Demotions are good

Demotions are good.

Yes, you read that right. Demotions are good. Or, can be.

I know, you think of a demotion as a terrible thing. Your company has decided to drop you back instead of promoting you. It’s worse than being held back a grade at school. This is your career, your paycheck, your life, your identity.

Getting a demotion is humiliating.
Getting a demotion is demoralizing.
Getting a demotion is painful. How could the company not recognize your talent?
Getting a demotion is…a gift. Say what?

Yes, that’s right. Getting a demotion can be a gift. Hear me out…

A couple of months ago, a woman contacted me through my website. This is what she wrote:

"I need your help… More specifically, I currently have a great job (aka it pays well) but I’m not truly happy. I work for Mercedes-Benz ** and the company is currently downsizing. I’ll know soon if I still have a job. I feel it’s the perfect time to re-evaluate my situation, strengths, dreams and really get excited about what’s ahead whether it’s Mercedes-Benz (in a different role) or something else."

** I changed the name of the company to protect her identity.

She and I discussed how the company’s uncertainty provided her with the impetus to think differently about her work. She had been at the company for a long time, in a very senior position, collecting fabulous benefits, and while she wasn’t happy, how could she leave? She was trapped by her “golden handcuffs.”

Then, when the company started downsizing and she realized that she might be vulnerable, she began to think about doing something different. It took the possibility of losing her job to get her to take action. I encouraged her to use this opportunity as a chance to figure out what she really wanted to do long-term, no matter what the decision of the company.

A couple of weeks later, she wrote this:

"I was offered a demotion. I’m disappointed but I’m grateful to have options. I’ve accepted the demotion but I plan to look and see what else is available on the outside. Since we have been going through significant downsizing three years in a row, I feel I need to find someplace where my career is more in my control. Right now, I am going to concentrate on getting a different job. Later, I’ll think about making a more significant career change."

(Oh no, she chose an option but didn’t see the gift. She’ll use the demotion as a jumping off point to get another “job” without using this opportunity to figure out what she really wants to do long-term. I’ll tell you what I would have done later…)

Think this through for yourself. Pretend that the woman in this story is you. You haven’t been happy and dream about doing something different, something that will make you happy and engage your talents and gifts. Your company is repeatedly downsizing, leaving you feeling uncertain about your future. You receive word that the company wants to retain you (Yea! You still have a paycheck!) but has offered you a demotion, a step down in responsibilities and pay (which feels really bad internally). What would you do?

Would you see it as a slap in the face? An affront? A humiliation? Something demoralizing and embarrassing? Or would you see it as a gift?

How would you respond? What would you do? You could turn the offer down. You could ask for a termination package. You could quit on the spot. You could do what this woman decided to do; accept the demotion gracefully, and use your time to look for another job. You could accept the demotion and stay with the company indefinitely. Or, you could use the demotion as a way to fund your efforts to find the job of your dreams. In that way…

A demotion is a gift.

Of course, if you were planning to have a life-time career with your company, and you are given a demotion, then it would be a devastating experience. But, if you truly desired to find work that excites you, work that engages your strengths, talents and moves you in the direction of your dreams, getting demoted would be a gift. Your demotion could buy you time to find the work of your dreams.

A demotion lets you take control.

Remember…you may not be in control of your work, but you are ALWAYS in control of how you choose to engage with your work. You can choose to give 110% of yourself to your job, working long hours, weekends, pouring your heart and soul into your work, looking for ways to improve things, make your mark, make a difference, and professionally giving your all. Or, you can simply show up, do your work, use your skills, perform your tasks, and go home. It’s up to you.

A demotion gives you implicit permission to emotionally disengage from your job.

When you have been demoted, it becomes much easier to come to work, do your job, and go home at a reasonable hour. Leave your work at the door. Forget trying to give it your all. Forget going over and above. Don’t try to make things better. Withdraw your emotional and creative energy from the company and instead use it to create the work of your dreams. Invest that energy in your future. Figure out who you are, -- your strengths, talents and abilities and how to use those to make the contribution of which you are capable. Discover what you have to offer the marketplace and who would appreciate what you have to give.

I’m not suggesting trying to screw your company or do a bad job. No. Do your job. Do it well. Use the skills for which you are getting paid to do your work. Perform your tasks and meet your responsibilities. But, that’s all. Don’t give anything more. Stop going over and above. You’re not getting paid for that. And, the company has signaled to you that they don’t really value your contribution. So, why do it?

A demotion buys you time.

It supports you financially. It pays the bills while you figure out the next step. Think of your demotion as having a paid “gig” while you look for a real job. The company has done you a favor. A demotion keeps you from having to create financial anchors while you are in a transition.

A demotion can be the best thing that happens to you…if you choose to see it that way.

(PS. Here’s what I would have done in that situation described earlier. I would have used the demotion as an opportunity to find what I really wanted to do long-term. Her strategy – to look for another job and “later” think about her ideal work – will delay her in pursuing the work of her dreams. She will invest all of her energy in finding a new job, which in turn will require a lot of energy to get situated or successfully “on-boarded.” It takes time to learn how to navigate a new company, -- how things are done, the spheres of influence, the interpersonal relationships, the processes, the people, the product. Everything is new. And, in three years, she’ll still be no closer to finding what she really wants to do. Why not use the demotion as an opportunity to figure out her dream job…right now? What an opportunity! What a gift!)

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