How to Handle a Demotion at Work

Illustration of a man sitting on a crashing rocket surrounded by falling money

One of the most humiliating and ego-bruising professional experiences you could ever encounter is a demotion. Like Thanos snapping his fingers in The Avengers, you now see your higher salary, extravagant perks and benefits, and respectable title vanish in an instant. It is disheartening and frustrating, triggering feelings of inadequacy and inferiority.

But is it as all bad as that?

On the bright side, you have a reduced workload, you might have a better work-life balance, and you don’t have to attend any more of those obnoxious high-level luncheons. It is all about perspective – it may be a boon for Jack, but it is devastating for Jill.

Because so many thoughts and feelings are flooding your mind when you’re given the notice, what should you do? Well, for one thing, you should not behave like Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire and take the office goldfish. But what you should do is know how to handle a demotion.

1. Learn Why You Were Demoted

It can take you by surprise when you come into the office on a Wednesday morning and then your superiors inform you that you are changing to a position with lower pay and fewer responsibilities.

Because you are likely in shock, the many questions you should be asking disappeared from your brain. It is only normal for this to happen; it’s like a joke you wanted to tell but only thought of 20 minutes after leaving the situation.

So, here are three things you should do when you been notified of your job demotion:

  • Meet your boss: Request a face-to-face meeting with your boss and understand his final decision to remove you from your duties. You should get as many specific answers as possible.
  • Clarify the move: Just to ensure that you and the company are on the same page, it would be prudent to clarify the move and repeat the reasons you have been given for your demotion. This way, you fully comprehend what happened and the decision that had been made.
  • Request a performance review: To try to improve your employment situation and standing in the company, it would be a good idea to request a comprehensive performance review. By doing this, you can try to fathom what went wrong, what you need to improve on and what your employer does and does not like from your work.

Indeed, it might be tough medicine to swallow, but it is something you need to take to get better and cope with your newfound reality.

2. Hide Your Disappointment

Who wants to be demoted at work? It can be embarrassing, a blow to your pride, and stressful – professionally, financially and emotionally.

After several years of working for the company, this is how your employer repays you. So, of course, you are going to be disappointed and perhaps even irate. But the thing that you need to remember is that you must hide your disappointment.

Nobody will blame you if one of your first reactions is to grab your keyboard and start smashing it on your desk or to saunter to your assistant supervisor and tell them how you really feel.

This is not good behaviour. You must remain cordial, polite and professional during the entire process.

3. Accept Your Demotion

Once the reality has settled in and you had time to assess and absorb the situation, you need to accept your demotion. You could even request for a couple of days off so you can grasp what has just happened; it is a better alternative to collecting your thoughts than getting angry.

So, upon your return, you can accept your new title, new functions and new responsibilities. If you do want to stay with the business and regain your old job, then this is the better route to take than throwing a temper tantrum.

4. Determine the Pros and Cons

Believe it or not, there might be an upside to accepting your demotion and thriving in this position. On the other hand, it may also have a negative effect on your career and make you want to resign from the firm. Whatever the case, it would be prudent for you to determine the pros and cons of your demotion.

How can you do this? You can ask yourself a series of questions:

  • Will this improve your work-life balance?
  • Is the principal-level work overwhelming?
  • Can this demotion give you better opportunities?
  • Will your stress-related health problems subside?
  • What is the job market like right now?
  • Is there an opportunity to regain your old job and get promoted?
  • Are your skills going to be improved upon or diminished?

There are plenty of other questions to ask, but these are the most elementary ones to gage right now.

5. Consider Appealing the Demotion

Do you feel you have been wrongfully demoted? You can always fight the decision, either internally or externally.

You just should remember that there is a risk involved by attempting to appeal the move, so it is critical that you consider your options, the potential blowback and, if it goes wrong, how it could impact your standing in the company and your career.

So, let’s explore your two routes:


As previously noted, you should engage with your boss. If you really think that the demotion is undeserved, then you can convince your supervisor, manager or business owner otherwise. After all, the folks who chose to demote you may have missed something, misconstrued a statement or misunderstood a report.

That said, you should really employ a convincing case, even if you decide to go over your boss’s head and head straight to human resources.


Do you have a case for constructive dismissal?

In employment law, constructive dismissal takes place when the employee resigns because the employer created a toxic or unfair working relationship, meaning that your decision to quit was not voluntary. So, if you have proof that your demotion was unwarranted, then you could have a case.

You have two options: submit a claim to a labour board (if applicable) or retain the services of an employment lawyer. The former is a good move for low-level positions, but the latter might be preferable for principal-level jobs.

6. Document Everything in Writing

Moving forward, you need to have everything in writing. From communications to an employment decision, it will protect you in every avenue to document all interactions. Be sure to properly date, file and record all documentation to ensure that they hold up in a conference with your boss or a courtroom setting.

7. Seek Support from Trusted Sources

Let’s be honest: a demotion can hit you in the gut, especially if you have a family to support. For a long time, you have counted on a steady paycheque and medical benefits. Now, out of nowhere, you’re moving backwards and into a job that you tried your hardest to advance from. Before you know it, you could enter into a bout of depression, which could really side-line you in your career advancement.

One of the best things to do is to seek support from trusted sources. This could consist of a colleague you have known for years and family or friends who have been through it all. Or, if your employment alteration is really getting to you, then it might be wise to seek professional help.

There is no shame in being demoted – it happens everywhere to many people.

8. Consider If You Should Move On

In the end, you may need to decide if moving on is the appropriate move for you to make. You might be able to find the same position at another firm, and potentially for a higher salary. Or you may think that you’re being treated differently by your peers, making it an awkward working relationship.

Should you decide to move on, then be sure to remember the following:

  • Give ample notice: It is professional to extend two weeks’ notice to your employer. You should never just abruptly quit your job because you are upset by the demotion.
  • Keep your job search efforts to yourself: Are you on a job search? If so, keep it to close to your chest and do not inform anybody else, because rumour really does spread rather quickly in an office.
  • Be honest: When you’re interviewing for a job, you will inevitably be asked about your demotion, so be ready to offer a good explanation as to why you were demoted.
  • Network: This could be the time to renew your social networking – offline and online. You might want to attend industry conferences, participate in work fairs or volunteer at events.
  • Make a plan: All decisions you make should be planned out, including your transition away from your current employer. Patience is key; otherwise, you risk earnings and a diminished reputation.

Moving on is tough when you’ve become comfortable in the same job for the last four years. But life is not about standing on a treadmill; it is about taking that first step on your journey of 1,000 kilometres.

Did you know that the Chinese have the same word for crisis as they do for opportunity? This suggests that you can always find a light at the end of the tunnel.

Indeed, a demotion may be the best thing for your career, especially if you have felt disenchanted with the way your life has progressed up to this moment. It may be the push you need to resuscitate your career that has been on life support for all these years. This might involve enrolling in night school, starting a business in your garage or entering an entirely different industry. You hold the power. Are you ready to wield it?

Have you ever had to deal with a demotion? What did you wish you know at the time? Join the conversation down below and let us know.


This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 12 July 2013.