How to Cope With a Demotion at Work

By Robert Half on August 9, 2018 at 6:00am

You thought you were doing fine, even moving up the ladder at your company, and then you got called into your boss’s office. A promotion or a raise, you thought — or, with a wave of panic, could it be a termination? No, the reason for the meeting was that you were getting demoted.

What? A demotion is defined as a reduction in work level. It’s the downgrading of your job title, rank or status, with terms like “reorganization” or “reassignment.” It’s not uncommon in the workplace. A new OfficeTeam survey shows nearly half (46 percent) of HR managers said their companies have demoted employees.

The reasons for a demotion at work

Why would someone get demoted? It could be the result of something they did or didn’t do, or it could be beyond their control. Here are the reasons cited in the survey:

  • Poor performance 
  • A recent promotion that wasn’t working out
  • Elimination of the position or organizational restructuring
  • Employee’s request to take a lower role

What to do if you get demoted

An involuntary demotion can be a blow to your ego, your career and your bank account. It could be a wake-up call that your skills aren’t up to par or simply a result of your company downsizing or undergoing a merger.

Your first inclination may be to turn in your resignation letter and start looking for another job. But that’s not necessarily your best move. Following are five steps to take after a demotion at work.

1. Assess what happened

The first thing is to find out why your company is taking this action and to calmly reflect on it. Was it a disciplinary action? A performance-related issue? The elimination of your position? You might ask questions such as these:

  • “Can I have a little more time in the position to improve?”
  • “Can you describe my new role?”
  • “Can you outline the transition plan?”
  • “What if I don’t want to take the position you’re offering?”
  • “How will the demotion be communicated?”

2. Be open to feedback

Consider the possibility that your manager considers you a valuable employee and wants you to be successful in a role that better suits your current skills. Ask if there are concerns about your performance or attitude or if there are ways you can improve your job skills. Listen for helpful suggestions, and don’t discount the possibility of a better offer opening up later at your company, in the same department or another one.

3. Reach out to your support system

Don’t underestimate the toll a demotion can take on your emotions. You might feel rejected or unappreciated, and you may need to seek support from friends, family, or even mentors and counselors outside the workplace.

Robert Half can help you stay up to date on the latest job market trends, find opportunities and dodge obstacles in your professional path.

4. Create an action plan

Find a way to frame the demotion as an opportunity to strengthen your skills or performance and strategize where you want to go with your career. Focus on identifying specific steps you can take to regain your confidence. Seek opportunities to invest in yourself with professional development training. If you decide to stay in the lower-level job, consider how you can do your very best.

5. Figure out whether to stay or leave

If you decide to explore the employment waters and plan for your departure, you’ll need to update your resume, initiate networking activities, ask for referrals, research companies and start your job search. This may be an ideal time to work with a staffing agency to make connections with employers.

How to Cope With a Demotion at Work — Demoted at Work infographic


46% of companies have demoted an employee, according to HR managers.

The reason for the demotion?

39% Poor performance
38% Employee was recently promoted but not succeeding in new role
16% Organizational restructuring/position eliminated
6% Voluntary demotion

(Responses do not total 100 percent due to rounding.)

More than 1 in 10 workers (14%) have been demoted.

What did they do in response?

52% Quit the job
50% Tried to handle the news as gracefully as possible
47% Got upset and lost interest in work
41% Focused on excelling in the new position

(Respondents who said they have been demoted. Multiple responses allowed.)

Source: OfficeTeam surveys of more than 300 HR managers and more than 1,000 workers in the United States

© 2018 OfficeTeam. A Robert Half Company. An Equal Opportunity Employer M/F/Disability/Veterans.

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