askST Jobs: Promotion seems like a moving target. What should I do?

A proficient employee who deserves promotion may still be passed over for various reasons. PHOTO: UNSPLASH

SINGAPORE – Manpower reporter Tay Hong Yi offers practical answers to candid questions on navigating workplace challenges and getting ahead in your career.

Q: I repeatedly took on new responsibilities that I was told would increase my promotion chances, yet was never promoted. What should I do when promotion seems like a moving target?

A: In general, taking on more responsibilities over an extended period or even permanently does usually lead to a promotion, says Ms Godelieve van Dooren, chief executive for South-east Asia growth markets at Mercer.

“Having said that, some responsibilities hold more weight than others.”

Covering for a colleague in a similar role who is away temporarily typically does not lead to a promotion, for example.

So employees have to be mindful and strategic about the additional work they decide to take on.

While opting to undertake more tasks at the office is a show of initiative, it is not the end-all of securing promotion, says Ms Jaya Dass, managing director of Asia-Pacific permanent recruitment at Randstad.

“Taking on more responsibility at work is not just about adding tasks to your to-do list – it’s important to consider which areas you can add significant value in and support your professional development.”

This can include ways of optimising processes you encounter at work to cut costs, she adds.

Ms van Dooren says: “What does tend to lead to promotions is taking on responsibilities outside your area of expertise or job scope, and taking on roles that carry a greater deal of risk, like sales or revenue-generating ones.”

Moreover, a proficient employee who deserves promotion may still be passed over for various reasons, she notes. “Even if you are successful in stepping up, what can sometimes get in the way of a promotion is affordability.

“Can your company afford to promote you and does its structure afford enough room for employees to consistently rise up the ranks?”

Employers may be unable to promote competent employees if there are a limited number of leadership roles, or if a higher scope of work is not available for a specific role, Ms Dass says.

Other reasons include a lack of essential skills and experience for the next step despite the additional work, a company culture that favours promotions based on tenure, or a preference for hiring externally.

For instance, an employee could still lack soft skills required for management roles, such as empathy, resilience and problem-solving skills, notes Ms Betul Genc, country manager for Singapore at Adecco.

Ms van Dooren notes that if “employees have repeatedly gone out of their way to do more, been performing well and still do not seem anywhere near being promoted, then it is time to have a chat with their manager”.

Employees should explain calmly and clearly what value they bring to their clients and team, as well as how they can contribute longer term if they are promoted.

But, Ms van Dooren says, they should avoid comparing themselves with peers, and instead share examples of how they have made a difference and will continue to do so.

If a promotion or base pay increase does not seem to be on the cards, there are alternatives an employee can ask for, such as a share in the company, or additional leave and incentives, she notes.

When employees speak to their manager, they should find out what the timeline and expectations for promotion are before demonstrating how they have met or exceeded these expectations, the experts say.

Positive feedback from customers and colleagues, as well as data, would go a long way towards proving the point, says Ms Dass.

She adds: “Besides work outcomes, employees can also take the initiative to undergo learning and development training to strengthen their core and adjacent skills, ensuring that they can keep pace with the complexity of their new tasks.”

Ms Genc adds: “If you managed to hit all your goals and still fail to get a promotion, perhaps it is time to find a better job opportunity elsewhere.”

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