Take a Step Back in Your Career - Everything on Demotion

Taking a step back in your career, or demotion, proves to be a big taboo. We see it too often as failure, while it doesn't have to be that way. Following your passion or making room for balance in your life takes courage. Tanja Verheyen from Expert Academy is an expert in the field of demotion. 

16-05-2016 -  by Kevin Van der Straeten

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Taking a step back in your career, or demotion, proves to be a big taboo. We see it too often as failure, while it doesn't have to be that way. Following your passion or making room for balance in your life takes courage. Tanja Verheyen from Expert Academy is an expert in the field of demotion.


Hi Tanja, welcome to our studio.  


Hi Kevin. 


We're going to talk about demotion. What is that exactly? 


Demotion is like promotion: you go in another direction. Promotion goes upwards, demotion goes downwards, with all the consequences that come with it. That could be a decrease in salary, a lighter job content, a loss of authority, a loss of status... 


A loss of authority? Why? 


A loss of authority is like... You're leading 50 people and the next day you're leading 20 people or maybe nobody anymore, so that's a loss of authority. 


And status? That was the other one?  


Status is that you feel like you're not successful in the job. If you have a demotion, it feels like you have a failure. You're not coping with your job correctly and your environment is confronting you with that. 


Yeah because in our society many people see it as failure. You're not good enough to do what you do so you have to take a step back. 


Yeah, if you go upwards, it's like a success story: "wow, it's great!" Everybody congratulates you. And if you go downwards, it's like: nobody wants to talk about it. It's really a taboo. And it comes a lot with that failure, the image of the failure. But that's not correct, because it's not because you put a step back that you're not successful, or that you're not good in your job. You just try to figure out where your passion is in your job. And if that means you have to go back a step, then that's okay. If you feel good in your job with a lighter job or a lower position-level, there's nothing wrong with it. It's not a failure, it's just another way of working. 


So it even takes courage to take that step? 


It takes courage, yeah, because you're environment will talk about you. "What's he doing? Why is he taking a step back?" "Why is his car smaller?" Because that's not normal. But what is normal? What is going up and what's going down? When is it good? When you feel good. When you are in your passion. When you feel passion when you work. That's when you're working like it's supposed to be. 


Okay, why is it a topic that now pops up? And you see it more and more... 


Well, there are several reasons. We have to work longer, until 67. Some jobs are not really good to prolong your career, it's not really working. So when people go working in a lighter way, let's say they have less responsibilities, less authority, they can cope with it longer, that's one thing. So all the workers. It's important. But also for people who have... Who are confronted with burn-outs or a long-time illness... When they come back they don't want to be at the same level, or they are not supposed to be at the same level when they come back. The boss says: "I'm sorry, you're not gonna do this job anymore. You have to look at a lighter level or a lower level". So that's the second one: there are a lot of burn-outs nowadays, so people want to go a step back. And thirdly, we have the Second Machine Age, the confrontation with robots is going to take our jobs. So only the upper jobs and the lower jobs will stay, and all the middle jobs will go away. Well, that's the scenario. We're not yet there, but anyway... But that means a change in jobs. And career twists will be inherent to the jobs that we do daily. We have to take it into account that it may change whenever. 


What if you are forced to take a step back? Because now we're talking about situations where you take the decision yourself. And it's a hard one to take, but then it's your decision. But in other situations it's not up to you. 


When it's an imposed demotion, it gives a lot of anger in the individual. Why? Because he or she cannot... "Why is it happening to me?" They say: "I'm doing everything for my job and I'm doing everything for my company, and now they're doing this to me". That's how they see it. But it takes a while... Most of the time other people see that you're not really at your best at the moment. People are under a lot of stress. They go almost into burn-out and the environment sees it but the person himself doesn't see it. And when they are confronted with that emotion, they say: "what's happening to me? This is terrible!" But after a while, they'll see: "oh, maybe it's a good thing that I was confronted with that emotion, because now I'm back to the level I can handle again and I have fun in my life again. I can have passion in my work". So then after a while they see that it's a good thing that it happens, but at the moment itself it gives a lot of anger and a lot of misunderstandings. 


If you take the step, forced or not, how do you handle it? 


Well, I will say: you have to make your homework, and that means that you will have to look at yourself: "who am I? What am I good at? Where are really my competences? And what are my talents? And what can I do?" A lot of people say: "I'm a hairdresser", for instance. "I am a hairdresser". You are not a hairdresser. You're a very social person, who has skills to create. That's also a hairdresser. But it's not who I am, it's what I can do. And if you look at it like that, then you see that the skills you have are not just for a hairdresser, but they are also for other jobs. So you can change if you want. People in general think of being something, and not in having talent and competences. So that makes it easier to change, but we're not raised like that. 


No, even if we look at education, we follow an education for a profession, and then we become a hairdresser or something else, and then we stay it for the rest of our lives. 


And we think that it's the only thing we can do. But it's not. It takes a lot of different talents to be a hairdresser, and these talents are also suitable for other jobs. We can change if we want. But you need to have another way of thinking. So making your homework is like thinking: "what can I do? And what am I good at? And which job would be suitable for me? 


And then you can find your passion and have a good balanced work-life? 


That's very important. Passion and work. A lot of people just do their job and get their salary at the end of the month, and that's it. 


But you do it every day. You get tired of it if you don't like it. 


Yeah, you have to love it. You have to go to work and say: "hey wow, this is great". If you don't have that... Well, of course you have to work to have a salary so you can eat. 


And sometimes there are jobs you have to do that are not as fun as the others. 


That's true. But in general, let's say, there has to be some passion in your work. Even if you're just doing dull work, it can be passionate. It's possible. 


Last question: how do you tell your environment that you're taking a step back? 


You have to think about it very carefully, because the environment always has comments. "You're not doing that, are you? This is not a good decision..." They always have comments on everybody who does something, because it's not common that you change. It's an issue. So you really have to think about it, and when you're sure: "I'm going to do this because of that, and I'm really sure of it..." If you tell it like that to your environment, they will say: "okay, it's risky, but if you believe in it, then it's okay". So you need to have a good story. And if you're not able to make that story yourself try to get somebody in your environment, like a coach or your partners or your colleagues or whatever, to make your story. They can help you. There's always people who can help you with it. 


Okay great, thank you very much for coming over.  


You're welcome. 


And you at home: thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week!