When to Turn Down a Promotion

Your performance reviews have been stellar.

Even in this cash-strapped economy, you get bonuses.

You’ve been told you are a “high-potential” employee with a bright future.

Your boss calls you into her office with great news.

You’ve been promoted!

But you don’t feel excited.

You love the job you have already.

Plus your current job has minimal travel and allows you more work-life balance. This is important to you because your children are still very young.

A few years ago, you would have killed for an opportunity like this. Now you just feel conflicted and stressed out.

You weigh your options.

Should you turn the job down?

“Emily”, a consultant in the financial services sector, recently contacted me with this dilemma. She’s also a new mom with a one-year old daughter at home.

Emily told me that she loves her job, her company and hopes to stay there for many years to come.

She was offered a regional director role that would have her on the road ten to twelve days a month, double what she was traveling now.

Even more worrisome to her than the travel was the increased scope of responsibility. Her team would expand from fifteen staff to over fifty decentralized across the US.

Emily wrote:

I love my job and frankly I don’t want more responsibility right now. I feel like I still have a lot more to accomplish in my current role and the increased travel and scope in this new position really worries me. What do I say to my boss that won’t make it seem like I don’t have any ambition? 

Emily’s concerns are legitimate.

It’s a huge vote of confidence when you are offered a promotion and turning it down could make her look uncommitted at best or be career suicide at worst.

There can be logical reasons to decline an offer.

Here a few things to consider first:

Evaluate why you don’t want the job.
Is the pay underwhelming? Too much travel? Would you have to relocate? Maybe the job isn’t what you had in mind for your next move. Have a frank conversation with your boss. If you aren’t having regular career development discussions with her, she may not know what you want and where you see your career progressing.

Also make sure that the reason you are turning the role down isn’t really fear in disguise. You may unwittingly be playing it too safe with your career.

Can the job be restructured to address your concerns?
This is a tricky conversation but if the job is of interest and requires something (like a relocation) that would make it difficult for your accept, ask your boss if how much flexibility there is in the new role. Companies around the world are struggling to find and keep top talent. If you are a top performer in your firm, you may have more leverage than you think. Build the business case for why making changes to the job would benefit you and the company.

You really love the job you are in and want to grow in your current role.
Let’s say you’re like Emily and you really love your current job. Make the case for why you should stay put and how it will benefit you and the company. This might include training more successors, broadening your scope or taking a new project within your current role.   Key here is to help your boss understand your commitment to the job and how you want to continue to make a meaningful contribution.

You’ve committed to having better work/life balance.
This is a biggie for mid-career professionals. Many of us spent the early part of our careers grinding it out in high-pressure jobs that physically and spiritually zapped us. We’ve vowed to re-priortize what’s important in our lives. If this is you, you owe it to yourself not to commit to a role that your heart isn’t in.

Tell your boss why the timing isn’t right for you now but what is possible.

Bottom line, your boss probably won’t be thrilled if you turn down a promotion but it’s better than taking a role that you know will make you unhappy.

It’s vital to clearly articulate why you are turning the role down and reinforce how you much value you’ll continue to add in your current role.

What ever you decide, it’s important to have on-going candid conversations with your boss about your career aspirations.

She may think she’s looking out for you when she advocates for your promotion, not knowing your real career goals.

What do you think? In this post-Recession era is it ever a good idea to turn down a promotion? What advice would you give Emily?

I’m listening.


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