askST Jobs: Will your promotion prospects be affected if you are not close to your manager?

Keeping a professional distance from your manager should ideally not affect your promotion prospects, but such incidents can happen in reality. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: PEXELS

SINGAPORE - In this series, manpower reporter Tay Hong Yi offers practical answers to candid questions on navigating workplace challenges and getting ahead in your career.

Q: I’m not as personally close to my manager as some of my colleagues. Will that affect my chances of a promotion?

A: Keeping a professional distance from your manager should, ideally, not affect your promotion prospects, but such incidents can still happen in reality, said NeXT Career Consulting Group managing director Paul Heng.

Mr Heng noted that there are two main types of promotion – one that rewards an employee for a job done well with a higher pay grade and more salary in a similar role, and the other, to raise an employee to a higher level, for a more complex role.

Either way, supervisors are needed to evaluate employee performance to decide who is performing well, as well as who has the potential to perform a higher-level job. “Supervisors are supposed to reward deserving employees, not those who are close to them,” said Mr Heng.

Nonetheless, supervisors are human, too, and it would be unrealistic to think that they can remove any influence from being closer with some employees more than others, he said.

This may cause employees to feel pressured into building a more personal connection with their supervisors, even against their desires.

“But supervisors must be cognisant of such possibilities and try their level best to be objective, transparent and equitable.”

When an employee feels that any of these three principles has not been satisfied by the promotion choices and performance appraisal of their supervisor, the employee can broach his concerns to the next level up, or to the human resources department.

Staff rewards, including promotions, must be justified, argued and put on record, for managers to show their impartiality, Mr Heng said.

“Recommendations must also be sanctioned by at least two other parties: the supervisor’s boss, and the boss’ boss,” he added.

“For good measure, HR should play the role of the devil’s advocate – to challenge, and to be satisfied beyond a shadow of a doubt that the three values are demonstrated.”

Employees can also raise their worries directly to the supervisor, carefully and sensitively.

But Mr Heng cautioned: “Essentially, the manager’s decision is being challenged by a subordinate. Evidence and proof must be in hand before the topic is even broached.”

Unsubstantiated allegations could backfire on the employee.

“At the end of the day, if you feel it’s unfair, you have been victimised and ‘lost out’ due to another colleague being promoted, and you feel that it is a lost cause, exercise your option to walk out the door.

“It’s just a job, and we have to ultimately remind ourselves, nothing is fair – in our opinion – all the time.”

Mr Heng also had words of reassurance for employees who feel more distant from their supervisors than their peers.

“It is not in the interest of supervisors to promote subordinates – whether close to them or not – to a higher job grade and job if they are not quite up to it.”

Promoting a person beyond their level of competence could affect the supervisor’s own career, he noted. “If this happens, both the (promoted) employee and the supervisor will not be perceived positively.”

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