How to Gently Handle Employees Requesting Undeserved Promotions

When you’re the boss, one thing is inevitable. People will ask you for promotions… and raises. 

And, sometimes, this is a good thing. 

When someone steps up to let you know they’re ready to take more responsibility, and you know they can handle it, it’s a win-win.

But what happens when the person asking for a promotion can barely handle their own job? You don’t want to see them go, but at the same time, there’s no way you’re going to promote them. 

Here are some tips for gently handling employees requesting undeserved promotions.

Understand Their Perspective

Typically, when someone is asking for a promotion they don’t deserve, it’s not responsibility they’re after. They’re looking for an increase in pay. And we can all relate to wanting more money. So, don’t be offended that they asked for a promotion, and avoid trying to make them feel bad about it too. Instead, understand where they’re coming from and respond with compassion.

Point to Their Last Performance Review

If this employee is falling behind at work, it probably came up in their last performance review. And instead of saying something like, why would you think you deserve this? Ask for follow-up on the constructive feedback they’ve received. 

If they don’t deserve the promotion, there’s a good chance they haven’t fully addressed things you’ve asked of them. If they aren’t in any immediate danger of losing their job for performance inadequacy, this is a good time to reassure them that they’re on the right path towards a positive performance review. 

Encourage Them to Take More Responsibility

If someone who wants a promotion isn’t quite pulling their weight in their own position, encourage them to take on more responsibility in their current role. This wouldn’t be a promotion. It would be more like taking initiative towards their goals. This conversation may uncover the reasons why the employee is falling short. 

Oftentimes, employees (and people in general) suffer from imposter syndrome and tend to get in their own way because they feel like they don’t deserve their success. If you suspect the employee suffers from self-esteem and self-worth issues, talk about techniques they can use and books they can read to combat negative thoughts. Sometimes, a simple shift in perspective can turn everything around. 

Ask Them to Consider a Change

If things really aren’t working out for this person in their current position, try to get to the bottom of why that might be. For some people, you may find that the position simply isn’t the right fit. 

You may suggest a change in career, and this may even result in a lateral change within the organization. Sometimes, people ask for promotions because they’re unhappy with their current workload. In this case, you might help the employee find a position that’s a better fit where they can excel. 

Discuss the Path to a Promotion

If the employee doesn’t currently deserve a promotion, you may consider working out a plan where they could eventually be ready for the increased responsibility and pay. Together, you can work out what they might do to get closer to being ready for that new job. But the catch here is that you have to be ready to promote the employee if they follow through. 

This employee should understand that there aren’t any guarantees, but you don’t want to give someone false hope if you’re sure you’ll never promote them. This is what leads to disgruntled employees, and that’s never a good thing.

If an employee wants responsibilities and pay that they don’t yet deserve, let them know where they stand with the company. Naturally, you’ll want to do this gently, but it’s never a good idea to completely shut down a potential progression unless this employee is about to get fired. 

Adam Hansen