Being Demoted in HR? Before You Make A Rash Decision, Do This.

By Alan Collins

Imagine this…

The boss calls you in her office.

She closes the door and offers you a seat.

Then, she gets right down to business: “We’re restructuring HR. I’m putting Chris in your spot as the HR director handling the Marketing, Sales and Operations groups. And I’m moving you over to handle the Corporate Administration and Public Affairs groups.”

Before forgetting, she quickly adds, “Don’t worry, you’ll still be an HR director and there’s no change in your compensation…”

Your brain freezes. Your mind is numb and you only hear bits and pieces of what she says next.  You believe you pick up the words “streamlining the organization,” “shaking things up” and “better using your talents.” But you’re not sure.

The only thing you know — is that no matter what she says — you’ve been DEMOTED!

She’s taken the three most vitally important client groups in the company away from you…and in return, you’ve been given the two least important ones.

And it doesn’t feel very good.

Out of habit, you nod and mutter that you understand. With that she sends you out, pleased you took the news like an adult.

Once the shock wears off, you’re pissed that you acted like a wimp who didn’t stand up for yourself.

Eventually, the career implications sink in.  And you wonder: Do I still have a place here? Is my career dead? Is it time for me to move on?

Let’s now return to reality…

If you’ve ever faced this situation, you know these reactions and emotions are natural.

Few things in your professional life – aside from being fired or laid off – are more debilitating emotionally than being demoted.

Demotions happen every day in HR to good people.  And they take different forms.  For example it could be:

All these could be considered demotions.

However, the positive is you still have a job. But that doesn’t take the sting out of the fact that you’ve dropped a rung on the career ladder and perhaps have even further to go to attain your goals.

While your first reaction to a demotion may be to quit and decide to launch that HR consulting business you’ve always dreamed about, that isn’t always the best move.

For one, quitting means the paychecks stop. And that’s pretty devastating if you have car payments, school loans, a big fat mortgage or kids to support.

And two, quitting doesn’t accomplish anything other than putting you on the street with thousands of other job seekers and possibly facing the same consequences in the future.

So the question remains:  What would you do if this happened to you?  How do you keep your cool and get past such a difficult period? Should you quit?

Before making a rash decision you may later regret, here are five suggestions:

First of all, take some time
to lick your wounds.

Go ahead rant, rave, scream your lungs out and uncork your real emotions — but find somewhere private to do it. Take a walk to a nearby park or retreat to your favorite private place.

If you need to cry, cry. Crying won’t change the situation, but it will help release some more of the tension, anger and emotion surrounding what’s happened.

If you have a spouse, partner, significant other, mentor, coach or trusted colleague, consider sharing the news with them. Talking it out and venting with them will help you mentally deal with it.

Whatever you do, don’t bury your emotions like a robot. Or brush your feelings aside or they may pop up when you least want them to – like having a sobbing fit in your cubicle, work space or office with colleagues watching.

Take whatever time you need to get your emotions under control. Take two to three days (or more) to unwind, and then take a few more days, if needed.

Secondly, make sure you
understand the reasons.

Once you’ve get your emotions under control, sit down with the boss and try to get a clear idea of what’s really going on… or what you might have done wrong.

The fact is, your boss or the higher ups have just sent you a message.

A message you CANNOT afford to ignore.

This is the time to listen carefully to what’s being said – and not said — and ask for guidance. If you have a good boss, he or she will come clean or point out where you need to improve.  Even a boss who is a jackass will give you clues to follow up on.

In either case, let the the boss know that you’re sincerely interested in focusing on any problems and fixing them.

Thirdly, get down to
the nitty gritty.

Sometimes the situation is beyond your control.  It could be that it’s a restructuring happening throughout the organization.

Competition everywhere forces firms to get smarter, simpler and faster if they want to survive.  And for whatever reason, perhaps your role and others like yours needed to be reworked to cut costs.  In that case, maybe you should look at your future job security not only with your current employer, but within the industry.

Or maybe it’s less about the company, maybe more about YOU. 

