Picture of a woman sitting at a desk with her chin resting on her hand while she looks off to the side. A man is sitting on the other side of the table with his back to the camera
It can be frustrating when a colleague is unfairly promoted while you are overlooked. Can anything be done about it? © Getty Images

This week’s problem

I work at a university and was temporarily moved to a more senior role for 18 months. I was then promoted. At the same time, a male colleague had a senior role created for him in my area of work. Had this job been advertised, I would have been a serious contender. It is joked he was given this job because he is close to a senior executive. I have been told to feel comforted that I am the one delivering and everyone knows he is all talk. But I can’t get over the unfairness. Are there any options other than ignoring it or leaving? Female, 20s

Jonathan’s answer

Congratulations on your recent move and promotion. You seem to welcome the change in, and associated recognition of your work after 18 months in a more senior role. It is worth pausing at this point to celebrate your achievement and that you have a job you like.

You believe that indirectly you have been unfairly treated when others decided to create a role for a colleague. Perhaps part of your feeling of unfairness is because you consider you weren’t complimented in the same way and had to work to establish your credentials.

While you may feel the creation and appointment of this new role does not appear to have been fair or open, you don’t know all the facts contributing to it and therefore may not be well placed to judge the underlying rationale.

It may be helpful to consider how you may have a view on this appointment, but you have no control over it. It was for your bosses to decide to do it and neither you nor those trying to comfort you had a role in that decision. You will probably encounter similar situations in future, so how to handle them and “get over the unfairness”?

Stepping back, it may be useful to consider more strategic issues: what is the best action for you to take, for your career and wellbeing? What lies within your control, on which you can act?

And what ideal outcome do you want? You have had feedback from others that you are known as someone who can deliver, and that is a strong and positive “brand” to have. It probably contributed to your promotion.

Focusing on the factors you can control, where you spend your time and energy, will render the recent events less relevant to you. Of the two options you mention: first, you will find you naturally start to ignore what has happened; and second, you’re unlikely to feel the need to leave because of this event alone.

It is important not to give up the job you like, in the city and university where you have built connections. As Christian D Larson wrote, “Promise yourself to be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.”

Readers’ advice

It happens. It sucks. If you leave to go somewhere else, it will happen there too. Keep working hard, and delivering output. At some point the organisation will realise that they need someone who can actually get stuff done, and you will be rewarded. Sweleven

Take care to ensure whether it is your perception at work here. Focus on your job and your career, stop focusing on other people. Billybob y

Leaving is your only option, and do it while it is still recognised — and people will say so, in references and informally — that you are the (only) person leading the delivery. ANop

Jonathan Black is director of the Careers Service at the University of Oxford. Every fortnight he answers your questions on personal and career development and working life. Do you have a question for him? Email: dear.jonathan@ft.com

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