Turning Down a Promotion: Why, When, and How To

FT Contributor
A businesswoman who has just turned down a promotion, smiling and walking out of an office.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

In most people’s minds, a promotion signifies career advancement. Often, a promotion means more money and more responsibility. In some cases, a promotion also means more hours, more pressure, and a shift in a person’s work-life balance.

While a promotion initially sounds like a positive thing, that’s not always the case. Depending on your individual situation, a promotion may not be the right move for you. There are a number of factors to consider when you’re offered a promotion, but the decision ultimately comes down to your personal and professional goals.

Factors to Consider for Promotion

If you are offered a promotion and can’t decide whether to take it, there are several factors you should consider. To make the decision process a bit easier, consider the following before you accept or deny a promotion offer:

  1. Can you handle the duties outlined in your new role? If you feel as though you need more experience or training in order to fulfill the requirements of your promotion, it may not be a good time to accept it.
  2. Are you overqualified? In some cases, the promotion may be for a role you are overqualified for. This could be a sign that you’re not advancing as quickly as you would like or make you feel that management undervalues your abilities.
  3. Do you enjoy working for the company? If you’re already unhappy in your current role or displeased with the way the company operates, moving up could be a lateral move. This could be your opportunity to seek other work elsewhere.
  4. Will you enjoy a new team? In some cases, a promotion means a shift in the people with whom you work closely. Consider whether or not you’ll get along with your new team before you accept a promotion.
  5. Is this promotion deferring you from reaching your career goals? If the promotion isn’t even close to your dream job, taking it may not be the best decision.
  6. Will you receive a raise? If you’re going to be responsible for more people or more work, your pay should reflect that increase in responsibility.
  7. Are there perks included with your promotion? From an office with a view to the opportunity to travel, a promotion can open doors to new opportunities and perks that may add to your career satisfaction.
  8. Are you ready for a change? If it’s not the right time for you personally or you simply don’t feel ready for more responsibility, check in with yourself to confirm you’re truly ready for a promotion. For some people, taking the leap could be the push they need to succeed.

Can You Be Fired for Refusing a Promotion?

If you refuse to take a promotion, you may or may not be fired. It really depends on the company that you work for. Some companies will be completely fine with you turning down a promotion and very understanding of your circumstance. In other cases, turning down a promotion simply isn’t an option.

If you refuse to take a promotion, there are many ways it could play out. For example, your managers could restructure the way the company works and ultimately eliminate your position. They could also change the duties of the role you’re currently in, which may be good or bad. Moreover, turning down a promotion could leave a bad taste in management’s mouth and change the way they perceive you overall, destroying any future chance of offering you a promotion or other positive career change.

If you absolutely feel it’s necessary to refuse a promotion, it is of paramount importance to do so in the most professional manner.

Good Reasons for Turning Down a Promotion

When it comes to turning down a promotion, you need to have a clear, valid reason for doing so. For instance, “I don’t want any more responsibility” is not a valid response. In fact, it’s one that won’t be taken well by management at all.

Instead, these are some valid reasons someone might turn down a promotion:

  • The promotion doesn’t align with my career plan.
  • I’m not comfortable with the team I’ll be working with.
  • I don’t feel prepared to handle the responsibilities of the new role.
  • I feel underqualified for the duties of the new role.
  • I can’t commit to the time shift required of the new role.

Management will respect your decision for not taking a promotion if your reasoning is carefully thought out and presented in a professional way.

How to Turn Down a Promotion

Grabbing the attention of your manager at the water cooler or sending them a formal business letter to let them know you don’t want the promotion isn’t the best way to turn down a promotion. Instead, it’s important to refuse a promotion with respect and gratitude.

To turn down a promotion in the most professional way possible, first and foremost express your gratitude for the opportunity. This will demonstrate that you care and recognize the significance of being offered the promotion in the first place.

Next, go through the concerns you have with taking the promotion, taking the time to clearly explain the reasons why you don’t feel comfortable taking it. Remain firm in your stance, especially if your managers try to sway you the other way. Close your statement by pointing out that while this opportunity may not be right for you, you are still open to future opportunities. This demonstrates your desire to succeed in other areas of your career.

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