You've worked hard throughout the year, most of your projects have gone well, and you're on good terms with your boss and colleagues. Perhaps you don't have a perfect scorecard, but you're definitely expecting a promotion. The next thing you know, you're sitting in front of your boss and they're telling you that you won't be promoted this time around.

Often our clients tell us that they're hit by a wave of resignation at this point. Outside, they coolly continue with their annual review, trying to sound suitably upbeat about the projects they've been working on, and how it's going for them at the organisation. Inside, they're feeling angry, pissed off, betrayed, or incredibly demotivated. “What was that all for?”. They consider the late nights they worked, and the praise they received throughout the year.

We then ask them what reasons their boss gave for not promoting them. They shoot a quizzical look back, “What do you mean, 'Why didn't my boss promote me?', I just told you I wasn't promoted”. We persist: “Why did they say they decided not to promote you?” They sit back. “I'm not sure” is usually the response.

At this point, it's important for you to re-engage with your boss or supervisor on the topic of your "non-promotion". Ask if you can have a follow-up meeting, and try to make sure that it's one that isn't too informal. This isn't the type of discussion best had when your boss only has 10 minutes to spare, or when the two of you have no privacy.

On the other hand, it's valuable if you can catch and use that moment when you first hear you won't be promoted. Here, you have a valuable opportunity to benefit from candid feedback and to learn more about your organisation. Shift gear within the meeting. Move from the stance of the passive employee optimistically awaiting news on their promotion, and then, upon being disappointed, bravely completing the review behind a smile. Become active and start to investigate "the case of your non-promotion". Ideally, do this from the perspective of an independent third party. Gently start to ask open-ended questions around what would have merited promotion, and how, specifically, you can make sure you merit one next time. The goal here is to leave the review with clear points against which you can take action, and with your boss' buy-in and support.

Note down the specific goals and measurable outcomes discussed, and seek your boss' or supervisor's input. Ideally send this list via email so that you both have a written version to refer to. In the best-case scenario, your boss will offer additional feedback against the notes you drew up and/or will be active in offering future check-ins to discuss how you're doing.

Recommended Insights

work life

Know What You're Dealing With First

Coping with a difficult boss 101: know their 'difficulty level'.

job search

Be Who They Want to Hire, or Be Better

Are you a compelling candidate for the roles you apply to?

career choice

The Pings and Pangs of Self-Employment

How expectations match up to the real-world outcomes.

career choice

MBTI Type and Entrepreneurship Rating

Potential strengths and weaknesses based on your personality type.

Most Popular


Build a Bridge to Your New Team

Advice for new leaders facing a disengaged team.

job search

How Does Your Interviewer Like It?

Know who you'll be interacting with and how it matters.

career choice

What Drives the Creation of Entrepreneurs?

Entrepreneurial intent and national characteristics.