Mark was a terrible boss – tightly wound, no empathy, always frazzled. He couldn’t read people and couldn’t think outside the box to save his life. The stories around the office were that Mark used to be the BEST salesman. He won company-wide awards, wooed clients away from competitors and was known to have the golden touch (ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves, anyone?). Now, as a manager, he sucked at his job.
Promotions are like engagement rings: they look good on the outside, put you in a different group and on paper it looks legit. Trouble is if over 50% of marriages don’t work out, clearly the ring’s magical powers don’t always come through. Promotions can be similar. From a distance, being married or having a certain job title might look good but it doesn’t mean it’s always meant to be.
Any company’s main goal is to generate returns for their owners. As employees, it’s our purpose to help reach those goals which can be very fulfilling. Bosses are paid to look out for the company, not for you personally. It’s his or her responsibility to utilize their people in the best way to get them to their goals.
You need to be your own advocate and to make the best decision for you and your lifestyle goals. The only person you should worry about letting down is yourself.
We feel immense pressure to accept a promotion either because as ambitious people we want to show progression and advancement or because we’re worried that if we say no, it’ll hurt our chances for advancement in the future (being branded as unambitious, unwilling to do what it takes, etc.).
That said, I’ve run into countless people in my career who’ve taken the wrong promotion and are now worse off than they were before.
In order to make sure you make the best decision for you, here are 5 reasons NOT to accept or apply for the next promotion.
Money shouldn’t be the deciding factor. Typically more money is a good thing. However, for many of us it gets to a point where we would happily return some of that extra cash for more freedom or less stress. Pimping yourself out for a job can easily backfire. It sets a bad precedent and is hard to rectify mentally down the road.
When I took my first big promotion I made twice what I’d been making. Because I was new to the job and hadn’t yet earned my stripes, I felt I had to prove myself by overworking and over-delivering. This never ended. Money is a sneaky fox. I took a job for the money and in exchange I gave it more than I had – my energy, time, sanity, and my health. I didn’t sleep, I was always on call, I never said no. It was exhausting and ultimately not worth it. The money didn’t fulfill me and probably caused more unhappiness than the increased spending power it provided.
2. Who You’ll Report To
If a job will have you working for a Kevin Spacey clone a la Horrible Bosses, don’t take it. It’s that simple. You won’t be the exception. Trust your gut. If your new boss’s style doesn’t suit yours or if he doesn’t have a good reputation with those he manages, take a minute to reconsider.
Conversely, working for an exceptional leader can be game changing. A good leader will encourage, support, motivate and challenge you, making the hard work worth it. This can make all the difference in your quality of life. If you are working for someone like this now consider whether you will be better off with a few more years under this boss rather than a few years of hell under Kevin Spacey.
3. It’s A Step Up But In The Wrong Direction
Where do you see your career and life in 2 years? What about in 5 or 10? When considering a promotion, if you’ve already got your eye on something else (that isn’t in line with this promotion), reconsider. This is tough because if we’re having this discussion, a promotion might be in front of you today. It’s hard to measure a potential opportunity against a what-if.
Consider this: if this promotion will take you a step in the wrong direction from the opportunity you really want, let it pass. Meaning, if you’re hoping to do more client facing work with higher profile clients, a management role with no client interaction might not help you get there. It may be wise to express that to your boss and hold out for a position that will give you that increased profile.
4. You’ll Do Less of What You Love
Most promotions will have you learning a new set of skills. This can be uncomfortable and confusing. I’m constantly helping clients navigate these waters safely, without alerting their boss to their concerns (don’t worry, it’s totally normal). No one knows what they’re doing when they start a new job.
While I support challenging yourself and trying new things, if a promotion will take you far from the parts of your job that fuel you and that you do better than anyone else, it may be worth passing on.
Maybe you can relate with this story. My client Michelle saw herself stuck in this very situation. She got a promotion and now had a seat at the table. However, that’s the only place she ever sat. She didn’t interact with her team in person as often and was always finding herself on conference calls and in meetings. The work that got her the promotion was completely eliminated. This didn’t serve her or her company.
If you have real strengths (which you do or else you wouldn’t be considered for a promotion) don’t move into a role that won’t utilize them at all. Doing work where you know you’re successful and where you can pass these skills on to eager minds working for you can make a real impact.
5. Lifestyle Goals
If you’re mid-career and ambitious, you likely have no problem giving your time and energy to your work. However, take a look at the new requirements of this promotion.
Before jumping in and saying “yes!” to a promotion, really think about how it’ll work day to day. Will you have time for the things in your life that keep you balanced? Will you resent the sacrifices on your time years from now if you take it? Only you know what you need. If getting to book club, having dinner with your kids or making a home cooked meal are important to your overall lifestyle, reconsider. Or at the very least, come up with your requirements for taking the position.
This one is hard if you’re a Sandberg supporter. I’m not suggesting turning down a promotion because you might get pregnant in the future. I’m saying, if being home to help with your kids’ homework is important, don’t take a promotion that’ll keep you from it consistently. You’ll resent your job and will burn out along the way.
The choice is yours.
If you decide to turn down a promotion, be sure you’re clear on the reasons why. You want to be transparent. If your reasons are one of 1-4 above, be honest and explain your reasons simply. If your reason is #5, meaning it’s a non-business reason, have a real conversation with your boss about what you need. You now have leverage. The money, duties, boss, and path all feel good, so be sure you set your expectations and allow for a negotiation.
WARNING: Whatever your reason for turning down a promotion, be honest and appreciative. You don’t want to have a weak response for why you’re rejecting it or one that can be misinterpreted; that could impact the next opportunity that comes along.
Good luck out there! And happy climbing!
What reasons have I missed for not accepting a promotion? Have you learned any lessons from taking or not taking a promotion? Please share in the comments below.
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