Dealing with demotion

David Craik explains how to stay on top when your job is taken away

It’s the beginning of a working day and your boss calls you into their
office. There’s little time for pleasantries as they inform you that you will
be demoted from your present position. You are naturally very shocked, and
questions immediately flash into your mind: what are my family and colleagues
going to think? Will they accuse me of being a failure? Should I continue
working for this company with reduced status and pay?

"You must tell yourself that you can cope with being demoted,"
says Edinburgh-based chartered corporate psychologist, Ben Williams. "Of
course, such news will not be welcome, but the key is to maintain your
self-esteem. You must remind yourself that you have coped with other upheavals
in your life before, be they bereavement, financial difficulties, health
concerns or divorce. Keep telling yourself you can survive this."

Demotion, continues Williams, is becoming an increasingly popular tool for
employers in a number of different circumstances. Employees, he says, must
recognise these reasons when they initially react to news of their own

"Many organisations are downsizing, and you may be asked to take a job
at a lower level. If this happens, your reaction may be to just look at the
bright side – at least you survived!" says Williams.

"Your company may be in a bad way economically, and you are being
demoted with the aim of promoting you back again when the financial outlook is
brighter. Or you may have been demoted for disciplinary reasons or because you
were promoted beyond your capabilities. You may not have been coping, and your
responsibilities are therefore being taken away."

No matter what reasons lie behind a demotion, each one has a serious
psychological impact. Williams calls it ‘status anxiety’ – a new phrase for
‘keeping up with the Jones’s’.

"There are some very hierarchical businesses where this anxiety will
hit you harder than others, such as graded jobs, where it is obvious that you
have come down a level. But you must make the best of a bad job," Williams
explains. "You must still use your work as a chance to show what you can
do. It is time for you to pour on the motivation, and not to send your CV to
recruitment agencies. Remember, you may be moved back up again."

However, David Cots, deputy director of research at The Work Foundation, is
not optimistic that an employee’s reaction to demotion will be a positive one.
"It must be very demotivating for employees. From the employer’s point of
view, it is extremely bad HR practice because your employee will want to leave.
They will look at their loss of status and inevitable loss of pay, and may look
at their contract of employment and make a claim for constructive

Williams also believes this route is one open to employees who have been
demoted, but also he urges caution – "because the employer may have a
legally sound reason for their decision, including having other candidates more
suited to your position available."

Because of the negative consequences of demotion for all concerned, Cots
says that it is unlikely that organisations will use it as HR policy. "I
don’t think that this is common," he says. "I certainly haven’t had
much experience of it."

If employers are tempted, however, Cots urges them to find alternatives.
"If you have identified that an employee is struggling in their job, you
should have an adequate appraisal system in place so that they can improve
their performance," says Cots. "It is all down to performance
management. I think that it would be better to part company with an employee
rather than demote."

Top tips to stay afloat

– Identify the reason behind your
demotion. It may be a financial decision of the company – not because of your
personal performance

– Tell yourself that you can cope with the demotion as you have
coped with other hard times in your life

– Keep your self-esteem high

– Don’t be demotivated. Instead pour on the motivation, work
hard, and you may be promoted back to your lost position

– Do not seek other employment, or hide away

– Investigate whether you could make a claim for constructive
dismissal by first looking at your employment contract – but be careful

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