What to do in an up-or-out organization when I want out?
April 29, 2016 7:10 PM   Subscribe

I have a foot out the door, mentally, but don't want to leave until I have something better lined up. I work at an up-or-out organization, and the next "up" step is on the horizon. How do I handle this?

I work at a small teapot services firm. I'm up for a promotion relatively soon, and I'm supposed to start having conversations about that with the people above me very soon.

I like the teapot-related work that I do. As it turns out, I'm really good at helping people with their teapot problems, and the work itself does not cause me any problems (other than occasional long hours or stressful situations that wouldn't bother me much at all if I weren't at the "bitch eating crackers" stage of my relationship with my employer).

But, my firm is tremendously poorly managed. People who are great employees, some new in their careers and others experienced, are leaving without other jobs lined up because they can't take the dysfunction and negative atmosphere anymore. So, I want out for what I consider to be good reasons. But I have bills to pay and can't leave unless I get another job first.

The tricky part is that we run on an "up or out" business model. Not having up-related conversations seems like a poor idea, because it will be noticed if it doesn't happen soon, and then my dedication to the organization will be questioned and my employment could be adversely affected in various ways.

But the thought of having those conversations makes me sick to my stomach. I don't want to be here! Not now, and certainly not long-term! So how do I ask for a promotion? Is it ethical for me to ask for a promotion? And if I can do it and should do it, do you all have any tips or tricks for getting in the right frame of mind?
posted by J. Wilson to Work & Money (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you haven't by now start looking for your next job. Lie and get the promotion, then you are in a better position to negotiate with your next job. It sucks but if you have no fall back plan it is just how to play the game. Their rules.
posted by vrakatar at 7:22 PM on April 29, 2016 [11 favorites]

There's no ethics problem with trying to get a promotion. You have no idea how long it will take you to get a new job, or what might happen in the meantime. Asking for a promotion is like applying for a job - it's not a pledge to take that job or stay for a set amount of time. You're just starting a conversation.

As for how to do so, it really depends on your company and your relationship with your supervisor. But if it's "up or out" then I assume your supervisor won't be surprised to hear you bring it up. The best time is during a review, but if you don't have one coming up, you can bring it up during a regular check-in, or schedule a special meeting to do so. I would be prepared to make your case - how you have already gone above and beyond, KPIs where you've excelled, as well as talk about why you're interested in the role you want to be promoted into.

Really, when it comes down to it, your employer is looking after their business interests, and its your job to look after your career/financial interests. No one else will do that for you.

Good luck!
posted by lunasol at 7:32 PM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Work to move up while looking for the best way to get out. The best response to "up-or-out" is to create your own "up-and-out" path.
posted by The World Famous at 7:49 PM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Part of the "how" in my question is really a mental block thing, I think. I can't stop thinking "you fucking suck and I want no part of being here" -- which makes it hard to imagine the part of the conversation that involves me explaining why I'm interested in the role I ostensibly want to be promoted into.

All of these comments rock and I look forward to everyone's thoughts, but if anyone has specific ideas about how to psych myself up for that part of the conversation, I'd be forever in your debt!
posted by J. Wilson at 7:56 PM on April 29, 2016

So what would happen if, when your manager comes to you and says "let's talk about your next step up" or "we want to promote you to X", you say, "I actually really like where I am. I'm a good fit. I am taking good care of our customers. For example, last quarter, customers X, Y and Z were best served by 1, 2 and 3 things I did. My productivity is shown to have improved by $X over the last year. And I foresee Y% increase over the next 12-18 months, etc. I think I can best serve our company and our customers by staying where I am right now."

You said "because it will be noticed if it doesn't happen soon, and then my dedication to the organization will be questioned and my employment could be adversely affected in various ways."

What does than mean in concrete terms? Have you actually seen someone terminated for not accepting a promotion? I'm just wondering how much your perception is colored by your own level of frustration. (I know my company doesn't run as bad as it seems but I would cut off my left hand to get a new job right now so everything they do seems completely stupid.)

Also, is there someone else with whom you might be in the running for the promotion? Can you ease off a tiny bit and perform at a slightly lower level? And spread a little goodwill towards that person with the managers?
posted by Beti at 8:19 PM on April 29, 2016

You may have to embrace the "double agent" part of such a promotion, and hold your current position, as well as looking elsewhere for others.
posted by nickggully at 9:50 PM on April 29, 2016

What would I do to psych myself up to have this conversation even though I knew my long-term prognosis was to leave? Easy. Just keep telling yourself two things. One, I need the money so I need to fool these idiots. Two, this is just a small step in the master long-term plan of getting out of here. If I know that whatever task I have to do fits into a larger master plan, even if that task sucks, when I tell myself it is leading forward to the next stage that won't suck, it is easier to do.
posted by AugustWest at 12:10 AM on April 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

hard to imagine the part of the conversation that involves me explaining why I'm interested in the role I ostensibly want to be promoted into.

Could your approach involve a lot of subjunctive or conditional verbs and omitted clauses? You could imagine a world in which your statements would be true, but maybe not fully describing all of those conditions. E.g., "here's why I'd be great at the position if you jerks miraculously manage to keep me from leaving." E.g., "I'd really like to do XYZ in the position and to.be filling that position at another company."
posted by salvia at 1:32 AM on April 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

Does the promotion involve a change in tasks? Are you interested in the new tasks in general (even if not at this company)?
If so, then you can describe how interested you are in the new tasks.

If not, does it involve a significant pay jump? Then you should go for it (establishing better salary history as you look for new work).

If neither of the above is true, and if you would find the new position stressful, then perhaps not.
posted by nat at 7:56 AM on April 30, 2016

I started my career in a similar organisation. I knew I wanted to leave, so I adopted an 'up-then-out' strategy. I worked towards a standard 'two years in' promotion, got it, then resigned perhaps two or three months later. This was unusual and meant I got exit-interviewed by a few senior people in my division who wanted to know why I'd quit right when my career was 'taking off' with them. I was pretty honest with them in that it was partially that I wanted to do a different kind of job and partly I thought there were some unhealthy dynamics in the firm too. They thanked me and off I went.

The big plus was that the promotion really helped in future job interviews, up to five or six years later. So I saw it as a necessary grit-my-teeth part of my overall progression in my career, rather than any particular commitment to (or agreement with the culture of) this one firm.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:18 AM on April 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

That conversation can go well without having to completely sell out your soul. You can be telling the complete truth. It just takes a bit of re-spin and filtering.

Here's my N-step formula
1 - what do you hate about the company?
2 - what position would you have to be in to change that?
3 - what is the next step to get to the position in step 2? That's the one you want.
4 - re-write all the "things I hate" as "things I would like to see" positive statements, remove the negative part. This is being "visionary", and your answer to "why do you want this promotion"
5 - Come up with some concrete examples of how you could move towards that on a smaller scale in your own area of responsibility once you're one step higher. This is "how would you accomplish that?"
6 - you just aced the interview and got the promotion, as long as your step 4 doesn't directly conflict with the organization's core values and goals.
7 - your ideas might actually work, which can be really satisfying and addictive.
8 - you can still leave at any time. It's not lying to accept, for the purpose of this conversation, the science-fiction premise of "I will be here for a long, long time" and just avoid directly contradicting that.
posted by ctmf at 6:31 PM on April 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Thanks, all. With your advice and moral support I was able to gather the nerve to have this conversation, and it went fine! They want to promote me at the end of the year, and they didn't really have any questions for me or particularly seem to want to discuss it at all.

I'm still looking for a job elsewhere, but at least this helps some with job security and not having to worry so much about this issue at my current firm.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:54 AM on May 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

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