Updated: Sep 12
I've turned down promotions and opportunities to step up into senior management more than once.
And I was at the beginning of my career.
I know what you're thinking:
Rachel, are you crazy!
Are you seriously declining an opportunity to step up into a management role with a whooping 20% pay increase after you were just three months in with your employer?
No I wasn't crazy. I had purpose. I knew what I wanted to get out of my career, and I knew what mattered to me most and what my core values were. So I was confident within myself to say "no" to potential opportunities because they didn't line up with my criteria.
We sometimes fall into the trap of being worried about declining an offer or promotion because we're scared that another opportunity won't appear again.
But if you have faith in yourself and take ownership of your career instead of letting others control it for you, you don't need to be afraid to say no, because you're confident that the right door will open for you.
Let's talk about eight possible considerations as you weigh up whether you should accept a promotion or opportunity you've been headhunted for:
Accepting the promotion will negatively impact your health
When it comes to priorities in life, there are only two things that are most important: your health, and then your family.
The proposed promotion or higher job offer could be offering you greater pay or benefits, and exciting career prospects, but if it forces you to work 70 hours a week, ridiculous hours into the evenings and weekends, or the work culture is of such a nature that the employer would be quite happy to sacrifice your health and wellbeing in favor of gaining profits, that is a strong enough reason to say no.
Accepting the promotion will negatively impact your family
Sometimes saying "yes" to one necessitates saying no to another, whether we like it or not. If accepting a job opportunity implies that you will need to spend less time with your family, or will not be able to take care of them (especially if you are a caregiver or single parent), you should not feel bad for turning it down.
To avoid burning bridges, you can request some flexibility in the work pattern in line with your needs for your family (for example, in my last role, I requested 1 day a week in the office instead of two, which my director graciously adjusted and made an exception for my personal circumstances). If that doesn't work, be confident enough to step away and be clear with your head-hunters or employer what you will and will not accept as terms for your employment with them.
You do not have enough mental or emotional capacity
Sometimes employers offer promotions as a way of keeping a high-value employee, to prevent them from joining competitors. So your employer may not always have your best interest in view when promoting you. If you are worried that you have enough stress and anxiety going on in your life at the moment, then taking on extra responsibilities that devolve from a promotion will only make things worse.
You'll begin to feel even more incapable and will hardly be able to keep up with the demands of the new job.
Better to wait until personal circumstances have settled and you feel that are in the right frame of mind to take on the challenge, than accept the offer anyway when you know you're not mentally ready.
The promotion is not aligned with your career goal and core values
As I mentioned at the beginning, I turned down an opportunity because even though the pay was 20% more than I was earning, it was in another department that I had no interest in pursuing my career in. I had a solid career progression plan in place so I had my sights set on progression within my current department only, and if that wouldn't be possible, I was already planning my strategic career move for the following year in the worst case scenario.
I had already established my core values from the time I joined my employer, which were statements that defined who I was and the value and fulfilment I wanted to get out and bring in, to my work.
If you haven't already, take time to identify what is important to you in your next role, and consider if the promotion on offer lines up with your criteria. You get to decide how you want to spend the next half of your career.
The pay is not commensurate with your experience and skills
If the promotion comes in the form of extra responsibilities only, but the pay, title, or support offered does not increase in line with it, that is a big red flag as it shows that you are being taken advantage of, and you need to seriously consider moving to another employer.
You don't feel you would be supported adequately in the new promotion
I once worked with a director who was working 19-20 of the 24 hours a day (how crazy is that!) and was totally burned out. He was managing a nationwide programme and the company dumped him with a second programme of similar magnitude, without allocating him a large enough budget or larger team to support with the extra workload. He was involved in the daily operations and administrative tasks, as well as operating as a director, and it was becoming too much for him to handle.
I noticed it was seriously taking a toll on his mental health.
Before accepting a promotion, always ask your employer what budget is in place for your department, what team members will be in place (or if you will be hiring new staff), and ensure all support is provided to you.
You prefer the current pace of your job so you can develop your skills more
Sometimes we need to take a step back so we can accelerate forward.
If your focus is on developing yourself professionally and expanding your skill set, it could work to your advantage to remain where you are so you can use the extra time and resources available to you, to grow. It could be the case that the team, your working pattern, or your current boss provides you with more flexibility or learning opportunities that will help you in the long run.
The culture is not conducive to your mental wellbeing
If you feel restricted in your career while working for your employer, or notice that the work culture is toxic to your wellbeing and you literally dread each work day, no amount of coaxing or promoting should persuade you to stay.
Your mental wellbeing and the environment you work in is paramount to your success and truly thriving in your career.
Overall, if you don't have a plan for your career or a set of core values that you adhere to, you will accept any potential opportunity or promotion that gets thrown your way, which will hurt you in the long run.
Do you really want to live your employer's dream instead of your own?
It's time to grab the reins and take power back.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you’d also love my weekly newsletter I release every Wednesday for new and aspiring managers.
Whenever you’re ready, here's how I can help you:
Career Transition Coaching. If you are feeling stuck in your current job and ready for a change but unsure where to start, join me for transformative coaching sessions, where I'll guide you through my 10-step career pivot framework. Discover your core skills, strengths, and values, explore exciting career options, make a smooth transition, and design a strategic career plan for the next 5 years. Take the first step toward a brighter future - book Book a no-obligation FREE consultation today.