Do you know how many search results you’ll get if you type in “how to decline a promotion” on Google? Over 171 million. People are rejecting promotions left and right. But why?
A survey from Gartner, a Connecticut-based global research and advisory firm, showed that in 2013 27% of employees polled in the United States said they were willing to put in the extra work required to be promoted at work. This number dropped to 23% in 2017 and represented a growing number of employees who didn’t see the point of working harder because they believed their salaries and perks would be minimal in comparison to the effort required to receive a promotion. As of 2022, this line of thinking has continued.
Promotions after Covid
Hands down, the way we work has changed because of the pandemic. When, where, and the number of hours in a day or week we put in have all shifted. We’ve witnessed the Great Resignation, a surge of quiet quitting and quiet firing, and significant layoffs in the tech industry. Weeding our way through all of this may feel like a challenge, but we’re also learning how to work better and smarter.
Promotions in 2020 were bleak, but when the job market reopened in 2021, the number of promotions increased by 9% compared to the previous year. However even though companies are offering promotions again, they’re not always being accepted. Founder of Life Coaching Group LLC in Chicago and executive coach and facilitator Marlene Gonzalez says, “People are turning down promotions because they are prioritizing other things like caring for their parents, work-life balance, and mental wellness.” She believes a new title and even the increased pay often doesn’t justify the additional responsibilities that accompany a promotion.
Gonzalez declined a promotion in the past when her father was ill. “I had to prioritize family,” she explains. “My father was battling cancer, and it was not the right time to jump into a new position.” She needed space to focus on her father without the additional projects and responsibilities a promotion would bring.
Work-life balance, timing, and a slight raise
During the pandemic, many Americans found themselves working longer hours when they had to work from home. Their work-life balance actually decreased when they weren’t going into the office. Now, as employees consider promotions post-Covid, work-life balance is top of mind.
Jennifer Brick is a Career Success Strategist and author of Career Glow Up. She knows employees who desire the perks a promotion offers but aren’t willing to make all the sacrifices. “Many of my clients have a level they want to get to, but never beyond because when they look at the lifestyle of executives even one level higher than their aspirations, they see a lifestyle that doesn’t align with the one they want,” she says.
Timing can also be an issue. The demands of the next level might not be the right fit or come at the right time. “I see this often with new parents who want to protect their work-life balance,” she says. Naturally, accepting a promotion means you’ll take on more responsibility and this often means less time and more stress. This can make balancing work with home life harder to achieve.
Another reason people choose to reject a promotion according to both Gonzalez and Brick is that employees may be given just a small increase in pay or no raise at all. You might receive an elaborate title with this promotion, but not the monetary amount to match it. A distinguished title may prove you’re moving up in the company, but the additional responsibilities for little to no raise may not be worth it to you.
While the above are all valid reasons to decline a promotion, turning down an opportunity may have its consequences. “I’ve spoken to a couple of people who have turned down promotions because they didn’t feel confident in their readiness for the next level, but regretted the decision when someone less capable than them accepted it,” says Brick.
Instead of taking the promotion and regretting it, or refusing the offer and regretting it, consider asking for a trial promotion. This way you’d get a taste of the new responsibilities and workload before plunging in and making a final decision.
Pros and Cons
If you decline a promotion, Gonzalez warns, “Keep in mind that your employer might limit your future possibility of being promoted.” You might not get another chance to be promoted at this company which will leave you at risk of remaining at an entry-level role.
On the other hand, Brick believes turning down a promotion can put you in charge of your career in an empowering way. “You have validation that the next level in your career is available to you when you’re ready for it,” she says. Many people fear they’ll only get one chance at a promotion, but Brick says, “This is typically not true. However, it can cause some hurt feelings.” Likely your boss is vouching for you and chose you for a specific reason. Your employer might experience disappointment or have hurt feelings, “just how you would be disappointed if you didn’t get the promotion.”
Ultimately it’s your decision. Gonzalez says, “The best advice I can give someone is that life is about choices.” It’s normal to doubt and to feel anxious, but it’s important to trust your instincts. If you’re uncomfortable with accepting the promotion, there’s a reason for that. Perhaps your gut is telling you something. Gonzalez encourages employees to seek advice from someone they trust when they feel overwhelmed with doubt.
Not ready for a promotion
CEOs worldwide face the difficult challenge of finding and retaining top talent. In an episode of the podcast As We Work called The Pros and Cons of Pandemic Promotions, Steve Dion shared that company leaders want to promote their employees from within, even unprepared ones, because it’s hard and expensive to hire outside talent. According to Dion, new hires sometimes ask for a salary that’s more than 50% higher than the previous employee’s salary. Employers are either unwilling or unable to pay that much so they opt to promote from within instead.
However, sometimes the employees who are asked to accept these types of promotions aren’t ready for them; their skills could be underdeveloped and they want to feel capable of fulfilling the demands of the promotion they’re considering, so they turn down the offer.
As humans, we’re hard-wired to crave prestige. We naturally want to progress and move up in stature. It’s a process we’re accustomed to and that we’ve been taught. But we have to make a decision that’s right for us. A promotion could give you a feeling of prominence, but beware of the golden handcuffs it may come with. You have to make sure the promotion suits you and that you’re ready for its challenges.
Would you rather…?
What professional options do you have if you find yourself not wanting a promotion? After declining a promotion herself and going on to establish her own coaching company, Gonzalez knows there’s life after saying no. Employees may decide to “pursue entrepreneurial endeavors, join start-ups, provide professional services on the side, or explore new careers altogether,” she says. There’s a world of opportunities out there.
However, if you’d like to stay at the same company, but believe the timing isn’t right for a promotion or you want to move in a different direction within the company, communicate that to leadership. According to Brick, “This will demonstrate you’re engaged in the role and still want to progress with the company, albeit at a different time or in a different way.” Be honest with yourself and be open with your boss. Think, discuss, and decide. You got this!
Photo: Welcome to the Jungle
Edited by Jordan Nadler
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