It’s hard to get a promotion, and especially hard to get promoted in 2020. LinkedIn data shows the low point came in late April when the promotion rate was more than 60% below year-over-year expectations. By August, the promotion rate remained about 40% below expected levels, even though the hiring rate had rebounded dramatically. Promotion rates have been most resilient in education (-28.2% Y/Y), manufacturing (-31.7% Y/Y), construction (-34.3% Y/Y) and finance (-34.3% Y/Y). But those are still impressive drops.
“Companies as prominent as Google have said they’re putting promotions on pause for much of this year,” says LinkedIn Senior Editor at Large George Anders. “Even if employees feel they’re working harder than ever, the chaos of this year’s economy (and the disruption of work at home) may make it harder to see who’s standing out.”
Other industry leaders such as Dell and Quest Diagnostics have internal promotion freezes that will run at least to the end of 2020. That’s the bad news. The good news is that promotions are happening elsewhere, albeit fewer and far between. You might just need to rethink how you can earn one.
“Your tendency right now may be to focus only on what’s immediately ahead of you, get your work done, and don’t rock the boat. But if you’re a high-level employee or manager, recognizing the new challenges your employer is facing and offering solutions may finally get you the promotion you’ve wanted, especially amid outside hiring freezes,” says Dave Benjamin, Practice Director – Professional Services at The HT Group.
Standing out as an asset can be difficult while working remotely, which many still are.
“In some ways, the pandemic has been a great equalizer. Now, at many companies, everyone is working remotely. But even with a level playing field, it can be hard to prove over Zoom that you’re ready for a promotion,” says Rachel Feintzeig, Work & Life columnist at The Wall Street Journal.
She points to a study performed last year called “Get Noticed and Die Trying” that serves as a cautionary tale. The study authors interviewed 60 remote workers and dozens of their managers and peers. They found that “employees who aren’t co-located with their bosses tend to obsessively monitor their email and volunteer to take early-morning and late-night meetings—anything to prove they’re committed and working hard,” Feintzeig explains.
The result? Burnout. So much so that many remote workers either gave up trying to advance or quit their jobs altogether.
“The good news is that simply working away like a hamster on a wheel isn’t what will get you the promotion anyway,” Benjamin says.
He recommends finding out your manager’s pain points—they’re different than they were one year ago. Look for ways to help them by volunteering for committees, forwarding helpful resources, offering ideas, and being a valuable sounding board.
What are some ideas?
McKinsey & Company found that successful businesses have had to increase the speed of decision making while improving productivity, using technology and data in new ways, and accelerating the scope and scale of innovation. They offer case studies here, including a global telco that redeployed 1,000 store employees to inside sales and retrained them in three weeks and an industrial factory that ran at more than 90% capacity with 40% of the workforce.
Mercer offers four questions for senior leaders to consider while working through the business challenges of the pandemic. The first deals with how aligned your organization is right now.
“During a crisis, organizations either pull together or pull apart. When organizations pull apart, it’s often because stakeholders have lost sight of a unifying vision, mission, or goal. To counter the confusion of the day, senior leaders need to make sure that people throughout the organization are aware of here-and-now challenges and new and emergent internal and external priorities,” the authors write.
Deloitte offers a guide on workforce strategies for post-COVID recovery. The guide outlines how a typical crisis plays out, “over three timeframes: Respond, in which a company deals with the recent situation and managers continuity; Recover, during which a company learns and emerges stronger; and Thrive, where the company prepares for and shapes the ‘next normal.’”
Arm yourself with these case studies and resources, but also consider your organization’s unique challenges. Asking one of these mega-consulting firms for their specific guidance isn’t likely in your budget. But there are alternatives. Talking things through with an HT Cares! executive advisor is one.
Once you’ve shown that you’re a valuable player in the new norm moving forward, don’t be afraid to ask for a promotion, if that’s what you’ve been waiting for and your employer hasn’t given you an indication that it’s not possible (like Google has). Being transparent with your intentions is vital.
You may consider asking something like, “Could we talk about what a timeline for a promotion would look like in this current climate?” or “Are there any adjustments I can make to stay on track for a promotion?”
If you’re rising in the ranks of leadership at your organization, you already have a good grip on emotional intelligence and whether or not it’s the right time to approach these types of subjects. Use that intuition to inform you. The Ladders offers additional advice on what they call the five steps of asking for a promotion, including getting your timing and wording right.
“Just because many companies aren’t thinking about promotions during this time, does not mean that you can absolutely not ask for one right now,” says The Ladders’ Jennifer Fabiano. “In fact, for some people, it might be the perfect time to make this request.”
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