons.

      3. Or, a true and specific answer might be one that is helpful to your own professional growth. While you are hitting it out of the park in your job, what if there were certain skills that needed strengthening, which held you back from this promotion? That kind of feedback, if legitimate, would be a real blessing (painful though it might be).

      4. It could provide closure for you.

      1. Czhorat*

        THIS so much.

        THe biggest thing is that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask. It is your employer and yuo have a relationship with them. If they care about you they’d be willing to have the discussion. If they don’t care about you, then you should leave anyway.

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          Yes, if you’re afraid to ask those questions, you pretty much know the answer already.

  3. Angela*

    “Brat” is a childish term and unless I missed it LW did not refer to themselves this way.

    1. Jessica*

      It was probably in the subject line of their email. I can’t imagine that Alison originated it.

    2. Trick or Treatment*

      I am assuming that was the actual subject line of LW’s email, even though they didn’t repeat this phrasing in the text.

      But I agree, it’s such an infantilising term. If this is really wording from the original email, I hope that LW also thinks about the way they talk to themselves. It’s okay to wonder if you’re being irrational in a given situation, but assigning such strong, negative terms can do a number on your self-image. (See also: “God, I’m such an idiot” at minor mistakes)

      1. Sedna*

        Yeah, agreed. LW, that’s a harsh term to describe anyone and it really doesn’t sound like you deserve it. “I am going to be more careful about my labor based on how my job is compensating me” is a very mature and logical conclusion! When your job is willing to recognize your worth, they’ll get all of you. Until then keep some energy for yourself.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Even underperforming for a few weeks or being more withdrawn at work isn’t “being a brat”; it’s being human. Obviously performing below-average-for-your-team for a significant amount of time or being very emotional at work (tantrums, silent treatment, insubordination) would go too far and have consequences, but just pulling back at work is important; you should be taking some time to reevaluate your relationship with your workplace and future plans right now.

      2. Ole Pammy's Getting What She Wants*

        hi LW! be nice to yourself! We sound similar – I am getting over overacheiving and burning myself out earlier this year. high achievers get dopamine from successfully completing tasks and goals in a way others dont. Conversely, we also tend to be EXTREMELY hard on ourselves to meet our own internal expectations. Take time to fully form your thoughts when you get frustrated with yourself or others and pay attention to your to talk to yourself internally. I have been skeptical of “the power of positive thinking” and the easy crossover into toxic positivity my whole life, until i realized that the power of negative thinking sure was working on me. You are not a brat, your expectations are just not aligning with your employer’s plans for you at the moment.

        FWIW – I also had to learn the hard way not to go THAT above and beyond without discussion of compensation, monetary or otherwise. you will never be sufficiently retroactively “rewarded”, because your employer already has what they wanted. this is where resentment starts to brew! give 85% on a regular basis so when you need to give 100 you still have your reserves without burning out.

        1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

          Yeah, LW, I saw “Am I being a brat about not getting a promotion?” and assumed… I don’t know, that the person was being rude to the colleague who did get a promotion, or refusing to speak to their manager except via email, or… something similarly wild. (TBH I was a little disappointed that the behavior was “pull back a little bit in an entirely reasonable way” — I like the outrageous letters.)

          You are not being a brat. You are demonstrating that you are a human instead of a robot, and as such have feelings, and that there are consequences when your employer totally ignores those feelings.

      3. LW*

        LW here! Yeah, that’s fair. It was a mostly-tongue-in-cheek email subject but the point is well taken that it’s not a great way to think about myself. I appreciate it.

    3. Indolent Libertine*

      My guess is that this may have been the subject line of LW’s email to Alison.

    4. it's gonna be bye bye bye... oh, wrong song*

      It’s the headline, not in the response, and even if it was, Alison’s answer is “no”. Let’s not wet-blanket every mildly colorful/self-deprecating bit of language on here.

  4. el l*

    It’s a common professional situation. You work your tail off to get a promotion, and the company – for reasons that may either be good or bad – passes you over. You hit a ceiling. I’ve personally and recently had this.

    It’s their call who they choose for the position. And it’s your call whether you accept being exceptional yet stuck in your current spot.

    Meet expectations. And spend that extra energy to find another place.

    1. Ultimate Facepalm*

      It’s been my experience that all of that hard work does not go to waste. Put all of those accomplishments in your cover letter, your resume, and your interviews and move on.
      You’re still getting promoted – just at a different company.
      I hope you find something amazing really soon!

      1. ferrina*

        This was my story.

        One caveat- sometimes it takes time to get that next role. Make sure that you are still doing things that help you get the role you want, not just things that help the company. I did my boss’s job for almost a year, then got an external job promoting me to my boss’s level (since I’d already been doing the work for a year).

      2. Olive*

        Yes, my story was very similar to the LW’s. I had taken on a title change that didn’t come with a raise, on top of my daily work. Every time I had a 1-1, I asked outright if there was anything my manager thought I could improve or do differently and she always said I was doing great. When I applied for a promotion, suddenly there were things she said I needed to improve on *that she’d never once mentioned during a 1-1*.

        On my way out the door, my grandboss was all of a sudden like “oh I’m sure we can almost match your new salary offer”. LOL. Within 2 years at my new company, I received a promotion with a raise, and I’m now making $40k more than I was at my old company.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          I’m always so curious about these situations when managers suddenly come up with issues in your work that they never mentioned before. If you don’t mind, did you ask her why she never flagged these issues before? If so, what was her answer?

          And does she realize that she’s basically admitting that she sucks at managing because there were all these issues that she either never noticed or never talked to you about?

          1. Mockingjay*

            Because your maximum value to the company might be precisely where you are, especially when you do your core tasks well and can handle stretch assignments or pinch hit, as OP and @Olive did. People like you and OP are extremely valuable employees to managers. They depend on you to carry the workload while requiring minimal oversight. The obstacles and made-up issues are a panic response to keep you in place.

            Not all managers do this, of course. But from a business perspective, your value is often higher when performing technical or product tasks than it would be as a manager.

            1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

              Oh, I get it. I’m just curious why they choose to lie in a way that makes them look incompetent.

          2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

            Grumpy, they come up with rationalizations when they’re confronted and have no other answers.

            And, as in OP’s case. he/she

            – was next in line for the position
            – they pulled the “passover shuffle”
            – when confronted they have no answer that makes sense AND
            – the situation now appears impossible to fix.

            They can’t easily undo the situation. All they can do is tell the person who was passed over “drink your milk and you could grow up to be Hulk Hogan”… etc.

            They’re not going to reverse themselves. That would be admitting that they erred (which, they DID) but they’d lose face if they canned the new hire and gave OP the job. Plus, it’s not fair to the new hire.

      3. MigraineMonth*

        Exactly! Make a list of all your superlative accomplishments and add them to your resume.

  5. Lab Boss*

    OP, I’ve been in two similar situations.

    In the first I didn’t get a promotion, and I had feelings similar to yours. What helped me get through it was to request a follow-up meeting with my management chain, to talk about concrete things that I was missing and what it would look like for me to meet the expectations I hadn’t met at promotion time- as well as what I was already doing and what they thought of it. You might find that (just as an example) they think it’s great that you answer e-mails on the weekend, but don’t consider that to have anything to do with the promotion you want. You may find that there are things you can cut back on that legitimately have no bearing on your path forward.

