In The Workplace

Romy (not his real name) is a talented but ambitious young man who has been with us for the past five years. He is a high-flyer and we would like to recognize him with a promotion. Unfortunately, our human resources (HR) department has a policy that makes it difficult for us to promote someone who is not a college graduate like Romy. How do we manage this situation? — Lone Wolf.

One traditional solution to your problem is to offer other forms of rewards and recognitions for Romy and other similarly-situated workers. But before you do that, ask HR to resolve an inconsistency. Why hire undergraduates if your company has no intention of giving them more responsibility after they’ve proven their worth through tangible accomplishments?    

Challenge the position of HR on this issue. Do it respectfully. If they allow the hiring of undergraduates who are disqualified from promotions, what kind of injustice is that? Fortunately, reward and recognition programs can come in other forms while you sort this policy out.

It may include recognizing all employees, including graduates and undergraduates with a hefty bonus, a gift certificate, a feature article in the employee newsletter, or recognition as “Employee of the Year,” among other things. You are limited only by your imagination. Now, what happens if Romy becomes a three-time “Employee of the Year” awardee or enters the Hall of Fame?

Another interim approach is to change Romy’s job title into something significant. You can appoint him team leader for other employees without degrees. You can assign him certain special projects to expand his skills while racking up new milestones for the organization.

But be cautious. You must convince your HR department to support you on these solutions because you can’t implement a policy that is unique to your team, which would make your department the equivalent of an independent republic.

To convince HR, you must act judiciously. You can’t simply propose courses of action not backed by careful analysis. A misstep here could make HR look incompetent. Pitch your policy changes as helping the company keep up with the times. Frame your proposal as a means of motivating and retaining talent. You can take this approach by doing the following:

One, understand the letter and spirit of your promotion policy. Go back to when and why it was first implemented. Was it a temporary solution to the shortage of job applicants at the time? If so, why did the company persist in disqualifying non-graduates from promotion? What was the point of this? If non-graduates and degree holders can do the same job without any issue, then why make one category ineligible?

Two, benchmark with other companies within the industry. If not within the industry, find out the best practices of organizations within your locality, perhaps within the same export processing zone. What’s the trend? Are their policies similar? You may be surprised to learn there are maverick managers out there who believe in meritocracy over and above educational achievement or years of service. 

Three, give Romy a reasonable monthly cash allowance. The amount could approximate a salary increase that you can withdraw anytime. This can accompany assignment to a special project or similar challenging tasks, such as managing a team of non-graduates who are also trying to prove their worth. In HR terms, this means giving him a staff function, making him an expert on something connected to the company’s business.

Last, ask Romy about his career goals. If you’re convinced, he can go a long way, maybe you can establish a program that would allow him to obtain a college degree after office hours or on weekends. You can sweeten the deal by offering him a substantial employee loan, without charging interest.

You can do many things to arrive at a win-win situation for Romy or other such employees, the HR department and the organization in general. But first, you have to understand the issues that may be making your recruitment policies and practices less than ideal. What is your attrition rate? If it’s in the double digits, it may be time to examine things on a per department basis.

In general, it’s more expensive and tedious to replace resigned workers than to make an effort to retain them. Of course, if your company can’t afford to pay substantial salaries, then at least, you must treat your workers well. They are likely to reciprocate by treating you and the customers well.

Be mindful of Romy’s morale. If you can see signs of dissatisfaction, your best course of action is to knock at the door of HR. If not, bring the matter to the chief executive officer or your department boss as a last resort.


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