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I have been given the prospect of a promotion, which really is just a title change that comes with more responsibility, but not more money or more authority.

But it has happened that someone (let's call him Adam) has overheard me privately talking (to someone else) about workplace conditions (which I believe is a protected category an employer cannot take adverse action against, but correct me if I'm wrong). This conversation was outside the earshot of everyone else, but Adam made it a point of rushing around the corner and snooping into the conversation out of the blue. I immediately switched topic, but he managed to hear the last sentence I said.

Fast forward three months later: In the background, I have been told, Adam took that last sentence, interpreted it wrongly (in the worst manner possible), and management have taken his word verbatim. I didn't get a chance to have a say in this matter.

Instead, Adam's interpretation of what I allegedly said was brought against me months later as a matter of fact without discussion, but with the insinuation that what I allegedly said would be something that would prevent my future promotion should this happen again.

(Side note: Management let's Adam get away with a lot (!) of questionable stuff and is extremely accommodating when it comes to accommodate his personal circumstances, but that's their decision. Adam is also on a *cough* fast track in terms of promotions.)

Now, I don't even want this promotion:

  • This incident overshadows all my accomplishments in the past 3 to 4 years (I can say without bragging that I'm one of the most productive team members the company has had in a long time; the numbers don't lie), and therefore I don't think this promotion is based on merit any longer, but rather on whether or not someone like Adam, who is on management's good side. He puts my words on the balance, effectively making this promotion based on compliance and conformance only.

  • I don't want to walk on eggshells around people. In fact, my position requires me to talk to a lot to people, and the danger of someone mishearing or misinterpreting something, this being brought to management and them taking their interpretation as is in favour of what I actually said, is far too great. In short: I don't want an innocent sentence to blow up in my face months later.

  • As mentioned in the first paragraph: This promotion is a title change with the prospect of more responsibility (read: work), but without any additional compensation or even authority to get that additional work done correctly and in a timely manner.

The question therefore is: How can I let management know to not bother filing any paperwork for any future promotion of mine, since given everything that happened, I won't be able to function at 100%, for fear that someone may bring harmless sentences up to management and handle them in the above manner. I don't want to sound confrontational, passive-aggressive or retaliatory. I just think based on everything that has happened, I don't think this (or any) promotion is appropriate for me.

My goal is not to get back at Adam, and it is not to get back at management for one-sidedly listening to only him, and for their decisions. My goal is to remain where I am without more responsibility and rather enjoy the possibility of having a conversation with random guys without fear that this might thwart any future promotion.

(Note: For those who will say "Go to HR": HR is not my friend. Their only job is to prevent lawsuits against the company. And in a past incident with another colleague, HR was caught (unreprimandedly!) lying and threatening said colleague in an issue that was actually entirely HR's fault by violating the office code of conduct. So I can't expect help from them.)

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Jan 29, 2023 at 0:58
  • What country are you in?
    – Tony Ennis
    Jan 30, 2023 at 1:53

5 Answers 5

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How can I let management know to not bother filing any paperwork for any future promotion of mine [...]

Here you kind of ask 2 questions in one, so I will answer them separately.

  1. Just politely say that you do not want the promotion. Do not mention who said what, do not mention your anger. In the worst case, you can say "for personal reasons". "Personal" here means you have the right to not give details. If you do not want to present yourself as the "because I do not want" kind of guy, just find something like "I am already loaded 100%, and I can barely find some balance between work and life".

  2. You do not have to decide now what will happen in 5 or 10 years. Maybe by that time, they will propose a promotion which would actually be attractive. My advice: do not burn bridges.


There is a situation I know personally. A colleague of mine, many years ago, was in a similar position. More work, more responsibility, not more money. He just declined the "offer". It seems it was an offer he could refuse. All managers were "shocked" that he does not jump blindly at the "opportunity". He kept his position and refused the promotion. Nothing bad happened to him after that.

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    Upvoted. I wonder whether it would be better instead of flat refusing the promotion to say you would take it if it would come with some suitable increase in salary and authority. Assuming they would not be willing to give you that. Of course management will try to make vague promises about pay rises at some later date but you have to be strict here.
    – quarague
    Jan 27, 2023 at 10:50
  • That depends on the situation. But IF management would have wanted to increase the salary, they would have put that on the table from the beginning. Keeping the information for themselves shows that they are not doing an honest job in that company. Same like in the example I gave - when the company thought that they could force anyone into anything.
    – virolino
    Jan 27, 2023 at 11:52
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    Another thing: if OP asks for salary increase, and the company offers way too little, and only then OP refuses, this is about money already, not about principle. That is why begging for a salary increase in this kind of context can be dangerous.
    – virolino
    Jan 27, 2023 at 11:54
  • My FIL turned down promotions for years. He well understood that the promotion they were offering would move him from hourly to salary and that he'd be paid a flat salary rate, yet still be required to work the same number of hours. It would have been a massive pay cut (there were periods, every couple of years, where he was working 80+ hour weeks). He worked at the same place for 30 years and turned down the promotions for at least 10 years. They threw him a big party when he retired despite not accepting the promotions.
    – FreeMan
    Jan 27, 2023 at 17:42
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    There are many legitimate reasons to decline a promotion - in many fields it means doing less of the main part of the job (whether coding, teaching, helping people) and more management. But complaining about office politics isn't going to impress managers. It's bad to ask for money if you really don't want the promotion - what happens if they offer you the money? Be honest, and take the moral high road in that way.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 27, 2023 at 19:20
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Seems overly dramatic, but if you really want to ensure you never get a promotion, just find a quiet time to speak with your boss.

