The ambitious employee who wants a promotion

John Burnell offers advice on motivating staff who want a promotion when one isn't available

Q: An employee is increasingly fed up because he hasn't been promoted, despite the quality of his work. I want to keep him, but feel it's too early in his career for a promotion, even if the opportunity was there. How can I keep him motivated?

A: The all-too-common reality in the voluntary sector is that promotion opportunities are few and far between. Most charities are simply too small to offer anything like a full career path, so employees often have to be motivated in other ways.

You really need to revisit this employee's expectations of working in the sector. If he is interested only in developing a career and scrambling up the greasy pole, it may be that working in a small charity is not for him and he needs to be helped to decide whether his talents would be best applied elsewhere.

But if he is excited by what your organisation is doing, try to focus his attention on that and on how he can contribute to improving outcomes. He may simply enjoy performing to a high standard. If so, positive appraisals, regular thanks and praise should all help to keep him on board.

If you have an incremental pay scale, you might consider lifting him up it in recognition of the quality of his work. If you are one of the still relatively few charities that operate bonus systems, consider whether his efforts can be recognised through that.

If he has the ability, consider giving him more responsibility within his existing job. That might feel to him like a promotion. But remember that your job evaluation might then require his grading to be reassessed.

Another possibility would be to give him special projects to carry out, either by himself or in a specifically created task team, where he can explore new areas of work and even be given leadership responsibility. And if there are several distinct areas of work within your organisation, some short-term secondments would also broaden his experience and make him ready for promotion later.

One word of caution: suggesting that it's too early in an employee's career for promotion could in some circumstances be seen as age discrimination. So do ensure that you have justifiable reasons for refusing promotion that are based solely on ability and not length of service.

- John Burnell is director of Personnel Solutions

- Send your HR questions to

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