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How do you overcome a demotion?

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Question: “I was promoted at work eight months ago, but last month I was put back into my old job, not having met expectations. I understand why I was demoted, but now I just feel embarrassed when I go into the office, knowing that I have this black mark on my record and maybe a reputation for not being able to handle a higher position. Can someone come through with words of inspiration to get past this awful feeling?”   – Todd K., Provost’s Assistant

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Gem January 14, 2015 at 9:34 am

I don’t even know if anyone is reading responses here but I just had to reply and say a very heartfelt thanks to the first few replies. I am currently in Todd’s position and you have really helped me come to a positive decision.
Thanks once again!


Mary Pavlik July 7, 2013 at 3:45 pm

I was just recently demoted from Office Manager to an “unknown title”. I did my best in the position I had. I had some trouble with organization and prioritizing because “everything” was a priority in the owners’ minds. It was a very strange environment. I’ve seen similar situations in offices but never quite this bad. My boss had very high expectations and I always read him that nothing was ever fast enough and that everything should be done instantaneously. In fact, that is not only my projection that is how he thinks. I had made some accounting errors I did not make the corrections within a 7 month period. Of course, I did not have time to really get down into fixing them so I let them go uncorrected. Actually, I did have time — I think I was avoiding. These were not critical corrections but should have been done I agree and I should have taken the responsibility and corrected them immediately. I tried to explain to him I knew about the problems and was trying to determine the best course of action to correct but he would not hear it. I also explained I was rushed at the time and now know those type of errors would not occur. Actually, since this happened I feel very demoralized because I think he could’ve handled this differently. Since this happened I picked up a book from the library called “Managing Your Mind”. One of the sections was devoted to avoidance. The reason I was avoiding was because I was afraid that he would find out about the errors anyway and become quite angry and critical. Avoidance helps the truth stay hidden and not become the reality you fear. In this case, I was afraid of his criticism and fault-finding instead of hearing what I wanted to hear which was I’m not happy you made the mistakes but I’m glad you learned from it. That would be a great boss! One that helps a person learn and grow! It helps a person build on their knowledge and realize the impact of the error. Instead I was demoted and have to teach a person I hired my job.


Tami April 12, 2013 at 12:33 am

Hi Todd,
I realize this post is a little late but if you do read this please know that this also happened to me and it can be devastating, really! In my situation when I was promoted one has a one year probationary period during which time the incumbent can be demoted without cause back to their previous position.

During my year I worked so very hard and the staff that I supervised was really happy with all we achieved. Unfortunately, during that year I had four different supervisors (who all wanted to do things differently) and as deputy I would do my best to implement the new policies as soon as practical. As my supervisors were never around very long I was never given work performance standards, an evaluation or any verbal or written feedback on my performance. On the very last day of my year probation in my new position my last supervisor called me into her office and gave me the documentation for my demotion. I was never given a reason other than she wanted to go a different direction. My previous position was occupied so I moved into a lower ranking job in a program whose staff made it clear from day 1 that they were completely uninterested in working with a demotee/loser.

I lost all confidence in my abilities and was completely shut out by the new staff. Up until this point in my career I was the typical overachiever and suddenly I just closed my door and limited my interactions as much as possible. I fell into such a deep depression that I had to seek professional help. Two years later I am still struggling with this and don’t have trust in myself, this organization, and none of my former confidence and self-assurance.

I am now actively seeking another position outside this organization and am hopeful that I will finally be able to put this behind me. Good luck to you all!


Helen July 18, 2013 at 10:41 am

wow, i just read your post. i am currently being offered a new contract which shows my job title as a demotion. i hav started ttto google and i completely empathise with you. i work in sales and told one of our sales managers how my new contract states `specialist (i am a manager), and then i had to hear the gossip and whispering throughout the office for the rest of the afternoon. Ii left work in tears to a bottle of wine. i havent signed the contract but im not too sure what to do. i have been workplace bullied by my DOS ever since i put in leave for my wedding. I am half her age and just returned from honeymoon and i cant help but think it is personal as she has relationship problems and her boyfriend has made it clear he is not committed. problem is, she is very good friends with the HR Manager. Not sure of my rights and i fear of things geting more uncompfortablle if i dont take the contract.

ps i just bought i new keypad for my Ipad – hence spelling mistakes. thought i would clarify as you may Think why i am being demoted :)


Linda February 9, 2017 at 12:56 am

Sorry to hear that.Something like that happened to me just because somebody with a higher position thrown under the bus, and i got demoted. I am trying not to interact a lot with others managers and even coworkers. I lost confidence.


Trisha October 22, 2012 at 4:24 pm

I’m sorry about your situation, Todd. That’s a tough one to be in.

It would seem that the company is just as responsible for your demotion, not just your not meeting expectations. Sure, you wanted the promotion, but they had to offer it to you. Unless they made it abundantly clear that you would be filling the position on a temporary or trial basis, they deemed you as the best (and most qualified) candidate for the job.

Your not meeting their expectations is a burden not to be borne solely by you. And perhaps they need to improve their hiring/promotional practices so this doesn’t happen again.


Michelle October 22, 2012 at 1:03 pm

While I have not personally experienced the circumstances you described I can certainly empathize with how you must be feeling. I have had a number of positions in my career and every new step was an experience for me to “sell my brand” and to demonstrate why I earned the right to be in the position that I’m in. My advice would be as follows (in no particular order):

1) Always be open to criticism. Did they explain to you in detail why you were demoted? If so, was the feedback consistent with feedback you’ve heard before (perhaps in a performance evaluation)? If yes, then I would focus more on what you should do to remedy the flaws identified (i.e., take training courses, find a mentor doing what you aspire to do and find out how they’ve been successful in their job).

