4 Simple Ways to Tactfully Decline a Job Promotion

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Would you decline a promotion?

Probably not. In fact, most people would rather take a promotion they’re completely unprepared and unqualified for it, rather than turn it down.

There are plenty of reasons to decline a promotion opportunity.

Everyone Wants a Promotion, Right?

There are millions of articles online about 10 Steps to take to get a promotion. Or How to go about asking for a promotion. Or What to do if you are passed over for a promotion.

I’ve even done an episode on how to prepare for a promotion.

Most people would rather take a promotion, than decline it.

But the truth is, that probably is not the best course of action.

There are Good Reasons to Decline a Promotion

Not everyone wants a promotion.

There are plenty of good reasons to decline a promotion.

I used to work in the hotel industry. In fact, I worked in some of the biggest hotels and casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.

Las Vegas is a great example of a place where people have no desire to get a promotion. It’s not that these individuals aren’t motivated, it’s simply that there’s no real incentive to taking on more responsibility.

In the staff parking garages of Las Vegas casinos, you see rows of corvettes and fancy sports cars. These are not driven by the managers. They are driven by the hourly workers who deal the cars at the poker and blackjack tables.


Money is often better at the lower levels when tipping enters the equation. Once you move into management, you lose that additional income.

More than once, I spoke to excellent workers interested in positions with more responsibility. But often, they passed up these opportunities because they were not financially beneficial.

I’ve also seen this in medicine and education.

The best doctors are not always the best hospital administrators. I’ve known more than one doctor who became a Department Head and hated it because all his time was spent in meetings, not helping patients.

The same thing is true with teaching. Leaders in education spend very little time with students unless there is a problem. If you want to teach, remain a teacher.

If you’ve been offered a promotion and are considering declining it, here are 4 simple ways to approach it:

  1. Why don’t you want a promotion? Fear of failure?

If your boss approaches you to discuss a promotion, and your initial reaction is, “no I don’t want it!” ask yourself why.

If it’s financial, that’s reasonable. If it’s because you want to spend more time with students or patients or interacting with customers as opposed to being a leader behind the scenes, that makes sense.

But if you shy away from a promotion because you are concerned you might fail or feel unqualified, as yourself why. This may just be a case of imposter syndrome. Don’t overlook opportunities due to your own tendency to self-reject.

If your boss suggests a promotion, it indicates you are a good fit for the role.  If you are hesitant, ask the boss, “why me? What makes you so sure I can do the job and do it well?”

You can also ask someone else for their opinion about your fit-ness for the promotion.

2. Ensure You Will Get the Right Support

Ask how you will be mentored in the role. You shouldn’t be left to sink or swim on your own.

When someone is promoted internally, there is an expectation there will be a learning curve.

While the boss might find you qualified, she should also plan to offer the necessary support to provide you the best possible opportunity to be successful.

3. Keep Your Options Open

If you decide to decline a promotion, express your gratitude for being considered. Thank the boss for believing in you. And explain why now is not the right time to make a change.

It’s best to reiterate that the answer is “No” for now, but that you may be open to reconsidering it in the future.

Make it clear you are not turning down the promotion because you want to be complacent.

Highlight your interest in continuing to grow within the organisation and role.

There may be another way you can contribute, such as helping the new hire for the promotion to get settled and learn the ropes.

When turning down a promotion, remain positive. Frame it as you are saying “Yes” to your current job, not that you are saying “No” to the promotion.

4. Don’t Get Pushed into a Promotion You Don’t Want

Finally, stand your ground. If you don’t want the promotion, don’t be pushed into it.

There are instances when the promotion goes to the person who has the least on their plate. Or would be the easiest person to push around.

It may not be that you are a great fit for the job at all. It may just be that there’s no one else that can effectively do it.

If you don’t want a promotion, say so.

And no, declining a promotion will not sabotage your career.

There is no shame in taking a little extra time to ensure you’re taking the right role at the right place at the right time for you.

It’s a lot easier to ask about a promotion in the future, rather than taking it before you’re ready or when it doesn’t make sense, and then being ineffective and leaving on bad terms.

Everyone’s career path is a little different. Evaluate what success and your timeline looks like for you and use that when determining whether to accept or decline a promotion.