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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

3 Times Turning Down a Promotion Is Better for Your Career

The words “We’d like to promote you” are often a cue to celebrate. However, even when a promotion comes with more accolades, recognition, and dollar bills, it also come with a lot more responsibility. And in most cases, this is exactly what you want.

But, sometimes, it’s not the best option for you right now. And yet, it’s still hard to say no, especially when you consider the perks (read: money) that come attached with the advancement.

However, not all promotions are good promotions. Here are three signs that you should turn it down—no matter how nice it sounds to be able to afford to buy lunch regularly.

1. Your Current Responsibilities Already Keep You Up at Night

If you’re juggling a bunch of things that are really stressful, that’s perfectly normal. However, if you’re being offered a promotion to more advanced versions of those really stressful things, it’s probably not a great time for you to accept. This probably sounds like common sense on paper, but here’s what usually happens in this case.

A lot of people I know mistake being overworked as working just the right amount. And sure, there are days when you’ll have to work a lot. But, if you’re stressing out because you’re still not completely confident in your current job, that’s a clear sign that you shouldn’t be adding more to your plate.

While you might think it’s a bad career move to turn it down, I’m going to suggest something controversial (even though it shouldn’t be): Be honest with your boss about why you’re not ready—and what it would take to get you there. Although I have zero qualitative data to support this, I’d argue that a good supervisor would at least be open to this kind of conversation. And at the very least, you won’t lose your current job for being honest. And hey, if it results in the company paying for you to take classes—from leadership to public speaking to photo editing—it all ends well for you.

2. You Wouldn’t Get to Work on Your Favorite Projects Anymore

Here’s something that I know a lot of writers deal with. And also something I’ve learned that most people deal with. Often times a promotion to a new role means stepping away from the thing you really like doing. If you’re excited by the thought of coaching people to do that thing well, you’re probably ready to make the move. But, if you’re having a hard time letting go of that column you just love writing, it’s probably a good sign that you should stay put.

Turning down a promotion to keep doing what you’re doing might sound crazy. A lot of people will probably tell you that “You’re being ridiculous, and you’re going to show your boss you shy away from challenges.” But, when you’re awesome at something you enjoy doing, saying “No thanks for now” isn’t a sign of a lack of willingness to step up. If anything, it’s a good indication that you’re self-aware enough to know that you are what you are.

So, if your boss approaches you about a promotion that would mean saying goodbye to a project or two that you consider your baby, it’s perfectly OK to say that you’d rather not. At least not right now.

3. You’re Being Promoted to a Role That’s Frequently Vacant

This is a mistake I made once—and then never again. I accepted a job that had been vacated a handful of times over the course of a year without considering why it had been available so many times. That year turned out to be the most stressful year of my career.

Some jobs are continually open for valid reasons. Maybe the previous person moved to another city that’s closer to his family. Or maybe everyone who takes it just keep getting promoted themselves. But sometimes, the gig is toxic for one reason or another. The best way to find out what you might be getting yourself into? Reach out to the folks who previously held the role for their thoughts, especially if they’ve moved on from the company. Find out why they left the role—and if they would recommend you take it.

Before I get too ahead of myself, I’m not saying that you should always turn down promotions. Eventually, things will change and you’ll be ready to take more of a leadership role. But, if you’re really convinced that it’s just not the right time, that’s perfectly normal. And you shouldn’t ignore it. Even though you’re saying “no thanks” right now, that doesn’t make you any less qualified for a promotion down the road. And if anything, taking a pass in the short term will only make you more ready for the next opportunity that comes your way.

Photo of a conversation talking courtesy of Shutterstock.