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What is ‘breadcrumbing’ and how can you navigate it at work?

4 Oct 2019

Find out what it means to experience ‘breadcrumbing’ at work, and how to deal with the impacts it could have on your career.

The dreaded concept of ‘ghosting’ is no longer limited to modern dating. Now, a similar trend is cropping up in workplaces around the world, seeing employees being strung along by their managers.

A lack of regular and meaningful feedback and promotion promises that fail to materialise are two of the primary telltale signs of ‘breadcrumbing’. So, how can you recognise whether this is happening in your job, and what can you do about it?

Cause and effect

Breadcrumbing is the process of giving staff members just enough to keep interested and invested, for example with hints about new projects or promotions that may – or may not – materialise

This can be seen as a tactic for reinforcing behaviour, developing positive staff habits through recognition and rewards. But there may be less favourable motives at play if promises aren’t followed through, according to the BBC.

It could be a symptom of underappreciating staff, or a lack of awareness of the other opportunities available for their top talent in the wider market.

Given the nature of modern work, people are eager to upskill and continue learning throughout their career. Breadcrumbing can stunt life-long learning, leaving staff feeling demotivated, unsupported and, ultimately, making them more likely to job hunt.

But breadcrumbing doesn’t just happen for those already in a job. The hiring process can also be massively affected by this approach, resulting in drawn-out recruitment processes that effectively lead potential new team members on.

What can you do?

Note the frequency of feedback. In a healthy workplace, feedback comes readily and regularly. Take stock of when you receive rewards or encouragement – is it only during times of peak burnout or right when you’re ready to call it quits?

Maintain two-way communication. Stay vigilant of how your manager communicates rewards to you. If they communicate messages, pay rises and promotions without discussion, it can show a lack of interest in employee development. Two-way communication and negotiation are essential.

Gauge reactions. A classic breadcrumbing tactic is giving someone just enough to keep them busy, without taking the risk of doing something totally new. So, consider how your managers reacts to your proposals for new projects or ideas. Are they encouraging you to explore these new avenues? Or are they requiring you to stay on the track they’ve designed for you?

Set expectations. If you’re expecting your employer to go beyond empty promises and to facilitate your career development, set expectations. Ask your manager for feedback, discuss areas for improvement and share your career goals with them.

If the discussion is stalling, share specific examples of your contributions to the team.

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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