Managing employees passed over for promotion

Managing employees passed over for promotion

How do you break the news to an employee that they haven’t got promoted?

It is definitely not an easy conversation to have. You don’t want them to not feel valued in the workplace, start looking for opportunities elsewhere or lower team morale.

Whatever you do, it’s unlikely that you are going to magically make their disappointment go away, but there are things you can do to make them accept the decision and help them move on.

Make sure they hear it from you

Make sure they hear the news from you, not through someone else. If there are rumours doing the rounds in the office or someone posts their new position on social media, it can be a very hard knock for the employee. It can also severely damage the relationship of trust you have with the employee.

Have the conversation in private

There is a time and a place for conversations of this nature, so make sure that you don’t discuss it where their colleagues can overhear or just as they are on their way to an important meeting.

Be prepared

The employee will want to know the reasons why they didn’t get the job, so make sure that you are able to provide them with positive and constructive feedback and you can give them answers to any questions they may have.

Think about their career progression

It may feel to the employee that this is the end of their career, but it is important to make them see that it’s only the end of this opportunity. Think about their weaknesses and what improvements they could make. What training could you offer them? Could they move to a new team or department to learn new skills? Once you have thought about this, it may be worth drawing up a development plan. This can help boost their motivation and focus their attention on the future.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep

If there are any lateral moves or any promotion coming up, you can relay this to the employee, but you should refrain from fuelling unrealistic expectations because this will lead to great dissatisfaction and disappointment when they realise the promises will never materialise.


Make sure there are no discriminatory reasons for not selecting them for the promotion. For example, if you do not promote someone because they are pregnant or on maternity leave, this leaves you open to claims of unlawful discrimination. It is likely that if you do not tell your employees about promotion opportunities, it could also amount to discrimination. If you would like to discuss how to avoid discrimination when taking these types of promotion, contact your Employment Law Adviser.

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