Is It Bad Form To Pursue a Promotion During a Pandemic?
Professionally, your 2020 was off to an awesome start. You were on track to achieve your goals and get promoted. And then…COVID-19. Everything changed—not only your work setting, but also your company's outlook for the rest of the year. Where does that leave you? Is it insensitive to ask for a promotion during a pandemic? Could doing so actually set your career trajectory back?
The answer, like so much right now, depends. Before you make a big ask, ponder the following questions.
What financial position is your company in?
You might not have access to the books, but you should have a general feeling about your company's financial status. Have colleagues been laid off or furloughed? Has anyone taken a pay cut? Is your workload or call volume lighter than usual? Do you work in an industry reliant upon in-person interactions? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you might want to simply be thankful you are still employed and not rock the boat. (Unless you have taken on more work—more on this below.)
If your company seems to be in an OK position, do some research, and look back to see how your industry fared during other economic downturns, such as the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009. Some industries lag behind during downturns—for instance, while government jobs are generally considered "safer," reductions in force tend to come later in the public sector than they do in the private sector as fixed government budgets take a while to catch up to reduced tax revenue.
Have you taken on more responsibility or put yourself at risk?
Another thing to consider: whether your current responsibilities and performance align with a promotion and raise. If you took on additional duties before the pandemic and those have continued, or your current role has expanded because of the pandemic, it's worth having a conversation with your supervisor. Perhaps you have helped your company transition in-person meetings to virtual events, or you have developed innovative ways to continue selling products in a socially distanced world.
Another instance in which asking for a promotion could be justified: when you have taken on extra work to fill a hole. Even if your company has had to reduce staffing, you should still be compensated for picking up extra work or taking on additional duties. The ask might also be warranted if you are an essential worker putting yourself in harm's way. (Some grocers and big-box retailers have increased hourly wages or given small bonuses to frontline workers during COVID-19.)
In what circumstances are you asking?
Even though we are in the middle of a pandemic, we still have to take care of routine business such as annual performance reviews. This setting is the best time to have an honest conversation with your supervisor about your performance and your potential for growth. At most companies, you will have been asked to complete a self-evaluation, which provides an opportune forum to document your contributions before and during quarantine. It's also the one time of year when you are most likely to have your manager's complete attention and can reasonably expect them to focus on your potential.
Your chances of success are greater if you are asking for a promotion during a regularly scheduled time, not adding to an already long to-do list that now includes tasks such as creating socially distanced workspaces and employee schedules. (Performance reviews are also typically tied to fiscal years, making salary and budget adjustments smoother.)
What is your relationship with your boss?
Before you ask your boss for a promotion, consider the nature of your relationship. Do you have a history of discussing your career growth with your boss? Is your manager open with you about the company's challenges? How honest of a conversation do you think you will have?
Only you now can balance the culture of your organization, your relationship with your supervisor, and your current performance level and responsibilities. Be honest with yourself and trust your gut about whether it is OK to ask for a promotion, even during a pandemic.