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How to cope with being demoted at work

Young businessman working late in office looking stressed. Male professional feeling tired while working on laptop in modern office.
If you do find yourself moved to a lower ranking role and you aren’t happy about it, you have time to look for a new job while working. Photo: Getty (Luis Alvarez via Getty Images)

Being promoted at work is a great feeling. You finally feel like your employers have recognised your efforts and there is a real sense of progress and achievement, which can be a huge confidence boost.

Conversely, being demoted can lead to low morale, self-esteem and motivation. Unfortunately, being downgraded in terms of your job title, rank and your responsibilities — often when companies “restructure” their staff — is not uncommon.

More than one in 10 workers have been demoted at some point in their career, according to a survey by staffing firm OfficeTeam. While a few of the demotions were voluntary or attributable to company restructuring, 39% were due to poor performance and 38% were due to an employee who failed to meet expectations following a promotion.


In response, 52% of those who were demoted quit and 47% got upset and lost interest in their work. It isn’t all bad news, however. According to the survey, half of those polled tried to handle the situation as gracefully as possible - and 41% focused on excelling in their new role.

So what is the best way to handle being demoted and how should employers treat those who have been moved to lower-ranking roles?

“Demotion is where an employee is moved to a lower-ranking position than the one they currently or previously occupied,” says Kate Palmer, HR Advice Director at Peninsula.

WATCH: How To Resign Without Burning Bridges

“Demotion can arise for several different reasons, such as a disciplinary sanction or because an employee’s performance in their higher-ranking role is not satisfactory.”

Often, demotions are used as a form of punishment for an employee’s actions, rather than being fired. “Where disciplinary sanctions are concerned, it may be that the employee’s actions were not grave enough to warrant dismissal,” Palmer says. “Still, it would not be reasonable for them to carry on within the particular role. For example, perhaps they have taken advantage of their leadership position by speaking rudely to a member of their team.”

On the other hand, redundancy arises when the requirement for a particular role has either ceased or diminished. “A demotion is not likely to arise from this situation but what is likely to happen is that the employer finds an alternative role for the employee within the company, which may or not be a lower-ranking role,” Palmer adds.

Although being demoted can feel like a huge step back, it’s important to remember that you are still employed — and that things could be worse. If you do find yourself moved to a lower ranking role and you aren’t happy about it, you have time to look for a new job while working.

READ MORE: Is going the extra mile at work always worth it?

Career expert Matthew Warzel, president of MJW Careers, says it is important for someone who has been demoted to remember that ultimately, their employer didn’t want to let them go.

“While a demotion can seem negative, it also shows that the employer still believes in you and your skills and value offerings,” he says. “It means they want to position you for growth, but you must ‘pass’ this step first - which is that lower role - before committing to the current position you just lost.”

However, your second chance may come with more micromanagement, Warzel warns. “But rather than looking at it with a negative connotation, work harder and smarter to grow quicker,” he adds.

“Think of ways you can improve the workflow. Think of ways to make your boss' job easier. Think of ways to standout and go above-and-beyond so you not only meet and exceed your goals, but you can have that succession plan back on track a lot quicker.”

It’s also important for the employer to properly support someone who has been demoted too, rather than giving up on them. After all, the person is still employed by the company and still needs guidance in their new role, even if it comes with fewer responsibilities.

“Regardless of any wrongdoing on the employee’s part, it is always important to consider staff mental health when any action is being taken,” Palmer says. “Therefore, employers may wish to highlight emotional support services that they offer. In addition, it may also be helpful to set actionable goals with the employee in the hopes that they may, in the future, work their way back up to the higher-ranking position.”

Careers Clinic
Careers Clinic