When your coworkers' big smiles and congratulatory sentiments fade, only you know whether or not accepting that big promotion is a good idea. But what happens when you just aren't ready or willing to accept the increased demands that accompany your fancy new title? Instead of grinning and bearing it, be honest with your employer and politely refuse the promotion. Although you bear some risk that your action will negatively affect your career's future prospects, saying no may be the smartest decision you've ever made.
Ask for time to consider the offer. If you haven't officially heard the news yet but strongly suspect it's on its way, plan to ask your manager for time to think it over. Simply say, "I'm flattered. Thank you so much for this opportunity. I'd like to take a few days to think it over." Don't forget to smile and make eye contact.
Ask yourself difficult questions and sleep on it. Are you turning down the job because you don't like your new manager or because you're afraid of the new workload? Or is it because the promotion requires a cross-country move and your elderly parents live nearby? Turning down a promotion -- especially in a difficult job market -- can be career suicide if not done for the right reasons. Your employer won't want to hear that you're not interested in working with difficult staff members or that you aren't interested in putting in the extra hours. But if your reasons are specific and personal, you're in a better position to negotiate.
Schedule a meeting with the hiring manager and be honest; don't keep the company waiting on tenterhooks for days on end. Once you've reached a decision, promptly schedule a meeting and prepare your thoughts. Forbes notes that honesty is essential; provide specifics as to why you cannot accept the new role. For example, you might say, "My children are graduating high school within the next two years and my wife and I are not comfortable moving them at this time. My concern is that I won't be able to perform at the level the company deserves if this personal matter is on my mind. At this time, I believe choosing another candidate who can fully embrace the role is the better move."
Identify your career plans. Since turning down a promotion may come as a shock to your superiors, identify your job progression plans during the meeting. Demonstrate your commitment to your role and the company by defining your career strategy. You may say something like, "I'm very interested in maintaining my career progression here when the time is right, however."
Offer to help the company by temporarily handling the new role while they look for a new candidate. Because promotions sometimes arise when an immediate need is identified, demonstrate your willingness to be a team player by handling the new responsibilities temporarily. CNN suggests sitting in on the hiring committee as a way to speed the process along -- which also ensures you don't get stuck in the new role indefinitely.
Lisa Bigelow is an independent writer with prior professional experience in the finance and fitness industries. She also writes a well-regarded political commentary column published in Fairfield, New Haven and Westchester counties in the New York City metro area.