Pay rises and promotions in the time of Covid

Wednesday 03 February 2021
In normal circumstances, career progression is incredibly important to many of us. But right now, many people feel stuck
Silhouetets of people and upwards arrows over a city skyline

The Coronavirus pandemic has negatively impacted many people’s careers and hopes of progression. Around the world organisations are prioritising conserving money – at worst, that means downsizing and redundancies; maybe, at best it means salary freezes. In lockdown, there may feel like there are fewer opportunities to visibly excel and show your talents to your manager, but we’re hearing encouraging stories from within the CMI community on how good managers can still show – and develop – their skills during uncertainty.

We spoke to two people who have shown that even in this turbulent time, career development is still an option. They certainly haven’t put their career on pause. We want to start a conversation with CMI members about how you’re moving your career ahead despite the pandemic. Get in touch with us.

But first the facts about careers during the crisis

In a recent Managers Voice survey, we asked CMI members for their views about pay rises and promotions in a Covid world. The results showed how deep these issues are running:

  • The majority of managers (73%) do not expect a promotion in 2021
  • Just under half (48%) do not expect a pay rise
  • 47% did expect a salary increase, but the majority expected it to be inflationary only.

Speaking at a recent CMI Better Managers Briefing, CMI’s former president Bruce Carnegie Brown CMgr CCMI called this out as a serious issue: “Think about how you get a promotion in the middle of a pandemic. How do you prove that you're ready for the next step when everybody is locked down in the same way? Differentiation becomes harder.”

So how do we stop career stagnation becoming endemic? Should we expect not to reap any rewards for our hard work over the coming months, or can we find glimmers of hope? The possibility of career progression is, after all, what keeps us, our economy and society fresh and forward-looking.

Using theoretical skills in practice

Caroline Escott works for RPMI Railpen on its responsible investment portfolio and corporate governance. She took this job during the lockdown as she felt she needed to stretch herself and her skillset. But achieving the next step in her career meant potentially joining a new company – a tough decision to make in a crisis.

“I had been in my previous job for over three years, in a role I enjoyed, a team I liked, and at a really interesting time for the sector. Working in policy is very intellectually challenging, but I was beginning to think how nice it would be if I could put some of these theoretical learnings that I had gathered during my policy work into practice – actually doing responsible investment, maybe at a pension scheme or as an asset manager,” says Caroline.

It’s been a really positive move for her. “Now, instead of producing guidelines for other pension schemes on how they should be acting as good stewards of their assets, I take those guidelines and think about how I will put them into practice at my own pension scheme. It is also quite different in terms of responsibility, as I now lead the corporate governance and stewardship work across £30bn of assets under management. There's no equivalent in the policy world – it really was an opportunity I couldn't turn down.”

In Caroline’s case, this career move led to more responsibility, new challenges, and managing a larger team. In her interviews she prioritised building a rapport and that her personality came across via Zoom. Now in her new role she’s able to transfer her theoretical skills across to a practical role.

If you’re thinking of switching careers or moving jobs, CMI’s CV 360 service on our Career Development Centre is a great place to start.

The impact of redundancy

Many people are being forced to look for new opportunities after being made redundant. We spoke to a customer service team lead in Glasgow (let’s call her Rachel), who was let go from a company in the education sector in September 2020. A tough time to lose your job.

Rachel managed to find a similar role in a start-up, and her previous years of experience are proving helpful in shaping the future of the young company. Over the past four months, she’s made such a contribution that she was promoted to head of the customer service team – with an accompanying pay rise to reflect her new responsibilities. While she acknowledges that the promotion was only possible because the person previously in the position had moved elsewhere in the company, she feels that had it not been for her commitment to the role and her positive (and measurable) contribution to the team, she wouldn’t have been offered the promotion.

In her new role Rachel makes sure to reassure her team that, while such rapid progression is unusual, she’s more than willing to help them in any areas where they need support. For some people, this might be a ten-minute check-in to discuss workload and areas where they feel they’ve excelled; for others it’s being challenged with new tasks and having their performance reviewed afterwards. Being visible is the next best thing to a pay rise she can offer. Drawing on bitter experience, she doesn’t want her team members to think they’re unappreciated.

“Having been made redundant, I felt undervalued and that my commitment to my previous organisation was overlooked, especially as more junior members of the team remained in employment.” The new role and promotion have boosted Rachel’s confidence, and the meetings to discuss her performance reassured her that her commitment – both in time and in energy – was being appreciated. This is something she hopes to return to her new team, some of whom have been at the company for longer than she has.

If you’ve been made redundant, please know you’re not alone. CMI can help: we have a redundancy support service that can help you to analyse your situation, take stock of your skills, update your CV, and even get tips on personal development to stand out from the crowd. In difficult times like this, Rachel’s story offers a glimmer of hope.

Share your career progression story

We’d love to hear from members who’ve advanced their career during the pandemic, so we can share tips and strategies, and build the confidence of the CMI family.

Have you taken a risk recently and changed careers? Have you bounced back from a tough career situation? Have you found workarounds to help you advance your skills despite a stagnant economic backdrop? We want to hear from you.

Final word to Lloyd’s chair Bruce Carnegie-Brown. In this tough climate, he encourages people to work on their skills, and nurture and build their networks. “The course is about creating your own priorities, seeing how the tools and skills that you've got are supported by these priorities, and then asking for the help you need in order to build on your skills and experience.”

CMI has long been a champion of leadership and management apprenticeships, which are some of the most effective ways to develop the capabilities and boost the performance of managers and leaders, as well as a proven way for individuals to progress their careers. Find out more about how it could help you.

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