    In the second I was facing the possible need to pull back from some duties (In my case, because the promotion I’d been heading for was looking like we might not reach a comp agreement). I had an open discussion with my manager about which extra duties I’d only been doing to make a case for promotion, and what it would look like when I stopped doing things that were legitimately beyond my current job. I wanted to avoid any misunderstanding that I’d suddenly gotten worse at my job, or even that I was pouting- it was a calm discussion about the transactional aspects of my job, and we all understood our options. If you’re worried about being judged for no longer working extra hard, a similar conversation could help.

      1. Abogado Avocado*

        I agree! When I look back on my career, one of my failures was to advocate in concrete terms to my bosses about what I wanted my career path to look like. Instead, like LW, I felt I went above and beyond, but didn’t feel that I was recognized for that. Coworkers would be approached about applying for higher positions, but that never happened to me — and it never occurred to me to apply for those positions. (What a dummy I was!)

        Eventually, I went to grad school in that same town and would meet my former co-workers and bosses for drinks. One night, one of my former bosses said, “Why did you leave? You were a really top performer and we thought you were happy at [name of workplace].” I replied, “If you thought I was such a top performer, why didn’t I ever get a promotion?” My former boss said, “Because you never told us that you wanted to move up the management chain. We always thought that you enjoyed doing more than managing.” And that’s when the lightbulb clicked on in my tiny brain: I didn’t get considered because my bosses weren’t mind readers. They didn’t know — because I never told them — what I hoped my good work would lead to.

        I suspect, LW, with all your hustle and smarts, you’ve got a great future ahead of you!

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          They’re terrible bosses if they’re not actively leading this conversation.

          “You didn’t tell me” is complete BS. This type of boss will just string you along with empty promises if you do tell them.

          1. Lab Boss*

            I think it’s fair to remember that bosses are human. A good boss will lead the conversation, prep a high performer for promotion, and be ready to explain exactly what happened if they don’t get it. But there’s plenty of good bosses out there who lose sight of it because they’re satisfied with the status quo, or because they mentally pigeonhole people as “Jane does X” and struggle to see Jane as ready to do a not-X job.

            There’s a difference between having to fight tooth-and-nail for every step of advancement, and wanting to be your own strongest advocate and take a hand in your own progress.

            1. Reluctant Mezzo*

              But if you’re doing all that high level work for low or mid level compensation, a lot of companies will think they can get away with that forever.

          2. Baunilha*

            I’m with Trout ‘Waver on this one. Good managers should always be in touch with employees about possible career paths, that’s what performance evaluations are for. A lot of people wouldn’t feel comfortable approaching their boss about moving up the ladder, especially minorities. If they’re not feeling seen, many will just move on to another job.

            I’m not saying bosses should be mind readers, but they (we, since I’m one myself) should foster a health environment with regular 1:1s so everyone os on the same page.

        2. Parenthesis Guy*

          “My former boss said, “Because you never told us that you wanted to move up the management chain. We always thought that you enjoyed doing more than managing.””

          I don’t know how high you were in the company because at some point you’ll get to where you need to manage to get a promotion. But there should be a track for individual performers to get reasonably high in the company without managing. If your company didn’t have that, then that’s on them not you.

        3. Very Anon*

          I would be so curious to know whether the others who were actively courted for promotion were of a different sex than you.

          1. Bird names*

            Oh, nice catch. Yeah, it’s kinda odd to claim that Abogado Avocado didn’t sufficiently advocate for themself when others were approached directly…

        4. MigraineMonth*

          I hope you’re using hyperbole, Abogado Avocado, because this is actually super common, particularly among people who are already at a demographic disadvantage at work. (Which is why companies with good DEI should be reminding managers to initiate these talks.)

          You see this pattern with studies of the stereotype threat: boys who get a B- on a math test are more likely to sign up for an advanced math class than girls who get a B+, because the boys feel like they automatically belong in math and the girls need an invitation to feel welcomed.

          (Not to mention that educated white men who advocate for themselves and ask for promotions–even when inappropriate–are more likely to be seen as go-getters with gumption than “uppity” or “crazy”.)

          Also, if you come from a blue-collar family/career, a lot of these unspoken white collar expectations on what you should be discussing with your manager and how much you should be planning your own career path aren’t clear.

        5. Lunar Caustic*

          What bothers me is that your bosses clearly believed that they could read your mind, even though they should have known that was impossible. That’s on them, not you.

    1. boof*

      ” I had an open discussion with my manager about which extra duties I’d only been doing to make a case for promotion, and what it would look like when I stopped doing things that were legitimately beyond my current job. I wanted to avoid any misunderstanding that I’d suddenly gotten worse at my job, or even that I was pouting- it was a calm discussion about the transactional aspects of my job, and we all understood our options. ”

      This is the ideal! Sadly life and people are often far from ideal, but if possible this is the best way to go; outline the extra work you were doing and why, that you’re going to stop (or, stop unless you get ____ if that’s what it would take to keep doing it), and everyone can make decisions on how to move forward in a reasonable and open fashion.
      Of course, only works if everyone is reasonable. Fingers crossed for you LW! You sound very reasonable, hope your employer is as well! And job hunting is very reasonable, it might either reassure you that you like the place you’re at despite this, or you might find it’s the best way to get the next step you want.

    2. Wilbur*

      “You might find that (just as an example) they think it’s great that you answer e-mails on the weekend, but don’t consider that to have anything to do with the promotion you want.”

      I spent a lot of time and energy going above and beyond trying to get converted from a contract, looking back a lot of it fell in this category. Did it make my boss’s job much easier? Yes. Did it raise my profile? No.

      +1 They should talk to their boss about it though, I’ve worked at places where they’ve done a lot of career planning but never included the actual employees on it. There might be something they have in mind that might be a better fit from their perspective.

    3. Anon for this*

      I agree with this advice. I’ve also been in the first situation and had a conversation with my boss in which he explained that while my efforts to support his work were appreciated what was needed for promotion was to work more independently (think bringing in your own clients rather than helping the boss service his clients). I was surprised by this as I had thought that making myself indispensable was the way forward but in fact what was needed was more independence and perhaps even selfishness in terms of promoting my own relationships and business profile over doing work for him. I was able to make the adjustments required and was promoted six months later while maintaining a good relationship with the boss. This illustrates that sometimes working hard and going over and above isn’t what’s actually needed to qualify for a promotion and only entrenches you more in your current supporting role. That was a really constructive experience for me.

      Equally there are times when you just become typecast and can only move up by moving out. I have also been in that position, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact I wish I had figured it out and left sooner.

    4. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I love this comment. It’s totally reasonable to ask management for a meeting to talk about where any skill gaps might be and how to be a stronger candidate the next time a promotion comes up. Though, ideally, management should have organized this themselves. In a functional organization, this can be seen as you taking an opportunity for feedback to make yourself an even better employee going forward.

      You’ll learn a lot about the organization and your place in it by how they react to all of this. If they get weird about it, that’s a clear bad sign about management as a whole. A real warning sign is if they don’t have good, clear answers about either where you need to improve, what the plan is to get you there, and/or the expected timeline.

      Of course, you should continue to make whatever decisions serve you best, regardless of what they say. Maybe there were a couple things to improve and they’re open to supporting you. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consider moving on.

