Receiving a promotion is a time that is exciting and rewarding, a cause for celebration and a time for colleagues to pat you on the back in recognition of your achievement. Or is it?
For some, receiving a promotion is a time associated with stress and tension, and not for the reasons you might first imagine.
Rather than being stressed because of the new and potentially more demanding responsibilities of the role, a promotion for some brings a different kind of stress. It’s a stress which is more people orientated, and linked to subsequent tensions and fractures in friendships with colleagues that were previously strong.
Catherine Small* certainly relates to this, having lost a close friendship in her office following her promotion to supervisor. “The change in our friendship wasn’t immediately noticeable,” says Small, “Although it did feel like she went from being happy and supportive, to realising that I was now her superior and things would change.”
And change they did. “She went from being my lunch buddy every day, to lunching with other women in the office who she had previously expressed a dislike for,” explains Small. “She also started trying to show me up on projects we were working on together, and taking credit for things in front of our boss.”
Things came to a head however when Small was in charge of the office while her boss was on leave. “My friend did something out of line and, not only did I have to wear it from upper management, but another woman in the office told her a different version of events than what actually happened, and that was the end of our friendship.”
In hindsight Small admits that she regrets not talking to her friend about the situation, as they did initially have a great relationship. However, she also confesses that it was one of the toughest lessons she has learnt in her career, saying “you can’t just go from ‘one of us’ to ‘one of them’.”
But it’s not just friends in the office that can have an issue with you receiving a promotion. It can be colleagues in general, as Tracey Kinder* discovered. “A few years ago I was working alongside another woman as one of two support assistants for a group of managers,” she says. “Admittedly, we weren’t really friends, but we were civil and professional with each other, and so it was a simple enough working relationship.”
But all that ended when Kinder was approached by another Manager and offered a more senior role in another Department. “As soon as I started the new role, it was all out animosity from her,” says Kinder. “She would pointedly not look at me or speak to me, even if she came to chat with the woman at the desk next to mine. Fortunately I didn’t really care anyhow, but it was so passive aggressive, completely unnecessary and just made for a rather uncomfortable atmosphere for everyone.”
So, how do women deal with this kind of behaviour? What is the best way forward, and how can we avoid being on the receiving end of the green-eyed monster by colleagues, particularly those we considered as friends?
Kylie Clarke is a HR Manager who has seen this happen on more than one occasion. “Unfortunately it can just be human nature,” she says. “Although I am sure the friend is still proud of the other receiving the promotion, it is the envy of ‘why not me’ that comes through, either intentionally or unintentionally.”
Clarke explains that this kind of behaviour can often result in the promoted employee actually not feeling like they are truly able to acknowledge their own efforts.
“I see women playing down or trying to hide their achievements in an attempt to fly under the radar,” says Clarke. “Sadly, in the situations I have seen, friendships have definitely been put under strain and, in the worst case scenarios, friendships have ended because the friend is unable to truly accept their friend’s promotion.”
In Clarke’s opinion, the best way to deal with this is for the two parties to have an open conversation about how they are feeling. “Hopefully maturity outweighs jealousy, and it needs to be the case that both parties are willing to listen and be understanding of the other person,” she advises. “If this doesn’t resolve the situation, then I would always ask the question, was it a true friendship from the beginning?”