How to Motivate Employees After They Didn't Get Promoted

by Craig Berman; Updated September 26, 2017
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Whenever employees compete for a coveted promotion, it’s natural for those who aren’t selected for the new position to feel less motivated at work. A boss’s task in getting these employees out of their funk and back on top of their game isn’t always easy. Communication is the key. Helping them see why they didn’t get the job, and showing them how they can do better next time, can refocus everyone on the tasks at hand.

Be Honest

Explain to the affected employee why he didn’t get the promotion he wanted. There’s nothing more discouraging than thinking you lost out on a coveted job for unfair reasons, like not being golfing buddies with the boss or being the victim of seniority rules despite a superior work record. The more transparent and specific you can be, the less likely those frustrations will lead to demotivation. For example, letting him know that the selected candidate offered seven new ideas for bringing in business, or was the firm's top-rated performer in client engagement, at least lets the dissatisfied applicant know that there was logic behind the decision. It should also motivate him to improve his performance in certain areas so he can strengthen his chances for the next promotion.

Show Them The Way

An employee who didn’t get promoted likely will be wondering what she has to do to take her career to the next level. Let her know why she fell short and how she can show she’s ready for that level of responsibility next time. It could be a course in public speaking, for example, or certification in a particular area that’s necessary for managers in your line of work to have.

Give Them Responsibility

Offer employees a chance to show they can handle the workload of a promotion by increasing the responsibilities associated with their current tasks. For example, you might have an employee author important reports, make presentations to clients, run the financial numbers for a project or develop white papers and proposals that lead to future business. You also can use internal projects as a testing ground to determine the employee’s suitableness for promotion. Having the employee spearhead an annual holiday charity drive, for example, can be a great way for a budding manager to exhibit the leadership and organizational skills needed for a work promotion.

Appreciate Their Work

An employee who doesn’t feel appreciated won’t be motivated to succeed. Show disgruntled staffers that you recognize their good work and the effort they put in. This can come in the form of calling out employees in regular meetings to highlight their successes, and offering regular small rewards for efforts that go above and beyond their job description, even if it's just buying them lunch. Employees who know their boss notices the work they do have a greater incentive to shine.

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