When Is It Okay to Turn Down a Promotion

By: Together Abroad 05-12-2016 9:21 AM
Categories: * Ethics ,

Most of us celebrate when we receive a job promotion offer. And why should we not? Perhaps our boss finally recognizes the hard work we put in, or being the first to come into the office and the last to leave, or landing the company that client or project that was out of our league… Whatever the reason, your boss is saying: “Hey, there is an opening for a better position and we thought of you first”.

But what if you feel apprehension? Or end up having a sleepless night thinking of the promotion rather than a celebratory drink? Well, not all promotions are good, and certainly not all promotions come at the right time. Here are some factors to consider.

More Responsibility

A promotion often implies more responsibility. You have proven your worth and are clearly able to manage with the responsibility you already have, so it is time to add some more. However, contrary to what your boss may think, you may be barely managing as it is, and the thought of more responsibility is too taxing. It could be that having to deal with more clients or colleagues or larger projects is not for you at this time in your life.

When your plate is full at work and you feel you are already doing too much, then unless the promotion involves a new function you really like or is in a new department you want to work in, moving one step up may not be for you. It could mean working extra hours to fulfill what is already overwhelming, or a decline in the quality of your work to tackle the extra responsibilities. Think carefully about what the promotion entails exactly regarding new responsibilities, and whether you are up for them.

Work-Life Balance

All work and no play is no fun. If the promotion means more hours at the office, or a more tired you every time you come home, unable to enjoy your evening with your partner or your buddies, or to give attention to your kids and so on, then consider if it is worth it. There needs to be a sustainable work-life balance for every individual, and this varies according to our personalities, priorities and ambitions. What is important is to still be able to have some fun, whether alone or with others, and to be able to do it with some energy.

If home life or hobbies might become a chore with more work, or sitting on the couch barely able to keep your eyes open seems likely, then your quality of life might reduce with the new promotion. Perhaps you would rather spend more time sporting, or finally reading the books on your list, or attending your kids games and performances at school, or picking up a new study…

The Bigger Paycheck

Yes, we all want the bigger paycheck and we would like to do less for it. Alas, wishful thinking, I know. Sometimes though, the bigger paycheck is not really an overall improvement, especially with the extra responsibilities or hours. And, shockingly, you could actually end up earning less! Here are some factors to think about:

Taxes – in some countries like the Netherlands, a promotion could put you in a higher income tax bracket whereby the money gained does not offset the higher taxes, so your net gain is less.

Benefits – what kind of benefits do you gain (if any) with the promotion? Think of transportation costs, healthcare supplement, school fee subsidies (for your kids) etc. When you do not have extra benefits but they are introduced with the promotion, these may have advantages; however, if you are already privy to some, then check if you will gain more with the promotion.

Bonuses – if your job is involved with bonuses, for example sales, then consider whether a promotion is worth it. If you still have to take on more work and raise the bar on the targets to achieve to get the bonus, then you might have to do much more for the extra money you earn.


As you can see, it is well worth the ego boost to be appreciated and offered a promotion, but do not accept blindly. Find out what the promotion entails and whether this is suitable to your needs at present. If the main motivation is money, then make sure you do the right calculations because a promotion may mean you end up with less income or with the same fringe benefits. Regardless though, you should always turn down your boss properly, by explaining in a business-like manner why you are currently declining the position. In other words, twist the reason into a positive one, so that they do not think you shy away from challenges.


Samir Rawas Sarayji

Photo credits: Designed by Freepik

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