In the current career ladder style of career progression, the only way is up, but unfortunately, there isn’t a mandatory parachute provided, and often the only way down is to take a crashing fall or at the very least an undignified demotion. This can mean that demoted employees can feel demoralized, disengaged and dispossessed which can lead to further under-performance and a heavy dismissal at some point in the future. This seems to be a waste of good talent, which could be considered a crime in the current talent-starved climate.
But, it doesn’t have to be this way as employees can indeed bounce back from a demotion, but it takes effort and commitment from both the employee and employer to make it happen.
Let’s begin with what employees can do to help themselves bounce back from a demotion.
For starters, face up to what has happened, and don’t catastrophize. Take stock of where you were and where you are now in terms of salary, duties and responsibilities, and remember you may have the opportunity to progress again. The door is closed for now but not for ever. Most successful people have one or more failed projects on their resume, there’s even a book written on this very phenomenon which was reviewed in this Forbes article, “Why The road To Success is Paved With Failure.”
Second, accept what’s happened and grieve for your loss but don’t dwell on it. Draw a line in the sand. That was yesterday and this is today and time to move onward and upward. Think, you are now back down at the level where you were once a higher performer (or else you wouldn’t have been promoted), and you can soon start performing well again and repair/remember your sense of value and worth.
Then look forward. The door to your future career has been closed but not locked and you can still progress again in the future. But, you should learn lessons from your failure. After the dust has settled, talk to your boss and find out why you were demoted and what were your weak and strong areas. Looking forward, you should ideally consider roles which play to your strengths give you a much greater chance of success. Alternately, you can look to develop your weak areas and gain more experience so you are better prepared to step up to the role for a future date.
You still have much to aspire to, even after a demotion.
As for what the employer or manager can do, you can help demoted employees along this journey with several key interventions. You could consider providing them with a bridging/transitional salary to help offset the gap between their old and new lower salary.
Reiterate that the doors to progression are still open to them although they may need to develop more skills first or choose pathways more suited to their strengths. Give them advice and career support in developing areas of weakness and identifying future roles that may play more to their strengths.
Recognize their value in their new role, both personally and privately and remind them and peers of the success they once had at the organization. Show the demoted employee and the wider organization that you are behind them.
Give them meaningful work and clear goals to show them that they are a valued contributor to the organization. This should help to restore their sense of self worth. Also provide some projects where they can make some quick wins as studies show that this will boost confidence and performance.
So, with both the employee and employer committed to the cause, a failed employee can bounce back from a demotion.