How to deal with missing out on your big promotion

I have been passed over for promotion – I think unfairly – and it is becoming clear to me that my future at my current firm is not going to be as I hoped. My area is fairly specialised, and I am not entirely sure that I can easily find work elsewhere. What can I do?

BEING passed over for promotion will have a very different impact depending on our personality type, so it is hard to generalise, but it is very difficult for any of us not to take things personally. At the very least we can expect to feel frustration and inequity in such a situation – the psychological contract we thought we had with our employer has been broken and our confidence will have been bruised. At worst we can feel anger and even depression.

The effect of all these is to reduce our work performance; research shows a clear link between feelings of well being and how well we perform so we can expect to be working sub-optimally in such circumstances, so letting these feelings fester runs the risk of our behaviour (ironically) confirming the boss’s decision. (You can imagine the conversation: “You see, I told you he/she was too emotional for that job, this reaction just proves it”.)

What do we do? The challenge is that in the immediate aftermath of such a decision our emotional response will get in the way of thinking objectively about our options, so take time to consider – best not to burn any boats. The best response is to talk to someone, a colleague or your boss – ideally with a spirit of genuine enquiry (though bitter rancour may be what we are feeling!) to make sure that we understand how and why the decision was made and to fully understand what options for personal development and future promotion exist.

It is surprising how often bosses fail to notice the de-motivating effects of decisions like this, so explain how you are feeling – it is a much better option than brooding. Even if you decide to leave to seek opportunities elsewhere, this conversation can set you up to leave well rather than under a cloud – always the better option.

The first thing you should do is talk to your manager about how you are feeling. They may not be aware of your aspirations and could provide you with internal opportunities that you were not aware of.

If this strategy doesn’t present a solution you are happy with then it is time to think about the next step in your career development. Moving on to a new job can seem daunting, especially if you feel your skill-set is quite specific, but there are steps you can take in order to make the process easier and more successful.

Firstly, it’s essential to set objectives, and build an action plan to establish your career priorities. Ensure you capitalise on opportunities, like volunteering for jobs to gain experience in other areas; this will show initiative to potential employers, and will also help to expand your network and make new contacts. Another important step to take is to stay abreast of new developments in your field to ensure you can offer the latest and most up-to-date insights for potential employers in your chosen profession.

Most industries and trade associations have their own websites, which makes it easier for you to read relevant materials regularly and stay ahead of the game. Speak to a recruitment consultant – they’ll be able to support and facilitate your job search by giving you a first look at new positions, and explore the niche and specific sectors that may be hard for you to get to grips with independently.

Finally, utilise your network; make it known that you’re on the look out for new opportunities as you never know when an ex-colleague or friend might be looking to recruit within their own company. Business networking sites also provide a key way to both develop relationships with new business contacts. These sites are a great way in which to share information and learn about job opportunities quickly.

Firstly, consider your objective. Do you wish to resolve this matter and stay at the firm? Or do you no longer want to work for the firm at all? You should try to find out why you have not been promoted by asking your line manager. Was there actually a good reason why someone else was preferred? If you are not given a good reason or are met with a wall of silence, keep a cool head. The last thing you want to do is over-react and give the firm a reason to discipline you.

If you consider that the real reason may have something to do with your gender, age, sexual orientation, race, religion or a disability you might have a discrimination claim and a claim for unfair constructive dismissal if you leave. If you feel that these factors have nothing to do with it, but the decision is the culmination of bullying or unreasonable treatment you might have a claim for unfair constructive dismissal.

If you think you might have a legal claim, you now have a really difficult decision. Should you start to pursue it by bringing an internal grievance (which you must do quickly) or do you look for a new job with a view to resigning quietly? Your decision will depend upon your prospects of new employment and the extent of the unfairness experienced by you. You have to assess coolly which is most likely to be in your best interests.

If you bring a grievance and the result is not what you hoped for then you will probably have to resign and claim constructive dismissal in order to obtain redress. Before resigning try to negotiate severance terms. If this fails try again to negotiate severance terms after you’ve left. Only if this is unsuccessful consider bringing legal proceedings. Litigation is always a last resort.