Companies say they want employees with passion, something Guy Incognito* was happy to bring to his job. When he got a job offer for a managerial role in the tech arm of a Canadian conglomerate, he was ready to go — and delivered consistently for 10 months. Then he was called ‘too emotional’ for leadership. He was subsequently held back from being named the manager of his own team but was still asked to do managerial work under his boss’ name on forms.
In the end, Guy realized he was a victim of nasty bureaucracy (and a couple of bad coworkers), so he made the tough choice to quit. But this negative experience turned into a huge positive for Guy. He learned a lot about himself and his self-worth during the process — and the ultimate outcome could not have been better.
A classic startup hire
During the interview process, the company told Guy he was interviewing for an Engineering Manager role. There was just one snag: budgets wouldn’t open up for three months, so he’d have to start with the unofficial title of ‘Senior Engineer.’ He’d still take on managerial duties and would get the new title in the following quarter. Taking the company at its word, he agreed to the offer.
Guy joined the company and did what he was hired to do: mentor and lead junior engineers. Because he wasn’t listed as a manager in the company’s HR system, he was told to put his immediate boss’s name down in the system. His boss assured him this was just a formality.
Three months into the job, he wasn’t promoted like HR said he would be. They told him it would be next quarter for sure, as budgets got a bit muddied due the COVID-19 pandemic. The next quarter turned into the quarter after that, and suddenly 10 months had gone by without any action.
When Guy asked for the promotion he was promised, he was flatly denied. The HR team said he did not have any direct reports in the HR system, so he was not qualified for the promotion. Then a VP told him he was “too emotional” to be an Engineering Manager, but provided no specifics and would not recant his stance even after four other Directors and VPs advocated for Guy’s ‘incognito’ performance as a people leader.
In light of the apparent bureaucracy he was facing, Guy put together a list of his achievements and reviews received from colleagues in a Google Doc, as per HR’s request.
He later found key information was changed anonymously in the report, which he noticed through Google Docs’ edit tracker. For example, his performance review originally read that he was an ‘exceptional contributor.’ The tampered doc instead described Guy as ‘not meeting role requirements.’
“You’re really only successful if you have great people pushing you ahead,” said Guy. “And the HR bureaucracy was stopping me — or the people supporting me — from doing great work. I was willing to work harder, yet the company was willing to let me walk.”
The final straw and venting on Twitter
Feeling down and not entirely sure what to do next, he tweeted about how he’d been treated poorly at work and was having a bad day. Replies came flooding in. Numerous responses were shocked to hear a large company treating its workers with such disregard, while others told him to check out job postings since they felt it was clearly time for him to move on.
Then an old colleague reached out, appalled after reading his tweet. It turned out the colleague’s company was hiring. A few conversations later, he offered Guy a job. The role would give him the team lead responsibilities he’d been promised at his current company. And it would pay him to double what he was currently earning.
Despite loving his team, months of fruitless efforts with HR took it’s toll. Guy quit his job and accepted the new offer.
Making sure this never happens to you
Gearing up for his new role, Guy looked back at the experience to share a few pieces of advice he wishes someone had given him.
In the job interview process, he recommends not falling for a company that says they “hire great people and figure out the job description later.” While this is common in the startup world, Guy said all candidates need to ask what key metrics they are responsible for, what action items they are accountable for, and what thresholds exist for any promised promotions. Then ask what resources employees are given in order to meet expectations, and get it in writing.
“You get the most out of people when you give them the opportunity to be their best,” said Guy.
Despite a great new job and a higher salary, experiencing treatment as a cog in a bureaucratic machine showed him that he valued his independence, creative energy, and ability to control his own destiny. As a result, he’s bringing more entrepreneurial energy to his new job and even started a business on the side.
He’s not sure where the new job — or his fledgling business — will go. However, he’s moving forward with a clear direction at work, a renewed sense of self, and a determination to lead others with the kindness that he wasn’t afforded in the past. Even if that makes him ‘too emotional’ for some people.
*Names changed to protect anonymity