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How to Help an Unhappy Employee Who Wants a Promotion

by Ashley Miller

It's not possible or practical to offer a promotion to every employee, no matter how qualified or valuable they may be to your organization. When a deserving -- or undeserving -- employee is passed over for a promotion or when an employee longs to be promoted but, for whatever reason, isn't eligible, you may be the target of feelings of resentment or even anger. While there's no guarantee you can make her happy, you can take specific actions to help your unhappy employee cope with the facts.

Talk It Over

Sometimes, employees who don't receive promotions are unaware of the exact steps they need to take to become eligible to move up the next time around. Sitting down to talk with your unhappy employee might seem difficult, but it may help her gain insight into the reasons she is not being promoted right now. Perhaps you can advise her about specific skills or weaknesses that need improving. In a blog post for the "Harvard Business Review," leadership development consultant Joseph Folkman points out that unhappy employees list "encouragement" as one of the top skills that they wish their bosses would demonstrate. Offering constructive criticism and motivational feedback might help your employee adopt a more productive viewpoint instead of dwelling on feelings of unhappiness.

Don't Make Promises You Can't Keep

You can't really blame an employee who's unhappy because you've promised him a promotion that never seems to materialize. When you make a promise to an employee, he assumes it's a done deal, says Eric Bloom, founder and president of Management Mechanics. Of course, there are times when another employee is simply more qualified for a promotion and you need to make a tough decision between sticking to your promises and making the right decision for your company. And at the time, it might have appeared that your unhappy employee was the right candidate for the job. Situations change -- but if you don't intend to follow through in the future, it's best not to even discuss the possibility of a promotion until you're certain that it will become a reality.

Provide Learning Opportunities

If your unhappy employee really wants a promotion, the chances are high that she'll do almost anything to increase her chances of moving up. Offering the chance to attend relevant training classes or continuing education courses might help her maintain motivation and realize that she doesn't have to give up all hope. Writing for Tech Republic, author and PMP certified project manager Bill Stronge says that providing her with learning opportunities can be a beneficial way to help not only your employee but your entire team. If she comes back from training and is able to share her experience and teach others new skills, it's only a benefit for your organization.

Suggest Time Off

Sometimes, time to cool off can be helpful when an employee doesn't get the promotion they want, says consultant Ben Dattner in an interview with the Harvard Business Review Blog Network. You might consider letting your employee take the afternoon off, but perhaps you could also offer her a day or two to stay home and unwind from the disappointment of the experience. While offering time off may not be beneficial for every unhappy employee who doesn't get the promotion they long for, it might be worth suggesting to help your employee recharge her batteries.

About the Author

Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.

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