One of our senior engineers, "Gus", has been working towards the top level of engineer in our company, "Principal Software Engineer". The promotion is a pay increase, more responsibility, more creative input/control, etc. We generally provide engineers with more challenging work and "test" them in the new role for about 18 months before giving the promotion (to see if they can handle it, and will rise to the challenge). We maybe have 20 people at the level in the entire company at any time, and anyone who makes it into this role is typically a "10x engineer" who also has excellent social skills and leadership abilities (i.e. need to be brilliant with technology and people).
I had to tell Gus that his promotion normally would have taken place after our most recent quarterly company-wide meeting, but it has to be delayed due to COVID and measures the company is taking to save money (I don't get a bonus either; all senior staff miss out on bonuses and promotions this year). Gus requested he get the promotion, even if no increase in salary occurs "since he's already working in the capacity of a principal engineer going on 2 years now". When I asked him why he'd want that, he noted "the money always follows the promotion, one way or another". I assure him there's no guarantee the increase in pay will happen any time soon, but he insists he'd like the "promotion on paper".
While going through the paperwork, I have to re-confirm this is really what he wants, as the change in title might lead to an increased/more-challenging workload for him, with no pay increase. While asking why this is so important for him, he bluntly states:
- If his employment ends due to layoffs, it helps him negotiate a better salary with a future employer.
- If things pickup and company still hasn't increased his pay significantly by then, same thing: easier to negotiate a higher salary at another company and quit his current job.
Gus is definitely honest, and I have to admit a little too honest with his boss in this case. Now the question I'm asking myself, is: should I give this empty promotion to him? It seems that no matter what, it either leads to him being more likely to leave, or being more of a "flight risk". He's a very talented engineer, and I went to bat for him to try and get the paid promotion for him even in these times where budgets are being slashed, but no luck. I'm tempted to remind him this is a bear'ish market, and not a lot of companies are hiring, but that doesn't seem to bother him (maybe he has enough set aside to not have to work a long time; don't know).
FWIW, I ran this by my own boss, who wasn't overly helpful, and she said I should just not give him the empty promotion, and to see if we can make him angry enough to quit (boss is trying to reduce costs, avoid severance payouts, etc.; and doesn't care how many teams she has to butcher to get the numbers she needs). I'm lacking advice that is neutral and not laced with naked self-interest.
Edit: there's also the optics here to consider. Other people might think he's the one person who got a paid promotion during this time.
Also, our company (regrettably) has a "no reference" policy. If someone calls us for a reference or asked for a written reference, employees are reprimanded. HR can only confirm dates of employment and job title, nothing else.