If the boss tells you (or hints) that your demotion was based on performance, try to get some specific instances of where you failed to meet expectations.

Or were there more subtle reasons.  If so, ask yourself:

You won’t know unless you self-reflect and reach out for feedback, listen and take notes.  Probe vague issues like “vibe” or “chemistry” even more deeply by asking for examples.  Try to look for a pattern that the boss also has spotted.  And while you’re doing your own soul searching, gather additional feedback from others in the organization.

However, don’t be defensive, because this will just shut down communications and make the boss and others unwilling to be candid with you.

Keep in mind that the boss obviously believes you still have something to offer or she would have fired you instead of just demoting you.  In any event, consider this is your WAKE UP CALL. 

You may need to get better.

If so, embrace it.

The truth can’t hurt you, but your ego can.

Fourthly, think long term about
your options and then act.

This is where the rubber meets the road. Based on what feedback you get, take some time to weigh your options before making a decision. There are at least two obvious ones.

Option 1: Stay put.

Give the new role you have some time.   Trust this is the right place for the time being.   Use this time to build your skills, notch some accomplishments and correct any bad habits.

Ask the boss to help you set some new goals and meet with you more frequently in the coming weeks and months to see if you’re on track.  Get the boss’ help in identifying ways to help your enhance your contributions through mentoring or additional training, exposure or learning opportunities.

Stay optimistic.  Keep preparing for the day when you’ll start moving forward again.  Your shot at redemption may come sooner than you think.

Option 2– Move on. 

If it looks like the situation won’t change, or the boss seems reluctant to invest more time in your growth and development, or you feel you have more to offer — it’s probably time to move on.

In leaving your job, remember that your behavior after this demotion could be the most lasting image of you for your boss or colleagues.

You want to leave with grace — with a good reference and your professional reputation intact.  Don’t provide ammunition that can be used against you by acting surly, defiant and obnoxious.

Finally, learn the from
the experience.

Whether you decide to tough it out and earn back your old job (or an even better one), or leave the employer after a demotion, take the time to learn from it.

Was there anything you wish you had done differently?

You don’t want to repeat this mistake.

Maybe you should have turned down the job when it was first offered because it wasn’t a good fit.

Or, perhaps you should have stayed more attuned to changes in the business or industry.   Or picked up on  negative vibes earlier from your boss, colleagues or clients.  Or prioritized your time differently.

In any event, use what happened to do some self-reflection so you can avoid this kind of setback in the future.

Okay, here’s the take away on all this…

Lots of good HR people get demoted.  However, few things in your professional life – aside from being fired or laid off – are more debilitating emotionally.

If it happens, don’t make snap decisions.  Instead, take some time to lick your wounds.  Recognize that sometimes job changes happen because of factors beyond your control.  So, probe to understand the reasons why before looking at your options — which are essentially to stay put and make changes or move on and make changes.

Either way, you want to learn from the experience.

Stay positive.

And keep your career moving forward.


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….Or if you want more insights for enhancing your performance in the current HR role you’re already in, then check out:  WINNING BIG IN HR: 100+ Powerful Strategies For Accomplishing Great Results Faster & Getting Your Clients To Rave About You As A Human Resources Professional!

For more detailed information about this book, go HERE. 

About the author: Alan Collins is Founder of Success in HR, Inc. and the author of a variety of best selling books for HR professionals including  SHE STOLE MY HR PROMOTION! and WINNING BIG IN HR.  He was formerly Vice President – Human Resources at PepsiCo where he led HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses.

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2 Responses to “Being Demoted in HR? Before You Make A Rash Decision, Do This.”

  1. Don R. Symonette, Sr. Says:

    Your advice & counsel regarding a Demotion, is a lesson in how to mature and overcome obstacles not only in business, but Life. Thank you for the insights, your articles engage the intellect.


  2. Alan Says:

    Don, you’re right handling these kinds of tough situations maturely is a great foundation for handling just about anything life throws your way. Great insight. Thanks for the share.