When a Promotion… Isn’t?

“You’re going to apply for that supervisor role, right? It’s obviously meant for you. Who else would do well at that job?”

That’s the question my coworkers have asked repeatedly for the past six months, from the moment they announced the reorganization of my department and the creation of the role sometime in the near-ish future. Who else indeed? I am full of ideas for how to reorganize, restructure, and streamline that team to make the lives of everyone on the team easier. I would finally get to carry out the plans I’ve had for years of how to make things better. There is no one else–literally no one else–with the knowledge base about that role that I have.

But I don’t think I’m even going to apply. In fact, just earlier this week, I applied for a job on another team with a lesser title. Why?

Let me tell you a little about my job. The team I would supervise and the current team I am on are tied together, but once the supervisor role is created, the teams will split apart. When I started two years ago, both teams were an 8 a.m.-5 p.m. desk job. The jobs were always stressful, but there was not an expectation that we would work crazy hours. Once a week or so now, I leave around 9:30 p.m. It’s entirely random what day it will be, because it mostly hinges on last-minute requests passed down from the top of the organization.

That random schedule is completely untenable with small children and a husband whose job also does not always allow him to leave before the daycare pick-up deadline. While we can work the latter part out, the logistical headache is not worth it to me. I earn less than my colleagues, and the job is thankless. Or, should I say, all we receive is verbal thanks: over and over, several “Thank you!” e-mails followed by even bigger asks.

Everyone is stressed to their limits. My supervisor blew up at me a few weeks ago, less about me and more about their own frustrations. We used to be promised it would get better and it would return to the predictable job that it was. Two managers later, my new manager informed me that, despite process improvements, it’s never going to be much less stressful or completely free of unpredictable long nights.

And the same thing is happening on the team I would supervise. One of the employees has worked a few times until 11 p.m., admittedly of their own volition. While I would like to think as a supervisor I could stop that, what I instead suspect is that I would just be expected to do it instead, since I would be salaried and not hourly.

I also suspect that salary would be a bargain-basement price, since our company does not negotiate salary for internal candidates and I’m already paid less than my colleagues. I also think after scoring a few big wins with process improvements, I would become bored. My day would rapidly devolve into answering the constant barrage of e-mails about why things aren’t done (the answer to which will always be because of steps far up the chain from us), and doing individual contributor work. Add on top the cherry of some drama brewing among the team members, and that’s one sundae I don’t want to eat.

So, instead, I applied for a different team this week. I haven’t even been interviewed yet, but the team has courted me pretty hard, so my hopes are that one is forthcoming. The job title won’t be in management, and it will look like a lateral move. The new pay, however, should be roughly equal to what I would have made as a supervisor on the other team, with several rungs left to climb up. Multiple people I have asked have said that they leave by 4:30 or 5:00 p.m. every day. I’d also get to learn a new side of the business, expanding my knowledge base. We’ll see how it pans out, but please pray/cross your fingers/send me good vibes!

I feel a burden to myself as an intelligent, capable person, and to others because I am a woman, to climb the corporate ladder and aggressively self-promote. This past hellish year of work has been yet another reminder that blindly climbing for the sake of doing so, because it is the typical narrative of success, is silly. Corporate culture talks a lot about rewarding intelligent, skilled people with promotions. Yet, in my case, I think moving up into this role would be a step into greater career and personal dissatisfaction. And, although it would give me management experience, I also suspect it might leave me “stuck” when it is time to move on. Hardly a step forward in my book.

Have you ever not gone for a role that was a “promotion”? How did you decide what was, and wasn’t, worth it?

7 Replies to “When a Promotion… Isn’t?”

  1. NZ Muse

    In almost all my jobs my boss has left at some point and it has never occurred to me to apply. They are never jobs I want for myself. People have asked me and I’m like errr NOPE. It sounds like you’ve made the only sane choice!

  2. Steveark

    I wonder if that preference to avoid managerial positions is gender impacted. I have known very few men who would turn down a promotion to management. Even if the first rung of the management ladder is a horizontal or downward move, in most corporations there is little chance of making multiple six figure or even seven figure wages except as a manager. I started technical but became a manager early on and I felt overpaid from then on. My work got easier because I helped my team rather than doing the work myself and that’s much easier. I also saw no increase in hours worked but a big increase in pay, bonuses and stock awards. Once I got to officer level at a fortune 500 I had plenty to retire and I did three years later. I think the best way to avoid a hellish experience is to rise to the level that you have enough power to fix the systemic problems that plague the company.

    • Ms. Steward

      I don’t have a preference against management.

      I do have a preference against management roles that categorically do not offer me any of the benefits you describe: less pay than a mid-level in another department I could enter, no reprieve from individual contributor work, no ability to make the systematic changes that are needed. Those are what I was trying to outline I would not have with this role in my post.

      I want to be a supervisor or manager. I don’t want to be one with all of the responsibilities but no benefits.

    • Ms. Steward

      We’ll see! I still haven’t heard (interviewed on Thursday of last week but our HR is soul-crushingly slow and, if they will hire me, they have to reclass the job), so I’m still feeling good about it!

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