How to Handle a Disengaged Employee Who Missed Out on a Promotion

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SkyAs an entrepreneur or small-business owner, you’ll face a lot of pain points. One of the most challenging is what to do with an unhappy employee who has missed out on a promotion and grown disengaged as a result. Employees who are overlooked for promotion can become bitter, and they may even spread their negativity around, damaging morale in your business.

As if that weren’t bad enough, an otherwise valuable staff member – whose only crime was finishing in second place in a promotion contest – may leave the company: according to CareerBuilder, missing out on a promotion is one of the main reasons why people quit their jobs.

So, how do you minimize the potential damage of an employee who doesn’t get the promotion they so desired? Here are a few tips to help you re-engage and retain staff members after they’ve lost out on a promotion:

1. Make Sure There’s No Favoritism at Work

Favoritism is a top concern that many employees have about their bosses, and research suggests that favoritism happens at 92 percent of organizations. Promotion runner-ups will be far more disappointed if they feel they didn’t even lose fairly. That’s why it’s vital to have a transparent promotion process free of favoritism.

This can be achieved by making sure that all jobs are advertised internally and that there is a formal and transparent assessment process. Favorites shouldn’t be just given jobs; every candidate for a promotion needs to prove they are worthy in a fair assessment process.

2. Give the Employee Hope

After failing to gain a promotion, most ambitious employee will be rightly disappointed. It’s in your best interest to address this disappointment quickly, so that it does not have time to fester and turn into something worse.

Have an honest, candid, one-on-one conversation with the employee who missed the promotion. Cover the following topics:

  1. Thank the employe for applying and celebrate their ambition.
  2. Discuss their strengths.
  3. Identify areas for improvement. Make sure the employee knows you are doing this because you want them to successfully land a promotion in the future. You are rooting for them!
  4. Outlines opportunities for the employee to develop their skills. Make training, coaching, and mentoring programs available to them.
  5. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, but do outline some realistic future promotion opportunities and timelines for the employee.
  6. Encourage the employee to apply for other promotions.

3. Help the Employee Get Their Head Back in the Game

RoadThe employee had their heart set on climbing the ladder, and now they’re back to the same old role. The reality of the situation can sap an employee’s morale pretty quickly, making them feel like they’ve taken a big step backwards.

To help your employee refocus on their role and get back into the swing of things, think about livening their job up in one of the following ways:

  1. Offer them a new and exciting project to work on.
  2. Help them set some new goals that they are passionate about.
  3. Give them some additional responsibility to help reignite their spark.

By doing this, you are showing your employee that, even though they weren’t successful this time around, you value their ambition and want to reward it. This should help to re-engage them and get them excited about the business again.

Finally, I should mention that it’s always worth taking a holistic view of your hiring policy. If you find that you have a disproportionately high number of unhappy runner-ups, you may have too much ambition in your workforce. That may sound like a nice problem to have, but the fact is that if you can’t offer enough internal promotion opportunities to meet the ambitions of all your employees, then you stand a chance of losing some real superstars.

You may need to balance out your workforce by hiring a few more of the reliable journeyman-type workers. They may not be the hotshots who are out to shake things up, but they will be the much-needed glue that holds your company together.

Read more in Employee Engagement

Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.