How long is too long to wait for an internal job move?
February 22, 2021 3:56 PM   Subscribe

I applied for an internal position and got it but my transition has been contingent on back-filling my role. It's been almost 18 months with no end in sight. Am I being unreasonable to think that this is ridiculous? How can I approach management about a solution?

I work in healthcare IT, having been with the current organization for almost 7 years and 14 years in the field in a mid-senior level systems analyst role, and in 9/2019, after months of being unsatisfied with my role, projects, lack of direction for the team and being passed over for a supervisory position which I was short listed for, I applied for a role with a different team. This new role requires an adjacent but new skill-set and since this type of role does not have much turnover I wasn’t sure when an opening on that team would materialize again, it’s something I am (or thought I was) interested in, it would not be a bad lateral transition to make in terms of experience. Being an internal candidate with knowledge of the organization and systems I figured it made sense to pursue this new role as I would most likely not be getting hired for a similar position externally, so I applied and by the end of 10/2019 I got the job.

Unfortunately for me 2019 was a bad year for our team as we lost several people by attrition. One retired, one (the team lead) moved out of state and another, also unhappy with their job, transferred to a less demanding internal position. Unfortunately again for me I was now the subject matter expert in a number of areas on the team and was told the timing of my transfer to the new job would be contingent on back-filling at least 1 or 2 positions on the current team.

Fast forward almost 18 months to February 2021, in the time since I got the new job there were hiring freezes, budget issues and then COVID, all of which prevented even the approval for posting those positions. There was hope a couple of months ago when 1 of the positions was finally approved and posted and another position will be getting posted soon. Surprisingly there have been very few applicants and of those none were qualified candidates.

This whole time my boss’s boss is always saying that my patience and work are appreciated, my performance is good and they are supportive of me wanting to grow professionally and that I will be transferred at the earliest possible time after back-filling my role and training the new person(s). I have no reason to doubt their sincerity and their gratitude and do not believe I am being gaslit or lead on but by the same token I wanted to get out of this team and on to something new close to 18 months ago now and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight in the foreseeable future.

The receiving manager and team have also been patient and supportive about this whole scenario but this is not fair to them either as they could have filled their own position months ago. And if I can allow myself to be selfish for a moment this is not about the new manager/team’s patience to wait for me, it’s about mine.

The longer it takes the more interest I lose in making this transition. Actually, I have already resigned myself to losing compete interest in making this move and have been looking for a new job externally. One thought I am having is to tell my boss’s boss to forget about my transition and see whether we can get me the growth I’m looking for on our team by promoting me to a leadership role (team lead, supervisor or manager). This would give me new responsibilities, a promotion/title, a raise and would be beneficial to my current team and allow the other team to hire for their role.

I think the bottom line for me, which I would not disclose to management, is this: If something doesn’t happen soon I will be looking to leave the organization, so what do I have to lose? I am of the mind that I should at least attempt to move my career forward by trying to get into more of a leadership role on my current team. This would at least put me in a better position to pursue something more meaningful externally in a couple/few years.

So my multi-part question is this:

1- Assuming I still want to, how long is too long to wait to transition to a new role?
2- Is my proposal an acceptable and fair one to make to my current management.
3- Any other points-of-views or actions I should consider?

Thank you.
posted by eatcake to Work & Money (20 answers total)
18 months is WAY too long and your proposal sounds acceptable and appropriate.
posted by quadrilaterals at 4:02 PM on February 22 [13 favorites]

This is a preposterous amount of time to wait, even given COVID challenges. I'd start looking for something new without saying anything to them about it. At the same time, I'd propose the promotion in your current department as an acceptable alternative to the move to the other department. Given what's happened with you becoming the subject matter expert due to so many people leaving, I think you have a good case to request a fast track promotion that includes a title change and compensation increase. Frankly, they should be ready to do it right away to retain you given that they've taken an embarrassing 18 months to still not have your internal transfer close to completed. If I were your manager, I'd be very afraid that you're looking to leave. If they aren't, it's a sign you should leave.
posted by quince at 4:10 PM on February 22 [5 favorites]

While I'm sure everyone has been nice about it, the fact that this situation has persisted so ridiculously long is a sign that management is bad. I'd be moving on regardless, because even if you make a proposal that gets accepted, they're still the group of people who've allowed this to fester, so you'll just have a new job title and compensation while you wait for the next fuckup.
posted by axiom at 4:15 PM on February 22 [12 favorites]

Sometimes the reason isn't important.

