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How to Talk to an Employee Passed Over for Promotion

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Speaking to an employee who had worked hard but was passed over for a promotion can be challenging. While you can’t completely soothe the distinctive burn that comes from this type of rejection, you can help your employee heal more quickly by speaking to him about the situation. Instead of ducking into empty cubicles to avoid what you worry will be an uncomfortable conversation, show your care and consideration by giving him some of your time and attention.

Select the Setting

Where you have this heart-to-heart is nearly as important as what you say when you do. Walter Kiechel, author of “Office Hours: A Guide to the Managerial Life,” suggests that you speak to the employee individually out of respect for his feelings and to prevent any avoidable workplace drama. Speak to him in a neutral location, like a meeting room, as calling the employee to your office can be intimidating for him.

State The Employee’s Value

Your employee isn’t only upset that he won’t see the paycheck bump that would accompany a promotion -- he is likely also suffering an acute bruise to his ego. Even though you may have said nothing bad about the employee, he might be inferring that you don’t think he is valuable enough to promote. Remove this worry from his mind by clearly stating his value. Massage his ego a bit, helping that bruise heal and showing him that, despite not promoting him, you still think he is a stellar employee.

Honestly Share Concerns

Often times, when employees are passed over for promotions, there are distinct reasons, states Julie Strickland for “” Don’t withhold information from your burned employee. Share a concise and diplomatic explanation of the issue that prevented him from getting the promotion. When describing this challenge, focus on the employee’s growth potential, explaining how he can work on the issue so the next possible promotion is more within his reach.

Plan for the Future

This isn’t the last promotion that will ever be available. Help ease your employee’s feelings of hopelessness by coaching him and assisting him in goal setting and planning. During your conversation, suggest some goals -- focusing particularly on his area of weakness. Tell him that you will be willing to help him build his skills. Follow through with your promise, speaking to him periodically about his goals and the efforts he has taken towards accomplishing them.


Erin Schreiner is a freelance writer and teacher who holds a bachelor's degree from Bowling Green State University. She has been actively freelancing since 2008. Schreiner previously worked for a London-based freelance firm. Her work appears on eHow, and RedEnvelope. She currently teaches writing to middle school students in Ohio and works on her writing craft regularly.

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