BT-We need to talk about promotions-31Oct2020

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"We need to talk about promotions."

In the current climate, employees should scale back expectations, but not give up the ghost entirely


VIVIEN ANG make a stronger case for a promotion, employees need to demonstrate their adaptability and think of new solutions that could help the company thrive in today's rapidly evolving business landscape." Linda Teo, country manager, ManpowerGroup Sgapore


"WHAT promotion, got a job now very lucky already," said a friend at the dinner table. As the year-end creeps up on us, conversation has inadvertently steered in the direction of job prospects, increments, and promotion. But unlike previously, where comments would be tinged with some hope, "don't even think about it" is the prevailing sentiment so far.

Times are bad, says John Lee who works in the commodities sector, where business has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic.

"There is an increment freeze, so even if there is a promotion, I will just be doing more work for the same pay, so what's the point?" he quips.

If opportunity knocks, however, employees should take up the offer of a promotion, because the increased responsibilities and exposure will help them with their career progression and boost their profile, says Linda Teo, country manager, ManpowerGroup Singapore.

"Employees concerned about the pay can negotiate with their bosses on when the salary increment will be reinstated and agree on the increment amount first. Some employers might even agree to giving a back pay when the business improves, but this is dependent on the company's performance and policies," she adds.

While this practice of "promote first, increase pay later" is generally discouraged, Paul Heng, founder and managing director of NeXT Career Consulting Group, Asia, says: "If it is really not possible to award a promotion increment, there must be clear, written commitment by the management when it is likely to happen, and if possible, the quantum of increment, and if any backdated payment will be done."

The other question on most minds would be whether striving for a promotion amid a pandemic makes sense. With everyone working from home, there is genuine concern that the adage "out of sight, out of mind" would ring true and efforts go unobserved.

Ms Teo says that employees must take the initiative to regularly update their superiors on their work progress and show that they can consistently deliver on the agreed KPIs despite the challenges of working from home. Even if they are unable to meet the KPIs due to the pandemic, they should at least discuss possible approaches with their bosses, on how best to bridge the gaps.

"To make a stronger case for a promotion, employees need to demonstrate their adaptability and think of new solutions that could help the company thrive in today's rapidly evolving business landscape. While the challenge of the pandemic is real, employers do not want to see employees giving up without even trying and using the pandemic as an excuse for their poor performances."

Mr Heng says: "If you believe you are deserving of a bigger pay raise or a promotion to the next management level, arm yourself with the facts before you speak to your boss. Be as factual as possible… and if it is a promotion to the next level that calls for some additional skills set, be prepared to share why you feel that you have these, much as you may not have the experience yet."

While it is not unwonted to still think of climbing the corporate ladder in the current climate, expectations may have to be scaled back.

For those who in the end get passed over for a promotion, Ms Teo says they should do a self-assessment, and can seek feedback from their superiors to find out why they missed the mark and what more is needed to get the promotion.

However, Victor Seah, senior lecturer of psychology at Singapore University of Social Sciences, cautions not to overdo it.

"Research has found that focusing on how an unfortunate event (e.g. missing a promotion) could have been prevented (e.g. I should have volunteered for that project) heightens the feeling of negative emotions - the more they focus on how close they were to succeeding, the more miserable they would be."

If one is lucky enough to get the promotion, it is understandable to want to keep that information under wraps to avoid offending others' sensibilities. However, to prevaricate when asked the question doesn't seem the best course of action either. How then should we navigate this morass?

Dr Seah suggests that someone facing that tricky question could tactfully explain the extra effort put in during the year that led to their promotion, so that the promotion is seen to be fair and justified. Those who were promoted without a pay raise could also make that fact known, to show that they did not end up being much better off with the promotion.


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