Help! How Do I Tell My Coworker They Don’t Deserve a Promotion?

Women Talking at Work


AnnaMarie Houlis
AnnaMarie Houlis4.87k
Journalist & travel blogger
So, your colleague confided in you about wanting to ask for a promotion or raise that they think they deserve — but that they definitely don't deserve. Yikes.
You don't want to witness your colleague, about whom you care, put themselves out there and almost definitely get shot down. Likewise, if this is a colleague with whom you're competing for the promotion, you don't want the competition. 
So do you tell them how you feel or do you keep quiet?
That's the question an anonymous FGB'er recently asked the community. How do you gently explain to a colleague who is a friend that they "absolutely do not deserve the raise" for which they're thinking about asking.
"I work with a very good friend of mine who, until we started to work together, I didn't realize was a complete slacker in the office," she writes. "She sits in a bullpen with some of our other colleagues with whom I am also close, and they frequently mention her complete and total lack of work ethic. I'm talking spending hours at a time playing games on her phone, leaving a document or project on her screen and never touching it, coming in two hours late and leaving with the rest of the office, or going out for multi-hour lunches. In the year that she's been here, she has turned in two products (the average on my team is about eight per year) and, while they've been well done, she never makes the deadlines and has to have her hand held the entire way through."
The woman's higher-paid colleague is leaving, and her friend is, therefore, planning to ask for what equates to an 11% raise for doing "good work at a quarter the speed of everyone else." The company average at one year is about 5%.
"Beyond my general indigence that she fails to see how asinine this request is, I also worry that if she walks into our supervisor's office and asks for that much, it will reflect so poorly on her that she'll be putting herself in hot water," she continues. "Additionally, we have another colleague who is, in my opinion, far more deserving of a raise than she is and who gets his work done well and ahead of schedule. He hasn't been here as long and is nervous about asking for a raise yet."
That's why she asks the FGB community about a gentle way that she can explain to her friend at work that she "absolutely does not deserve an 11% raise and should hold off on asking for anything until she's no longer behind on every single project she is assigned to..."
Without fail, FGB'ers are sharing their opinions on the matter. Here's what they have to say!

1. Coach your coworker with constructive feedback.

"Normally, when you're going to ask for a raise you need a lot of detail on what you've done within the past year and show that you've exceeded all the departmental goals," says an anonymous FGB'er. "I would lay out what I contribute to the team and what makes me stand out differently. You could offer to coach her on how to ask for a raise based on the above and then, during that discussion, slide in what you've noticed and what might hold her back.  Some of it might be OK and she has an excuse (extended lunches might mean she has doctor appointments that no one was aware of), but it will bring her attention to the fact that, yes, her work is good, but is she dependable? Or better yet, how is she more dependable than these other people? She's in a race to win and she's going to stand out to be the winner. If she still decides to go for it, you've done your part."

Your coworker might not even be aware of the poor level of work they're doing, perhaps because they need to hear it from someone.

"You could give direct commentary to your perspective from the outside of the ask," says Helen Hanison. "Does she even know her speed of delivery is sub-par? Perhaps she's not being given that feedback? Perhaps she would choose to do something with the  insight if she knew? Perhaps not. You can only control what you think, do and say — not her career trajectory or work ethic. Your leadership will know this, so you don't need to attempt to have ownership of her progression. That's on her."

2. Simply tell your coworker you think it's too soon and/or too much.

Give your coworker the truth.

"I personally wouldn’t touch this because she’s your friend socially," says Gillian Hanson. "Since she’s not a direct report, you aren’t required to give her this kind of feedback, so why put your relationship in jeopardy? The only exception I would make is if in your industry people’s lives are literally at stake (e.g. doctor, soldier, civil rights attorney, etc.) in which case you would certainly have an ethical responsibility to alert her and even share your feedback with her superiors. However, if she asks you directly for feedback, then you could suggest that maybe it’s too soon to ask for such a boost in position and payroll."

You can be honest, anyway. This person is your friend.

"If you really care about her as a friend, take a page from Kim Scott's concept of Radical Candor," says Marissa Taffer. "Tell your friend something like, 'While I admire your spirit and personality, when you come in late to work, play games on your phone all day and turn in your projects late, it makes you look like you don't care about being on this team. If you want (your boss) to take you seriously when you ask for an 11% raise, you need to show them that you care about being on this team and being a top performer. If I don't see that in you, how can you expect them to?"

3. Don't say a word.

Don't get involved at all.
"If I were you, I would not get involved or tell her that you think she does not deserve a raise," says Aubrea Ashe. "Maybe refocus your efforts on examining your own work and seeing if maybe you actually deserve a raise? Women are frequently paid less than our counterparts, many of whom also under-perform, so I would not discourage her from seeking a raise. That is for her boss to decide."
Others agree.
"It's best to mind your own business; your friend is a grown-up and responsible for the outcome of her actions," writes betsywalters7.
After all, if their poor work is affecting you directly, that's a different conversation you'll need to have.
"I would not intervene in this situation — your friend will find her own way through the workplace," says Stephanie Koehler. "If you take issue with her work directly, you can speak to her about things that affect you."

4. Let them find their own way first.

Talk to them after they ask for the raise or promotion if you still feel it's necessary.
"I think this a lesson that she is likely to learn on her own without you getting involved and getting your hands dirty," says surfnwrite. "She will self-reject the promotion."
An anonymous FGBer also adds that you shouldn't waste your energy involving yourself in someone else's career.
"It may be a valuable lesson she needs to learn," they write. "It sounds a little harsh, but I don't think it's worth you jeopardizing getting involved."
Besides, if they coworker gets denied, they may be more willing to listen.
"It's better to come from the higher ups as the merit of an increase for her — let her find out on her own," says Jackie Ruka. "If she does not receive an increase and talks to you about it, then she may listen to how she could go about receiving that raise based on work conduct, work ethic, follow-through and utilization of time and responsibilities as a whole."

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog,, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreport and Facebook.