Wednesday, July 9, 2008

You're Such a Total Dumb**s for Not Taking That Promotion....Or Maybe Not...

If your boss walked up to you today and offered you a promotion, with quite a substantial pay raise, would you take it?

"Well, duh," you might think. "Of course."

Now let's say that your boss offers you more money, but you will also be required to relocate -- or work more hours or perhaps take on tasks you don't like.

So, do you still take the promotion?

That's the dilemma many people face in their careers. While it seems a no-brainer that you grab a promotion and the extra cash with no hestitation, the decision is often not so clear-cut for some people.

In the early part of our careers, my husband and I relocated five times in 13 years for promotions. Was it easy? Nope. We moved away from family and friends and put in long, long hours. We endured enormous stress that came with moving up the corporate ladder, but we didn't complain.

Until, of course, we did complain. We looked at our lives and what we had (money, stock options, prestige), and what we didn't have (nearby family, a humane work schedule, a balanced existence), and decided we had had enough. So, we stepped off that ladder and have never regretted it.

But it's a hard decision to turn down a promotion. Most people will agree that if you do so, you've dealt a serious blow to your career. The boss may not offer again. You may be seen as not being totally committed to your employer. Others will see you as a slacker.

On the other hand, people do turn down promotions and go on to live happy and productive lives (see above). But there is some delicate footwork that needs to be done if you decide to take that road, so it's important to give it careful consideration.

Let's look at why you should accept a promotion:
* More money. Enough said.
* It's a chance to grow your skills and become more valuable.
* You will get more opportunities to meet higher-ups who can offer you even more chances to climb the corporate ladder.
* Exposure to new ideas, places and people.
* More money. (Did I mention that one already?)

Now, let's look at why you should not accept a promotion:
* It is too big of a stretch. You're bound to fail in a truly spectacular way. Think Evel Knievel going over the Grand Canyon.
* You would be working with people you don't know, don't want to know -- or know and don't like.
* Moving away from friends and family. Or, asking family members to be
uprooted from everything they know and love. If you have teenagers, this can mean lots of slammed doors.
* The job doesn't interest you in any way, shape or form.

The decision can be tough, but the good news is that some companies are more accepting of someone turning down a promotion. The trick is that you've got to frame your refusal in positive terms, such as "Gee, I'm so honored that I was offered this job, but I've thought a lot about it, and I just don't feel like it's a good fit for me right now. I've really got a lot more I want to accomplish in my current job, and am excited about where I'm headed."

Then, you've got to hope your boss accepts this gracefully. One more thing: Don't plan on turning down a promotion more than once. That truly is a good way to knock yourself off the career ladder.

Do you think someone always has to accept a promotion? Can you turn down a promotion and not hurt a career?

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23 comments:

Bob said...

Turn down a promotion without affecting your career? Gee so many different factors, it's hard to say with certainty...

For me, I'd turn one down no problem if conditions such as the reasons you listed for NOT taking it were present. In fact, there's a standing one on the table right now where I work to go to a location that is, shall we say, um, "less than safe".

So far, it's been my experience that the companies I've worked for have understood, if there were good reasons to NOT take it. But also in my (limited) experience, it's rare that an opportunity that comes my way wouldn't be worth taking.

But then again, I'm a little different from most folks; I've always jumped at the chance to relocate. My goal: to live, and work, around the world. Eventually.

Miriam Salpeter said...

Anita,
Unless there is a reason to turn down a promotion that the employer will value and understand (taking care of a sick family member, young child at home, can't relocate, etc.), I think that turning down a promotion can have long-standing negative consequences.

Employers SHOULD value an employee who takes a risk and turns down more money and prestige because it isn't the right job or the right timing. Knowing what you WANT to do (or don't want to do) is a valuable skill. It's also crucial to know what you are actually GOOD at doing (or not). We've all heard of the Peter Principle - more people should know when they've risen to their level of competence so the next level isn't INcompetence.

Miriam Salpeter
Keppie Careers

Karen Swim said...

