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How to Gracefully Decline A Promotion


Harrison loved his job and after five years at his company, he was offered the opportunity to join a leadership development program to become a manager. “I was definitely excited. I wanted to be a manager and knew this was the right path at the time.” As he attended the year-long program, he realized his goals changed, “The appeal of that type of job lessened but I learned a lot of valuable skills that can be leveraged as either a people manager or an indirect people leadership role.”

 

But his management team wasn’t happy. Harrison recalls, “They said, ‘We invested in you and now you don’t want to be a manager.  We could have invested in someone else.’ But my take was they were investing in me as an employee to bring value to the company, not just this specific team.”  

 

When companies want to promote you into a new role, it is because the company values your skillset and knows you are capable of filling a business need. But just because a company wants to promote you to a management position or a new role, it doesn’t mean you have to accept the promotion. Here are three steps to gracefully decline a promotion.

 

Pause and Prepare

 

As professionals progress in their careers, it becomes increasingly crucial to pause and reflect on their overarching values and how they align with their career goals. Harrison did exactly that, “I know people who would take any job to ascend the corporate ladder and that is okay. I also know people who are seeking something more fulfilling and want to grow in a different way. That is also okay. But you have to be clear on what is important to you – your values and your goals - so you can be clear to your leadership on where you want to grow.”


Understanding your “why” behind each career decision lays the foundation for informed choices, ensuring alignment between your values and your career aspirations. While some employees may have a clear roadmap for how they see their career unfolding, not everyone knows where they want to be in five, ten or fifteen years from now. To gain clarity within your own mind why the new job isn’t the right path for you, ask yourself:


  • What type of work gives me energy and excites me in my current job and why?

  • Will the new job also allow me to do the same kind of work that excites me?

  • If I won’t be doing the same kind of work that excites me, is there other work in the new position that will excite me?

  • Am I uncertain if the new job will provide me opportunities that will excite me?

  • How can the work that fulfills me contribute to the company’s business needs?

 

If you have taken some time to think about what is important to you, you will be able to determine why this promotion doesn’t align with your career goals or how you want to bring value to the company. This preparation will be the key to your communication with the company leadership.

 

Express gratitude

 

The company has just discussed a new position with you that the company needs to fill. When you turn down the position, you haven’t just rejected a promotion; you have told the company that you won’t do what the company wants you to do. Therefore, this is the time to express your gratitude for the current job you are in and express your continued belief in your capabilities to bring great value to the company. There are many ways to express gratitude:

 

  • Acknowledgement: Acknowledge the mentorship, guidance, training, and support you have received from your leader and your colleagues throughout your career journey.

  • Reflect on past achievements:  Highlight key past and upcoming milestones and how your contributions will continue to positively impact the organization.

  • Demonstrate commitment: Assure your manager of your dedication to supporting and advancing the company’s interests, albeit in a capacity aligned with your personal aspirations and strengths.

 

Expressing gratitude will set a positive tone for the rest of the conversation and ensure your management believes you are still dedicated to the company’s success. It’s always a good idea to follow up in writing about your gratitude and continued commitment to the company’s mission, values and objectives.

 

Be honest and transparent

 

When faced with a promotion that doesn’t align with your career aspirations, it is essential to articulate that clearly and honestly. Harrison says don’t hesitate to explain to your manager very clearly that while you could grow and gain new skills in the new position, it is not where you want to take your career. He says, “Be transparent as soon as you have an idea of what you may or may not want to do and have that open conversation.” While it’s easier to have that conversation before a promotion is offered, it is also okay to have it at any time you have a new revelation about your career trajectory.

 

Some areas to consider when articulating your interests:

 

  • Skills Development: Are there specialized skills you are interested in focusing on that will bring value to the company but are not part of the new job?

  • Personal Commitments: Do you have personal commitments that will not allow you to dedicate the additional time to upskill in the new position?

  • Value pathway: Is there another area in the company where you feel your skills can bring more value than the current role?

 

Owning your decision and explaining clearly why the promotion is not where you want to take your career will demonstrate integrity and foster mutual respect between you and your manager. It will also allow you to show your maturity in wanting to help the company secure a solution to its business need and lead mutually beneficial outcome.

 

 

Most companies know the most engaged and productive employees are those who are bringing value to the company through positions which align with their career aspirations. As for Harrison, he says the pressure was intense to accept the promotion, but he “one-hundred perfect made the right decision” for his career. “I am not the type of person to give away two years of my career to check a box so I can eventually do something else that I actually want to do.” Instead, he left his team and moved to a new position which aligned with his career goals and allowed him to continue contributing to the company.  After all, he knew there was not one right path to achieve professional success but he recognized there is one right path to achieving fulfillment and that was being clear on aligning his career to his values.

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