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Demoted at Work? Here's How to Cope

By Maurie Backman – Jan 19, 2018 at 11:18AM

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Sometimes, demotions happen to the best of us. But handling the situation properly is key.

You're sitting at your desk when your boss summons you in for a meeting. And from the moment you walk in the door, you can tell things just don't look good. Moments later, he busts out the news: You're being demoted, and going forward, your job title and responsibilities will be changing (and not for the better).

Getting demoted can be an unpleasant experience to say the least, so it's crucial to know how to handle it. Here are a few things you can do in the face of a demotion.

Professional man meeting with professional woman

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Stay calm

It's natural to get angry or emotional when your boss sits you down and tells you you're getting demoted, but do your best to keep your cool. Not only will this make the remainder of the conversation more bearable for everyone involved, but it'll be a nod in your favor that you remained professional even in the face of bad news.

2. Understand why it happened

Maybe your company merged with another or reorganized, and your demotion is a matter of streamlining and avoiding overlap more so than anything else. Or, perhaps your demotion is the result of your lackluster performance. No matter the case, make sure you leave that discussion with a clear understanding as to why you're being stripped of your current title.

If it turns out that you're to blame, you can ask your manager for the option to reassess the situation in, say, six months' time, which gives you a decent opportunity to prove you can do better. If your demotion has little to do with you, and is more a matter of a large-scale organizational overhaul, then ask to be considered for a promotion once such an opportunity arises. Either way, you may have more options than you think.

3. Talk to HR

If you feel that your demotion is discriminatory or just plain unfair, you may have some recourse. For example, if you were supposedly demoted due to poor performance, but there's no record of such feedback in any of your previous reviews, you may have a leg to stand on. That's why it pays to at least review the situation with a neutral HR representative who can walk you through your options. It could be that the decision to demote you was made independently by your boss, and unjustly so, and that HR might intervene to help you get your old job back.

4. Figure out whether to stay or go

Getting demoted can be not just a huge blow to your ego, but in some cases, your income. And clearly, the last thing you want career-wise is to be taking steps backward. Once you've given yourself some time to process the news of your demotion, think about whether it pays to stay with your company in a lower-level position, or dust off your resume and start looking for new opportunities.

But please, base that decision on what's best for your career, and not just your wounded ego. It could very well be that your company offers a fantastic benefits package that you just won't find elsewhere, or that your new salary, even at a lower position, is still better than what you'll see elsewhere. If that's the case, then resigning could actually end up hurting you logistically and financially, even if it's temporarily good for your pride.

Getting demoted is never an enjoyable position to be in, but the way you handle it could shape your career path, whether immediately or down the road. Besides, they say that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, so if anything, consider your demotion a setback you'll eventually grow to overcome.

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