Credit and Blame at Work

Exploring the psychological forces at play while you work.

Making the Most of Your Promotion

Combat your fears about moving up the food chain.

In these troubling economic times, we all know people who have lost their jobs. Losing your job can be a very painful and upsetting experience for a whole host of symbolic and substantive reasons. Friends and family members who are currently in career transition need our empathy, sympathy and support.

Interestingly, though, there are some indications that getting promoted can actually be as stressful as, if not more stressful than, losing your job. Andrew Solomon mentions research on this topic in his brilliant book Noonday Demon about depression.

There are many possible reasons why this could be the case. First of all, getting promoted can bring up insecurities about one's capabilities. Many people who are appointed to higher level positions become concerned that they will suffer from the "Peter Principle"- getting promoted to the level where one becomes incompetent and gets stuck there.

Secondly, people struggle with promotions because of the added level of effort, stress and responsibility that higher level positions often involve. Gone are the days where managers could delegate their anxiety to their subordinates. In the current economy, bosses often worry more than their teams.

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Thirdly, there are often unexpected social costs of getting promoted. It's hard to maintain friendships with peers once they become subordinates. The colleagueship of being on a team can turn into the "loneliness at the top." It can be very difficult for some people to deal with the resentment and envy that promotions bring.

Finally, achieving any kind of goal can be bittersweet. As Dan Gilbert argues in Stumbling on Happiness, we are all bad at predicting what will make us happy or sad in the future. Having high expectations about the benefits that a promotion can bring may lead to serious disappointment. The energizing anticipation of striving to rise in an organizational structure can be better than the realities one confronts once promoted.  

One other thing in terms of comparing losing your job to getting promoted. If you lose your job, you will hopefully garner sympathy and support from your family, friends and colleagues. If you get promoted, people may be much less sympathetic to the challenges you are facing. So the next time you get promoted, keep in mind that you are likely to face new, unexpected stressors. And the next time someone you know gets promoted, make sure you empathize with their new predicament.

I'd be interested in hearing from all of you-

- Do you believe that getting promoted can be as stressful as losing one's job?

 

 

Ben Dattner, Ph.D., is a workplace consultant, an industrial and organizational psychologist, and an adjunct professor at New York University.

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