Something like "I enjoy the position I hold now, and I wouldn't want to ever get a promotion." should work.

Realistically, if you think that will somehow free you to speak your mind about something management doesn't like, I suspect you are mistaken. There are other things that could happen if you don't comply (bad project assignments, poor raises, etc.).

You might be better served to find a job in a different company with a different culture.

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    Yes, it is very possible that punishments are coming in different forms. They are currently doing that to a colleague. He hasn't been given any meaningful things to do. Everything he start to work on gets stuck in the mud in other departments and cancelled years later. He's thinking about sueing for constructive dismissal. But that's his decision. Raises are determined by the board, not anyone who has a say in promotions (immediate managers + their peers). They are, by company policy, mathematically tied to goals and achievements and cannot be changed significantly. That's a plus, I guess.
    – Yang Long
    Jan 28, 2023 at 11:28
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Why do you want to stay at this company?

They want you to work harder/more for nothing extra except grief, while allowing "Joe" to run rampant and bring baseless allegations against you without every giving you the opportunity to respond or defend yourself in any way.

You are the top performer and it is utterly thankless, from what you've said.

IMO, polish your resume and get a real promotion to a better job with a better salary in a better company.

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    Staying in this company comes with benefits. I know the shop inside out, I can be really productive in my current role, which is very satisfying. Also, private circumstances would make a job transition rather difficult right now, but certainly possible in the future.
    – Yang Long
    Jan 28, 2023 at 11:32
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My gut feeling when I read your long account about not-so-much happening is that you are overthinking this. The conversation was months ago and may or may not have anything to do with your unsatisfactory promotion offer.

What you should ask yourself is what you want to do.

  • Is the offered promotion a career path you'd like to follow, and the only thing is that you don't like more responsibility and additional work without compensation? Then you could agree to the promotion on the condition of an adequate pay raise. Company policy may not allow that — in that case you politely decline the offer.
  • If this promotion is a step vetting you or preparing you for another promotion, to a position which you'd like to have that does come with more compensation, it could be a strategic decision to accept it. You would try to do the best job possible. If the next promotion does not happen in a reasonable time frame, or if you are passed in favor of somebody else, it would probably be time to leave the company and pursue your career elsewhere.
  • The promotion may not go in the right direction. Maybe you are very happy as an engineer but less happy as a manager, the career path the new title would put you on. One possible reaction: Identify roles, perhaps in other departments, that suit your passions, and talk to your management about moving in that direction instead. Companies often have parallel career paths for management and engineering (even if the default for successful engineers seems to be to move into management).
  • Maybe you are very happy where you are. The colleagues are honest, friendly, perhaps even friends, the work is satisfying, the pay is adequate: Politely decline the offer. Explain yourself to the management so that they don't nurse mistaken hopes that you'd fill this or that senior position in the future.
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  • The conversation does have to do with the promotion; so I have been told. However, asking for a pay rise based on the assumption that they won't give it may be a good strategy to decline it. "preparing your for another promotion" => I don't think so. The next rung on the ladder step would probably be my final ladder, top performers take a backseat in the promotion game. And it wouldn't be a managerial position, it would be still an individual contributor position (think developer -> senior developer).
    – Yang Long
    Jan 28, 2023 at 11:37
  • The best way to deal with this sort of overheard rumour mongering is to consistently replace it with a constructive and more accurate alternative. Tell your boss the role and the company you want, in 1:1s and casual work-related conversations. Act consistently with that, within the scope of your role.
    – Adam Burke
    Jan 29, 2023 at 23:34
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Even without the promotion:

  • things people say and think are going to be out of your control.
  • you are ultimately responsible for setting realistic expectations for your employer on what you can and cannot do. It'd be the same if you ran a business yourself and had customers.
  • there are things that come your way that you're going to have to learn to cope with.

But the facts remain that this really ISN'T a promotion for your benefit. No more money? Added responsibility? This is a test to see what you're made of. Since the subject of promotion is on the table, go ahead and make yourself a list of your own demands -- these demands MIGHT include money but can also include agreement to other terms. See which of these you can get the company to agree to in writing. If they balk on producing a written agreement, then you know who you're dealing with. If the situation is really so toxic that you feel discussing a promotion is off the table, then turn it down "for personal reasons" as @virolino has suggested here.

Just make sure you're making a decision you won't resent with yourself or others later.

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