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How to handle a demotion on your terms

Posted on 10 August 2022

How to handle a demotion on your terms

​7-minute read


Your manager pulls you into their office and sits you down but you can tell it isn’t the normal chat. Their demeanour is a little off and before you know it you are being told that your current role is no longer yours to have and that you will be moved into a new position, but lower on the theoretical career ladder.

Demotions happen more frequently than we realise in business, from merging companies demoting as people find their way into a new structure to a client asking you to be removed from a particular project or account.

Whatever the reason, if you are like the majority, at the moment you are being told your responsibilities, title and often pay are being changed you cannot help but feel like a failure. Anger will likely set in and before you know it, resentment toward whoever is taking your position from you, especially if this demotion came ‘out of the blue’.

But it doesn’t need to be like that. You can handle a demotion on your terms.

This article will explore not just how you can do that, but also how you can learn from this experience and help it make you better long-term. We appreciate that writing about handling a demotion is a lot easier than the actual experience of it so take your time and refer back to this article whenever required.


Actively listen before speaking

Your employer will likely take this meeting with you in person or at the very least over a video conference call. During this meeting actively listen to what is being shared, the context will help you with the later steps, so for now, focus on:

The real reason you are being demoted – Is it personal performance related? Company performance related? Merger related? Or something else.

If it is personal performance related, do your best to peel back the layers with your manager and understand where you went wrong, how you could have adapted and of course, if this is a sudden demotion without warning, understand the formal HR process within the business to ensure this is handled fair and legally.

We highly recommend and as painful as it can be to listen to feedback during this meeting, digest as much of it as you can or take notes, it will help you better yourself long-term if the feedback is valid and fair.

The next step for you – Will you need to do a handover of responsibilities? Will you need to interview for the new opening? Are you on leave?

It is wise to clear up what the next actions are for you specifically, you want to ensure that when you leave the meeting you know what is expected of you so there is no confusion from both parties.

An introduction to the new role – What will the new title be, responsibilities, salary, perks, reporting line, career prospects etc.


Control your emotions

As mentioned in the introduction, you might be feeling like a failure or that you let people down, anger might set in at this stage and as you actively listen to the reason, you might be tempted to lash back.

Note, that by being present in that meeting the decision about you has already taken place and concluded. Controlling your emotions during this conversation is not only paramount to your future with the business it is also a healthy exercise for you and your career to learn from potential mistakes and allow them to help shape you long-term.

Anyone can make quick throw-away comments about the situation, or show off but it takes real character to hear the reasoning, decipher the takeaways and use them as learns.


Ask questions about the new role

We already touched upon this section when your're actively listening, but ensure you leave the meeting fully understanding everything about the new role.

Think of it like an interview, however this time you are interviewing them. They have already allocated a role to you, and most likely made you the offer during the meeting, however, you do not have to accept it straight away (or at all).

Dig where is needed in your own mind in order to make a decision. Ask questions about the team, the new manager, the workload etc.

Don’t feel that just because they have offered you something you should simply roll over and accept, take your time and decide from an informed standpoint.


Negotiate where required

With a demotion comes a lot of change. Not just in the role responsibility but also in the title, pay, perks and potential vacation days.

Taking a cut in some areas might not be possible for you due to personal circumstances. Therefore, it is wise during the meeting to get a full picture of the new offer, and again similar to if you were interviewing for a brand-new company, discuss what is negotiable and what is not.

Be realistic, you will not be able to have everything you had in your previous role so be firm on what you value the most and flexible on areas you can go without.


Be patient

As with any negotiation, be patient. You might get your answer straight away in the meeting or it might take a few days. Either way, patience is key, and bringing in controlled emotions if it takes a few days to get an answer is even more key as by this time those around you will be aware of your situation and be looking to see how you respond in your day-to-day workload.

Keep all communication about your new role, negotiation and situation behind closed doors with those that need to know, and stay out of the gossip circles. It will only hurt your chances if things leak across the company.


Seek out a new role

If you don’t like the sound of the new role, or you feel the offer is not a fair representation of what value you can bring to the company, or simply you are not interested in working for a company that demoted you then we would suggest seeking out a new role.

Before declining any new role within the current company however really explore if leaving is the right decision, the company is likely willing to support your growth as they have demoted and note fired, and finding good managers around you who are willing to do that are hard to come by.

However, if the answer is still to leave then politely decline the offer and update your resume and reach out to trusted recruiters in the network to start the searching process.


Demotions are hard, but even harder if they come as a surprise and you are not equipped to deal with them mentally. Like most of the articles we cover, this topic is not widely discussed but one that should be read as you never know what your situation might be tomorrow, therefore if you feel someone could benefit from learning about handling a demotion, then feel free to share it with them and collectively we can all bring simplicity to the chaos of recruitment.

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