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The Truth About False Workplace Promises

Hey there! It’s been a hot minute and a lot of life happened.

File this under the scary ones to write (you’ll see why); but it feels worth sharing for others to learn from my mistakes. We’re talking false promises and promotion evaporations at the workplace. To start, this post was inspired by this tweet from one of my favorite leaders, Taylor Poindexter, Engineering Manager II at Spotify.

By the by, if you ever get a chance to work with her, DO IT! But I digress.

See Taylor’s last statement? “I really hope this isn’t common.” Whew, but it is - according to a bunch of responses to this series of tweets including my own. I’ve seen and fallen for it too. It is a sobering experience to look back on and contextualize. My hope is that you’ll learn about the messages and actions to watch out for to catch red flags before they get you. That way you can decide how to move in the corporate (U.S.A for context) world.

But first, be kind to your past self

If like me you got got in the past, give yourself grace.

  • Maybe we had an idealistic view of the workplace and how those responsible for shepherding our career trajectories and guiding what we work on would treat us. We simply took their word believing they would keep it.
  • We may even have believed in the mission of the company, so much so that our actions always aligned with making the company’s end goal ours - whether or not they were aligned (social good and non-profit work, anyone? :eyes:)
  • Maybe it was our first big (girl/boy/person) job that we really needed to work out for more reasons, so we came in with a “crush it” mentality. Even if it meant side-swiping ourselves without knowing in the work relationship boundaries department (that’s me :sweat_smile:)

Whatever the reason, let’s work on being kind to the version of yourself that didn’t know any better, and use that as a lesson for our (or others’) next time - the universe is good like that. No loss in every lived experience, mostly lessons.

That is as much for you as it is for me. We got this! Also quick plug, I am listening to Prescription by Remi Wolf (the extended version) on repeat while typing this, and if this woman doesn’t get nominated for something, it’s a travesty. Ok moving on…

Now, trigger warning for those who have recently made the discovery that they were in an unbalanced workplace dynamic. More power to you as you heal. For those of you curious enough to find out, here goes

The Actions vs The Words

About a decade ago, I had my first big girl job. It has remained the longest job I’ve been at (~ 3 years) because of how much hope I held on to while there. Something to note - if you’re a first time reader, I’m an immigrant. This speaks to constraints of moving between jobs not to mention getting them in the first place. It also drove a lot of my decision making as you’ll see.

Moving Goalposts

When I was interviewing for this role, the job description noted that this was a new role with the opportunity to get promoted or moved into an analyst role within 6-12 months depending on performance. This was reiterated by the hiring manager (the person we will refer to as HM) and became my goal as soon as I got there. In the first four months, I had delivered on a team goal that had been on the backburner for years, and bringing in USD 70,000 of revenue. I’d also started learning SQL on the side - a decision that in hindsight, saved my career.

By the time we hit six months, I was helping manage client work - a task that the analysts had as part of their regular duties. I also refactored a bunch of our reports with those SQL skills I had acquired which made some of our tasks faster to execute. Early 20s Sia was like we got this in the bag, right? WRONG!! This is how the feedback loop went when I brought these accomplishments up at my review

  • You’ve been a great addition
  • We’ll consider the promotion
  • Average rating which led to a 3% raise

Keep it up!! By yourself tho

I wasn’t deterred and kept it up. Room for growth! During my time learning new skills and applying them to the team, I would mention how some of these would be valuable for us as a team to train on and request learning opportunities for events and courses. This was met with “focus on the job” responses. It didn’t stop me though. I found some free courses, even shared some with teammates, and eventually became the SQL and Report Automation subject matter expert on our team.

“And any other duties as needed”

By the one year mark, I had started leading initiatives that analysts would typically lead. They even gave me three small clients to manage - fully! I was elated. My little coconut head thought “awww they trust me to do this”. I asked for a promotion consideration again and they had said my domain experience could grow a little :upside_down_face: No worries, ya girl is resilient.

So (giving past Sia some credit) I thought, let me see if I can ask for a raise to match the extra work I’m doing that the analysts don’t have to take on. This time, I made an Excel document (I still have it) that detailed all the duties in the job description, and then on the right hand side, showed all the extra things I was doing on top of the JD. I also shared the market rate for professionals who had my duties listed in the job description and it was not what I was making by a lot. HM went something like:

  • Well we expect all members to do their role and any other duties as needed by the team. That “other duties” you have done well but it’s within your job description (GIRRRRRRL!, I wish I had seen my own face because WUT?)
  • We are paying you the same as most people who have been here as long as you have
  • Next year, you’re primed to become an analyst

Now listen - if you know me, I’m very bad at taking compliments or acknowledging my wins until very recently - just ask Natalie. But even EYE knew my one year was not equal to other people’s one year. Anyway, this proved somewhat successful because a few months later, short of my 2nd year anniversary, I got sat at a “we think you’re thriving at this specific role but we will pay you an extra ~$3,500 a year to get you to market value” meeting. And no, we were still below the low end of the market approaching $40,000 annually before taxes, but I digress.

At this point you may ask, Sia, you stayed for almost two more years after that????

a GIF of Soulja Boy being shocked and walking off"

Yes, I did. I enjoyed my teammates and external collaborators, was learning a ton of stuff, and remember the immigrant part? Yeaaaah

Compounding Falsehoods a.k.a (False Promises)^2

I kept the immigration conversation active with HM. It went: hey, in two years, to keep working here I’ll need sponsorship. Would you consider doing that? HM said - we will research this and work on it. You see how naive I was? :clown_face:. Because while this is not a no, I had no documentation to prove a yes. I didn’t leave or look for other opportunities because

  • Finding companies that would hire you knowing you need sponsorship is hard. That’s why some job applications ask this and filter your application before reviewing it because the company simply does not do work authorization sponsorships
  • Since I was already in a place doing well (whether or not they acknowledged it), I was going to keep my head down for the duration leading up to the work visa application so they wouldn’t change their minds. We didn’t want to ruffle any feathers now.

