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How Managers Can Decline Requests for Promotions and Still Keep Workers Engaged

Your employee asks for a raise; you say ‘no.’

Now what?

Leaders typically want employees who are eager to take on more responsibility. An issue however is that not all workers are ready for that promotion or deserve that raise when they think they are. (Of course, if you are a woman working at Microsoft that will not be a problem because the best employees do not ask for raises.) There are a handful of steps managers can take when it comes to turning down an employee’s request for a raise or promotion without demotivating the worker.

One of the keys to keeping an employee engaged after declining their request for more money or responsibility is to be transparent. “When it comes to setting employees’ expectations, ‘more information is always better.’ You should have frequent, ‘explicit conversations about reasonable promotion trajectories and pay’ with your team,” says social psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson. That means having a lot of discussions to figure out why this employee wants what he/she wants. Understanding these motivations will facilitate figuring out what needs to happen, according to the Harvard Business Review.

One of the most common motivations behind requests for raises and promotions is that employees wonder how they are valued by their employers. A large part of what she is looking for is validation from leadership. “One of the most powerful things you can say is, ‘I believe in you’ – if you genuinely mean it of course. Your vote of confidence is critical,’” explains Babson College professor Joseph Weintraub. The solution in this case is to remain positive in delivering the disappointing news while at the same time providing a path to success. Leaders should also consider building a timeframe for improvement. “Give the employee a schedule and specific goals to meet to earn the raise . . . or set benchmarks to be met to earn a raise.”

Once you have given the fuel to your employee’s fire for improvement, leaders need to mentor and coach that worker to obtain the necessary skills and knowledge for the next step. Schedule regular review sessions and provide valuable feedback and advice. It is vital to provide candor and honesty during these sessions.

While you are coaching your employee, you need to be sure not to devote too much time to his needs at the expense of other workers. Being fair to everyone is key to managing your employees. After all, you do not want to alienate other people who are just as talented but more reticent than the worker who was a little louder than the others. “If you only grease the squeaky wheel, you’ll undermine your credibility and stoke resentment from the rest of your team.”

Feedback is inherently part of a manager’s job and sometimes that means delivering disappointing news to employees. The good news however, is that it is possible to keep workers motivated and striving for excellence with the right mixture of candor and coaching.