Why can't my friend move to a new job?
February 8, 2007 10:17 AM   Subscribe

A friend of mine (really) recently found an opportunity to move to a different team within our company—certainly a promotion for him. Word got down to his existing management, and they said they would "block" him from moving, because they need him for an event later this year. Is that legal, and what can he do?

IANAL, and I'm certainly not an HR manager, so I don't know the legality or appropriateness of this statement. First off, my friend has not even begun the actual interview/job req process for this new position. It came up in a casual discussion, and apparently word came from the new position's HR contact to the current position's HR contact... who then passed it on to my friend's manager. Shortly thereafter his current manager convened a meeting and said that they would block any effort he makes to leave his current position, and that after this event they need him for has passed, he could try again.

Needless to say, that job won't be around in 5 months after this event's over.

Has anyone ever experienced this, and where in the HR policies and contracts would this kind of restriction be worded? It seems ridiculous that a talented person couldn't move to a better position in the same company where he could be much more useful.
posted by symphonik to Work & Money (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If the Company decides, for whatever reason that So-and-So needs to stay where he is for five months (or forever, or whatever), then that's where So-and-So stays. That's the nature of Companies.

Of course, So-and-So may have some input in what the Company decides, as may his potential new new boss, as may his potential old boss.

Companies like team players. I'd advise So-and-So to try to be one as this gets worked out.
posted by notyou at 10:27 AM on February 8, 2007

I had this situation in my last job at a communications/marketing company. I wanted to move from a management position in the production department to a developer position in the IT/call center department. My boss told me I couldn't do it as I was too valuable in the position I was currently in. Within 6 months, I quit the job and returned to school. It wasn't the best decision they made, and they actually never filled my position. They continue to hire freelancers as necessary. I don't believe that it is illegal.

Maybe he could look elsewhere for a job? I wouldn't suggest he threaten to leave his job anyway unless he already has other plans.
posted by Roger Dodger at 10:29 AM on February 8, 2007

Uh yeah, this happens all the time. It's happened to me. Sometimes you can get around it by threatening to leave the company (because that way the orignal team won't have you in any case), but you have to be willing to actually leave if they say no.

Of course, there are people at the company in positions of authority such that they can overrule any 'block' your friend's manager has on his movement. But trying for that is kind of like a second-grader going to the district superintendant because his teacher wouldn't let him in the advanced reading group. Technically it could happen, but it's more likely to just get people annoyed at you.
posted by bingo at 10:33 AM on February 8, 2007

Happens a lot where I work. It's office politics. How its worked out depends on who has more clout in the company and personal relationships. If its a conflict between two managers with same clout, then should be resolved by person above them. Its evolutionary - the manager with more clout (or who can argue that his project/team is more important to the company as a whole) gets the better staff.

The mistake was letting the manager find out from the wrong people. The better approaches are:

(1) to tell the current manager how much you love him/her and your position, but that you're thinking about something else b/c of bla bla bla that make current manager feel good and that you've figured out that the way to cover the upcoming project is bla bla bla; or

(2) have the other team manager go to current manager and say, look this thing I have is really important to company and Friend would be perfect, would it be OK for me to talk to him about this opportunity, I'd really owe you one, bla bla bla. (Trading staff is not unknown in this situation); or
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 10:37 AM on February 8, 2007

My experience strongly contradicts notyou's advice. Companies like team players at the bottom of the ladder. Anywhere higher up, the rewards go to those who look for them.

This is an ideal opportunity for your friend to ask for a substantial raise. It's a win-win: either they say say no and he moves to the other department, or they say yes and he sticks with the current job (until the next promotion offer comes along, which if he's that indispensable, is certain to happen sooner or later.)

Interdepartmental pissing matches over who gets the good employees are not uncommon. They're a good sign for the employee involved.
posted by ook at 10:38 AM on February 8, 2007 [3 favorites]

Of course it is legal - it's up to his company what his job is. If I were your friend I would be smiling, keeping my mouth shut and mounting a serious job hunt right now.
posted by nanojath at 10:39 AM on February 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

It seems like this isn't illegal at all-- I've seen it happen more than once.

But playing the game doesn't necessarily mean rolling over. It means trying your best to make your way.

Your friend should apply for the new position. They should make every effort to score it. And if a guarantee of the new position can be had, they should make it clear that they won't be available for the event.
posted by koeselitz at 10:42 AM on February 8, 2007

This is not uncommon.