Either they truly can't backfill you, in which case you're in a dead end, or they could but aren't trying hard enough, in which case you know they don't really value you.

Unfortunately again for me I was now the subject matter expert in a number of areas on the team and was told the timing of my transfer to the new job would be contingent on back-filling at least 1 or 2 positions on the current team.

"Too good to promote" is a very dangerous position to be in. Their incentives are not to promote/transition you, but in fact to keep you where you are.

Your plan is a fine one. If you were instead saying "I think I'm just going to leave," I - and I know others have already suggested this - would just say to do that instead. COVID may be a convenient excuse or a real challenge they're facing; either way, you are entitled to be selfish and do what's right for yourself and your career, because they clearly won't.
posted by Tomorrowful at 4:28 PM on February 22 [7 favorites]

Bro. If you haven’t made the move yet, there isn’t actually a move for you to make. They’re fucking with you. Get out.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:47 PM on February 22 [10 favorites]

This whole time my boss’s boss is always saying that my patience and work are appreciated, my performance is good and they are supportive of me wanting to grow professionally and that I will be transferred at the earliest possible time after back-filling my role and training the new person(s).

I'm not the most diplomatically savvy employee, but they're sweet talking you and that's been enough. "How about you appreciate my patience with a fat bonus."

Quit after you get the bonus, or when they say "Haha eatcake, we love your sense of humor, too. No."

One thing I wish I'd done in the first half of my career is to go for the throat at all when it came to compensation and responsibilities/title. Be a little bit of an asshole who is over-it and they'll either respect you or fear that you're about to leave, which is a win-win because it doesn't sound like they'd fire you just for a change in disposition.
posted by rhizome at 5:34 PM on February 22 [3 favorites]

I work in a large organization in which things move super slowly by the nature of the beast. This has its advantages but can be a real problem when it comes down to hiring freeze and stuff life that - so I understand having some patience for the process. That said, 18 months is too much. Even in my notoriously slow-moving machine of an employer, 18 months is too long, and I personally would have been looking externally if I wasn't happy with my present situation and the job I was supposed to be starting hadn't materialized. It does not hurt to look externally and go for something that excites you. I would, however, keep it to myself. I agree with earlier posters who said that the time to give notice is two weeks ahead of time. Having worked for my machine-employer for a while, I have definitely come to realize that the organization always looks out for itself first (in your case, this is clear in the fact that they want to find your replacement before you can leave. Uhm, what? That's not normal, even if it's an internal transition for you. If you've been offered a different job within the organization and you've accepted, you should be able to move on and it should not be your problem who takes your current position and when.). Since they are looking out for their own interests above any needs that you might have -- like, I don't know -- more money for more work -- I think you should consider looking out for your own interests first. As long as you are polite and professional about any move you make, they cannot hold it against you. And honestly, if the answer is to get a job at a different organization, as long as you do it professionally and give two weeks' notice, they cannot hold it against you. If they do, that is absolutely not your problem and demonstrates a lack of professionalism on /their/ part.

I have known other people in what sound like somewhat similar situations, and they ended up moving to a different organization in each case. It's interesting how quickly various roles that seemed to be impossible to fill were filled once the people whose experiences I'm thinking about moved on...
posted by dubhemerak3000 at 5:45 PM on February 22 [3 favorites]

Are you sure the new team you are joining would actually still be allowed to fill the position you are on hold for if you aren't the one to take it? It's possible that role has been frozen for the time being as well, especially if they are perceived to be managing ok with the heads they have now. If the need was dire for them, I expect your situation would have been resolved one way or another by now, either by you moving over or them hiring another person for the job. I work at a big company that has been heavily impacted by COVID, and we have a lot of roles in limbo from people leaving too. The roles aren't necessarily gone long-term, but they aren't backfilling anything that isn't deemed essential.

Either way, it's more than reasonable to start putting some professional pressure on your employer to resolve this. You could try pushing for a timeline to move against a deadline, but that feels risky to me and I'm not sure I'd trust them to honor anything they say as solid at this point. Plus, you may legitimately be more necessary to them right now in your current role. Given that, it sounds like your most immediate option, and the one where you have the most leverage, would be to ask for some sort of title and comp adjustment within the team you are in now. In addition, it's probably a good idea to be looking elsewhere as it sounds like your company just may be one of those places that pushes inertia so far that people who would have otherwise stayed end up leaving. It's crappy, but many companies do it - mine included!
posted by amycup at 5:53 PM on February 22

TLDR; it's a dysfunctional company if it takes that long.

