A big part of who we are, as an individual, is defined by the work we do. What we do for a living, directly translates us being into constructive and contributory individuals, and we tie our sense of pride, or even self-worth to our job. In such a situation, if one is demoted, they can crumble like a pack of cards, if they aren’t prepared.
A demotion, or the sizing down of roles and responsibilities, often accompanied by a step down in the hierarchy of the organisation and a pay-cut, can throw anyone off-course, specially, if it is unexpected. Probably the biggest reason behind this is the fact that humans let their ego take the blow, and instead of acting rationally, they become a loose cannon, for they equate a demotion with insult. More than the fact that your designation or salary has changed, things like reallocation of projects, reporting to someone younger or inexperienced or a former subordinate, and being excluded from big and important discussions often lead people to have either of the two extreme reactions. One, they consider it a personal assault on their career, and quit as soon as possible and burn bridges while doing so (often wrongly assuming that the ship will sink without them); and two, they fade into the background, and become careless and irresponsible with their new role, often, without realising, creating problems for everyone.
In today’s corporate world, the truth is that almost everybody, including the top leadership, is replaceable. You need to understand that just because you were doing a job well, doesn’t mean anyone else cannot do it better than you. Furthermore, a demotion is usually preceded by a few warnings – official and unofficial – and if you haven’t been able to comprehend them, there obviously is a gap between how you perceive your work and how your seniors do it. Hence, if you don’t want this step to become a dark patch on your resume later, here’s what you should do:
- Do some serious introspection: Your reduced role may actually give you time to reassess your career goals, and answer questions you have been avoiding for a long time. If you skills and abilities haven’t been as valuable as you thought they were, maybe it is time to brush them up, or even consider changing your area of expertise. Once you recognise the value of things that you have lost – and what they mean to you – you will have much better perspective, and what you should do ahead.
- Don’t ask people to pick sides: No matter how popular you were as a leader or colleague, do not ask friends and other workers to pick sides, and come out in your support, explicitly and implicitly. Not only are you putting them in a tough spot, but also clearly communicating that you are going to create trouble for the person who has taken your place. Refrain from criticizing the changes, or constantly comparing things to when you were at the helm.
- Your reaction matters: Your immediate and long-term reaction is very important, and is often under scrutiny. Even when you are informed of the decision, take it with a pinch of salt, understand what the changes will be, and refrain from making any protests or comments immediately. Go back to your work station, and take some time to compose yourself before you react. Furthermore, as you settle into your new role, everyone will be watching how you deal with it. So expression of contempt, disdain, or trash-talking the person who has taken your role will travel quickly. A high level of maturity in dealing with the demotion can help you a lot in the future.
- Understand your role: Seek clarifications and understand what prompted the decision. Was it only your performance, or is it a larger part of the restructuring going on in the organisation? How many people were demoted, or shifted to other roles? Many a times, factors outside of your performance and control influence these decisions, and before you recede into a shell, it is essential to understand these factors, in order to create a better response.
- Don’t resist: When the time comes to parting with your office, or supplies, or resources, do not resist the change. In fact, walk an extra mile to ensure things go smoothly without you. This will be beneficial, as your successors will value the work you have already done, and if your systems and procedures are fool-proof, they are likely to speak in your absence, which can later be used to make a case for your reinstating, if needed.
- Stick to your new role: The fact that you were deemed unfit to take on certain roles and responsibilities means that you have to prove your worth and value to the organisation again. Hence, if you plan to stay, begin fixing things, and the first step to the same is by taking your new role, even if it reduced or uses half of your skill set, very seriously. Ask for your new set of roles and responsibilities in writing if possible, so that there is absolutely clarity regarding what you are expected to do.
- Quitting is beyond the last option: If you give up in the face of a challenge, it reflects more on you than the challenger. And at the end of the day, you still have a job – and you still have a chance to turn it all around. This is better than a lot of people have it, and you now have more time and energy to focus on lesser tasks. Leaving your job, just because your ego is hurt will impact your career more adversely than you can imagine. Hence, consider quitting as an option which comes after the last option you have.
To conclude, a job demotion can be a devastating and difficult experience, but no matter what, you shouldn’t let it trick you into taking momentary decisions. It will be difficult to muster genuine support to the changes taking place, but for your own sake, you must do it. Resisting the change will only make it harder on you, and by embracing it, you still get a chance to redeem yourself. After the initial wrath and impulse of denial, followed by quitting is washed away, weigh your options and take a decision that best suits you. Good luck!