One of those inevitable crises that can hit anyone in corporate life is when someone you think is your equal or someone a little lesser than you promoted and moves ahead of you.
Often there might be several reasons which are not immediately visible that might have kept you back.
Case 1: Superseded by someone inside the company
I would like to start with my own case. I got superseded at a fairly critical phase in my career by someone I thought was less competent than me. It hurt my ego a fair bit. I immediately came to the conclusion that I had no future in the company ( in retrospect a wrong conclusion ) and started looking for other options. Since I felt slighted, I took the first job I got which unfortunately happened to be the wrong job. My boss was both incompetent and corrupt. No sooner had I joined this company, I was out again looking for another job. Fortunately, I was able to get an appropriate raise and a better title than the first job I gave up.
A year later the company where I had been denied a promotion called me, to say that had for me. As it so happened the next designation which had been denied to me was on a quota system they explained i.e. only a certain number of people could get that title and had I been a little patient I would have been promoted if I had only waited a few more months.
As it so happened in my entire career this is the company that I spent most of my career with. So in retrospect leaving the job might not have been the best thing to do.
Case 2: Superseded by someone outside the company
A young MBA engineer whom I know with a few years of experience with a large pharmaceutical was doing extremely well and was a front-runner in product management. But when the position of Marketing Director fell vacant the company decided to hire from the outside rather than give the position to our front-runner. As it so happened the new Marketing Director was a year junior to the front-runner in the MBA class and that too from a slightly less prestigious business school and engineering degree.
Our front runner put in his resignation the day the Marketing Director joined. This was a show of rebellion to the management of the company and also made a statement to his colleagues. Both the front-runner and the new Marketing Director did well in their careers in later years. The Marketing Director took on more global roles in the same company. The front-runner retired as the head of another company.
Learnings from the Cases
It is natural to get quite emotional if you are passed up for a promotion. If for any reason, the person being promoted is someone you know from within whom you thought wasn’t as good as you, then the pain will be greater. If the person is a rank outsider whom you don’t know much about, you will be puzzled and try to gather more information and data about that person. But the pain of confronting someone you don’t know and who doesn’t know you is perhaps a little less than if you had to confront a colleague who was at the same level as you before getting promoted. Sometimes you may get passed up by someone who used to be in your company and is being brought back on a promotion. This is likely to hurt even more. Because you will naturally feel that you have not been rewarded for your loyalty, whereas the person who left is being rewarded for being disloyal. The unfairness of that gesture can be devastating. Especially if you are one of those people who was waiting patiently on the sidelines without a fuss, and being patient about not being promoted.
People who are passed up for a promotion react in different ways and the response may well depend on how the company is treating you and how understanding they are of your feelings.
Some are understanding of the person’s feelings and they may consider the following options.
- In one case, the senior executive being passed up was transferred to the company’s overseas offices. This would send the employee far away from the hurtful situation and also help to prop up his ego because it would seem like a promotion to the public in general although in real terms it might not be so.
- Some might break the code of the chart and separate the senior employee from the person being promoted, and ensure that there is no direct reporting line between the two to save face for the employee not being promoted. But such tactics by companies are typically unhealthy and create confusion amongst other employees. The person who is promoted will resent the restriction of his/her powers to not include a hurt employee in the reporting line.
Most often, if the person who is passed over a promotion is extremely talented and has a good reputation, will be hunted by But the employee needs to be patient and go through some temporary discomfort in the current before he lands up a lucrative offer.
If the hurt is too large, and there is a lot of anger, the employee may wish to leave immediately or certainly before the promoted employee actually takes on his position officially. The ego is sometimes so large that the employee being passed up will leave even a few days before the promoted employee takes over.
Or the employee will leave even without having something concrete in his/her hand hoping to stumble on to something good in course of time.
The nonchalant will say they are taking a short break. If they are even more nonchalant and bordering on arrogant, they will say they are on a sabbatical. To prove the point, they will go off on expensive foreign holidays to show that they could be least bothered about the current situation. The more exotic the locale the better.
Whatever the situation, it is a hurtful and unpleasant feeling to be passed up for a promotion. There is no one way or the best way that the situation can be handled. Each person will have to choose the option that best suits them emotionally. Some employees who are passed up will even stay back in the company to see how the future unfolds.
Reactions to being passed up also vary with age. People tend to be more risk-taking when they are young and tend to sober down with age.
One thing is for sure. Getting passed up for a promotion can be one of the worst dips in one’s career. There are few things more disappointing. It’s virtually impossible not to feel personally offended and a host of other emotions — disappointment, humiliation, anger resentment among them.
But like in sport, you don’t give up when you lose. You try harder. Chin up, think positive and the future could well be bright.
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