5 Tips for Recovering From a Demotion

When the boss tells you that you’re being reassigned or reclassified, you still know that no matter the fancy title, it still looks, smells, and feels like a demotion.

Few things in your professional life – aside from being fired or laid off – are more debilitating emotionally than being demoted.

But after years of downsizings and cutbacks, that’s exactly what many employees have faced. Some have tried to put a positive spin on it. After all, they still have a job don’t they? But that doesn’t take the sting out of the fact that they’ve gone down the ladder and now perhaps have even further to go to attain their goals.

While your first reaction to a demotion may be to quit and decide to launch that dryer lint-cleaning business you’ve always dreamed about, that isn’t the best move. For one, quitting means the paychecks stop, and that’s pretty devastating for anyone who has car payments, school loans, a mortgage and kids to support. And two, quitting doesn’t accomplish anything other than putting you in the unemployment line with thousands of others and possibly facing the same consequences in the future.

How do you keep your cool and get past such a difficult period? Some steps you need to take after a demotion include:

  1. Dealing with the emotions. You need a chance to rant and rave or have a good cry after a demotion, but find somewhere private to do it. Don’t try to brush your feelings aside or they may pop up when you least want them to – like having a sobbing fit in your cubicle with co-workers watching.
  2. Understanding the reasons. Once you’ve got your emotions under control, sit down with the boss and try to get a clear idea of what might have gone wrong. Tell him or her that you’re interested in focusing on the problems and fixing them. It could be, the boss will tell you, that it’s merely industry restructuring, and it’s happening throughout the company. In that case, maybe you should look at your future job security not only with your current employer, but within the industry.
  3. Looking down the road. Do you need to think about training and additional schooling in another area? Maybe jobs in your industry are being sent overseas or phased out because of technology. In that case, you need to seriously look at how you can get training in areas that are expected to grow and prosper.
  4. Getting down to the nitty gritty. If the boss tells you that your demotion was based on performance, try to get some specific instances of where you failed to meet expectations. Don’t be defensive, because this will just shut down communications and make the boss unwilling to work with you. Listen and take notes and try to look for a pattern that the boss also has spotted. Were you consistently unprepared for meetings? Did you fail to meet project deadlines? Did co-workers complain that you were uncooperative? Ask the boss if he would help you set some new goals and meet with you in the coming weeks and months to see if you’re on track. Keep in mind that the boss obviously believes you still have something to offer or she would have fired you instead of just giving you a demotion.
  5. Think long term. If you plan to leave your job as soon as you can get another, remember that your behavior after this demotion could be the most lasting image of you for a boss or colleagues. If you want to have good recommendations or preserve your professional reputation, don’t provide ammunition that can be used against you by acting surly, defiant and obnoxious. Stay upbeat and focused so nary a word can be said against you.

Whether you decide to tough it out and earn back your old job (or an even better one), or leave the employer after a demotion, take the time to learn from it. Was there anything you wish you had done differently?

Maybe you should have turned down the job when first offered because it wasn’t a good fit. Or, perhaps you should have been better organized while at work and spent less time gossiping with co-workers and goofing around on Facebook. Use what happened to do some soul-searching and find out how you can avoid tripping again in the future.

Anita Bruzzese

Anita Bruzzese is a syndicated columnist for Gannett/USA Today on workplace issues and the author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy.” She has been on the Today show, and quoted in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, Self.com and BusinessWeek.com. Her website, 45things.com, is listed on the Forbes top 100 websites for women.

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  • abrakadabra

    that was slap on the face! so true! every word is so very true, I’m in the bad phase of my career and this surely did help me! thanks !

    [Reply]

    Intuit QuickBase Reply:

    Glad we could help! Thank you again Anita!

    [Reply]

  • Realist

    I’ve recently been presented with this choice, due to political games within the company (performance slouch is much better at posterior kissing than anyone else, so she was slated for a promotion).

    Here’s the fact: if you know your worth, you don’t give them an inch. I was easily able to obtain a comparable job within the industry, so I told them in no uneven terms that demotion is unacceptable. They relented immediately.

    When you get back in, make sure you renegotiate any dismissal clauses and protect yourself very, very well.

    When you have an upper hand, you use it. That is the law of free market.

    [Reply]