How to Thrive After an Involuntary Demotion

Professionally dressed woman shrugging in confusion after an involuntary demotion.
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An involuntary demotion is a traumatic experience. Whether it was caused by poor job performance or for reasons outside the employee’s control, getting bumped down the organizational chart requires a metaphorical dusting off and a conscious effort to move forward.

An involuntary demotion does not have to be the first step in a downward spiral. It can be the start of a new beginning. You may look back on it five years later and see it as a turning point toward higher levels of success than you ever imagined. Take the following actions to help you thrive after an involuntary demotion.

Assess What Happened

Involuntary demotions do not happen out of the blue, and there is rarely just one reason they occur. There is often a set of several circumstances that work together or happen concurrently to propel an organization or manager to demote someone. When you find yourself demoted, you should honestly assess what happened.

While there are many factors that lead to an involuntary demotion, they can generally be divided into two categories: performance and situational factors. Involuntary demotions for performance are directly related to how well the demoted employee was doing their job. The employee was not meeting the manager’s expectations, but the manager did not find the employee to be a total loss for the organization.

One common situation organizations find themselves in is when a star employee is promoted from a non-supervisory role to a supervisory role. If the employee is a poor supervisor, the team loses a top-notch performer and gains a subpar supervisor. If organizations recognize and correct the mistake of promoting this otherwise great employee, they help everyone involved. It may sting for the employee who is accustomed to success, but it is better to set that person up for continued success than to leave the person in an unsuitable role. Sometimes an employee is self-aware enough to voluntarily demote.

Situational factors are beyond the employee’s control. Perhaps the organization has too many people in one type of job, but they need more in a lower-level job. Perhaps the organization is experiencing budget cuts and simply cannot afford to keep the same numbers of staff at current levels. An organization may institute a reduction in force plan that moves less tenured managers back into individual contributor positions. These things happen in private organizations, nonprofits, and all levels of government.

Find the Lessons

After you know the facts surrounding your demotion, analyze them to find the lessons you can apply now and in the future. In doing this, you increase the chances that you won’t find yourself in a similar situation in the future.

If you were demoted for performance, get as much feedback as you can about why you did not pass muster in your old position. The temptation is to keep quiet about the experience. Fight that urge, and be brave enough to ask uncomfortable questions.

Maybe that job was your dream job, and you still want to be in that role. If you aspire to get back to that job someday, you must modify your behavior or skills and eventually show that you are in a different place professionally. What are two or three things you can do differently now to get you where you want to be in the future?

If you were demoted because of factors outside your control, look for signs that you may have missed. When you look back, there may be things that are clear now that were obscured then. What signs can you look for in the future that can indicate trouble ahead? If your organization is constantly thrown into turmoil by external forces, it may be time to find a more stable place to work.

Adjust Your Personal Budget

Involuntary demotions usually come with salary reductions. Make corresponding adjustments to your personal budget. You cannot maintain the same lifestyle on less money. Make the necessary budget changes immediately. Failing to do so will only add to your stress.

Do a Good Job

You’ve suffered a career setback. The best thing you can do for yourself at this point is to do a good job in the position where you are placed. Show you are still a valuable contributor and that you can roll with the punches. When a promotional opportunity opens in the future, your mature handling of an involuntary demotion and solid contribution afterward can only work in your favor.

Re-evaluate Your Career Goals

In light of your job change, you need to re-evaluate your career goals. They may be the same as they were before, but you must go through the thought process to make sure. While you may be ready for a promotion in the future, that simply may not be in the cards for you.

If you are determined to advance up the ladder, an involuntary demotion may just be a small dip in a 30-year upward trajectory. But presently, you don’t know which direction it will take. Be honest with yourself, and don’t lose heart.