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No. 22 – I’m not coping with my promotion. What should I do?

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28 July 2021

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a minute?” This week, handling the extra responsibility of a promotion, an anti-vaxxer boss, and rights as a permanent-casual.

I recently received an internal promotion to a new position that I had always wanted. While things started well, I am starting to feel that I am not ready for the extra responsibility. I’m nervous to say anything because I don’t want my boss to think I can’t handle things and then find that I lose my job. The new job is causing me a lot of stress, and I am worried about my mental health if I continue while trying to pretend everything is OK. I would just prefer to go back to what I was doing before. What should I do?

If I were your boss and you came to me with the insight, humility and self-awareness that you were not ready for a newly promoted role at this point in time, I would be thanking you profusely. You are exactly the sort of leader we need in our workplaces and far from thinking you can’t handle things, I would be grateful that you had recognised it now before the situation got worse. The fact that you are stressed and having to pretend everything is OK is an alarm bell for your own mental health and so this conversation is an important one to have with your boss as soon as you can.

One suggestion I do have is to think about the solution you have in mind. Try to go to your boss with a plan for a new role you might be better suited to, and someone you think could be a better fit for the role you are currently in. You might like to discuss the communications that will follow the change, so that it can be done in a way that doesn’t make you look bad.

My boss is an anti-vaxxer and goes on and on about how the COVID-19 vaccine is untested, will make you magnetic and is more dangerous than the actual coronavirus. My colleagues and I all just roll our eyes and try and ignore him, but it is really annoying to have to listen to. What do you recommend?

Get a new job. Seriously.

Unless your boss is a world leading scientist who helped develop one of the lifesaving vaccines now being offered to end the pandemic, his views are dangerous and ignorant. Your boss’ attitude also speaks volumes about the value he places in the safety of his employees. I am all for tolerating a wide variety of views on a wide variety of topics, but when it comes to anti-vaxxers, especially at a time when so many lives (and our way of life) depend on vaccination, attitudes like this need to be pushed to the fringes where they belong, and you should not have to listen to them every day.

I have been a permanent-casual academic for more than 20 years. This semester, for the first time, I have been informed I have zero hours of allocated teaching but am still ‘a part of the team’. I have asked for clarification from my manager about my employment status, and the reply was I will be allocated hours if and when we have more students. Can you provide any clarification as to my employment status, and am I entitled to any payments from my employer?

Your question exposes a minefield of concerns that have been faced by so many in academia since COVID-19 hit. In February 2021, Universities Australia reported that more than 17,000 jobs have been cut from the sector since the start of the pandemic. This is a tragedy for those who have lost their jobs, for our current and future university students, and for tertiary education in Australia now as well as the decades to come. But you know this already.

When it comes to your personal situation, it is a little complex since the idea of a permanent-casual is not recognised at law, even though it is very common practice. I asked for my own advice on your situation from an expert in employment law, Fay Calderone, and she suggested you investigate whether you are entitled to be considered a permanent employee because of a pattern of regular and systematic teaching engagements over your long career. But even if you are determined to be a permanent employee, your university may still be entitled to stand down your employment under the Fair Work Act due to the impact of the coronavirus. I recommend you get some advice either from your union, an employee representative at the university or a lawyer.

Send your questions about work, careers and leadership to Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

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