Professional Development

When it’s okay to say no to a promotion

When it’s okay to say no to a promotion
Written by Eric Titner

We all know that promotions are wonderful and momentous occasions on our individual career journeys—but are they always the right move for us? The answer might not be as clear cut as you think.

Sure, promotions typically come with new challenges and opportunities (and usually more prestige and a bigger paycheck), and bring you one step further up the ladder to professional success, but the truth is, there’s a time and place for everything—including promotions. Depending on the situation, an opportunity for a promotion may arise at an inopportune time or under less-than-perfect circumstances, and it’s okay if you’re not sure if it’s the right move for you or if you’d like to turn it down.

Yes, this may sound counterintuitive to everything you’ve been taught about getting ahead and moving forward, but the wrong move can actually have the reverse effect—and lead you in the wrong direction career-wise or make you feel less professionally satisfied and fulfilled than you were before you accepted the offer.

Still skeptical? Consider the following scenarios, which for many may reflect situations in which it might be wise to say no to a promotion.

The “Second Job” Promotion

Sometimes, getting a promotion isn’t as much about shifting to a new job as it is about piling a bunch of new responsibilities on top of your current job—and chances are you aren’t going to earn two full salaries to reflect the fact that you’re about to be doing two jobs. This scenario is likely more of a “road to burnout” than a recipe for happiness, and you may be setting yourself up for failure if you can’t shoulder the weight of all your newfound job tasks in addition to the ones you presently handle. If you’ve been offered a promotion and have the sneaking suspicion that it may fall into this category, you may want to think twice before quickly accepting—the truth is, many folks who do just this find themselves in a much less enjoyable position than they were in before, so consider yourself warned.

The “Off Track” Promotion

After being in the job market for a while and getting to know the ins and outs of the industry we’ve chosen to work in, most of us have a pretty good idea of how we’d like our career paths to unfold—including the steps up the career ladder that promotions provide us. But what should you do if you’re offered a promotion that could take you off-track? This type of promotion happens more often than you think, and it typically means weighing a set of pros and cons as you work towards making a decision.

A step up the career ladder might mean more prestige, responsibility, and pay, but it also might set you on a different professional trajectory. Are you okay with that? Some folks who accept such a promotion unfortunately find out that their new gains come attached with losses in job satisfaction and struggles to get back onto their original career paths. When deciding whether or not to accept an “off track” promotion, be careful of blindly chasing short-term gains at the expense of long-term setbacks. If a step up isn’t right for you in the long run, then turning down a promotion may be a wise move.

The Unbalanced Promotion

When we dream about our next promotions, we tend to automatically assume that the great new benefits it will bring will clearly outweigh any potential negatives. But what if this isn’t true? If the offer being made comes with a price tag that’s steeper than the rewards being offered (perhaps it requires a relocation or responsibilities that you’re not eager or ready to take on, or maybe the new salary and benefits aren’t quite what you were expecting), it may make sense to pause and think carefully before accepting. Remember, when most employers make an offer they are not averse to negotiating the terms in an effort to make both sides happy. If handled carefully and professionally you might just get what you’re hoping for—and if you don’t, it might make sense to say no.

In many instances, an offer of a promotion is a real reason to celebrate—but sometimes it may not be. If you’ve been presented with an offer, resist the urge to quickly—and blindly—accept the offer and instead take some time to take a step back and fully weigh the pros and cons. If the deal isn’t in your best interests, then be bold and negotiate in your best interest. In the end, if the offer just isn’t right for you, it may be the wise thing to say no to a promotion and continue to do your current job to the best of your abilities until a better offer comes along.

About the author

Eric Titner

Eric is a NYC-based editor and writer, with years of experience in career-focused content development across a wide range of industries.