I am now going to read the thread...
posted by Grok Lobster at 6:12 PM on February 22 [2 favorites]

I had a very similar situation also in healthcare IT but before Covid as did several other people at my employer. However, our transitions were held up for 2-4 months. Not 18 months. I would have been raging and climbing the walls at the 18 month mark.

+1 vote for moving on.
posted by MadMadam at 6:15 PM on February 22 [2 favorites]

Yes, try to get a raise while you're there but don't let that stop you from the next part.
Yes, start looking externally. I'm pretty sure because of CoVid, there are lots of openings for someone like you.
Good luck!
posted by Grok Lobster at 6:23 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]

Reasons to leave:
- You’re “ unsatisfied with my role, projects, lack of direction for the team.”
- You would like supervisor responsibilities.
- Your team sounds dysfunctional: high attrition, can’t recruit enough candidates to even apply to the position, and they rely too much on a non-supervisor as subject matter expert for 18+ months.

Reasons to stay:
- A new external job may be worse. Even if this happens you might be able to get your old job back since they’ve had such a hard time to fill it.
posted by mundo at 11:51 PM on February 22

My take on the situation is:

* management interprets or perceives your desire to change teams as something you would merely prefer, but that if your move is deferred indefinitely you will be content or resigned to the status quo
* your receiving manager doesn't have enough power / political savvy to have a tough conversation with your current manager and pull you across
* your management claims to be supportive of your goal to grow/progress your career but does not appear to be willing to actually act and demonstrate support. measured in terms of their actions, they are not in fact supportive.
* you are understandably and reasonably frustrated after having your career growth stagnating for 18 months

Ways you could reframe this:

If management perceives the decision as being between "continue status quo indefinitely" and "create a new fire to put out in oldteam by moving eatcake into newteam" then they will likely continue to be unsupportive and not do anything to change the situation, because in their perception doing nothing is not a problem and creates no new problems.

If instead management perceive the choice as being between "status quo is that eatcake is unhappy with our org's lack of support of eatcake's career growth and is at fairly serious risk of quitting for more attractive growth opportunities with other employers meaning we lose them completely" vs "if we move eatcake into new team that does cause a bit of problem in oldteam but at least we don't lose eatcake completely from our org with all of their valuable knowledge of our systems and customs" then they will understand that continuing the status quo and doing nothing will result in a bad outcome for them.

I think you should continue to look for a new job externally, and if you find one that is in line with your career objectives and that make you a decent offer you should probably give your two weeks notice and take it.

It probably doesn't hurt your situation to communicate clearly and firmly to management that you are unhappy with the status quo, that something needs to change by $pick-some-hard-deadline e.g. 2 months. You do not need to explicitly spell out that a move to a new employer is on the cards, but you can hint at it by emphasising that the current situation is not sustainable for you and that something needs to change. Depending on how risk averse you are you might want to wait until you have an offer for an external opportunity, but I have had this way of framing things work for me to move laterally in large orgs _provided there is some ally such as newboss who has power to help argue that your old responsibilities need to be closed off by some firm date and to help pull you across_.

You might want to first have this conversation with potential-new-boss or boss's-boss -- if think they are most likely to be an ally to help you communicate this way of reframing the situation to your current boss (or to whoever is the main blocker for your move - perhaps boss's-boss is the main blocker, and it might be best to discuss with new-boss).
posted by are-coral-made at 12:23 AM on February 23

There is no transfer or promotion. If your new team can manage without you for 18 months they can manage without you indefinitely. If your old team hasn't found a way to backfill your job in 18 months they're not going to now. This situation probably isn't what anyone intended, and I don't mean that it's a bait and switch, but 18 months is the same as forever in this context.

The potential downside risk to telling them that they need to fix this (by moving you or promoting you) or else, is that they might call your bluff. Up to and including that if you're going to leave anyway they may as well lay you off now. I think that's probably unlikely, but I wouldn't risk it if it would be catastrophic. More likely is that they say a few soothing words in the belief that since you haven't gone anywhere in 18 months you're not going to now.

I definitely recommend looking for a new job immediately.
posted by plonkee at 4:39 AM on February 23 [5 favorites]

And in answer to the main question "How long is too long to wait for an internal job move?" Absent a natural deadline, I would say more than 3 months is too long.
posted by plonkee at 4:41 AM on February 23

Propose that they hire a replacement so that you can transfer the subject knowledge. As well as requesting more leadership in the current team. Try acting as if you are already the leader to whatever extent you can.
posted by theora55 at 6:10 AM on February 23

Part of the reason my earlier answer sounded so harsh is because I've been through something similar myself, being promised an internal promotion and then being strung along for a long time. When I wrote that question, I was three months overdue for the move based on what they'd originally promised me; it was two more months before I actually moved up. That's significantly less than you're dealing with, but it was long enough and irritating enough that I came up with a set of rules to guide me in future situations.

