Giving employee promotions is one of the best parts of your job, and turning down an employee promotion can be one of the worst. How do you appropriately turn down one employee while fostering positivity about advancing another? Read on to learn this and more when it comes to promotions.

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What Is a Promotion?

A promotion is recognizing an employee for their contribution to your company by giving them a higher salary, greater responsibilities, and a more senior job title. A promotion typically takes an employee’s current role and advances it with title, salary, and sometimes benefits, including higher status within the company.

Promotion vs. Advancement

The key difference between promotion and advancement is a promotion comes with the advance in position, title, salary, or rank, while career advancement typically refers to advancing learning. The two are commonly misused, but an advancement is an employee focusing on furthering knowledge in their current role rather than promoting to a different opportunity. Advancement for your employee’s current role can lead to promotions down the line.

Why Are Promotions Important?

It is important to understand how to encourage and keep your employees. Promotions can do both! Here are a few reasons promotions are so important:

  • Reduce turnover. Promotions typically come with a pay raise, which helps retain employees overall. Partner this with career growth and you’ve created a solid combination to retain employees and reduce turnover.
  • Meet expectations. Most of your employees expect some form of promotion within one to two years. Failure to meet this expectation or provide an opportunity for growth could lead to unhappy employees and quick turnover.
  • Increase productivity. Promotions are vital for encouraging motivation. When employees see opportunities to climb the corporate ladder and earn more money by taking on a few more responsibilities, you will see higher productivity and motivation in their current roles.
  • Cost-effective. Promoting from within is more cost-effective than hiring new talent. While it’s clear that promotions benefit the employee, they also benefit the company by being significantly more cost-effective than onboarding a new employee.

Qualities of Employees Who Deserve Promotions

The most challenging part of this topic is evaluating employees who deserve promotions. There are a few specific things to look for when it comes to promotions:

Emotional Intelligence

Evaluating emotional intelligence (the skill-set required to connect with others) is critical when you’re looking into employee promotions. If you’re promoting an employee, eventually they will become a manager or leader. Having the emotional intelligence to connect with their team will be crucial to their success.

Positive Attitude

Attitude in the workplace is vital when considering promotions. Consider looking past the question, “can they do the job,” to ask, “how positively can they do the job?” Someone who deserves a promotion will have an attitude that avoids gossip, bounces back from mistakes, and approaches each project with a clear mind and focused outlook.

Personable

Someone who values relationships is a great candidate for a promotion. Someone who recognizes the importance of connection within the organization and with outside support will become a more well-rounded individual, which typically translates to efficiency in their role. You want that quality when promoting an employee.

Driven

Finding an employee who pursues goals with strength and accountability is a great candidate for a promotion. Looking for an employee that can be focused on the work at hand while also being available to help when needed is an asset. You need to find employees who can “see the forest through the trees” and recognize that the day-to-day work is what helps them progress to the next level.

Confident

When it’s time to promote an employee, confidence is a trait to seek out. Find an employee who is comfortable in their own skin but doesn’t hold that confidence over anyone. There is a fine line between humble confidence and haughty arrogance. Look for someone who can command a room, who is already attracting and welcoming leadership and assistance with other employees.

How To Answer an Employee Asking for a Promotion

When an employee asks for a promotion, it would be beneficial to have a policy or procedure in place as a reference in order to ensure each situation is handled similarly. Every case requires evaluation and assessment, so knowing how to answer employees’ questions is something to be prepared for.

Step 1: Acknowledge the Request and Listen

It is important to recognize that asking for a promotion is stressful, so acknowledging this request respectfully is the first step into the effective discussion. Try responding with, “Thank you for bringing this to my attention,” or “I appreciate you trusting me enough to bring this to me.” Acknowledge the ask! Listen to what the employee has to say about why they believe they should have the promotion and move on to the next step.

Step 2: Gather Information

As you gather information, ensure there are not other issues going on (i.e. issues with coworkers or supervisors, feelings of inequitable pay, etc.). These types of discussions would be better suited to an employee relations conversation. Ask questions that can help further the discussion about the desired promotion, such as, “What title/role do you have in mind,” or “Is there something specific you are doing that you feel you’re not being compensated or acknowledged for?” Asking probing questions will help evaluate the qualities of the candidate asking for the promotion and nail down a direction to move forward.