Anita, this is exactly why I counsel clients to manage their careers year round. Taking time once per quarter of biannually to evaluate what you want from your career and if your current position is taking you where you want to go can help you in these situations. As you noted when you know what you want, you can pitch a counter offer to a promotion that does not fit, better yet you and your boss can be aligned on what you want from your career. Money and position do not equate to happiness. A true promotion is one that fits your season of life and your definition of happiness and success at that time.--Karen

Anita said...

Bob,
I think you bring up a very important point: You know that you want to work in different places around the world. That is a key factor in you accepting a promotion, is it not? You wouldn't feel right about taking a promotion where they said, "And by the way, you're stuck here for the next 20 years." It's also clear that it's a tough decision to make, but that it's important you really think it through.
Thanks for posting.

Anita said...

Miriam,
LOL! I like the idea of not letting the incompetent get any higher in the ranks. There ought to be a law!
You do make an excellent point about why you should or shouldn't turn down a promotion. For my husband and me, the last promotion was just taking too great a toll on our private lives. That was a decision that we had to make.
However, we were also fairly well along in our careers -- I do think it would be much more difficult to turn down a promotion when you're just getting started.
Thanks for your insights.

Anita said...

Karen,
Absolutely excellent advice! I never thought of it that way -- managing your promotions. That's a terrific plan, and one that could save a lot of heartache and drama for everyone involved. I can see how that strategy would help prevent misunderstandings. Great thoughts!

Bob said...

By the way, I applaud your consideration of your personal lives in the decision! Too many think they'll "enjoy life later" - when the truth is, they get caught up in the rat race and later never comes.

My wife and have no children, so traveling with her has been relatively easy - and far more fun that the usual "coming and going" of business travel. Plus, we both love new horizons.

Anita said...

Bob,
Since we made that decision, we've had other opportunities come our way, and they've actually been a much better fit for us. So, we're very fortunate that it worked out.
As for you and your wife, it sounds like you're both clear on what you want and where you want to go. Unfortunately, some people don't consider that until a relocation is staring them in the face.
Thanks for the comments. BTW, I STILL really like your hat.

Scot Herrick said...

There is another differentiater in this economy: does the promotion mean relocation?

Three years ago, people thought nothing of putting their house on the market to move to a different state, sell it in a week, and go their merry way.

Not any more. Housing prices have dropped significantly, time to sell has really expanded, and there are lots of people with upside-down mortgages.

You may get the promotion -- and lose money in the process.

The other item I would add is the risk to losing effectiveness with your network through a move out of the city you are currently living. This is not as bad as it used to be with the Internet and social sites, but still a big deal:

One of the companies I worked for decided to move all of their sales training to Denver and had people move to Denver or leave the company if they didn't move (some choice, isn't it?). Six months later -- management decides it is a bad decision and shuts the whole Denver operation down.

All the people who just moved there, bought houses, put kids in school, and lost their network to find another job? Too bad!

Anita said...

Scot,
Oh, wow...that Denver story is enough to make anyone sick.
I do know what's it is like to take a hit on a house. That happened to us in the early 90s with a cross-country move and promotion. Took us years to catch up, and conditions are worse now. That's a very valid point, and I'm glad you made it. Really something to factor into any decision.

Ian said...

Wow, Scot's scenario was horrible.
-----
If a promotion is offered, but there is something you don't like or a part of the responsibility you are bad at (like data analysis in excel). Is there usually room for Negotiation or Is it all or nothing?

Anita said...

Ian,
I think, if handled correctly, there is room for negotiation. If you think you're bad at something, then I think it would be smart to say, "While I am really excited by the opportunity, I'm wondering if there are some training opportunities available to help me improve my XYZ skills so that I'll be as valuable as possible." Many employers still offer tuition reimbursement, or might pay to have you attend training seminars.
On the other hand, I think it would be tough to say, "Ya know, I really want the promotion, but I don't want to move to Denver, so I'd like to continue living in Seattle and do the job." BUT...maybe you could arrange to work four days a week...and use a long weekend to visit Seattle once a month to visit friends, while remaining on call.
I think it all depends on the level you're at, and how badly they want you in that position.
I'd love to hear from other folks on this....

ian said...

