We all know people in romantic relationships that are destined to fail. They’ll endlessly complain about their partner and ask us what they should do about it. You may politely suggest that their significant other is simply stringing them along and never plans to get married. They elect to get mad, don’t take your advice and remain in the dead-end relationship. After not speaking for months, they’ll contact you. Upset and crying, they report that the relationship fell apart and the other person did indeed string them along for years. This is precious time that they will never get back. It also turned them into a cynical person—always carrying around baggage from previous relationships. It makes it harder to find or maintain a new relationship.
The same scenario can play out in your job or career. Recently, the BBC wrote about a new career-related term—adopted from the dating world—that’s becoming in vogue. This term is called “breadcrumbing.” It refers to being strung along at work. Breadcrumbing occurs when you’re being strung along in a drawn-out interview process, meeting numerous personnel over many months, without any end in sight. It also occurs when your manager leads you to believe that you’ll get that raise, promotion, bonus, internal transfer, higher corporate title or switched from the cubicle farm into an office, but there is always a reason why it can’t happen now. Breadcrumbing is basically the psychological term—intermittent reinforcement. The manager offers enough breadcrumbs to keep you satiated to stick around. You can see it in action when your boss dangles hints about a sexy new project or that you’re on the shortlist for going to Paris for the annual executive getaway, but these promises mysteriously dissipate into thin air.
Breadcrumbing could be due to a number of reasons. Your boss may not really be sure about your abilities, contributions and worth to the company and is attempting to get you motivated. She may whisper that secret things are in store for you as an enticement to see if you can accomplish difficult goals. In a hot job market, the manager may not feel that you are management material, but might not want to lose you since it will be hard to find a replacement if you leave. The manager may be manipulative and doesn’t really care about you personally, but needs you to do the hard unglamorous dirty work. The boss could be stringing you along until she finds someone better to replace you. The company may have objectives that don’t include you, but they will take some time and need you invested in the job for the time being. It could be that your manager is just not that good and doesn’t realize what they’re doing.
To determine if this relationship is healthy and has longevity, you will need to do the following: