Workplace dilemmas: I feel usurped by a junior colleague

Our regular column gives you the chance to seek wisdom from Just Recruitment’s workplace agony uncle. This time: what to do when a junior colleague gets ahead...

Dear Tim, 

I’ve never regarded myself as a competitive person, and am renowned at work for my even temperament. But something has happened recently that I’ve found really irritating, and it’s having an impact on my performance.  

I have a junior colleague who has reported to me for the last 18 months. I’m an HR manager and she is one of our departmental assistants. I’ve always known that she’s ambitious, with lots of drive and determination to succeed. Although I’m her boss, she’s actually a couple of years older than me, because she started her career in her mid-20s after having a child at the age of 19, whereas I came straight from university. 

This is part of the dynamic between us. I have a degree and a fair amount of experience in HR and the business world more generally. She worked in administrative roles before landing this job, and is now looking to make up for lost time.  

As part of that, she’s been pushing our employer to sponsor her for membership of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). I think this is a great qualification, and was pleased to secure my own membership of the Institute earlier in my own career.  

Trouble is, I had to pay for my own training, because our finance director said the company couldn’t afford the additional cost for something that it didn’t regard as business critical. 

Now, just a few years later, the same finance director has agreed to sponsor my junior colleague for the full amount, including completion of a Master’s degree if she chooses to go that far. He says that my experience has shown the benefits of CIPD membership to the company.  

I’m sure you’ll understand that I’m seething. Why should she have this benefit when I was refused it? I feel like all the work I’ve done these past few years has been thrown back in my face. She’s the new kid on the block, and they’re taking my expertise and loyalty for granted.  

What should I do to convey my frustration? I don’t want it to look personal. But by the same token, I’ve never felt so disillusioned with my employer. I’m so tempted to go straight to the boss and demand they withdraw their offer of funding for the sake of fairness, but I know that seems really harsh. Can you suggest another course of action? 

- A frustrated HR manager 

Answer: I feel your pain, and sympathise with how you’re feeling. It’s never good to feel overlooked or taken for granted by your employer, especially when you feel you’re working hard for them.  

But you need to ask yourself a question: how would it be if your employer decided to withdraw the funding for your junior colleague, in order to maintain parity with their treatment of you? 

It sounds as if your HR assistant has shown admirable determination to embark upon her new career. CIPD membership provides a real boost to a person’s prospects. It’s regarded as the industry standard in HR and personnel management.  

That being the case, gaining this qualification will be a significant achievement for your junior colleague, and could have a big impact on her career. So ask yourself this: do you really want to be the person who stands in the way? 

Here’s what I’d suggest. Rather than venting your anger by disrupting your colleague’s prospects, why don’t you leverage the situation to advance your own?  

Why not identify a further qualification that would enhance your own professional standing, perhaps a Master’s degree in HR, or even an MBA with a focus on people management?  

Then say to your finance director that, since there’s clearly budget for such career development now, and your CIPD membership has been so beneficial to the company, it would be a good idea to invest in your professional development, too. It would be a good way of recognising your years of service and ensuring your loyalty for the years ahead.  

If the company refuses to fund you, perhaps it’s time to consider a new job? But if they agree to front up the cash, you and your colleague can enjoy career progression together. And who knows? You may even be able to help motivate one another during the long months of study ahead.  

Good luck!  

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Posted on Wednesday Feb 28