Going through a demotion can be a traumatic experience. Whether the demotion is voluntary or involuntary, demoted employees often feel embarrassment and some sense of failure. This is natural.
No matter what the true reasons for a particular demotion are, many of the demoted employee’s co-workers see a demotion as inherently negative, so the employee’s embarrassment is somewhat justified. Not succeeding at a higher position brings the sense of failure.
In time, the employee may see the demotion as the best career move he or she ever made, but at the moment, it is a challenge. Making a smooth demotion transition is key to long-term success.
Assess What Caused the Demotion
Demotions are caused by many things. Some of those causes relate to an employee’s actions. Others are completely outside an employee’s control. Some demotions are caused by several contributing factors.
Employees are often demoted for poor performance. This tends to happen after an employee is promoted within the organization. The employee would not have merited the promotion had that employee not had outstanding performance in the previous position. Once assuming the higher-level role, the employee’s performance slips. The employee turns from a productive lower-level employee to an unproductive higher-level one. A demotion reverses this, but the demotion is a blow to the employee. The pre-promotion situation can never be completely replicated.
Demotions can also happen because of situational factors. Budget cuts and reductions in full-time equivalent positions compel organizations to shuffle their staff around. Government organizations have strict policies on carrying out these management-directed demotions. Employees’ tenure and documented performance evaluations often come into play.
Knowing what happened is the first step in the learning process. When bad things happen, the least you can do is learn from them. Lessons learned can be implemented to prevent future mistakes.
Process Your Emotions
Once you’ve gained an intellectual understanding of what happened, the next thing to do is process your emotions. Depending on just how emotionally impacted you are, you might have to address is partly before moving onto intellectual understanding.
Processing your emotions allows you to be strategic when you communicate your version of the events leading up to your demotion.
Be Tactfully Honest About the Demotion
Whenever people are hired, fired, promoted, demoted or transferred, others in the organization speculate about what went into those decisions. As a demoted employee, you’re the only one who can set the record straight. Your manager is limited in what he or she can say, and people will be skeptical because the manager has a duty to protect confidentiality. The demoted employee has an obvious bias, and intelligent people recognize that, but this person’s story is the closest thing to the truth others can reasonably expect to get.
Even if the demotion was a horrible experience, you can play up the positive aspects. Instead of saying, for example, that your manager had unrealistic expectation that no one could have lived up to, you could say that you felt like you could not meet the expectations of the position. The latter statement deflects blame from your manager and shows you recognize why the demotion happened.
Tact and honesty show maturity. You show the organization that you can be disappointed yet refrain from insubordination and subversion. Honesty helps you retain credibility with your colleagues. Be careful not to go overboard with the honesty. Brutal honesty is tactless and shows a lack of discretion.
Keep a Positive Attitude
You don’t have to like the demotion, but you do have to maintain a positive attitude. No one expects a demoted employee to be whistling through the halls the day after the demotion is announced. On the other hand, no one wants Oscar the Grouch or Debbie Downer permeating the office culture.
A positive attitude in a bad situation shows grace and gratitude. Like with honesty, you can go overboard. Others perceive unrealistic positivity as phony and evasive.
Head off Gossip
People are going to talk. They are going to speculate, and those speculations will become rumors. You may not hear the rumors since they are about you. Tactful honesty and a positive attitude go a long way in squelching rumors. If you find out about a rumor, address it head-on. You don’t have to address it in front of everyone. If you address it with one person, that story will spread as fast as the rumor.
End the Transition
People expect a transition when someone is demoted. What they don’t expect is for the hurt feelings and awkwardness to last forever. Make sure the transition actually ends. Put an end to your old role and embrace your new one.