I just went through a situation in December where I was offered a long-desired internal promotion, but my director wasn't willing to let me go, and threatened to block my transfer & promotion. My manager reasoned with him, saying "Look - we can lose (deadmessenger) to another department, where he's going to be on the next floor up and available for consultation whenever we need him, or we can lose him to another company, and not have that skill available to us at all". My director saw the light of reason there, and let me go.

In my experience, every single person that I've heard of being blocked from an internal transfer has left the company within 3-6 months.
posted by deadmessenger at 10:43 AM on February 8, 2007

I cannot imagine the worker's paradise in which blocking an intra-corporate move would be considered illegal.

As RPMcM says above, this comes down to clout. If the would-be manager has more clout inside the company, he can probably push the transfer through (though this could create complications, blah blah blah).

The only other way to grease the skids that I can think of would be this: recruit someone who is at the same level as the friend's boss, but isn't necessarily perceived as having a vested interest in him staying or moving. Have him say something over the water cooler to the effect "Y'know, symphonik's friend is an asset to the company, and if he's prevented from moving to a position he'd like better, he may get resentful and quit, or just stop caring about his job." This needs to be presented not as a threat, simply as an observation.
posted by adamrice at 10:48 AM on February 8, 2007

I made a rule for situations like this: if one of my managers wanted to block a team member's move to another group, that team member had to be ranked #1 on the next Key Personnel Assessment from that manager. (Kind of like naming a franchise player in pro sports.) The manager also couldn't block the next member who requested a move.

Your friend should go ahead and initiate the move. If his manager wants to block it, it will have to be done formally rather than announced in a meeting. Your friend will then have some good ammunition to use in the next performance review/pay raise cycle.
posted by joaquim at 11:00 AM on February 8, 2007

I'm seconding the advice that your friend leverage this to his advantage. Also, as mentioned above, no one is going to look out for your friend's interests except your friend (and, well ... you too it seems). When this happened to me, I sat down with my manager and said, either I get the transfer, you promote me, or I leave. I ended up getting the transfer.
posted by forforf at 12:03 PM on February 8, 2007

One issue regarding internal politics: Depending on how the review process works, his former manager may end up screwing him on his annual performance review.

It may be spite, or it may just be pragmatic. Companies sometimes ration good review ju ju on a per department basis. The old manager may have no incentive to fairly rate a former employee because it means less good ju ju (and the raises that accompany it) for current team members.
posted by Good Brain at 12:33 PM on February 8, 2007

I've been there, and it's tough. Mostly comes down to the new manager's influence vs the current manager's influence. But if your friend speaks directly to HR, that can also help smooth things over. They're the ones that can theoretically see the big picture rather than the VERY shortsighted view his current manager has - that he'd be more value to the company in the long term if he's given the opportunity to progress. If he's blocked, chances are that he'll leave. And your friend should mention this - not in an ultimatum way, just in a "I want to work for a company that will work with me to achieve my potential and maximise my value to the organisation"

Maybe a compromise is possible? Transfer happens on the understanding that your friend spends X% of his time working on the event in question until it's over / commits X% of his time to handover with his replacement? That's what I ended up doing. The managers in question didn't talk for a while, but HR ended up dealing with most of the nasty stuff so I wasn't too implicated.

Most importantly, even though it's out now, your friend needs to be up front and honest with his current manager otherwise it seems like a betrayal. Any good manager should want their team to do well and progress, even if that means leaving the team. And any good team member should recognise this and do what they can to downplay the manager's fear of losing a key staff member.

On the positive side, the reaction can only stand your friend in good stead for applying for the new position - it proves that he's obviously well regarded and a key member of his current team - which will make the new manager want him even more!
posted by finding.perdita at 2:20 PM on February 8, 2007

strognly agree with the "uhm guys? I'm not going to stay put" advise you already got. make it known that you are ambitious and that your future (I mean your friends...) can be with or without this company but not in this position.
posted by krautland at 3:13 PM on February 8, 2007

Check the company's written policies. They should be available. The company I work for cannot keep a person who has been in their current job for at least a year from taking one at a higher level within the company... unless they are willing to promote the person to that level.
posted by Doohickie at 9:26 PM on February 8, 2007

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