  6. WellRed*

    OP if at all feasible, now is a great time to take a vacation! Get some distance from the crappy situation.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Excellent idea. Get away for awhile, refresh yourself, get some perspective on things then decide how you feel. Maybe you will still not want to go above and beyond and that’s okay. Maybe you will want to have a chat with your boss about why they chose the person they did and what you might need to do in the future. Maybe you realize the only way to be promoted is to leave. All of this is okay to do. After a little break.

  7. Richard Hershberger*

    At the risk of jinxing it, I want to applaud the absence of the phrase “quiet quitting” in both the question and the answer. It is a terrible way to describe just doing your job. Hopefully is it oh, so 2023.

    1. PinaColada*

      My impression of the term “quiet quitting” is it’s similar to “phoning it in” where you’re technically doing your job, but at the bare minimum. I don’t think it’s the same as pulling back on going “above and beyond”.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        I have seen “quiet quitting” explicitly defined as no longer going above and beyond. Of course there is no single accepted definition, so it can also mean doing the bare minimum.

        1. allathian*

          Indeed. And for some managers, the margin between going above and beyond and phoning it in is very thin to non-existent, and it shouldn’t be.

      2. B*

        It’s often been used in precisely this kind of context, when an employer throws a tantrum because an employee decides only to do their job.

    2. Busy Middle Manager*

      I want to like this term but it gets misused. People will describe basically doing nothing and then be like “I’m quiet quitting.” No, that’s underperforming. Quiet quitting involves actually doing work, just not going above and beyond and not doing > 40 hours.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Lol and the person above you is saying the exact opposite! Clearly there’s no consensus on this term.

        1. So they all cheap-ass rolled over and one fell out*

          There is definitely no consensus on the meaning, so every time you use it, you should probably define it, meaning it saves zero time to use.

          It *sounds* like it should mean phoning it in, doing the bare minimum to not get fired (or even less than that). Even stopping doing your job without actually resigning.

          Some people use it to mean not going above and beyond like you used to. But that’s not quitting, so it doesn’t really fit, it’s really more misleading.

        2. MCMonkeybean*

          Yeah, I’m team #quietquitting = doing pretty much nothing while you job search because you don’t care if they fire you. What OP is doing should not require a specific term because she is just… working. Just regular working.

      2. Gimme all you got*

        I think the problem is to the bosses, sometimes not going above and beyond if that’s what you’ve been doing already looks the same as underperforming.

    3. ArtK*

      The phrase was coined by employers and their media to describe just doing your job. They have been so used to people going above and beyond for so long that they have come to expect it; any change is shocking and they fight back against it with negative phrasing. Personally, I like the idea of employees owning the phrase, treating it as a good thing (which it is.)

      1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

        It’s been taken over so much by the employer discourse, though — I prefer “working to rule,” which 1) comes from a labor background 2) is well-defined (doing exactly your job and no more) and 3) acknowledges that you are in fact working, just maybe not as much as you were before.

  8. DrSalty*

    It’s not clear to me, have you talked directly with whoever was in charge of hiring about why they made the decision they did? It could be illuminating (or not). I do agree with Alison 100% though, you’re justified and not doing anything wrong.

    1. Nebula*

      Yes, that was my thought. Understanding why they made that decision would be essential to me if I was deciding whether to stay and keep putting the effort in. I have been passed over before and then seen that actually, that person was better for the job than me, and it was totally fair enough; I have also been in the position where an external candidate was hired for a job that I could have definitely done a lot better. There are a fair few possibilities here, and each one calls for a different reaction. But it might also be good for OP to reach out now that (presumably) a little time has passed, so that they can absorb any feedback in a calmer way. I know that sometimes I just haven’t learned a lot from interview feedback, or haven’t asked the right questions or something because I was too upset about the outcome.

    2. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      I think Alison’s response highlighted this though – the company should have talked to LW. The LW should not have to reach out to management to find out what happened. The fact that management didn’t even consider talking to LW about it is another point against them. They take LW for granted.

      LW may still want to reach out, but it shouldn’t have had to come from them.

    3. Employee of the Bearimy*

      But if management didn’t reach out proactively, that’s just one more sign that they don’t really value the OP. At my previous job I was passed over for a promotion twice, and both times my boss (a different boss in each situation) set up a meeting with me to talk through the reasons behind the decision and give me suggestions about how to advance. In one case, she printed out the resume of the external candidate who was chosen to show me that it wasn’t due to any shortcoming on my part, just an incredibly qualified “unicorn” candidate showed up. It absolutely helped keep me there longer.

      1. BellaStella*

        This experience you had with feedback is terrific and normal high quality management. That is great to read!

    4. So they all cheap-ass rolled over and one fell out*

      100% I don’t see anything in the letter saying LW asked about why the decision went the way it did, when another spot might open up, and how they might position themselves to get it.

      I know at my employer, one of the factors considered in promotion decisions is “time in grade,” how long you’ve been in your current position. I’ve lost coworkers who didn’t know that and quit because they didn’t know they needed to wait a mere six months or year to get seriously considered for the next level.

      1. Plume*

        Sounds like you should be transparent about that with your strong performers. I would honestly be even more upset to find out there was an unwritten rule around time in grade and I had no chance of landing the position. I would have felt like the company wasted my time.

    5. LW*

      LW here! I have talked to the hiring manager about it a bit (who is also my current boss) – the only real explanation has been that it wasn’t any failing on my part and I would have done a great job, but the other candidate “put together a great package.” I don’t really know what that means and I couldn’t figure out how to ask for more details at the time without sounding like I was pushing back against the decision. I don’t know if he was trying to spare my feelings by not talking about the ways that the other candidate was better than me, but it was a pretty unsatisfying answer. If anyone has insights or advice, I would welcome them :)

      I’m (ironically?) in the midst of another intense project with a deadline in a few weeks, but after that I will definitely sit down with my boss and talk about what I would need to change/improve/learn to be a better candidate in the future, and also how we can change my current job so it aligns better with the types of work I’d like to be doing (which is something he offered when he told me I didn’t get the promotion). The problem is that this type of promotion comes up VERY rarely (there’s really only one position), so unless the current hire leaves soon, there won’t be another chance at it in any reasonable time frame. It’s possible that my current position could morph into something I’d be happy with, but it would take a fairly significant reorganizing of duties, so I’m not super confident.

      I do think that conversation will be illuminating, though – either in the sense that I’ll understand why the outside candidate was better, or I’ll understand that I need to step up my job search.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        This all makes total sense, LW. And you’re right that the conversation will be illuminating no matter what. Maybe you and your boss will be able to come up with a plan that makes you happy, even without the promotion. Heck, maybe there could be an opportunity to create a new role for you. Or maybe everything will stay vague, the timeline will be unclear, and you’ll know that the best thing is to start a proper job search.

  9. BellaStella*

    Thank you letter writer for this question and thank you AAM for the great answer too! This has happened to me recently too, and like you LW, I have pulled way back, am not available on weekends or after 6pm, am taking sick time for doctor appointments instead of making it up, and have been vocal about my disappointment.

