Dealing with demotion

You thought you were doing a good job. Sure the job was tough but you could handle it. But last week your boss told you some of your responsibilities were going to someone else. In fact, you're going back to your old job.

Demoted: what a shock.

This scenario is becoming more commonplace today as companies lay off people or reassign them. Why? Middle layers are being removed, as work teams are given more power to manage themselves. More reshuffling is occurring because technology is leaving some people behind. Rising costs and world class service expectations are squeezing companies everywhere.

And as the game gets more competitive, companies are assessing the cards they have and deciding whether to discard employees or draw some new ones to put them in a better position to win. But what do you do when the corporate deck is shuffled, and you're dealt a losing hand?

If you've been passed over, demoted, reassigned to a lesser job or reorganized into a corner, here are some thoughts to guide you:

1.      The first thing to manage is your bruised ego. Be careful not to burn any bridges. Anger is natural but watch what you say to those around you. You need time to sort out your options. It's likely people will come up to you and ask you what your opinion is about your situation, but it's best to deflect their remarks with a neutral response. For example, "I really don't know what to think right now...I'm going to assess my options before I make any decisions."

If you sound bitter or angry it could make the situation worse...not only will it give people more juice to gossip about, it will put you in a weaker political position if you decide to stay.

2.      Find out the real reason for the demotion. Are you the only one? Is it because of a large restructuring or is it your performance? The answer will tell you if you still have a career with this company.

If you are the only person who has been bumped, did they "reorganize" to get you out of your old spot with a minimum of fuss? Sometimes companies are unwilling to confront the real problem because it's sensitive--so they take the "easy" way out. Unfortunately, it's obvious to everyone what is going on and the employee is humiliated publicly. It would be more respectful to tell the person the truth and deal with it.

Try to stand back and assess your situation. If the job seems empty, your company might be hoping you get the hint and leave on your own. If you haven't been told about a performance problem it might be because your boss was afraid of your reaction. It's important to get the truth so you can make the necessary changes.

Ask for the truth when you are composed and ready to handle it. Whatever you hear, delay your reaction. Ask many questions to get as much detail as you can. It's important to draw people out and make them feel safe in telling you the truth. If you become overly defensive or angry, you will shut down any hope of honest feedback.

3.      Ask yourself if you really want this scaled back job. If you're better suited for it, it could actually be more satisfying and less stressful. If you like the company and your co-workers, it may be worth staying. And if you're close to retirement, looking for a new job may not be a good alternative.

However, if you feel your career has been permanently damaged at your company and you have ambitions that will never be realized where you are, take steps to leave--but do it discreetly. If you don't leave, your resentment is likely to hurt your performance and could bubble to the surface in ways that eventually could get you fired.

The answers to these questions will help you to face your co-workers, your family and yourself. They will also help you decide whether to stay or leave.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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