Step 3: Set Expectations and Follow Through

It is imperative to set expectations for promotion discussions, not only monetarily but also regarding time frame. Promotions, depending on your organization, can require approval from a number of people. This should be communicated to the employee with an explanation like, “With promotions, our typical turnaround time is about three weeks and I will keep you posted as this progresses.” Be direct with a clear timeline based on history for your organization and set the employee at ease that you will reach out if anything changes. Following through throughout the process is important to maintain trust. If the promotion is in limbo at any point with approval or denial, explain this to the employee, and set realistic expectations on yourself and your organization. It is better to be honest so the employee doesn’t have to bring it up again, embarrassing you and stressing them.

Step 4: Deliver the News, Bad or Good

No matter how hard you work or how well deserved the promotion may be, sometimes it won’t be approved. When a promotion is denied, it’s best to explain this with specific reasons and find positives when possible. Here are some possible answers for a high performing employee who did not get the promotion:

  • “While you did not get this promotion, let’s look at some advancement opportunities you could do in your current role that could provide advancement when another promotion comes around.”
  • “While you did not get this promotion, I understand you want to broaden the scope of your role. Let’s evaluate your job a bit and see if we can find ways we can do that.”
  • “I appreciate you bringing to my attention that you want a promotion. While you didn’t get this one, I will keep you in mind when the next promotion arises.”

In other scenarios when considering an under-performing employee, it’s your job to ensure they understand they will not be considered for a promotion until they’re performing as expected. The promotion conversation can be your opportunity to be fair and give them the opportunity to improve. Try giving some constructive criticism and concrete examples like the following:

  • “We went a different direction with this promotion, and here’s why. Here are a few areas you should work on…”
  • “These are some action items I want you to work on going forward. We will touch base in six months and see if you are improving so that we can set you up for success when the next promotion comes around.”
  • “In your role, your manager expects more, therefore this promotion is going to another employee. Let’s work together to improve your performance over the next few months so you can be eligible for promotion the next time one comes around.”

Delivering good news and watching employees achieve their goals is extremely rewarding. Let’s consider each step a bit more extensively once it’s time to give the promotion.

How To Give Promotions

You’ve delivered the bad news to the employees who did not qualify for the promotion. Now it’s time to give the promotion to the deserving employee. Let’s review the steps for doing this gracefully to protect the employees who weren’t promoted from frustration turnover and ensure success for the promoted employee in their elevated role.

Step 1: Communicate

Communicating to all involved, including the team who is getting a new manager or employees who have a new lead, is very important for setting up your newly promoted employee for success. Ensure that the discussion is positive and be confident in the decision to promote the specific employee to this new role.

Step 2: Offer Help

The transition from coworker and friend to supervisor and boss can be challenging. It’s your job to help the employee thrive during this transition. Work together with the employee until they feel confident in their new role. If you did your homework, this process should not take too long because you selected the right person for the job! Encourage your employee to confidently approach their new role and make sure they know that you and your organization have the utmost confidence in their success. When they need help, provide them the opportunity to reach out.

Step 3: Celebrate the Change

Outward celebration goes a long way when it comes to promotions. You are showing your employees that you stand behind the decision and have full confidence in them as they embark on their new role. Be sure to celebrate in a way that supports your culture and allows all your employees, including the newly promoted employee, to be excited about the change and the direction your company or department is headed.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About Promotions

This depends on the culture of your organization and the potential for growth for each position. Promotions or promotion evaluation discussions should be happening about every two to three years. Some organizations will have them more frequently, but no organization should go without a promotion or promotion discussion for longer than three years.
Not every employee will want the promotion offered after further evaluation. Turning down a promotion is not an acceptable reason to fire an employee.
Shalie Reich
Shalie Reich

Shalie has over 4 years of experience working in a variety of HR positions and organizations including: working as an HR department “of one”, working with a start-up based in Europe, to working in a fully established robust USA based HR department. Shalie has experience in multiple states and countries with all aspects of the HR spectrum. She has a passion to share her knowledge and experience to benefit the HR profession!

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