Meet Jamie. Jamie really loves her job. The work is rewarding, the perks can’t be beat, and she shares tight bonds with her team members—particularly with Kate, a colleague who Jamie has worked closely with for the past year and a half.
Then one day, seemingly totally out of the blue, a company-wide email goes out announcing a well-deserved promotion for Kate. Jamie is happy for her, of course. But, she also can’t help but to trace her way up the company org chart in her head and realize that—gasp!—Kate now ranks above her. Kate was once her peer and equal, and now she’s technically her superior.
Cue the horror movie soundtrack and the cheesy screams.
Sound familiar? If you work in an office for long enough, occasionally things like promotions and departmental moves will push some of your team members one step higher than you on that proverbial ladder.
And, as strange as it might be, that seemingly subtle change in dynamics can stir up a lot of irrational feelings and emotions—like the four I’ve pulled together right here.
1. “It Should’ve Been Me”
You weren’t at all interested in that open role that your colleague just landed. Sure, it might’ve been a step up in terms of responsibilities, but you knew you weren’t qualified and you had zero desire to handle half of the tasks associated with that position—so you didn’t even bother tossing your hat into the ring.
But, let’s face it—that really doesn’t matter. When it’s announced that one of your co-workers scored that position, those feelings of jealousy still find a way to sit like a rock in the bottom of your stomach anyway.
Rest assured, this reaction is natural—especially if you did in fact put yourself up for that promotion as well.
When a colleague of yours takes a step forward, it almost always feels like a step back for you. But, in those moments when you find yourself turning green with envy, remind yourself of the fact that someone else’s success doesn’t equate to your failure. This wasn’t the right opportunity for you. Your time will come.
2. “I’m Going Nowhere”
When your co-worker—the one who was always on a level playing field with you and made you feel that much better about where you were in your own career—grabs the next rung of that ladder, it’s usually more than enough to plant seeds of self-doubt in your own mind.
This is it, you tell yourself. It’s all over. This is as far as I go here.
You’re suddenly convinced that one job was the only way up within your organization—there will never be another opportunity for you to advance now that your team member just scored what you believe to be the very last promotion on the face of the planet.
When you feel like you’re being left in your colleague’s dust, this is a tempting thought. But, take a breath and remind yourself that—while this specific opportunity is off the table—obviously this means that your company believes in promoting from within. If anything, that’s great news for you.
3. “That Friendship’s Over”
Previously, you two shared an awesome work friendship. You’d eat lunch together and catch up on what was happening in your lives outside of the office. When something crazy happened, that particular colleague was always the one you wanted to run and tell. And at company happy hours, you’d always find yourselves sharing an appetizer at the same table.
But, now that he or she technically ranks above you in the company hierarchy, you’re convinced that your friendship has come to a screeching halt. No more jokes or friendly conversations—now you need to be strictly business.
Here’s the truth: That relationship’s bound to shift a little bit. That’s to be expected. However, it doesn’t mean that now you need to change your entire demeanor and be perfectly buttoned up all of the time. In reality, that would only seem strange to a co-worker who obviously knows you better than that.
In short, you can absolutely still be friendly with that person who is now your superior—provided you remain professional and respectful. But, honestly, that’s the way you should’ve been acting already.
4. “My Job Just Got a Whole Lot Easier”
After your brain has worked through all of those inevitably terrible things that are sure to happen now, your eyes might just open to a potential perk of this new situation: Maybe now you don’t need to work quite as hard.
Now that you share a close bond with somebody in leadership, it’s easy to think that you have an ace in your pocket. If you want to cut out early on a Friday or shirk a particular responsibility that you’ve always dreaded, you can lean on that loyal co-worker to pull for you. After all, he knows what it’s like to be in your shoes.
Are you ready for the bad news? While I hate to be the one to crush your dreams, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Just because one of your own has moved up doesn’t give you permission to kick your feet up and start to slack off. If anything, it should serve as your motivation to work even harder.
Of course, you’re happy when your colleagues earn a promotion. However, you’re only human—the fact that someone who was previously your peer is now your superior can dredge up plenty of irrational and unexpected feelings.
First, take comfort in the fact that you aren’t the only one who deals with a strange mix of emotions when something like this happens.
And, after that? The best thing you can do is to focus on continuing to be a reliable employee who produces strong work. In the end, that can never come back to bite you.
Photo of meeting courtesy of PeopleImages/Getty Images.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, productivity, and the freelance life. In addition to The Muse, she's a contributor all over the web and dishes out research-backed advice for places like Atlassian, Trello, Toggl, Wrike, The Everygirl, FlexJobs, and more. She's also an Employment Advisor at a local college, and loves helping students prepare to thrive in careers (and lives!) they love. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her two rescue mutts or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author