Tips for handling an employee who’s jealous about coworker’s promotion

Dear Joan: 

You have always been such a big help to me when I have questions and I am coming to you with a new situation that I'm not sure how to handle.  I have been with my company for about three years.  There are three people in my department:  myself, my coworker, and our manager.  When I was hired, the manager did not inform my coworker that I was being hired at a higher level than she.  This caused quite a bit of friction at first, because I have known this lady for many years, and she assumed that I was coming on board as her equal.  I was in management at my former employer's, so that is also my career track at this company.   

The upcoming issue is that I am getting a promotion in a couple of months, and will be moving from a cubicle next to my coworker into an office.  I believe this will be very upsetting and hurtful to her, as she believes she should receive preferred treatment because she has been here five years long than I have.   

However, her skill set is such that she is well suited for the position she has now.  Our manager does not do a good job of dealing with this type of thing.  I would like to help him come up with a way to make her feel special when this takes place.  She and I work well together and we also get along well, and I would like for that to continue.  What can we do to show appreciation and give her the attention she is going to need?  Perhaps a new title or small bonus?   Please help me, as I am having a difficult time coming up with anything that I feel is appropriate 

Answer:  

Perhaps you have having a tough time coming up with something appropriate because it isn’t appropriate. Call me hard core, but why do you have to apologize for your success or reward your coworker just so she doesn’t have hurt feelings about your promotion? There are some steps you can take that won’t reward the wrong behavior. 

Because there are only two of you, the issue of equality is in your face. In a larger company there are many levels and job categories and so it isn’t such a stark and personal comparison. That is probably why you and your boss are worried about soothing your coworker’s feelings. 

Unfortunately, your manager has contributed to this situation because he wasn’t clear with her when you were hired. However, I’m assuming she found out you were brought in at a higher level, since friction erupted after you were hired. Now that you are getting along, I suspect she has accepted your higher job category.  

One thing your manager can do is to have separate career discussions with each of you. During that conversation, he can praise her contributions and compliment her work.  

In his discussion with your coworker, they could identify her strengths and development needs and put a plan together for helping her reach her career goals. If she is happy in her job, that plan could include action steps to close any skill gaps she has or give her additional responsibilities in areas in which she is strong.  

If she has potential, and she is interested in moving into a bigger job, he could discuss the practical steps she could take to get promoted. Maybe it means more education, or learning new areas of the business.  

If an outcome of this career development session can be additional responsibilities that fit in with her career aspirations, she will feel as though she is working to better herself. When your promotion is announced she won’t feel as though you are the only one experiencing any personal growth. In other words, it’s better to offer her a potential opportunity she can earn, than reward her insecurities, in the hopes she’ll feel better about herself and be a good girl and stop pouting. 

In your career conversation, you can also discuss your strengths and development needs as it relates to your future promotion. It would be an excellent time to outline the responsibilities and accountabilities. It is also a good time to discuss what outcomes are expected within the first six months and first year. 

I don’t feel a “bonus” is the right solution for your coworker. It sends the wrong message.  Bonuses should be reserved for actually accomplishing something above and beyond. It shouldn’t be a consolation prize to soothe hurt feelings. It could come across as patronizing and even make her feel worse. It could also backfire and she could become sulky and demanding every time you get something she doesn’t. 

Giving her a new title may make some sense, however. If you are reconfiguring responsibilities, which often happens with a promotion, title changes may be needed to reflect the changes. And if, indeed, she does take on more responsibilities in the process, perhaps a salary increase will be warranted.

If she throws a fit or gets sulky after your promotion, you manager needs to pull her into his office and kindly but firmly explain how your increased responsibilities have warranted the move. He then needs to remind her of her own promotional possibilities and what it would require for her to reach that goal. Then it’s her choice to make.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 354-9500, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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