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How to Turn Down a Promotion

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Getting called into your boss’s office with good news isn’t always as good as it seems. There are plenty of reasons why you want to pass on a promotion, even when it comes with a pay raise. Some wish to remain individual contributors, others can’t take the added responsibility for personal reasons, and often the math doesn’t work in your favor if the increased salary isn’t really a raise after factoring in more hours. If you like your job and want to remain, here’s how to turn down a promotion the right way.

Take time to consider the offer

Don’t turn it down immediately, even if you suspect this isn’t the right path for your career goals. Take steps to understand the offer and ask questions about the new role, new team and responsibilities. After you’ve thought it over and have specific reasons for turning it down, schedule a meeting with your manager.

Be specific

There’s no way around it, it’s going to be an awkward conversation, but you can make it as professional as possible by being clear and direct. Tell your boss the reasons you don’t want it. If you love being an individual contributor and want to keep growing your technical skills, elaborate on that. Often promotions come with increased responsibility, hours, or change in location. If you are taking care of ailing family members or the promotion means a move across the country and your kids are high school, you can explain that you value the company and your work, but your family circumstances need to take priority.

Lay out your career goals

Even if you don’t want to move up the ranks to middle and upper management explain what you do want to achieve in the short and long term. Do you want to take on new projects but not in a role where you need to manage people? Do you want to hone technical skills? Or perhaps you have your eye on a lateral move to another department where you’ll be able to develop complimentary skills. Whatever the goals, be sure your conversation includes details about why you like working with the company and the mutually beneficial aspects of remaining in your current role. This will help put your manager’s fears to rest about why you are turning down the promotion and will help them build their team with your best strengths in mind.

Work with your manger to define ongoing success for you and the organization

As part of working to redefine your goals, you’ll need to ensure that what you both consider success in six or 12 months is well defined. Some managers just assume you want more money and a promotion and will write that into annual reviews. Again, the burden will be on you to define what success will look like. If your goal is to further develop technical skills, success down the road may be that you’ve helped the company save money or productivity by fine-tuning an operations method or automation program. Whatever it is, be sure it’s spelled out!

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About the Author

Kristin Amico is a career and business writer who spent more than a decade managing creative teams at digital agencies. She has written for The Muse, The Independent and USA Today.