I’d check in every so often and my hopes were kept alive. There were talks with lawyers, weighing sending me to international offices. None of it was outside of email conversations and there were no interactions between me and said lawyers or confirmations of any pre-processes along the way. Looking back, I could have asked for more concrete comms, but oh well. Needless to say, this didn’t work out because reasons…

Platitudes and Empty Wallets

About those reasons. So we get to about six months before a visa application would need to be submitted (same role for over 2 years now) and I am applying more pressure. This was the ultimate goal! We again are in a meeting room - the same one I’m used to chatting with HM all these years in, during the company holiday party - and she tells me, they decided not to move forward with the visa application. Initially, the reason given was high cost and process effort, and that the chances (which duh, it’s a lottery) would be slim. Reader, I made my lil spreadsheets again - talked to various employees in different countries, calculated the cost of immigration lawyers and hours, moving, household goods shipment and storage, temporary housing, cost of training someone new vs me staying - outlined it all. I tried everything. The decision was final.

I was devastated.

I walked back to my desk, and cried for hours. It was over. The reason I hung in there didn’t work out.

My last performance review went like this:

  • You have been great on this team, we couldn’t have done (project 1 that saved 25% of weekly hours of analyst time, project 2 which I led working with engineers to bring to life and I wasn’t one) without you
    • I distinctly remember saying something like well that’s not accurate because I’m being asked to resign so you’ll be fine. Yikes, Sia :grimacing: it was a stressful time
  • It’s sad you have to resign after your work permit is over (yes, I had to write a letter to say I would like to resign for their records)
  • We think you did a lot of great work but it was ~80% outside of the job description so we can’t really rate you on your job. You get an average incomplete rating

Now why was no one stopping me from doing 80% of work outside my job description in the first place? Because it’s part of the “any other duties as needed”. But then that doesn’t get counted. And another interesting tidbit - I learned in a throwaway comment, that leadership would have considered sponsorship more if I had a more senior role during my offboarding. Quite the proverbial house of cards don’t you find? Good thing I had a few months to plan my next move so good on them for the heads up.

To recap

If you’ve been patient enough for this whole story, what had happened was

  • we did work that was great enough to trust us with more work
  • this extra effort was fruitful and appreciated with some nice words (and a 3% raise let’s not forget)
  • but the additional work would not be recognized as part of the role
  • yet it didn’t warrant a promotion because it was considered in the scope of said role
  • And the kicker - maaaaybe just maybe if we held a more senior role (at the time the analyst was the highest title on the team), it could have increased chances of getting sponsored?

For the record on that last one, I don’t think it would have made a difference (see moving goal posts), but saying that out loud as a reason was yet another gut punch during offboarding. And looking back, I think HM was just doing her job which is protecting the company interests so that’s that. But we move!

One blessing that came out of that experience is during my last six months, I got a new manager who gave me the best experience of my time there. A real Shawshank Redemption movie watching situation :joy: At the time of the last performance review, we’d known each other for a couple of months. She sat in on it quietly, right next to me. After HM walked out of the review, I started crying (again) and new manager said I’m sorry and then gave me a 9% raise (the most she could sell at the time) and a new title for my last three months before walking out of the room. Most importantly, she made me write down every single project I had ever led or played an active role in for her records. It came in handy when I needed referrals, and I’m forever grateful for that woman. So you see, sometimes, good things happen too!

Having to leave this role is when I started over, and I’ve been chasing more dreams since. Some came true, some won’t, and others will evolve. That’s OK. But the lessons from that time have stuck with me forever. Sometimes I have to remind myself of them because the signs can show up as different variants so you gotta stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.

A Note on Self-Awareness

This is somewhat an extension of being kind to yourself at the beginning of this. Kindness also includes being honest with yourself. While this post is meant to be informative, there are no straight forward solutions. My decision to start over only happened when my ultimate goal failed. Even then, I knew some of the signs and could have left had I had more resident/citizen like options. But who knows? Maybe I wouldn’t have, given that I loved the work and my teammates.

We are all driven by different incentives in the workplace and sometimes, we may be stuck in situations and choose to stay there until there is a better path. So!!

  • Don’t judge others for choosing a different path than you would in the same situation. It’s like the person who has now started going to the gym judging their friend who only walks 30 minutes everyday. Not cool
  • Own your choices and decisions, even if they don’t work out. If you can say you tried to change your situation (or the Mariah Carey), then again - be kind to inner you. This also means while your supervisor/manager/coach may have a hand in hindering your progress, you can’t blame them for everything all the time.

    a GIF of Mariah Carey saying Imma do the best with what I got"

  • To point number two, you are allowed to feel «insert negative emotion here» about a situation, BUT you can’t let that stagnate you from moving towards a better outcome the best way you know how. If the resentment > the effort to learn and protect yourself, pivot my friend.

If you just realized you are in this post and you don’t like it, I’m sorry. It’s a hard reality to navigate and change, but it’s doable. I pray you have enough options, strength, and a support system to make the move that serves you best. And if you have to stay put for a little while, I’m rooting for you to find enough pockets of sunshine to keep you going until you can make your move like Andy Dufresne chipping away behind that poster :fist_raised:

Until next time, happy Fall to all my sports fans out there :blue_heart: :green_heart:

a GIF of the Minnesota Lynx dancing after they beat the Las Vegas Aces"

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.