2) People are going to talk no matter what you do. If the buzz around the office is that you’ve been demoted. Who cares! People are going to talk about you as long as you have a breath in you and likely thereafter. This is not the time to have a pity party. What you must do is use this opportunity to assess how you might improve on the areas where you are weak so that you are considered for the next opportunity that comes along. This one didn’t work out but what you don’t want to happen is for people label you as not being capable of taking on higher level work. Whatever it is that they said you didn’t do in the last job, do it now and do it better than what they expected. What you want is for your employer to see that you are making an effort to improve so that the next opportunity that comes up is yours without a doubt.

3) Recognize that the outcome could have been a lot different. Your employer could have promoted you, filled your old job, found out that you couldn’t do the new job and now you’re unemployed. You are still employed man! That is a blessing!!! I repeat, find out what the performance concerns was and work on improving them. Perhaps the new job required a new skill that they didn’t have time or resources to train you in…get the training. If you can’t afford the training, find out who at your company is doing that work now and ask if they will mentor you or give you some tips on how they have been successful.

4) What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. This incident is just a bump in the road, a “reality check.” Now that you’ve gotten a kick in the pants, say ouch and get up. Trust me the outcome could have been so much different.

Best of luck to you and I hope everything works out!


Tamara October 22, 2012 at 10:04 am

The human side is surely feeling embarassed because no one wants to feel or be percieved as a failure. Just think if no one would ever step up to the plate how will they know if they will hit a homerun, make a base hit or strike out. You obviously stepped up to the plate batting for that homerun. Consider this as a stepping stone to other successful moves within the organization. Always do your homework on a position that is a promotion so that you can be very familiar with the work scope. Your homework will give you a clear picture of your work skills and knowledge to perform the job in advance.


Lisa October 19, 2012 at 1:17 pm

I actually had a similar situation early in my career. After getting the “dream” promotion, I realized it wasn’t where I wanted to be after all, so I was mostly relieved when I was sent back to my old position. Although it was tough at first, in stead of dwelling on what I couldn’t do I threw myself back in to my old job and tried to be a rock star in it. And I guess I was, because 6 months later I was offered another promotion for a different job and I LOVED it and did well. Moral of the story, rock the job you have, and don’t worry so much about the one you don’t.


Sherry October 19, 2012 at 7:49 am

“I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot…and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that’s precisely why I succeed.”
Michael Jordan (born 1963);
retired professional basketball player, businessman


Jitkat June 4, 2016 at 4:35 pm

Brilliant quote, thanks for sharing!:-)


Laura October 18, 2012 at 4:59 pm

You are likely experiencing a myriad of emotions — ranging from relief to feeling like a failure. And only time will help even it out. In the meantime, be proud that you tried, understand that you now know how you can be better and appreciate that your company does not see you as a failure–rather as “not quite ready.” Be the first to talk about it with your co-workers–embrace the reality and difuse any erroneous speculation around the office as to what happened. The only true failure would be if you did not take this as a learning and growing opportunity. It may feel like you are damaged goods with a black mark against you, but a good company will continue to keep their eye on you for future potential. Show them you are willing to embrace the challenge and grow–professionally and personally. There is no shame in trying and failing, only in quitting. Your attitude will determine your future! Best to you!


Kim October 18, 2012 at 4:54 pm

It seems that your company well of you which resulted in the promotion – which is a very good thing. Not everyone is cut out for every job. For example, you could be the best Admin ever but a lousy sales person. The fact that you tried to do the job well counts for a lot and now you know what you need to work on or what you are and are not comfortable with. I would think your boss still values you, otherwise they would have just let you go outright instead of putting you back into a position that they know you can be successful in.


L October 18, 2012 at 4:46 pm

This same situation happened in our office before I came on board. The woman who was demoted never seemed to regain confidence and eventually left to work in another department. Plus most people here hold grudges like I’ve never seen before! From what I hear her move was a good choice because she was able to start over fresh without her new coworkers knowing what she had been through. She is now doing very well.


Mark October 18, 2012 at 4:42 pm

You said you understand why you were demoted. That’s good that you know why; sometimes people are demoted and are never given specifics. Since you know the cause of it, is it something that you can turn around? To make up examples, if it was because you were not as well-trained in Office as you needed to be, go out and learn Office on your own time. If they don’t think you handled supervising others well, take a few classes in supervision. If they felt you weren’t assertive enough, take assertiveness training. In other words, whatever the reasons were for the demotion, try to overcome that by getting a new skill set that might make you ready the next time a promotion comes up.


Judy October 18, 2012 at 4:39 pm

Hi Todd,
I think that you should feel honored that your company felt the confidence that you could handle the higher position and was willing to give you a try. Because you didn’t “meet expectations” is no ones concern to judge why or why not. So try not to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable about the situation. Things happen in life that we have no control over that may make one less productive and that may have been the situation with you. Or maybe the job just wasn’t what you thought it would be. So hold your head high knowing that some people work in a position for years and never promoted. Congratulations to you for giving the promotion a try…that takes courage in itself.


Sherry October 18, 2012 at 4:32 pm

When I was a very young teenager a friend’s mother gave me the following quote written on a piece of paper “You may not always reach your goals but there’s recompense in trying. Horizons broaden so much more, the higher you are flying.”

You should be proud of yourself for trying. Some people don’t take any chances and they don’t have any successes. Successful people take chances. Successful people also don’t always succeed in everything they attempt. Hold your head high.


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