    My self reflection on this is as follows, I am not sure this will help or resonate with you LW:
    1. Do your job that is in your job description. Do it well.
    2. Follow the advice given here.
    3. Reach out perhaps to upper management or HR and ask for some feedback if possible. What ELSE could you have done to out-leverage the external person, and will an opportunity like this come around again in say 1 year?
    4. Get to know the person in the role you were passed over for. Help bring them on board. They will learn to value you as a colleague and as an ally, this may help you in the future too. And you may learn from them, as they have maybe some skills you don’t? Not sure, but worth a shot.
    5. Balance your life a bit more to not reach for that external validation. This is a hard one. I am reading a book now called the Subtle Art of not giving a F…, by a guy named Mark Manson. It is really helping me to see how I am responsible for my actions but am not to blame for things others have done, but I am learning to prioritize my own needs over the expectations of others. Working on my own resilience is key here and you can also look at how your work can be improved and your life too, by being kind to yourself and more resilient in a time like this where the disappointment is coming thru in your letter.

    Best wishes and please do consider looking around, too.

    1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      Mark Manson is great. :-) He also has a website for “life advice that doesn’t suck”.

      1. BellaStella*

        Yes! I have just bought this book and his new one too as am going thru a few challenges and cannot afford 100$ an hour therapy. :)

    2. Nea*

      I am learning to prioritize my own needs over the expectations of others.

      This is so, SO important! Companies have a vested interest in telling employees that they have to go above and beyond, that trashing their personal life is the only way to get ahead.

      But the only one who wins in that scenario is the company, which will reward that overwork the same way they rewarded OP – with absolutely no loyalty back.

      Yes, if you wish to stay in this company, reaching out politely might get you the information you need. Yes, if you feel completely betrayed, job searching is perfectly legitimate.

      But most of all, OP – you aren’t being “a brat” and you aren’t quiet quitting – you’re rebalancing your priorities so that your personal time belongs only to YOU, which is as it should be. For this job and all the next ones.

  10. brjeau*

    You’re absolutely well within your rights to stop going above and beyond, and your response is totally reasonable. I agree with the advice to ask for feedback and insights about a path to advancement in the future, because you’ll learn something useful whether it’s constructive/actionable or confirms that the only way up is out.

    And also, don’t be surprised if your extremely reasonable newfound refusal to work evenings and weekends results in comments or implications that you’re ‘not working to your usual standard.’ Unfortunately a lot of times when you set the bar at 110%, the reaction to dropping to “just” 100% is to treat it like a problem. Hopefully that’s not the case for you!

    But just know it’s not uncommon, and if it does happen it doesn’t mean you’re slacking or wrong to take it down a notch. (This would be true even if this all hadn’t been triggered by being passed over btw)

  11. Fluffy Fish*

    I too have experienced this OP and not only did I pull back a bit workwise, I also took a step back to untangle my identity from my job.

    For me that looked like taking almost all of my personal things home. Work is work, home is home and I don’t need the two to meet. It might sound silly but mentally it really helped. I was overly invested in my job and it was taking up too much mental space when I wasn’t at work.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      I don’t think that’s silly at all! I’m fortunate enough to work for a company that treats me well, doing something that I enjoy, but I still recognize that I’m giving them my skills and labor in exchange for a pay check. It’s good to have that separation.

    2. BellyButton*

      “I also took a step back to untangle my identity from my job.” At 50 I am trying to do this. My entire life and identity has revolved around being a “rock star” -in school, in my career. I am tired. I still love what I do and think I have the greatest job in the world, but it is a lot. I put so much of me into my work, I am not sure I even know who I am without my job. Do I even know how to be a person not wrapped up in their job/work?

      This would make a good topic for Ask the Reader or a Friday OT.

      1. Fluff*


        I am working trying to figure that out. Until recently – I did not even realize I needed to figure that out.

    3. anony4853*

      I’m glad you realize that before it is too late. I heard a story somewhere where he was visiting his parent at a nursing home and on each of the resident’s doors, there was a biography about them. Most said something like “loving, husband” or “loving wife of 2 kids” etc, and then there were a handful who were retired CEOs and only had the company name and job title of where they last worked. Makes you think twice about making work your identity.

      1. allathian*

        I’ve never heard of anyone on their deathbed regretting that they spent so little time working…

        1. Katie Impact*

          I did hear a story once of a famous artist turning away visits from friends and family on his deathbed so that he could spend his final days working without interruptions, but it doesn’t seem like an enviable way to live.

    4. LW*

      LW here! Yeah… I am a lifelong overachiever whose identity has always been really wrapped up in career accomplishments (and before that, educational accomplishments), so that’s a point well taken. I love my work and it is really mission driven, which is one reason that not getting this promotion feels pretty devastating – it’s a small organization with only a few leadership positions (none likely to be open anytime soon), so now my options are either leave the work I’ve been committed to for years, or stay in a position I’ve outgrown. I can definitely see that if I had a healthier relationship to my career in general, it wouldn’t feel like as big of a blow. I will probably get a number of fruitful therapy sessions out of this experience :)

      1. Anony4853*

        Don’t tie your identity to your work. At my current company, we have people who retire and guess what, a few months later they come back as “consultants”. Why? because these retirees loss their sense of identity when they no longer have a job. They tied all of their self into work and don’t realize that the company can function fine without them. Don’t be that person and learn this too late in life. Better that this experience happens to you now then much later.

        Also, someone once told me this: Career growth is never linear. Life happens, people start a family, people end up moving across the country, people have an older relative to care for, etc. But know that wherever you are in your career, know that it won’t be like this forever. Opportunities open up, companies restructure, people leave, and people retire. Look back at your LinkedIn page or your old colleagues from prior companies if you have any, you will see. There are usually big changes every few years.

  12. M2*

    I totally understand this. This happened to me years ago and the person who got the promotion was awful. HQ pushed for this person and my manager was angry as I had basically ran the country office beautifully for one full year. So I did not go above and beyond and left within a year. Unfortunately, when I left the programs I was directing basically shut down because most of my team quit and nothing was done due to the person who got the promotion. It was really unfortunate as we were doing really important aid work.

    I was up for another job years later and someone at HQ (who I only worked with 1-2 x as they had a global role and I was country/regional and who basically stole others work as their own) was asked for a reference even though I did not give that person as a reference. They told the company when I left everything fell apart, essentially blaming me when in fact it was due to the person who received the promotion (and who was in charge of putting things in place) did not put then in place so people left. HQ also should have sent other people to fill in (as I gave 5 weeks notice before I left), but they dropped the ball.

    I could have spent nights, weekends and canceled my vacations, but I was burned out and felt I should not do someones job who was paid more than me and who got credit for my teams work. I ended up not getting the job at this other company due to this random reference and the person giving the (backdoor) reference got it instead. The reference was pushed out of the role a year later.

    That is just my story. I did what you did and am now happier, but me doing a more & better work than anyone else (but not up to my prior standard) led to people noticing and someone giving me a not great reference. My manager at this former organization gave me a stellar reference. I would start looking for other roles and also if your comfortable ask why you did not get the reference. According to my manager HQ gave it to this person because someone at HQ personally knew them and they were qualified on paper, but almost shut the entire country operation down.

    Good luck to you! Start applying for roles you would take and people do value your work!

    1. Blue*

      Wait wait wait. They asked for a reference about you from someone they then hired?? Sounds like a place full of bees.

