So, you’ve just been demoted — what next?
Involuntary demotion at work can be hard to handle, but with the right approach it might be a blessing in disguise.
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Stepping down a rung
It may seem counterintuitive in our society that so strongly values high achievement, but there are times when employees might want to consider voluntarily taking a step “back” in their career and suggest a demotion themselves.
Employees may request a demotion for many reasons: stress, workload, family obligations, disengagement from their current role, or because they just want to slow down as they approach retirement, notes Johnson. Regardless of the reason, both the manager and employee should carefully consider the impact of such a change. Does the employer have a reduced role available? If not, other solutions such as role re-evaluation may need to be considered. Why does the employee want to leave their current role? Are they overwhelmed? If there is one task that the employee feels he or she is not equipped to handle, and could offering support and perhaps additional training allow the employee to stay in their current position?
If reducing the employee’s role makes sense and is possible, managers should speak with the employee about transition and timeline. You will likely need to hire someone to replace the employee who is seeking the demotion, so use this opportunity to transfer knowledge to the new employee if appropriate.
It’s also true that many employees are promoted to a role, but then fail to perform as expected within that new role, admits Johnson. There are a few reasons this might happen:
Knowledge. Has the employee been given the tools they need to succeed in their new role? If the new role requires additional knowledge or skills, was training provided? If they were promoted from worker to manager, were they provided with training on how to be a manager?
Procedure. Has the employee been given a clear picture of organizational procedure? Giving a newly promoted employee a clear picture of the culture on their new team will help them acclimate more quickly and feel more comfortable.
Support. Do they know whom to call on if they need help? Oftentimes, newly promoted employees are reluctant to come to a manager if they’re struggling in their new role, because they are embarrassed. Managers should be proactive, checking in with the employee regularly to discuss any challenges the employee is facing in their new role and providing tools, training, and support as needed.
“Keep in mind that when you demote someone rather than fire them, there’s a reason,” Johnson says. “Concentrate on why you want them to stay with your organization, and keep the conversation focused on the positives whenever possible.”
The initial notification to staff regarding a fellow employee’s demotion will often stir other employees to believe that they could be next. If that’s not the case, Johnson recommends meeting with employees individually to reassure them that this was a strategic decision and that they should feel secure in their position. “If there is opportunity for others to improve, you may even want to take this opportunity to have discussions about ways for each of your employees to improve their performance and increase their value within the team.”
For the employee being demoted, sometimes staying with the company in the new role just isn’t an option. In those cases, Johnson says when interviewing for new positions, it’s important to acknowledge that there was a hiccup in your career growth but not dwell on it.
“Emphasize your skills and the positive career achievements you’ve had,” says Johnson. “If the demotion was beyond your control due to layoffs or restructuring, explain the situation, but never blame or badmouth the company. Don’t make excuses; instead, discuss what you’ve learned from the experience and how that will make you a successful hire for your new potential employer.”
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