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5 Times It’s Smart to Turn Down a Promotion

5 minute read

While turning down a promotion may be unheard of in your parents’ generation (let alone your grandparents’), sometimes it’s necessary for your career—or your sanity. Here are five times you might want to consider turning down a promotion.

1. Your new responsibilities wouldn’t be in line with your goals
When faced with a job change, it’s important to be honest with yourself about your career goals. If the new job you’ve been offered won’t help you get closer your aspirations, it may be time to think of other options.

“Not every promotion is the right one,” says Karen Friedman, author of the book Shut Up and Say Something. “If the promotion doesn’t address your goals and aspirations, look for opportunities to tell your boss what you’re good at, how you see yourself and how you might fill a different role that will make both of you successful. If you really want to stay at your company but don’t want the promotion, perhaps pitch another position.”

2. The job isn’t a good fit for personal reasons
There’s nothing wrong with turning down a role if you feel it’s not the right time for you to take on more seniority, said Julie Kampf, CEO and chief possibilities officer at JBK Associates, an executive search company in New Jersey. However, this is no time for impostor syndrome. Carefully evaluate your skill set, and perhaps talk it through with a trusted friend, partner or parent who can help you separate any feelings of self-doubt from an actual concern that the promotion would keep you from responsibilities or hobbies outside of work that are more important to you.

Read more: The 1 Word That Undermines Your Credibility

3. A lateral move makes more sense
“A career move does not always have to be a promotion, which takes you up the ladder,” Kampf said. “In fact, you could be gaining important experience by taking a lateral move and then advancing your career ahead.”

If you want a different position, be prepared to outline what that new job would entail and why it would be a smarter fit for you.

4. The cost-benefit doesn’t add up
While promotions can sound good on paper (and on resumes), you may realize it’s a bad deal when you do the math. For example, if you get a $3,000 raise but no overtime and will end up putting in significantly more hours at the office, the promotion might not work out in your favor.

If you find yourself in this situation, the first step is to try to negotiate more favorable terms. If that fails, consider whether the experience you would gain is worth the extra work, even without a huge pay increase. If the job doesn’t have financial perks or career benefits that make it worthwhile, it might be wise to pass on the promotion.

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5. You think the position is destined for failure
Almost every company has one position that seems to have a revolving door built into it. New hires come in, fail to thrive and leave quickly. If you’re offered a promotion to such a position, it’s time for a careful assessment of the role to figure out where everyone else went wrong.

Then, it’s wise to have an honest conversation with your boss about the job, the requirements of the position and the stumbling blocks to success. If you and your company don’t have a clearly defined roadmap to help you make it in that new role, it might be best to pass on the job.

Read more: Doing These 4 Things Will Make You Happier, According to Neuroscience

So you’re turning down a promotion…
When it’s time for what might be an awkward conversation with your boss or H.R. department, Friedman says that “grace, appreciation and honesty are essential.” She recommends thanking your superior but coming prepared for an honest conversation. “Write down what you want to say so you’re focused and concise.” If the promotion conversation is sprung on you, say you’d like to think about it and come back ready.

No matter how polite you are, you should be prepared for the possibility that your decision will be taken personally, even if you are completely upfront with your boss and explain it’s not.

“Even though you’ve done the right thing and said the right thing, someone might be annoyed or offended that they offered you an opportunity and you turned it down,” says Friedman. “That’s okay. You have to do what’s right for you.”

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