      1. Myrin*

        I was just thinking that! I hope that person at least wasn’t already in the running during the time they gave the reference because that would mean the company asked an applicant to give a reference on another applicant, which surely can only go well.

        1. HonorBox*

          Yeah. Somewhere in that process, someone should have realized either a) that they were asking an applicant for a reference for another applicant or b) that they were offering a job to someone from whom they’d received a reference about another applicant. Both of those are bad situations and make the hiring process appear suspect and flawed.

      2. Ashley Armbruster*

        “sounds like a place full of bees”

        I see “bee” here quite a bit but what exactly does that mean? People who drink the company kool-aid?

        1. Kit*

          It originates in, if I recall correctly, a comment from Captain Awkward about an abusive relationship, comparing the abuser to the house of LW’s dreams, which is entirely perfect… except that the house is full of bees, and clearly does not actually have room for LW or their dreams in it.

          Especially as applied here, it’s not a direct comparison of employees to hymenopterans, just an evocative description of a place that is not in fact conducive to the LW’s long-term health and happiness, no matter how appealing it looks in the photos from the estate agent.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Not every day you get to use hymenopteran in an internet comment. Love it.

    2. Busy Middle Manager*

      It does sometimes happened. Years ago I worked in a “Contract Department” but it was absolutely not legal-related, it was all purchasing contracts and prices and dates and spreadsheets and codes and purchase volumes data.

      Some brilliant mind hired who you’d think would run a “Contracts” department, a law-focused Director. Well, they had zero insight into what we did. They didn’t have the computer skills and didn’t think mathematically but in terms of wording and legalese. So they barely supported us or even talk to us.

      But the board thought they were great! (to clarify, the board probably thought they were great because of the random ad hoc legal work they did. But they were not good for the actual job they were hired for!)

  13. Ashley Armbruster*

    I already want an update. I’ve seen more often than not, the external person ends up being a dud, or has a hard time learning the business (although there are exceptions!), but upper management is clueless and thinks the sun shines out of their bottoms. I hope OP finds a better job!

    1. Nebula*

      Yes, I’ve had this – someone having a hard time learning the business. I was once passed over for a promotion for a job I had basically been doing without recognition, in favour of someone external who had done a similar job for somewhere very prestigious. It was a nine-month initial contract, and she spent 2-3 months just bedding in and understanding the organisation, whereas had I got the job, I could have been productive in that role from day one. She also just did that nine-month contract and then left, and they had to scramble to find someone else to do the job. By that point, I had moved on to a different part of the organisation and wasn’t interested. Don’t think anyone involved in the hiring learned any lessons from that, though.

    2. jasmine*

      Same! I want to know what happens here, whether OP decides to leave, and how management reacts if they do

  14. BellyButton*

    I did the same thing at my previous company. I had completely invented the entire department and grew it beyond anyone’s expectations, but wasn’t being recognized. So I just slowly decreased my engagement. Like LW, I was still performing at a high performer level- but I could do it with little effort or engagement. No one noticed- or if they did they didn’t say anything. I still got exceeds expectations every review and my full bonus.

    After I got over my resentment and negativity I began job hunting. I left for a way bigger job, a 40% raise, and into a culture that appreciates me and all the employees.

  15. Blue*

    Am I having wild deja vu or did this same post go up recently (like maybe last week)? Not complaining just trying to figure out if I’m losing my mind :)

    1. Ashley*

      I remember one recently from the manager’s perspective that the star employee didn’t get the promotion and started pulling back.

      1. Zona the Great*

        My glob I would love if this letter was the other side of that letter. So meta.

      1. Blue*

        Ahhhhh! Ok thank you for solving the mystery. I must have caught it right when it went up. :)

      2. FrivYeti*

        Thank you, I was absolutely losing my cool trying to figure out why I knew the letter, and Alison’s response, just based on the title.

    2. Roy Donk*

      Came to the comments to ask this exact same question. I was having that sickening feeling of–did I just make this up? Or have I read this email before?

  16. Jennifer Strange*

    Based on the title I was expecting this to be a situation where the LW was being snide to the person who was hired over them, so I’m pleasantly surprised it’s simply the LW establishing healthy boundaries. There is nothing wrong with pulling back so long as you are continuing to at least meet expectations.

    That said, if you otherwise do enjoy your work and company I would talk with your manager about it and see if they can build a path with you that would get you to that next step. It may not be possible, and you would want to decide your next steps accordingly, but it is certainly worth a shot.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      The title immediately made me think of a person at Exjob who did exactly that, LW is nothing in comparison to that guy (“Riley” had been acting up in the role for months before it could be advertised due to a dispute about salary, and had assumed it would automatically go to him, and took it badly when “Spike” the external hire was appointed instead, he had a couple of months to stew on it because Spike wasn’t local and needed to relocate. He’d do things like arranging his own meetings with people who really should have been meeting Spike, at times when Spike couldn’t be there, and left a mess behind him when he did leave. I don’t know what the deciding factors were, or what feedback Riley was given, but all he achieved was making everyone think the right decision was made in hiring Spike.)

      Anything LW has described sounds fair enough – I would second the suggestion of a conversation with your manager though.

    1. just here for the scripts*

      In fact, since you updated all your stuff for this internal promotion attempt, use them to kick off your external job hunt!

  17. What_the_What*

    I hear you and I’ve been you. I worked for almost 10 years at a company I loved. I created a team that didn’t exist. I went above and beyond. Often being told on Friday I needed to be across the country on Monday for a meeting and saying, “Sure. No problem.” The metrics for promotion were make known to us all: X number of direct supports, Y amount of money being brought in, Z% billable utilization. I had twice the number of people, brought in almost double the profits, hit my utilization while also still doing all the expected “next level” marketing and BD work. Watched multiple men who came in after me and had smaller portfolios get promoted. Had excellent reviews every year, followed by “but we just don’t have the business case to promote you this year,” over and over. I finally quit when I realized, I could cure cancer and it was never going to be enough. I now make 50% money, with maybe 1/3 of the responsibilities. Don’t internalize that culture. Don’t feed the beast. Do what is best for YOU, because they’re sure as HELL doing what’s best for them! I’m sorry you aren’t being recognized for what you do.

    1. What_the_What*

      ARGH I hate that I can’t edit and I always find my mistakes later, even though I try to proofread (not easy on a phone). Couple of edits for clarity:

      “metrics for promotion were MADE known”
      “I now make 50% MORE money”

    2. frenchblue*

      This is amazing! Wish I would have learned that lesson earlier in my career :)

      1. What_the_What*

        I was too in love with my job, the (BIG NAME) company, the challenge… all of it, to have learned it early. Sadly, it’s one of those things that takes years and suddenly you’re like “I’ve given you 10 years… and you’ve given me …what, exactly?” I wish I had learned it early too, but I just don’t think you really CAN :(

  18. ForestHag*

    This one hits home for me. In my previous job (at my same organization), I asked for a promotion and/or a raise since I was doing so much. After several weeks of leadership “discussing” it, I was told I was “too valuable” to move me out of my current position. So I asked for a higher title and a raise, and was denied as well.

    So I then got a job in a different area of my organization, and have done well here for the past 7 years….but now my “reward” is that my team is going to be reorganized and merged with my old department – and the leadership in my old department has a chip on their shoulder about me because of various politics and the fact that I “left” them. So going above and beyond in my current role, the reward I get is being moved back into a toxic department with leadership that has an ax to grind.

