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When Should You Ask for a Transfer?

The ‘too important to lose’ attitude
Why do you want a transfer?
A Managers Point of View


If it is true that you learn the most from your mistakes then I am a genius in the area of career management. The career choices I have made were not always the wisest. In particular, there were several occasions when I requested a transfer that didn't work out well but were good learning experiences.

While human resource management may be poor in other industries, I am most familiar with Information Technology companies and how they deal with employee management and requests for transfers. The one area where I feel IT management has fallen short most often when dealing with their employees needs is failing to listen to an employee seeking new challenges. I have seen it far too many times.

I would like to share a few of those experiences with you both from the perspective of an employee seeking a new assignment and also from the perspective of a manager.

The ‘too important to lose’ attitude

One late afternoon I noticed that the employee in the cube opposite me was obviously very emotionally disturbed. I learned that she had found and asked to be considered for a temporary assignment in another department. Her manager told her that she was too important to be allowed to leave. It wasn’t fair of me to be angry at her manager, not knowing all of the facts, but that is how I felt. To see such a kind and hard working employee 'brought to tears' over her desire to expand her horizons really bothered me.

I experienced a similar situation at my last position. I asked for a transfer. My manager eventually told me that he had decided to keep me. I found that a nice vote of confidence but there was one big problem – communication. He never bothered to tell me and I never bothered to ask.

Supervisors and managers can do a better job providing new opportunities for their staff. If a member of your staff asks for a new and different assignment do your best to accommodate their request. Listen to them. They are taking a big risk by asking for a transfer. They should be encouraged to take on new challenges not rebuked for asking.

Why do you want a transfer?

I have to admit that once I wanted a transfer to fix a people problem that wasn’t resolved by my management. That isn’t a very good reason to ask for a transfer. It is highly unlikely that your boss will cooperate with you - and for good reasons. If you don’t like your manager or someone on the team it is best to work out the problems as best you can or wait for a change in management. Running away from a problem is a poor reason for a transfer request and who is to say that you won’t find a whole new set of problems in the new position? The grass is always greener…

What are good reasons for a transfer? Seeking additional challenges that would improve your skill set is one good reason. Another is if your skills are being underutilized.

A manager’s point of view

It is fairly easy to understand why managers don’t want to lose an important or key employee. They are responsible for achieving goals and accomplishing tasks. Letting a vital employee move to another role in the company risks a manager’s continued success. After all, managers are evaluated for their performance like any other employee.

Letting an employee loose to tackle a new assignment, when possible, is a win-win situation for all. The company gets a professional who can pick up the slack during vacations, leave of absences or the loss of a key employee. Your employee will be happier and the better ones will be appreciative for the chance to learn new skills. If you don’t listen to the employee you may lose the employee or, more likely, have a staff member with an attitude problem – and both can be very costly.

As a manager there are times when you just can’t let an important professional leave. If this is the case it is a good idea to sit down with the employee and communicate the importance of your needs.

There is never a good time to lose a key employee.


Based on my experience as a subordinate it is a fool’s errand asking your manager for a transfer if you are any good at all. Additionally, you risk being labeled as a malcontent, boat-rocker or whatever similar rebellious term you want to use. However, a subordinate serious about a transfer should communicate their needs to their immediate manager both out of courtesy and to give the manager the opportunity to help.

Who is to say if an employee should be allowed to transfer to another role or department? Typically this has been decided by the immediate supervisor or manager. Ultimately the decision should be based on whether the company and employee can both benefit from the professional leaving. However, the employee should be allowed to leave only if the existing staff can handle the additional workload or if a replacement can be found.

Companies do not exist so that their employees can self-actualize. The harsh reality is that the job has to be done in order to supply goods or services. A company that fails to do that won’t exist for long. And yet there are benefits for companies that provide for employees needs beyond a base salary. A company that can, for example, offer both vertical and horizontal career paths has an advantage; prospective employees will seek out companies where their higher needs can be met. A happy employee is a productive employee and there is nothing wrong with on the job self-actualization.

What is in a manager’s best interest is not always in the company’s best interest.

There are a number of ways to encourage a freer flow of corporate talent:

It is difficult to transfer professionals during good times. It is even more difficult when the economy is hurting and staff has been cut. But opportunities can arise from the most trying of times.

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