Most people these days feel very fortunate to have jobs. But if you get them in a comfortable moment (OK, ply them with a few beers and some Cheetos), they'll tell you they are sick of working so hard. They're tired, they can't ever seem to catch up and they see no end in sight. So, it makes sense that when the boss starts hinting that a promotion is coming, they are less than enthused.
Most of us look forward to the day we receive a promotion at work. After all, it’s usually the culmination of a lot of hard work and personal sacrifice that has finally netted us more money and a new title.
But what happens when you’re offered a promotion and you don’t want it? Is there a way to say “no” without committing career suicide?
Jason Seiden, a management and communications consultant in Chicago, says it’s a risky move that could end up miffing the boss.
“Think about how you would feel if you asked someone to marry you – and the person said ‘no’ or ‘let me think about it,’” Seiden says. “It’s not exactly what you want to hear.”
When the boss offers you a bigger – and supposedly better – job, he or she wants to see excitement Seiden says. An employee who either declines the promotion outright – or seems unenthusiastic and asks for time to consider it – may have permanently landed on the “not promotable” list, Seiden says.
Seiden adds that when turning down a promotion, you run the risk of “killing” your career at that company.
Brandon Partridge, 24, of San Diego, is someone who said “no” to a promotion – not to kill his career, he contends, but to save it.
Working for a company that designs movie posters, Partridge was offered a promotion by the company’s vice president on the recommendation of a consultant who had been studying the organization for months. Only one problem: The employee who already held the job was closely tied to the company’s founder and CEO. “This person was really in cahoots with the CEO – they were very close,” he says.
Partridge says he felt that taking the job would make him a target of those who “gave me dirty looks” when they heard of his promotion offer – not to mention the CEO whose loyalty rested with the person currently in the position.
“So, I just tried to tell them that while I appreciated the offer, I was already doing a lot of that kind of work but I didn’t need the title,” he says. “I was just trying to ride out a tough economy and keep my job.”
So, the vice president accepted Partridge’s decision and he stayed in his current job. But one month later Partridge was laid off – along with 300 other employees. He now is trying to get his business, Webfont Foundry, up and running.
“I think I was laid off because other people saw me as a threat. Still, in hindsight, I would have done everything the same way again,” he says.
Seiden, author of “Super Staying Power: What You Need to Become Valuable and Resilient at Work,” says that sometimes a worker may want to turn down a promotion because he or she is already overworked – and sees the new job as adding to that load. Or, in some cases, taking the promotion can actually be a bad move for the person’s career aspirations. No matter the reason, Seiden says it’s critical that a promotion be declined carefully.
- Looking for signs a promotion may be coming. “If you think you’re about to be offered a job you don’t want, then you don’t say to the boss, ‘I see it coming and I don’t want it,’” he says. Instead, meet with the boss and explain how much you like your current job and what you’re doing. “Talk about how comfortable you are, and how you’re not looking for additional responsibilities and that you’re in a really good place,” he says.
- Sharing your vision. “Let the boss know about how you see your career path, and how it might be a bit different than what he sees. This gives you an opportunity to shape an opportunity with the boss,” he says.
- Being helpful. “If the boss brings up the promotion, you can say that you don’t see it as really being a good fit. But immediately say how you’ll be happy to help find someone who would be a good fit,” he says.
- Putting on a happy face. “When you’re offered a promotion, the first thing you say is ‘Wow! Awesome!’ Then, you may be able to say something like, ‘Gee, let me have a day to digest this,’” Seiden says. Asking for time to think about an offer is always a risky move, Seiden says, so be careful to keep your expression joyous – not sickly.
- Knowing when to accept fate. “If you get blindsided with an offer, you may be stuck and have to accept it,” he says.