    This is not how it is at every organization. I am hoping I can find an organization that will actually support me and reward me for my efforts! But I’m coming to terms with the fact that it’s not going to be my current one. So I am pulling back as well – doing enough to be competent and take care of my team, but I’m just so DONE trying so hard. So it’s okay OP – it’s okay to pull back sometimes, even if you just need a break.

  19. FormerHigherEdPerson*

    Oooof, I’ve been there. I held the higher role as interim for 6 months and worked my TAIL off. Went through the whole interview process and didn’t get the job. To say I was bitter was an understatement. And then, they expected me to stay on reporting to the new person and help train/onboard them.
    Conversations about what I could have done differently, how long until new opportunties, etc were pointless, as this was higher education and in order to move up you usually have to move out (also, my current leadership was very good at vague feedback, like “we just needed to go in a different direction…”) So I took a new job and was much happier for it. I eventually left the field altogether, but that’s a different story.
    Overall, it just wasn’t something I could come back from, especially after going above and beyond for months and only hearing amazing things from colleagues and leadership about my interim work. I felt taken advantage of, under-valued, and overlooked. I lost all trust in my Assoc. VP and Dean.

    OP, I hope you’re able to take some time off and focus on yourself. You are more than your work, and I hope that you can reconnect with what’s truly important. It doesn’t hurt to put yourself out there and see what other opportunities are available.

    1. ForestHag*

      This is helpful for me to hear! I’m trying to leave higher ed. I feel like my whole career there has been this situation – lots of praise from people telling me how valuable I am, how much they appreciate my work etc etc…only to not be rewarded for it. My current role was offered to me as a promotion, but then later I found out I only got it because they weren’t able to find anyone who would work for the salary (which was low for external people, though a raise for me). When I was first told I was getting “promoted”, I was really excited, but then they made me jump through all the interview hoops. A couple years later I got the full story, and it just bummed me out even more.

      How were you able to escape higher ed? I’ve been actively job searching for almost 2 years now – I’ve applied to tons of things that are basically the job I have now, but I’m not getting anywhere. I would appreciate knowing more about your current situation!

      1. InHigherEd*

        If you haven’t already, check out the Facebook group for Expats of student affairs.

      2. InHigherEd*

        I hear about other fields where a manager will promote you or start the discussion of how to move up. Whaaaat?

        I know that it’s often wise to make your ambitions known, but the idea of getting a promotion that you didn’t actually fight for is wild to me.

        1. ForestHag*

          I should clarify – I did ask to be promoted, and had talked with my current manager at the time that I wanted to move into management a couple year prior, and he coached me to prepare for that possibility. When he retired, I was told I was going to be promoted into his role – but what leadership actually did was just opened it up to all candidates (internal and external – which is not done when it’s an actual promotion), and interviewed several people unbeknownst to me, and then hired me when it became clear no one with any experience in my role would work for the salary they were offering. At the time, I was just excited to actually get the position, but later on it dawned on me why it was taking them such a long time to get it processed, when I have seen other people actually “promoted” and they didn’t have the same process going on.

      3. Aggretsuko*

        I just escaped higher ed by going through state employment. I could not get hired anywhere in academia, even at other schools, with 20+ years of experience. I was never good enough for anybody. State employment was a whole lot more welcoming. I also note that state employment is all about bettering yourself and being able to get promotions. I’ve been trying to get into my new field for YEARS in academia and got blocked every time. *bleep* academia, is what I’m thinking now. Maybe also try and, though that seems to really require a different resume for the last one.

  20. Healthy Boundaries*

    From what you describe in the letter, it sounds like the ways you’re pulling back are healthier for you in the long run anyways. You’ve stopped answering emails outside of work; you’ve stopped working on the weekends, time that is presumably not part of your normal work schedule; and you said no to a project you didn’t have time or energy for and would have needed to deprioritize other projects for or work not than expected hours to complete.

    Those are work- life balance boundaries I would encourage even for people who are trying to go above and beyond. If you’re always available and you always say yes, you will burn out even in the best of jobs. I think a person can do stellar work and go above and beyond even while maintaining those boundaries.

    I’m sorry you didn’t get the promotion. That’s got to hurt a lot, especially when you were putting so much of yourself into the job.

  21. Irish Girl*

    This keeps happening with my husband and the reason he isn’t being promoted is that the aren’t willing to replace his current role. Both panels of interviewers where spilt 3-3 and the deciding vote was down to 1 person who actually said we cant replace him so we wont promote him.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      That’s certainly a way to ensure that they have to replace him when he gets a new job at a new company.

      The power is in your husbands hands to find that new job.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Exactly. This mentality is so short-sighted. They could have someone awesome doing higher-level work and (depending on what the promotion is) teaching other staff how to be awesome. Instead, they choose not to reward the awesome person in the ways that person wants (title, money, benefits). And then go all SUPRISED PIKACHU when they leave for somewhere else that will give them what they want.

    2. BellyButton*

      That is incredibly bad for both your husband and the business. He needs to get out. There are never going to give him the recognition and promotions he has earned.

    3. LW*

      LW here! I do think there might be an element of that going on, and it’s such a bummer. My boss’ boss literally said in a meeting today “LW is doing so much for this project, we should be paying her more” and I (internally) was just like… you just decided not to, though. So frustrating! Fingers crossed that your husband also finds something better soon!

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Though they absolutely *can* decide to pay you more in your current job. Or adjust the job spec of your role and pay more. Or create a different role for you that pays more. They have options.

  22. HonorBox*

    OP I think you’re both reasonable and justified. I think it is understandable that you’re less motivated to put in extra work. And not checking email after hours or taking on an extra project when you don’t have the bandwidth… both of those are reasonable even if you didn’t get passed over for a promotion. You have a right to your time and a right to do a good job with your already-assigned work.

    I’ll be a contrarian to myself for a second now, too… I don’t suggest this as a great long-term solution. There are going to be places where you need to step up. There will be instances when not doing so will be obvious and judged poorly when you have shown you willingness to do extra. But for a period of time, continuing the way you are should give you a bit of breathing room to get past the disappointment of being passed over.

  23. StrategicEmpathy*

    I have been in this spot before, but then I realized it wasn’t about my performance, but about the company’s financials. I was one of the last hires to get hired with a pension and they didn’t want to afford to not only raise my salary, but be on the hook for future pension dollars.

    Keep doing the work, find what value there is in it, but this is writing on the wall for you to find something else.

  24. B*

    Just be sure not to overcorrect. It is easy to say you’re treating the job like a transaction while, in fact, reacting emotionally to a slight that feels personal. That’s natural! But — precisely because the relationship IS transactional — it only hurts you, not the employer.

    Saying no to projects, not checking email after hours, etc., is all super healthy behavior IF you are doing it for yourself. It is harmful if you’re doing it to spite your bosses or as a response to feeling wounded.

    I really recommend taking some time off, as others have said. Try to return with a clear head. And look at the job and your performance as objectively as possible. You may find it’s to your benefit to continue to excel in some areas, and perhaps dial it back in others. After all, the highest performers in a lot of workplaces are the personally ambitious ones. You can view the job transactionally but still work hard, and it can be rewarding to do so, even more so when you learn to stop viewing how you are treated at work as an evaluation of your own worth.