The first rule is that you do not have an actual offer of promotion until you have a start date in writing. This is exceedingly obvious when you think in terms of external offers. If you interviewed with another company, and they said something like "well, I think that we might be able to bring you on sometime next quarter if everything works out", you wouldn't put in your notice at your current job, would you? Of course not. It's clear that the other company isn't actually ready to hire you. On the other hand, if they send you a PDF saying "this is an offer of employment beginning March 1st, 2021", you can feel pretty confident that you actually will start the new job on March 1st. Treat internal offers the same way. Vague promises of future action are just talk, and remember what DMX said about that.

Second, to the extent that a specific date can't be set due to conditions needing to be met first, make sure that the conditions are specific, applicable to only you, boolean (that's yes/no for non-IT people) and evaluable using non-proprietary information (i.e., by you). So like, if one of the conditions is that a particular project is complete before you move, define explicitly what "complete" means, because everyone has had projects where all the work is done but some stakeholder keeps asking questions and prolonging it. What specific deliverables have to be accomplished? If the condition is a satisfactory score on a test, what is "satisfactory"? Not an F? C or better? 100%? If you let the conditions be vague, they can weasel around them (as you've found). If you don't have access to the information they're using to evaluate the conditions, they can outright lie to you about whether or not the conditions have been met. If the conditions are out of your hands (e.g., backfilling your position), you have no way to satisfy them. Until the conditions are met, or if the company is unwilling to give you such conditions in the first place, you have no actionable offer. Pseudo-offers like this are generally more of a way to motivate you in your current job than a way to move you along a career path.

Once all conditions have been met, notify your current boss, your current boss's boss, your new boss, and your new boss's boss of that and ask for a hard start date within a week. If they are unwilling to provide a date at that point, you do not have an offer, there is no position waiting for you, and you should either accept that you're staying in your current role, or move on externally as quickly as possible.

In your case, the right time to move on would have been 17.5 months ago. I was probably a little too blunt in my earlier answer to say that there is no promotion; after all, I eventually did get the promotion my Ask was about, and I worked in that position successfully for a year and a half. But the uncertainty surrounding it was quite stressful for me and on my family. I don't recommend it.

I like your idea of asking for promotion to team lead/manager instead, but what I like best is that you've started looking externally, because I think it'll be good for you to leave this organization, which sounds at best disorganized and badly managed, and at worst outright manipulative.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:26 AM on February 23

Oh my lord. You could have had a whole new job in that time and gained enough experience to have then been promoted to yet another role.

I agree with the proposal, though I wouldn't say 'forget about my transition'. I'd frame it more as 'since X isn't happening right now, is Y a possibility?' That's just in case 'Y' is not a possibility.

Personally, I would leave.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 8:00 AM on February 23 [2 favorites]

Your organisation doesn't have a policy on this, can HR help maybe? A team mate of mine is moving to another position, my boss tried to force a 4 month wait. Teammate escalated it to HR last week as the policy states maximum of 3 months, and boss immediately backed down. Terrible frosty atmosphere between them now though.

I had a promotion delayed for 5 months at a previous job. I was pretty annoyed so found a new job externally, one I was perfectly willing to take (but would prefer not to). I used it to force the issue and the promotion/role were sorted out with a very, very nice salary bump. I did find it pretty stressful.

Eighteen months is really excessive - as others say it sounds like the new team is managing without you. In companies I've worked in roles would get cancelled if vacant for more than about 6 months. I'd probably look externally if you can - either use it to force the issue or if that fails, just leave. It's quite infuriatingly short term thinking to try to keep you in the old role like you're not going to notice, or forget about the new one.

This must have been really really tough to deal with, I hope it works out for the best either way.
posted by ElasticParrot at 4:22 PM on February 23

It feels as if they are F***ing with you, maybe not intentionally, but every month they can delay you is another month they don't have to worry about the problem, while you stew in your own juices.

As others said, it's time to put your foot down. Either promote you, or let move to the other team. If neither will be done within a reasonable amount of time, you shall quit altogether and find an external job so NEITHER team get your work for (bleep)ing you around for this long. Good luck finding your replacement.
posted by kschang at 5:21 AM on February 24

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