Taking a Rain Check on a Promotion

As the year draws to a close, some employees will be rewarded for their strong performances with a promotion to a higher-level or managerial position. But what if an employee doesn’t want the added responsibilities of a promotion right now due to personal circumstances or other factors, and would rather keep his or her current job? In a Q&A feature carried by The New York Times, careers columnist Matt Villano offers the following insight on the topic:

Q. How can you decline the opportunity of a promotion without derailing your career?

It is important to follow your heart, but you need to do it in a way that conveys a commitment to your organization. “You have to be diplomatic,” said Phil Wilkins, chief executive of Diverse Wealth Systems, a management consulting firm in Lexington, Ky. “It’s O.K. to say, ‘No thanks,’ but you need to couch it in a way that convinces your boss the decision is the right one for both of you and the company.

Q. Are there valid reasons for rejecting a promotion?

In the case of managerial positions, most come with a higher salary, but they also bring more paperwork, additional hours, a new boss. Sometimes, promotions involve relocation. On a more fundamental level, managers do something rank-and-file employees don’t—they manage others. For some people, leading and prodding subordinates is as appealing as camping in Antarctica. Before taking on a managerial role, employees should ask themselves what they want from their careers.

“A key to accepting or declining a job is a fundamental understanding of who you are and what you want,” said Beverly Kaye, chief executive of Career Systems International, a talent management company in Scranton, Pa. “The last thing you want is to wake up one morning and ask, ‘How did I get myself into this?’”

Q. How should you inform the boss of your decision?

Schedule a private, face-to-face conversation, and open by thanking the boss for his consideration and support. Tell him you’re flattered at being offered the opportunity for advancement, but note that this isn’t the right time for that kind of change. And be sure to explain your decision in a firm yet humble tone.

If the boss raises disappointment, don’t apologize. Stever Robbins, an independent career consultant in North Cambridge, Mass., said employees should convey a sense of decisiveness, even if the decision was one they had agonized over.

Q. Should you recommend someone else for the position?

Probably not. If your boss offered you the promotion, he thinks you’re the one to do the job. Dr. Robert Maurer, a clinical psychologist in Santa Monica, Calif., said that nominating a colleague could offend the boss if it seemed to call his original decision into doubt. “Nobody wants to be insulted when they’re giving you a gift,” said Maurer, author of “One Small Step Can Change Your Life” (Workman 2004). “Even if you don’t think you’re right for the job, trust that the boss knows what he’s doing,”

Q. What risks do you run by turning down a new job?

Your boss might think you’re not interested in advancement, and might never consider you for a promotion again, or even start reducing your responsibilities. So go out of your way to show the boss you are not complacent. Stress that your decision is based on circumstances that may change over time. Then inquire about opportunities to help out in ways that won’t alter your routine as much as a new job.

Areva Martin, managing partner of the Los Angeles law firm Martin & Martin, said employees should also offer to take professional development courses and sharpen their leadership skills so they’re ready for other opportunities. “Just show you care,” she said. “If you demonstrate that you’re willing to learn new skills, then you gain more credibility and the boss sees you as someone who may some day be interested in a promotion.”

Q. Can any good come from staying put?

Lots. If you’re happy in your current position, retaining it should keep your job satisfaction high. If you’re part of a team, declining a promotion could also enhance your camaraderie with co-workers who will remain your colleagues, not your subordinates.

Most important, Jerald Jellison, professor of psychology at the University of Southern California, said that a discussion about a promotion could be a great springboard to a broader conversation about your future. While many companies have formal career planning, it never hurts to chat about where you’d like to see yourself in five years. “Ironically, declining a promotion could present a great chance for you to plan ahead,” he said. “If your boss knows what you want and what you’re willing to do to get it, the next promotion that opens up just might be a better fit.”

News from BLK

Bob Larson, CPC, president of BLK, was recently quoted in a New York Times article on the topic of a new concept in education – that of “university for a day.” Various colleges have begun offering day-long programs, classes and seminars aimed specifically at adults interested in intellectual challenge. Bob attended such a program and found the opportunity to return to the academic classroom exciting and stimulating.

Bob Larson, CPC, and Michele Meussner, BLK Business Development Manager, were featured speakers at the Garden State Council – SHRM 15th Annual Conference and Expo, held in early November. Their topic, “The Talent Supply Chain” addressed current employment trends and their impact on staffing and succession planning. The seminar was very well-attended and the speakers warmly received; each attendee also received a copy of the BLK guide to employment, Aim, Shoot, Get Hired!.