How to decline a promotion without burning bridges

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Declining a promotion can be a strategic decision based on personal commitments, lack of preparedness, or a preference for hands-on roles. Professionals risk missed opportunities and strained relationships but can respectfully decline by expressing gratitude, providing transparent reasons, and remaining dedicated to their current role. Communication is key to preserving positive rapport and future opportunities.

Everyone loves a promotion at work. It means more money, signifies success and opens a way for further growth. But there are people who refuse a promotion. While that is intriguing, experts say it is important to turn down a promotion without putting the job at risk and also keeping the door open for future opportunities.

Let us dig a little deeper to comprehend the reasons for declining a promotion, and how exactly one should do it respectfully, without harming their professional relationships.

Why individuals turn down a promotion

People may opt to decline a promotion for a multitude of reasons, says Aditya Narayan Mishra, Managing Director and CEO, CIEL HR, a recruitment and staffing services provider. Some may find the timing of taking on added responsibilities isn’t conducive due to personal commitments, such as family obligations. There are also people who have turned down promotions as they perceive themselves as lacking adequate preparation to shoulder the additional responsibilities, he says.

Certain individuals may have a preference for roles that allow a hands-on approach, rather than transitioning into managerial positions that might result in larger responsibility and may require different skill sets. Mishra says such people also reject a promotion.

An individual may refuse to get promoted if it requires them to relocate, says Murali S, CHRO, AscentHR, a people consulting company. A lot of people may find it inconvenient to move to another city or state as they may have ailing parents to take care of or a working spouse who cannot relocate. Children’s education is also a major reason that works against relocation, even if it means more money through promotion.

Job roles where promotion rejection can be higher

Individuals prioritise expertise over managerial responsibilities in some fields. These people tend to often decline promotions as it would take them away from their core expertise to focus more on managerial responsibilities.

Mishra says such roles can be seen among research scientists, engineers or creative professionals. Even in management positions at the lower levels such as assistant managers, individuals may reject promotions if the new responsibilities are far off from their career goals, particularly if they value autonomy or prefer staying in certain locations, he explains.

AscentHR’s Murali says that such a situation can be witnessed in sales roles, when a person has created expertise in a region; manufacturing, when the individual is stationed at the manufacturing plant; logistics and HR.

Possible consequences of refusing a promotion

Professionals must be aware of the potential consequences of declining a promotion. It may include missed opportunities for career advancement, strained relationships with colleagues or supervisors, and perceptions of stagnation, says Mishra.

Talking about the potential negative impact of declining a promotion, Murali says individuals may need to consider the fact that they may lose the opportunity to grow or even lose the opportunity to continue in the same role when redundancy measures are involved. Above all, it is of utmost importance for the employee concerned to understand that it is a lost opportunity that they may never get again in the same organisation, he explains.

Say no to a promotion without risking your jobs

Some organisations may find it acceptable — even praiseworthy — when a person rejects a promotion. But it can lead to a break in the manager-employee relationship. It also puts people’s jobs at risk, except in situations where the organisation is unable to accommodate the position without a relocation, says Murali.

To respectfully decline the promotion while preserving a positive relationship with employers, Mishra of CIEL says it is crucial for professionals to first express genuine gratitude for the offer. Next, he advises individuals to provide clear and transparent reasons regarding the reasons for declining the promotion, whether due to personal obligations, career aspirations or salary expectations.

Most importantly, he says one must remain open to feedback and reaffirm their dedication to the organisation in the current role to further nurture positive rapport and keep doors open for future opportunities. Moreover, letting the reporting manager and skip-level manager know of the ambitions and aspirations around the career path also offers immense help in keeping the position and relationships at work intact, he adds.

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