Q: I work at a global nonprofit that hires a lot of recent college graduates from around the world. They are “the best and brightest” and have great careers ahead of them.
This is usually their first professional job. Some think getting promoted is like getting a good grade in school, so if they can just do all their assignments well, then promotion will follow quickly. However, we never have enough openings for all qualified employees to get the promotions they deserve.
Like most American organizations, we plan for about 20% staff turnover each year. This isn’t the norm in some employees’ home countries. I’d like to provide useful career advice to these young people, but I don’t know how to tell them to start looking for a new job if they want to move up. Our employer would be happy to keep them in their current roles as long as possible. What’s a good mentor to do?
A: I’ve said this before, but for many new grads, transitioning into their first “real” job is like stepping off a moving walkway: Suddenly it takes twice as much effort to see half as much progress. And I wrote that with U.S. graduates in mind, so the impatience and frustration you’re observing doesn’t seem to be tied to national origin.
When it comes to mentoring these quality hires when they express disappointment about promotions, your explanation is fine, with a subtle addendum: “Unfortunately, there are never enough openings for everyone to get the promotions they deserve. Sometimes people get tired of competing for those few slots and decide to look for opportunities elsewhere. It really depends on whether you feel you’re getting what you need from this job.” If someone doesn’t see the value in gaining depth of experience without a shiny job title attached, you won’t be able to convince them of it.
And you may also have a role to fill as a mediator with management. If you’re hearing grumblings about poor retention, you’re uniquely placed to communicate new hires’ concerns and suggest ways the firm can help them find more meaningful work or develop new skills. Hiring the best and brightest means getting great results — but remember, they didn’t become the best and brightest by staying content with whatever they’re offered.
Q: Prior to COVID, I already lacked a full workload in my revenue-generating position at a reputable cultural institution. As a junior nonexempt employee, I had been collecting a full-time paycheck even though I typically have had only enough work to fill 25 to 30 hours per week. There are few opportunities for stretch assignments or on-the-job learning.
I raised the issue and was told, “you add a lot of value — but you’re so productive that we don’t know what to do with you the rest of the time,” followed by busywork assignments and vague promises of more substantive work.
I was interviewing for other jobs until the coronavirus pandemic hit mid-March. It was devastating to see great prospects evaporate overnight as institutions shuttered. There will be no raises this year, and I will likely end up with no personal time, as we are now being told to use personal leave to bridge the gap if we don’t have enough work to fill our schedules. Some of my colleagues are working feverishly to move our offerings to virtual platforms, while my tasks require even less time than before.
I know it’s a privilege to still be working, and I ought to hold on to my paycheck. It feels fiscally irresponsible to be paying a full-time employee for part-time work, and it feels unfair to me as an employee who works hard and wants to grow and advance. I’m struggling to adjust my deflated attitude and expectations. Is it selfish to feel like I’m wasting my time with this employer?
A: At least you own that being overpaid and underworked doesn’t sound like the biggest problem to have right now. And if there’s one thing we can reasonably be selfish about, it’s how we spend our time in exchange for income.
Until the market recovers, there are two directions you can go to alleviate that feeling of selfishness about your situation:
Take less. Use your paid leave or ask to be moved to a part-time schedule so you’re not receiving any pay you haven’t earned. You’ll be helping keep costs down, but more important, you’ll be reclaiming your non-work time to pursue other interests, guilt-free. (Just make sure those interests don’t violate your employment contract.)
Give more. Contact the colleagues struggling to migrate online and ask how you can lighten their load — contingent on your supervisor’s approval, of course. Whether you end up with more busywork or a learning opportunity, you’ll be banking valuable goodwill and a reputation for initiative.