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Home | Got a Minute | Career advice | No. 138 – I’m not on my company’s executive succession plan. How upset can I be?

No. 138 – I’m not on my company’s executive succession plan. How upset can I be?

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20 December 2023

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week: a disappointing succession plan, threats of defamation and a request to speak to a doctor.

I’ve been with my current employer for six years, moving from a project role into senior management, and I’m now part of my company’s executive leadership group. Since joining the company, all of my performance reviews have had an overall rating of “outstanding”. My team’s culture survey results are consistently strong, and I feel I am well respected and valued for my contribution. However, I was recently sent a copy of a proposed succession plan accidentally, which did not include me as a potential successor for larger roles within the company. I’m quite disappointed. Is my reaction unreasonable?

I think your reaction is perfectly understandable and seeing this document is likely to impact your confidence and self-esteem unless you understand more about the reasons behind their decision. I would speak to whoever compiled the succession plan to let them know you were sent the document accidentally and that it has prompted you to understand what you are best to do or focus on in your role to ensure that, one day, your name also appears.

Rather than be disappointed or even accusatory about being left off, I would really focus on being curious and eager to understand how you can be included next time. The conversation may allow you to receive valuable feedback on areas of your leadership you can focus on to help improve your performance. If you approach the discussion in a positive and mature way, it could be an opportunity to show both how strongly you feel about wanting to succeed with this company, and also how willing you are to receive feedback. Both will reflect positively on you.

I recently resigned under difficult circumstances, but have kept in contact with some former colleagues. I spoke to these colleagues about how disappointed I was with how I felt discriminated against by my former – and their current – employer. Since then, I have received a letter from the company lawyer suggesting I refrain from contact with any staff or suppliers, and that the comments I am making are defamatory. Is it legal for a company to deny you contact with former colleagues? And is mentioning that you felt discriminated against actually defamation?

For the company lawyer to know you have been talking to your former colleagues, it means those same former colleagues have passed these conversations on. It may be that they are not as enthusiastic to maintain the connection as you have been. I think you are best to put this experience behind you and move on to whatever your future holds. It sounds like the time with your former employer was not a positive one and while I am sure from your perspective many things could have been handled better, I think you are best to just focus on what comes next for you.

If you do feel you were discriminated against, then that is a different matter and something you have every right to pursue. However, you should have those discussions with the Fair Work Ombudsman or a lawyer, not former colleagues.

I’ve been quite sick lately with a flu bug that just won’t go away. I’m also juggling some stressful family issues, which mean I’ve used up all my leave – both sick and annual. I have always provided medical certificates, but now things are getting ugly and my boss is asking to speak to my doctor. Is this even legal? Our firm pays great attention to promoting mental health days and say they want to support staff, but in reality, I think they are trying to force me out. What are my rights here?

The Fair Work Ombudsman makes clear it is not reasonable for an employer to contact your doctor. That seems like significant overreach, not to mention the privacy issues that arise. The medical certificates you provide are considered valid evidence of illness. However, now that you have exhausted your leave, you are dependent on your employer’s discretion and generosity for time away from work, and that is a very different situation.

I recommend you try and meet with the person you are dealing with at work and try to find a solution, which may include unpaid leave. If you belong to a union, you can seek advice from them, and they could attend the meeting with you. There are protections if you have taken long periods of sick leave, but it will depend on your personal situation.

To submit a question about work, careers or leadership, visit (you will not be asked to provide your name or any identifying information. Letters may be edited).

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