Job Hunting

It’s Not What You Know

Workers say that hard work doesn't pay off because promotions are based on tenure and corporate connections.
Lisa YoonNovember 4, 2002

How do you move up the corporate ladder these days? If you ask employees, you’ll get a bevy of different answers. However, one thing is sure—most workers will tell you if they get promoted, it won’t be based on merit.

According to a survey by J. Howard & Associates, a Boston-based workplace diversity consultancy, the majority of employees believe working hard is hardly the way to get ahead. The Excel National Omnibus Survey of 1,010 American workers found only 39 percent think merit is the key to promotion. On the other hand, more than half cite other factors, including seniority (26 percent), personal connections (17 percent) or just plain luck (6 percent).

“The workplace meritocracy has always been a belief held dear by Americans,” said J. Howard president and CEO Mike Hyter. “But trust in the meritocracy is losing ground. More people now regard merit promotion as a myth, or at least secondary to who-you-know or how long you’ve been around.”

The study also found that the idea that hard work will be rewarded varies by age group. The oldest workers—those over 65—are most likely (55 percent) to believe merit pays off in the form of promotion, followed by the 35- to 44 year-old set. Indeed, Hyter points out that the latter group is in “the take-off position for promotion and may have the greatest stake in holding onto the idea that merit is rewarded.”

Employees between 45 and 54 years of age appear to be the most cynical: Of all age groups, they were the least likely (34 percent) to believe in merit promotions and the most likely to chalk it up to connections. Twenty-one percent of 45 to 54 year old workers say it’s whom you know, compared with 16 percent of the 18-34 set, 16 percent of the 34-44 group, 17 percent of the 55-64 group, and workers over 65 (14 percent).

The survey also found that the higher the employee’s income or educational level, the greater the belief that merit counts.

Based on the findings, Hyter says that companies executives should work harder at communicating to workers what it takes to advance.

CFOs on the Move

Struggling apparel marketer Tommy Hilfiger Corp. promoted SVP and treasurer Joseph Scirocco to the additional position of CFO, replacing Joel Newman , who will continue as EVP of finance and operations and COO of Tommy Hilfiger U.S.A. Scirocco joined Hilfiger in his current position in 1997. Since then he’s also served as director of investor relations and as CFO of Tommy Hilfiger U.S.A. Inc. and its licensing arm, Tommy Hilfiger Licensing Inc. The company also promoted James P. Reilly, SVP and corporate controller at Tommy Hilfiger U.S.A., to the new post of VP and corporate controller of Tommy Hilfiger Corp. Embattled by declining sales, the company announced it would close 37, or most of its full-retail stores … Amherst, N.Y.-based Ultra-Scan Corp., a medical-technology firm, named Amy L. Clifton CFO and chief operating officer. Clifton joins Ultra-Scan from Saturn Reservation Systems, where she was CFO … The Manitowoc Co. Inc. today named Timothy M. Wood SVP and CFO, replacing treasurer Carl J. Laurino, who had been serving on an interim basis since May. Wood spent 23 years with security firm Borg-Warner Corp., including a stint as VP and corporate controller. He was also finance chief of Redem Technologies.