  25. Sunflower*

    This is the reason “quiet quitting” became a thing.

    Just do your job and do it well, but keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t do anything outside your job description or above your pay grade. They get what they pay for.

  26. Mina*

    The best part of this situation is when you and 2 other colleagues quit before you can train the new hire.

    Watching the dumpster fire from afar is the best.

    Though I do feel bad for the new hire, who by all accounts seems lovely and I’m sure will be leaving soon themselves.

  27. cktc*

    At my previous job, the director of my department retired. Her second-in-command applied for the role, as did several external candidates. Management decided none of the applicants were suitable, not even the internal candidate. I think that was even more insulting than hiring one of the external candidates!

    Not surprisingly, the internal candidate left for a higher position at a different company, and her entire team also left one by one. It’s been several years, and they’ve only managed to hire one person. The remaining three or four positions remain unfilled. I don’t know how any of the work is getting done.

    1. Reluctant Mezzo*

      I bet there’s one person left who can’t leave for various reasons trying to do it all. And the bosses are lying to them about a promotion someday.

  28. frenchblue*

    At an old job, this happened to an extremely high-performing, professional, well-liked woman who applied for a promotion. She was such a shoo-in, that when people heard a new manager had been chosen, they started congratulating her. She’d actually lost the spot to an outside candidate who had much LESS experience than her. She went to the Executive Director, professionally & politely laid out how her qualifications, performance, experience, and workplace knowledge far outweighed the new manager’s, and the ED actually listened. They created a whole new managerial position just for her. So… I’m not saying that will work in every case, but a good workplace will make sure high performers feel valued. Maybe it’s worth a conversation for OP, or maybe it’s not, but regardless, don’t stay at a place that undervalues your work.

  29. Zona the Great*

    I’ve worked with a few people who insist they were ‘passed over’ for a promotion when it was clear they were never a candidate for even being passed over. This is not that. This is a clear and obvious pass over. Sadly, I’ve not seen a successful transformation from this to “meeting expectations” that didn’t come with implications that they are now slacking and not doing enough.

    1. Reluctant Mezzo*

      I bet there’s one person there who can’t leave for one reason or another, trying to do it all, and is being lied to about getting a promotion someday…

  30. Green Goose*

    At my previous employer, where I worked for nine years, I saw all sorts of things happen when there was a job opening and internal folks were interested. The best case scenario was when a highly qualified internal person got the job and it went well, but there were times when internal folks wanted a job and a) deserved it and were passed up or b) did not deserve it and then acted poorly when not selected.

    In OPs situation, I think creating better work-life boundaries is not “being bratty”. There was a hope that the extra hours would translate into a higher title and pay, and that is not going to pan out. I think it makes sense to take a step back, as long as it doesn’t mean slacking off during regular business hours or acting notably sullen.

  31. BB*

    I’m currently working with someone who is upset that she wasn’t promoted. She’s a colleague, not a report.

    She would probably say all the same things the letter writer did – that she’s going above and beyond and doing things above her pay grade. She works really hard. And that’s true-ish. She does work hard. But it doesn’t mean she was ready for a promotion. This colleague is failing with the soft skills needed to be successful at the next level. She has been given stretch goals/projects to improve her technical skills, but she’s not doing them at the level she needs for the promotion. (I’m doing half the work on them)

    She wasn’t ready for the promotion, regardless of how hard she’s working….because she’s not working at the level that’s needed for that role. And without a lot of self-reflection on her part, which includes her attitude and how she treats people, I don’t see her advancing.

    And I’m not saying that’s what happening with the LW here. I’ve been in LW’s position too and it sucks. It’s natural that it feels awful, and it saps all your motivation.

    So, I’m not trying to be mean. I’ve just been on both sides of this, and it really requires a lot self-reflection and not just surrounding yourself with “rah rah, capitalism/corporations suck!” rallying cries when trying to decide what to do next. (these things do suck! I’m with you there! but it’s not always the right answer)

    LW, if you and I were friends, I would encourage you to speak to your management about what you need to do to get to that next level. Then listen. Because you don’t have enough information yet to make a decision on if they’re wrong about your capabilities or if there’s something you can change/improve to make you a stronger candidate.

    1. Lily Potter*

      BB, I’ve spent the last hour trying to figure out how to word this sentiment – thank you for doing it for me (and likely doing it better than I could).

      It’s possible that the LW has already decided to look elsewhere, and backing off on his/her dedication while looking is not being “bratty”. However, it really would behoove him/her to find out why she was passed over. Just because someone works hard and puts in a lot of hours doesn’t mean that they’re qualified for the next level. There’s something in the LW’s skillset and/or personality that didn’t match up with the promotion, and it’s in his/her best interest to find out what that might be.

    2. ferrina*

      Yeah, there’s a lot of possibilities here.

      1) OP was a great candidate, but they found an external candidate that was even better. That can happen. Not a reflection on OP or the company, just bad luck for them. In this scenario, take the loss with grace. Cut back if it’s right for you, but keep being your wonderful professional self (though maybe with a more reasonable workload) and other things may be in the works soon. Or not…feel free to look around as well.

      2) OP was a great candidate and the external candidate is weaker, but the company didn’t want to move OP for whatever reason (personal vendetta, finances, the current role is hard to replace, the new candidate is the Big Boss’s friend, etc). In this scenario, OP needs to move on to get their due.

      3) OP isn’t as strong as they think. Even though their coworkers express surprise, sometimes someone presents well externally, but the coworkers don’t see other issues with their performance (seen this so many times). In this case, hopefully the manager has told them where they need to focus to be stronger next time. But if the manager is not giving feedback, that’s ultimately going to be bad for OP’s career. Leaving is the best option for growth.

      There’s so many nuances that we can’t see through just a letter. Being disappointed is a natural reaction, but hopefully once OP has sat with their feelings, they can get a bit more information and reflect on which scenario it is. Good luck to them!

      1. Kevin Sours*

        Ultimately looking at external positions is almost always the right move in this circumstances. Because it’s probably the best way to get clarity. Even if you get feedback, there is no guarantee that acting on it will lead to a promotion. Nor is it certain that others will see your credentials in the same way.

      2. H3llifIknow*

        There is also always an option 4: the company prefers to hire management externally to avoid personality conflicts, jealousy, pettiness, etc… when A gets hired over B who are both internal candidates and now have to navigate that one is the other’s boss, etc… I’ve seen this play out and years ago worked at a company where they basically made no secret of it. Getting hired UP was not impossible, but it WAS extremely difficult–you basically had to leave and come back. No surprise, after a certain level of promotions, you knew you were stuck at the highest non-bonus pool level and morale and performance were adjusted accordingly.

      3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Yup, these are all reasonable possibilities. The external candidate might be better suited for the job than the LW. The LW may have been ready for the promotion or may not have been, since the skills to be good at one position don’t have 100% overlap with the skills required to manage that position. The best way to try to figure out which is most likely to be the correct scenario is to ask some questions of the hiring manager.

    3. Skippy*

      I’ve been there a couple of times too, and I do think the feedback you receive — or don’t receive — can be very telling. In theory the bosses should be able to give you specific, actionable feedback as to what you need to do to advance. If they can’t or won’t do that, that tells you a lot too, and is probably an indicator that it’s time to move on.

