Rejecting an employee’s promotion request isn’t an easy process for the employer or employee. It’s uncomfortable for both parties and if not handled carefully can lower an employees confidence, leave them feeling undervalued, and may even push them to quit. Let’s face it. Any kind of rejection hurts, especially when it involves a job/career.

Although there are benefits to promoting within versus hiring outside, your current employee may not be right for the job. As a business owner, you will eventually reject a promotion request. Here’s everything you need to know about how to let your employee down firmly, but with compassion.

Before you reject a promotion request, ask yourself:

  • Can you afford to pay them more?
  • Is s/he ready for more responsibility?
  • Is s/he the best worker for this promotion?
  • Will s/he bring in more money for your business?
  • Is s/he a leader?
  • Will s/he mentor/teach other employees?

Take time to consider their request. Don’t reject them right away, but don’t wait too long to respond. Take into consideration their strengths and weaknesses, if they’re right for the job, and if you have enough money to pay them. If none of these are lining up, then it’s time to reject them. You can’t give an empty-handed ‘no’, so get ready to answer their questions.

Figure out Your Employee’s Motive

What is your employee’s true intentions for wanting a promotion? Determining their motive can help you tackle how to reject their promotion request.

“Did they want the promotion for the raise or do they just want to advance their career or both,” said Jeff Rizzo, Founder & CEO of The Slumber Yard. “Knowing the answer to this question will dictate how you approach a difficult conversation. If the promotion was just about a raise, you have to find a way to get that employee more money.”

Be Empathetic

It takes a lot of courage for an employee to ask for a promotion. It’s a vulnerable experience for your employee. They open themselves to you and now, they have to face rejection. Make this difficult expeirnce easier for them by being empathtic.

“Be empathetic,” said Susan Petang, Owner of The Quiet Zone. “Your employee is going to be disappointed, so remember a time when you’ve gotten similar news. What would have made it easier for you?  What would you have wanted your boss to do differently, or how did they handle it in a way that made it easier for you to swallow?”

Let Them Talk

After you reject a promotion request, anticipate some employee frustration and disappointment. They may want to professionally express their feelings to your or have questions on how they can improve.

“Many people focus on what they are going to say and forget that they need to be active listeners,” said Sheri L. Mooney, CEO & President of Mind Squad Consulting. “When delivering this news, I like to be quiet at times so the employee can express their frustrations.  Typically these frustrations extend beyond the denial of the promotion rejecting but I do not mention that they are not on point.  I prefer to let people vent and have their opportunity to be heard. It is the considerate and professional way to handle these matters.”

Employee Improvement Plan

If you reject a promotion request because an employee lacks skills, knowledge or needs more time to professionally develop, ensure them that you will help them grow. Create an employee improvement plan to help your employee get ready for their future role.

“The candidate will be disappointed by the rejection. Have an employee improvement plan ready and available to go over with action items that can help the employee to develop the skill needed for promotion in the future,” said Tanida Mullen, Owner of The Savvy Young Professional. “An employee improvement plan will serve as a way to engage with the employee by providing solutions to what might be perceived as a problem for them. Make sure to present this only if the employee asks if there is something they could do to be considered for future opportunities.”

Employees want to feel important and make an impact on the company Rejecting them can lessen their professional self-worth. Ensure them that you appreciate them, want to help them grow within the company by building their skills or increasing their training.

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