Maybe You Should Not Take a Promotion

Cite this article as:"Maybe You Should Not Take a Promotion," in The Business Professor, updated December 17, 2019, last accessed July 14, 2020,


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It may seem counterintuitive, but there are numerous reasons that you may want to turn down a promotion. This might mean turning down the position temporarily or avoiding this type of promotion for the remainder of your career. Some notable reasons are as follows:

The Nature of the Position

It may be the case that you are not comfortable with or motivated by a position. It is not uncommon for companies to assume that an employee who is successful in one position will also be successful in a completely unrelated position. This is certainly not always true. In our article, Personal Motivation and Careers, we discuss the combination of internal needs and external factors that engage and motivate an employee. If your promotion opportunity is to a position that you are confident will not meet your internal needs, it may be better to forgo the promotion.

I have seen too many times the situation where a person is performing well and receives a promotion to an unrelated position. Because of the lack of motivation, engagement, or some other job characteristics, the employee either experiences high stress and anxiety or performs very poorly in the role. Either of these things can be detrimental to your long-term career. For example, I recently worked with a logistician who worked with databases and analytics. He performed extremely well and was offered a promotion to manage a logistics team. He is far less proficient with social interaction and management of people than he is with technical development. The job caused him extreme stress and resulted in weight gain and excessive alcohol consumption. Eventually, he left the company in search of a more technical role that did not involve managing people.

Unfortunately, some employers do not have multiple career paths for all employees. If the pending promotion is the only career path within your organization, consider the options of remaining perpetually in your current position or changing employers.

You Really Love Your Current Position

If you are content, there may not be a good reason to seek promotion. Society often pushes us toward seeking more money or increased notoriety. While this may be a driving force for some people, generally contentment may be the driving force for others. If your position provides you with everything you need to be content (notice that I say content rather than happy – as happy is a unique concept), then this is a completely valid reason to stay in your position. As discussed above, you never know whether promotion with provide the same level of professional satisfaction. If you cannot see yourself as more content with the promotion, it may be best to stay where you are.

Adequacy of Additional Benefits

We all work based upon some motivators. If you have the option for a promotion that does not entail additional benefits that you value, you should take time to evaluate the up and downside of the promotion. If the promotion entails things that you do not like, such as additional responsibility, travel, or other responsibilities. Of course, you may be able to negotiate benefits that meet your internal needs and make the promotion worth it. If no, you should not waiver in considering turning down the offer.

Knowledge or Skill Level Required

In many instances, a promotion coming too early can be more detrimental for your career than it coming too late. This is particularly true in fields that require a high degree of industry or technical knowledge. Once again, performing well at one level does not always translate into strong performance at a higher level. It often depends upon the amount of effort and ability that is required to perform at a given level. In some situations, an underperformed at one level (generally due to a lack of motivation) will perform exceptionally well at higher levels. The reason regards the individual’s motivation. Likewise, if an employee is working extremely hard to perform well at a lower-level position, promotion to a higher level that requires much more effort can be overwhelming. The important point here is that you ask yourself whether you are ready to meet the level of performance that will be expected of you to perform well in the position.

It’s Not the Right Time

You may have the desire for promotion, but the timing is not right. Below are some examples of when this may be true.

You Plan to Leave the Company

If you plan on leaving the company, accepting a promotion can be a bad idea. By promoting you, the company places a great deal of confidence in you. It can be highly disappointing (and can cause hard feelings) if you leave not long after promotion.

Life Conflicts

There are lots of things going on in your personal and professional life. If you have life events that will cause you to not be able to dedicate yourself adequately to a higher-level position, then it may be better to forgo the opportunity. Examples might include: having to care for an elderly dependent, going through a divorce, having additional children, dealing with the loss of a loved one, going to school, or managing side projects (writing a book, starting a side business,etc.).

You Don’t Want to Work for a Specific Supervisor

Everything may look good for promotion, but you know that you will have to work for someone who you do not respect. As discussed in other articles, your relationship with your superiors is extremely important for your long-term success in an organization. If an immediate promotion means working under these conditions, it may be better to forgo promotion until an opportunity opens to work for a different supervisor. In big organizations, there may be many routes for promotion. As such, waiting for a different opportunity may be the best option for your career in the long term. If the organization does not offer options that allow you to work with or for people you respect, you may consider finding another employer.

How to Turn Down the Promotion

If you are going to turn down a promotion, the important thing is that you avoid burning bridges. The people with and for whom you work are your industry connections. They play an important part in your professional brand and in creating future opportunities. As such, you need to be able to convince these people that turning down the promotion is a good career move for you.

My recommendation is that you focus upon professional (rather than personal) justification. Indicate that you want to spend more time in your current position to learn and grow. Be specific about the knowledge and skills that you hope to develop further. Make it obvious that you are simply preparing to be successful at the next stage.

Make certain to stress that you are committed to the company and intend to seek promotion in the future. Explain where you want to be in terms of knowledge, skill, and experience when you do seek promotion.

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