When is it OK not to want a promotion?

On-the-job advancement is an important goal for many people, but it’s not what every employee wants. What should you do if you’re happy where you’re at and not interested in pursuing a promotion?

That’s what one reader asked recently on the Admin Pro Forum:

“Our company has performance plans based on the expectation that we’ll always be moving up the ladder—or at least trying to. I can tell my boss thinks it’s odd that I’m having trouble with this. I’ve been an admin for four great years and I just don’t want to be promoted! How do I convince him that I’m genuinely happy where I am without sounding like I’m scared to take on higher responsi­bility?”   — Fran, marketing admin

We contacted a couple of career advisors to get their take on this.

Day Merrill, founder and CEO of 2BDetermined, says an unwanted promotion is a career challenge like any other. Before you react, she recommends asking yourself these questions:­

•  What are the pros and cons of taking this role for me? For the organization?

•  What do I get or risk losing if I turn the promotion down? How will that decision affect the organization?

•  Is the issue that I “can’t” do the proposed job (skills, experience, travel or relocation requirements, etc.) or that I don’t want to? If it’s fear of failing, what support or resources do I need to be comfortable accepting the promotion?

•  If the issues are logistical, how might I suggest shaping the job to accommodate my needs as well as those of the organization?

•  If I’m truly not interested, what career progression could I suggest that will optimize my contributions to the organization while meeting my personal goals?

Career coach Laura Lee Rose says a promotion isn’t the only way to increase your value to the organization. “You can still grow your reputation, prestige, skills, talents and passions without having to accept the conventional promotion” by focusing on learning how to automate and streamline your tasks, for example.

“The bottom line is, whether you want to take a promotion or not, you still need to constantly illustrate your value to your company,” Rose says. “And your value and achievements need to be increasing year by year.” There are always younger and hungrier employees behind you, and you need to make a case for where you want to be.