Ask HR: Want a Promotion? Beware of This Bias

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP June 19, 2020
Ask HR: Want a Promotion? Beware of This Bias

SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today. The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor's answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.

Question: I've been working overtime at my job ever since my manager left. I've been tasked with doing their job on top of my own; however, I haven't received a raise or promotion, and I feel undervalued. How can I talk to my new manager about this?

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: If you're working overtime and feeling undervalued, you should certainly talk to your new manager.

But before you do, take some time to reflect. What do you really want? A raise? Or a promotion? You might think, "Either would be fine!" However, I strongly encourage you to clearly define your goal. That way, you can build a strategy and pick the tactics most likely to help you make it happen.

Regardless of your goal, be mindful of our economic context during your conversation. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for a raise or promotion, there are millions of Americans without a job at all right now. This makes tact an essential part of your approach. Yes, be an advocate for yourself. But strike the right tone and avoid sounding ungrateful.

One good way to ground yourself is to be realistic about your workload and performance. I say this because we, as human beings, have the habit of looking at ourselves through rose-colored glasses while seeing everything and everyone else in a less flattering light. In fact, this mental filter is called the self-serving bias, which is our "tendency to attribute positive events to [our] own character but attribute negative events to external factors." In other words, overconfidence is common, which is why it's always wise to stay humble and self-aware, and to be prepared.

Being prepared means doing the research to get the numbers that support your points. What you've done and how hard you've worked are good things to note. But it's even better—especially if promotion is your goal—to highlight how your hard work implemented business strategy and produced bottom-line results.

You'll also want to put yourself in your employer's shoes. We're enduring a global pandemic, so consider the state of the business and whether the organization can afford to provide a raise or promotion at present. Granted, if your company is in a tough spot right now, that's not say you shouldn't start this conversation. A "no" could very well have nothing to do with the value you bring to the organization. It could, quite simply, come down to dollars and cents.

That said, if you don't get what you hoped for, don't miss the bright side: You're taking on new responsibilities and learning skills that develop you as a professional. And that will pay off one day, whether within your company or with another one.

Best of luck!


Question: What's the deal with vacation policy during COVID-19? I want to take paid time off, but I feel weird about it since we're working from home. I'm worried my boss already sees this as "vacation," even though I'm working hard. Am I still entitled to my PTO? -Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: I've been asked this question quite a few times, and increasingly so as the weather started warming up. After all, summer is typically the time that many American workers take vacation.  

I'll start with this: Paid time off (PTO) is subject to employer discretion. This means the employer has the final say on whether and when employees can take time off. There are some exceptions, such as state and local paid-sick-leave laws, but, in general, your employer has the right to grant or refuse PTO.

Now, as for your situation, why are you worried about asking for time off? Has your boss denied a recent request or explicitly said you or others can't take vacation during this time? If the answer is no, then my answer is simple: Start an open and honest conversation with your manager—and request time off.

When you do, don't feel guilty. Sure, you and many others are working from home, but I don't know any leaders who think that is anything like a vacation. Speaking for myself, I know telework can blur the lines between the workplace and home, and that means some of us end up working even more than we did before the outbreak.

Similarly, keep in mind that PTO is truly a benefit for both employers and employees. Time away from the office (even if that office is home) enables employees to unplug and refresh. That works wonders for workplace culture, boosting morale, and engagement and trust, which in turn improves the performance of teams, departments and organizations.

Depending on your industry, taking time off right now could be infeasible. Or maybe other colleagues have already requested those same dates off, and your organization needs to ensure PTO is taken in a staggered fashion. In either case, you should still start the conversation now, as it could help pin down some dates you could take off.

Hopefully you're feeling less worried now and will find yourself on vacation soon!



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