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The announcement of an individual’s promotion above his peers usually is an event filled with mixed feelings among coworkers. These individuals typically experience joy at their colleague’s good fortune, combined with resentment and confusion about what the promoted employee did to deserve this recognition. Comparisons are made with their own accomplishments and, inevitably the deserving, non-promoted individuals may feel loss and resentment. The latter situation usually produces either sarcastic comments or negative thoughts and emotions that are suppressed internally.
Ironically, the promotion of an individual that management would like to be a motivating event can deplete morale. In questioning why, responsible management may find employees feeling wounded that they are not receiving a similar distinction. After all, most employees feel that they work hard, complete assignments and contribute to the company’s success. They also may be angry at the boss who they perceive is showing partiality to one employee over another.
Perhaps another, more valid, interpretation is that these sentiments arise from confusion rather than resentment. The rationale used by the supervisor to justify the promotion to the management of the organization generally is not communicated to the staff. Despite the best efforts of most human resources departments, especially in large organizations, the promotion process is not well understood. It’s like the proverbial black box. Occasionally a promotion pops out of the box, but how it was achieved often is a mystery to the rank and file.
Typically, each supervisor establishes the criteria for a promotion, but what one supervisor feels is important may not be the same as the next supervisor. Worse, an employee might really be striving to improve in a particular area or at a particular task, only to find that the supervisor does not feel that skill or task is very important. Is it any wonder why an employee might feel confused and somewhat despondent?