Inform Manager of Internal Job Search?

Never Blindside Your Manager if You Want to Remain on His Good Side

Manager and staff member discuss his application for an internal job opening.
Brad Killer / Getty Images

Dear Susan,

Recently, my wife posted for several internal jobs outside of her department. Before she could be considered for these opportunities the local HR department informed her manager of her intent. This sparked an unpleasant and difficult conversation that she had to have with her boss.

Now my wife doesn't feel that she can apply for any job in the company without being scrutinized because she is being monitored.

My instincts tell me this HR and management behavior is unethical, but is it illegal or just workplace bullying? Should she call the ethics hotline or just quit and get another job before they fire her for being 'unhappy'?

Human Resources Responds:

Every organization has different policies about how they handle employees who want to transfer to another job. In my company, for example, my company policy is that an employee must be in their current position for six months or have the approval of their Vice President to change jobs internally.

The policy also states that the employee is responsible for notifying his or her current manager if the employee is applying for another job in the company. With this policy in place, employees know exactly what is required for their internal job search.

That’s where I recommend your wife start. Determine the current policy of her organization. It is possible she inadvertently failed to adhere to it.

If manager notification is not in the policy, then, the HR staff person’s behavior in telling her manager that she had applied for another job is a confidentiality failure.

In an organization, employees should have a reasonable expectation that their interactions with HR are confidential. The appropriate step for the HR staff person was to ask your wife if she had discussed the internal job search with her manager.

HR does this to provide an opportunity for the manager to potentially improve the aspects of your wife’s job that she has decided to leave. It also gives the manager a chance to understand your wife’s career objectives within the organization.

Finally, discussing the potential transfer or promotion with her current manager gives him or her the opportunity to support the application with a positive internal reference. This is fair treatment for her current manager who may lose his or her best employee, too.

It sounds as if her applications blindsided her manager just as much as she was blindsided by HR’s approach.

The HR manager’s actions in telling the manager about your wife’s applications may also be standard practice for her organization. If it is standard practice, while I don’t like the approach personally, the HR manager may have assumed that, of course, your wife knew that she would communicate with her current manager.

Policies aside, on the flip side, perhaps it is also an organizational norm that employees tell their manager when they apply for jobs internally. The HR person may have assumed that her manager had been informed by your wife.

So, back to your original question. I find the breach of confidentiality troubling.

Unethical? It depends on all of the circumstances. The behavior that is continuing, however, if it is making your wife uncomfortable and feeling bullied, may be retaliation by her manager and HR. If retaliation is occurring, that is worth calling the ethics hotline.

Suggested Approach to an Internal Job Search

Here’s what I suggest. Your wife needs to meet with her manager and explain why she is looking for another position. No matter her reason, she should manage the discussion to emphasize that her personal growth and development and her ability to contribute to the success of the organization are her reasons for doing an internal job search.

She must politely note that she knows how difficult it is to replace any employee who moves on to another job. She must stress that she will make the transition as seamless as possible and be available to help her replacement learn the job.

Following this discussion, she should tell her manager about each job application she makes. She needs to discuss with her manager why she sees the job as a good opportunity. She also needs to ask for his or her support. No manager likes being blindsided by an employee and this will keep the manager in the loop.

If your wife believes that they are not appropriately considering her for the openings for which she applies, that may also qualify as retaliation. If they are not appropriately considering her application, she should begin a stealth job search. It would be a clear message that she has nowhere else to go in her organization.

Not knowing the politics of her workplace, I don’t know whether a complaint to her manager’s manager and a higher up in HR would get her anywhere. In some organizations, this can be a helpful step, but in others, it is the kiss of death. Secretly job search.

Read more: Ask Susan Questions and Answers


Susan Heathfield makes every effort to offer accurate, common-sense, ethical Human Resources management, employer, and workplace advice both on this website, and linked to from this website, but she is not an attorney, and the content on the site, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality, and is not to be construed as legal advice.

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