@Scot, Oops,I mean the companies actions was horrible.

@Anita, thanks for great insight.
In such an scenario, It seems like we need to keep an open mind to find the control-able area to negotiate.

Robert said...

Great suggestion by Karen to do a "career check up" at least twice a yr. I have given that advise for yrs to our clients by explaining that you wouldn't dare start on a hike or head out on a long sea voyage and not check the compass on a regular basis.
Companies could help make the decision to move easier by offering to have the employee move on a trail basis for a month or so (all expenses on the company of course) brfore a decision is required. If they would compare that small extra cost to the cost of a search for a new employee and the risk of trying an unknown quanity they might be inclined to be move flexible.

Anita said...

Ian,
We understood what you meant!:)

Robert,
Do you know of any companies that offer that "trial" move thing? Of course, it makes sense, but that doesn't mean an employer would be willing to do it! Perhaps an employee could suggest such a thing? Worth thinking about.
Thanks for posting and adding to our discussion.

Dan McCarthy said...

Anita –

I think it’s getting to be more acceptable these days to not be willing to relocate without having it be a career killer. However, it does limit your opportunities. I’m seeing more and more of our best and brightest willing to accept that tradeoff. My advice to our high potentials is “never say never” when asked – keep your options open. You never know.

We’re also experimenting with “temporary assignments” as a way to acquire experiences without full-scale relocation.

BTW, I’m glad you didn’t list “longer hours, harder work, more stress” as reasons not to take a promotion. It’s been my experience that those conditions can exist in any job, no matter what the level.

Anita said...

Dan,
I did think about the longer hours, more stress, etc....and I thought the same thing. You're going to get that in any job these days. It's just a matter of how much you can balance it with the other demands of your life.
I do think you can possibly turn down one move or promotion, but after that it could hurt you. The company may see you as not totally committed to them, or somehow not hardworking enough to put up with some inconvenience to your life.
Thanks for your insights.

Erika said...

I think that you're very right in saying that there are good and bad reasons for taking a promotion. If a promotions means your life suffers, it's so not worth it.

Anita said...

Erika,
Unfortunately, many people will be forced to take those promotions in this bad economy because they a)need the money or b) they're afraid they may in trouble with the company if they don't.
I think the thing I've really gotten from this conversation is that you've got to plan for it BEFORE it happens. You've got to have those discussions with yourself and your family about your future and how you want your life to work.

Patricia said...

I have just accepted a new position, but it wasn't an easy decision. It is a career promotion, but not from my current employer. I moved on to another company. Moving up usually means stretching yourself and there is always the unknown, "What if I fail?".

There is also the excitement of doing something new and interesting. Money is not everything if you are going to struggle or are just not happy.

I think those in my office who knew of the offer thought it was a no-brainer that I accept it. They may have thought less of me if I hadn't gone for it, but my decision had to ultimately work for me and my situation.

I am an empty nester so taking on a bigger challenge works for me right now, but as a single mom it would not have worked earlier in my career. Many things have to be taken into consideration and yes, refusing a promotion within your company might not seem smart, but may still be the right decision.

I have seen people take a promotion, but they weren't ready and ended up losing their job. Promotion does not always equal success.

Anita said...

Patricia,
You're very right...promotion does not always equal success. I know journalists who were fantastic reporters, but then they were given promotions to editors. They were terrible -- they were miserable and so were the people they managed. Some moved BACK DOWN the ranks and stayed in the business. Others left journalism completely. I'd hope that companies would recognize that promotions need to be a good fit or everyone loses.
Thanks for sharing your story and good luck in the new position!

Jen said...

I love your style, Anita! I have been working diligently myself since SOBcon08 myself and I think I may be close to peeking out a bit again... so I am just checking on you.

Great post!

Anita said...

Jen,
I figured you were working hard...so glad you stopped by!