    4. Jan Levinson Gould*

      I have a direct report that falls under the category described and is always asking about promotion. They’ve been at their level for several years and they have reasons for staying with the company for the foreseeable future. Promotion in my organization is more about showing competence for the next level with a bump in title, pay and bonus % vs. waiting for an opening either being created or due to attrition.

      The direct report is turning a corner and promotion might come through in the next year or two, but for the past few years they have expressed their disappointment. They work many hours, but sometimes hard and not smart. They are paid $30k more than the next highest person in the group and the company is taking care of them very well in other ways too. I only have so much political capital to advocate for my team and I choose to spend it on others who are paid significantly less and are also effective in the role. I’m by no means blocking a promotion, but I’m not sticking my neck out for them either when others need more of my support to get their piece of the pie.

      The main thing holding this person back is that they can be annoying and can sometimes rub people the wrong way, although they are oblivious to it. They are a good person – certainly not a jerk and they are effective in the technical aspects of the role, becoming even stronger with each passing year. But technical proficiency and putting in long hours is not enough. I have even given them examples of times they annoyed internal influential colleagues and explained why that is holding them back. They would be better served to cut back on the long hours, say “no” more often and instead focus on soft skills and TBH, political adeptness. I’m leading the horse to the water, let’s see if they’ll drink…

    5. LW*

      LW here! I appreciate that perspective, and if there is something like that that’s a barrier to the promotion, I would love to hear about it. So far the only feedback I’ve gotten is that I was a very strong candidate and would have done a great job at the higher level, but the outside candidate “put together a great package.” I’m not sure what to make of that – maybe my boss was trying to be nice and not explain all the ways the other candidate was better than me, but it wasn’t very helpful.

      I’ll definitely broach the topic again and see if I can get a more useful answer. I would hope that if there’s something specific I need to work on, my boss would tell me about it even if it feels awkward.

      1. Jan Levinson Gould*

        Sounds like you’re willing to hear the full story behind the decision, even if it’s a difficult message to hear. Ferrina’s three possibilities above hit the mark. Maybe it won’t be if it truly came down to the outside hire being a unicorn and perhaps also a known quantity to someone in the organization.

        It’s uncomfortable when I’ve had discussions with my direct report about their blind spots. Not my favorite thing to do as a manager, but I owe it to them since they really want a promotion and persistently bring it up during 1:1 discussions. Their persistence for answers has resulted in me being more upfront as opposed to them rarely bringing it up, in which case I would be less inclined to have the tough conversations since their performance reviews are usually quite positive. In the case of my direct report, performing well in their current role has not convinced senior management that they are ready for the next level.

        Maybe frame it as ‘what would it take for me to get promoted within X timeframe’? Ask about blind spots, areas for improvement and maybe even if there is a perception problem with someone influential in the organization.

        Good luck! Most of us who want to grow have been in the situation at least once when we’ve been in our careers long enough.

      2. BB*

        Honestly, the way you responded to my comment makes me think there’s nothing “wrong” with your soft skills. I wrote and re-wrote my comment because it felt insulting on the first past through. I know it’s difficult to hear the feedback I gave (because I’ve gotten it) and you handled it much better than I have in the past.

        It sounds like your management may have just found a unicorn and that sucks. Reasonable people can disagree on the perfect candidate for the role….and it sounds like you got the short stick.

        I hope your manager can give you a better answer. I’m hoping you keep us all updated on what you find out. When I was in your position, I had to eventually switch to a different role in my company. I was never going to be their perfect candidate in my old role. I’m thriving in my new one and I finally got that promotion. Best of luck. I know this frustrating and demoralizing.

      3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Like BB said, all your responses here lead me to believe that you’re a very reasonable person with good interpersonal skills. You’re disappointed at how this all worked out – understandably so! – and are trying to make sure that you’re not letting that disappointment cloud your judgment. That’s a great quality. I hope you get the clarity you need!

  32. Gimme all you got*

    I think the bigger thing is that even in situations like this where you don’t the promotion, a good company/management team would talk to you about why, and what you need to do to be better positioned for a promotion next time.

    If at least your own manager didn’t have this kind of conversation with you, I might lean toward looking around

  33. anony4853*

    Great timing as I am currently in a similar position the OP is in now. Been at my company for several years, and last year was the first time I had 3 full pages of accomplishments in my annual performance review. The end result? My manager (now grandboss) created a new manager position and promoted my teammate who I now report to…. i.e. not only did I miss out on a promotion, but also got moved down a level, and still got the same raise and performance rating as I had when I had less than a page of accomplishments. What a triple-whammy.

    I have completely lost all motivation to go above and beyond. I even tried to push back on taking on an extra project when I normally would be the first to volunteer, but am still made to do it. There’s a thin line between not going above and beyond anymore while also trying to keep my current job though.

    1. Small cog in a big machine*

      Oof. Triple oof! I’d have a hard time staying at a place that treated me like that. Do they have any clue that you’re unhappy?

      1. Anony*

        I’m sure they do realize how unhappy I am and I most certainly have looked around but sometimes, it’s hard to just pick up and go elsewhere. That is much easier said than done.

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Oof, that sucks. Have you had a conversation with the grandboss about what you need to do to be considered for a promotion? How that conversation goes will tell you a lot.

  34. CZ*

    Notwithstanding anything else, we all need to stop working on weekends and responding to emails after hours! Unless there is a special circumstance like being on call etc.

  35. Anony*

    I’m sure they do realize how unhappy I am and I most certainly have looked around but sometimes, it’s hard to just pick up and go elsewhere. That is much easier said than done.

  36. Kat*

    LW, totally get what you are feeling as I am the same way. Always was the straight-A overachiever student at school and always told most consciencious in the team by all of my managers, staying late and being the first to volunteer for things. I am in a similar situation as you recently and spent the last few months reflecting how I tied my identity to my work and how much I don’t want to miss out on life.

    What is helping me get thru has been 1) finding something you enjoy or are good at or always wanted to do but never had the chance to outside of work like a new hobby, sports, or even travel. I booked a month long trip overseas and one I never would have taken had I not been passed over, then moved down a level, thej having to report to my former teammate and then still getting the same meager percent raise had I never done all those accomplishments. I racked up all those vacation days from working so much.
    2) you are right when you say you can either stay or leave and most will tell you to leave, but my suggestion is to stay for a bit and see what happens. I left my last job for petty things and when I looked back on my LinkedIn, I realized that things are always changing, people eventually leave or move to other internal positions and there will always be new opportunities. for example, there was an analyst who was promoted to manager and within a year, she left the company. guess what, a new manager position opened! another example, there was a reorg and a bunch of newly created manager positions opened up. final thought, what you think is the end, is only the begining bc it’s hard to see the next step and what future opportunities there will be when you are at your most bottom.

  37. Bookworm*

    Nope. I’ve been in somewhat similar situations–didn’t get hired over an outside person who had no experienced/I supposedly wasn’t doing as well as I thought I was even though no one ever told me otherwise and another where leadership sucked entirely re: hiring and promoting (this wasn’t personal, they were just incompetent here).

    Ultimately it may be time for you to reassess anyway (this might have happened if you had been promoted!) so perhaps it is a sign for you take a different path. Good luck in however you decide! I am sorry you weren’t promoted and hope you might be willing to update us someday.

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