When the rumor or announcement of an impending layoff starts to make its way through a company, all employees are bound to be nervous. Depending on the situation, the company may lay off large numbers of lower-level employees or a smaller number of supervisors or administrators with high salaries or overlapping responsibilities. Some employees may be given the option of a demotion instead of a layoff.
The practice of "bumping" is common in agriculture, but less common in other industries in the United States. In companies that have a bumping system, a laid-off employee always has the right to take a transfer or demotion to a lower-ranked position. Whoever previously held that position can do the same, "bumping" the next-lowest person. Only the employees with the lowest rank or least seniority end up being laid off, while everyone above them is demoted. While most companies don't use the bumping system and most supervisors have never heard of it, your supervisor might be willing to consider it.
Outside of the agricultural industry, bumping is usually referred to as a survivor demotion. Most employees are not offered this option because it either doesn't occur to their supervisors at all or their supervisors assume they wouldn't be interested. In some situations, accepting a survivor demotion could hurt your long-term career prospects. For instance, a journalist who accepted a survivor demotion to the mail room might be perceived by others as having been humiliated by the company. This could make it harder to get back into journalism in the future.
When It Makes Sense
Asking for a survivor demotion might be the smart move in certain circumstances. If unemployment is high in your field and you expect to face a lot of competition for another job equivalent to the one you hold currently, a survivor demotion could help you buy time while you wait for the job situation to improve. Asking for a survivor demotion can also be the right course of action if you can afford to live on a reduced income but cannot afford to spend any time unemployed. Finally, some people do such a good job at something they really enjoy that they eventually get promoted out of that position into an administrative role they find less rewarding. Accepting a survivor demotion in this situation could make you happier with your career by getting you back into the job you liked most.
How to Bring It Up
If you suspect that you're about to be laid off and you would like to ask for a survivor demotion, expect your supervisor to be surprised. Many people have never even heard of this option and some perceive it as a loss of face. Explain your reasons for wanting to stay with the company in a lower-ranked position and point out that your company will retain the benefit of your skill and experience rather than having to train a new person for the position. Make sure that whatever position you are being demoted to is not being considered for layoffs in the foreseeable future.
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