Practical Guide: How to Deny an Employee a Promotion

In small and mid-sized businesses, career paths are often less defined, leaving fewer opportunities for employees to be promoted.

As a result, there will probably come a time when you’ll have to tell one of your employees he or she wasn’t selected for a promotion.

This requires sensitivity on your part before, during and after you have the conversation. It also means that if you want your employees to stick around, you have to form a corporate culture where promotions aren’t the only form of advancement.

Before you deny someone a promotion

First, before you deny an employee promotion, make sure you followed the selection process properly. Your current employees should apply for the job formally and go through interviews just like outside applicants. The manner in which you evaluate internal and external candidates should also be equal, ensuring the position goes to the best-qualified person.

If your employee feels he or she has been fairly considered for the promotion, it will be much easier for you to break the news that you’ve chosen someone else. Having gone through the interview process, they should also have a better understanding of your expectations and the job responsibilities, taking the focus off tenure and other reasons why employees sometimes believe they deserve the promotion.

Delivering the news

Plan a face-to-face meeting with employees when you’re ready to deny the promotion.

Start by acknowledging their disappointment and expressing your determination to work with them to prepare for future opportunities.

Be sure to highlight what they’re already contributing, and thank them for it. Then, it should be possible to be open and honest about why you didn’t select them. Be prepared with concrete examples to help reduce the emotional response.

Discuss what you’re looking for, what your employees can bring to the table and how those strengths can be used to prepare them for the next opportunity.

Delivering the message can be difficult, but what happens after the message is delivered will be key to keeping employees engaged. This discussion should actually improve your communication with your employees in the future, adding a refreshing sense of candor to the working relationship.


Continue to personally invest in employees who lacked the skills required for a promotion. Right after you deny the promotion, look to the future by putting a development plan together to help them stay positive about their career with your company, rather than becoming disengaged. Give them stretch opportunities that will prepare for their next advancement opportunity.

This philosophy is a critical element in creating a culture where promotions are not the only, nor the most rewarding, form of advancement.

Create other “advancement opportunities” for all of your employees

As a manager, you should aim to provide many ways for your employees to be engaged in their work. You can develop and motivate your staff by:

  • Delegating some of your responsibilities
  • Allowing them to shadow other people
  • Letting them work with a different team
  • Giving them a special project
  • Getting their input in challenging situations by asking – “What do you think?”
  • Providing training and self-improvement opportunities

Many of these things require you to put forth additional creativity and flexibility. But there can be a serious payoff for that effort in the form of more versatile employees who are able to do more things – with or without a formal promotion.

Need help setting up your workforce for success? Learn how Insperity’s team of HR specialists can help you make difficult management decisions like this one with peace of mind and a strategic vision.

2 responses to “Practical Guide: How to Deny an Employee a Promotion


Loved the article. You would think the above is common sense. What if the none of the above were followed – no formal interview process, no meeting before, no meeting after, simply a public announcement. What message should the employee get? What does it tell about the manager?

Insperity Blog

Hello DG – Thank you! So glad you enjoyed the article! The proper way to deny an employee a promotion is to follow the process as outlined above. Employers should make the effort to do so, as opposed to just sending out a public announcement.

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