To Take the Promotion or Not?

By Patrick

Many of us have had wild dreams about climbing the corporate ladder. I remember being a young college student fantasizing about becoming an executive with a corner office someday. Part of this journey involves a series of promotions. There is the first promotion a couple years in to the job where you’re asked to move across the country. A few years later, they come back to you, asking if you’re willing to move again for even more responsibility.

Eventually, your dreams of hitting the C-Suite become a little more distant as life’s priorities begin to change. You refocus. Maybe you change careers. You have a child. Now your time on the road is less important and you try to find ways to be home in time for dinner.

You see, when we’re younger, life’s decisions seem much simpler and much more black and white. As we get older, life begins to layer itself upon us and what once seemed like clear-cut decisions become even more complicated. One of these decisions is whether or not to take a promotion. The obvious answer for many is yes, but I’d like to highlight some instances today where you may be better off not taking a promotion

It Will Dramatically Impact Your Work-Life Balance

As a soon to be father, this is one that is close to my heart. Life isn’t always about making more money or having more responsibility at work. Many of us work so we can enjoy our lives. Sacrificing time with family and friends just so you can make some more money isn’t always worth it.

I’ve seen many divorces that result from one parent traveling too much or not being present for kids activities. If you find that a promotion would result in you not being able to spend quality time with your family, you should evaluate it. Is there a way you can make it work without having to miss every soccer game?

You Can Get More by Switching Companies

Think a promotion at your current company is the only way to move up? Think again. There is a lot of good research out there that shows one of the best ways to maximize your long-term earnings is to switch companies within 5 years of starting your career. If you have proven yourself somewhere, other companies are willing to take more of a gamble on you because of your past success.

This is one of the unfortunate things about today’s world. It used to be that loyalty was rewarded, but in a lot of senses, loyalty can result in a disadvantage. Companies are always looking for diversity of thought, and one of the best ways to get it is to look externally for it. You also have the opportunity to negotiate your salary and other benefits, which can help with work-life balance and other perks. You don’t always get this opportunity when you stay with the same company.

You’ve Got Aspirations to Build a Side Hustle

This is one of the ones that is most impacted by your life situation. Sometimes, you may not necessarily want to have the corner office in a major corporation. Maybe you’re looking for more autonomy and impact that comes from being an entrepreneur, but you’re not willing to risk it all right away. With some planning, you can start to gradually build a side business during your free time while you still work your 9-5 job.

The important thing here is that you have a position within a company that allows you that flexibility. If you take a promotion at work, you will have new responsibilities and more accountability requiring you to spend more time on your 9-5. By becoming a master of your role, and building good infrastructure, staying in your current role will allow you the time you need to build something that is truly yours.

Promotions are great things. We celebrate them, and for many of us, they don’t happen all that often. Most of the time they make a lot of sense, but there are situations where saying “no” may be the best answer for you. It’s up to you to evaluate that.

Eric’s Thoughts

Promotions can be a great way to increase your earnings, but as Patrick points out, they generally come with sacrifices. More responsibility can mean more stress. Bigger geographical responsibility can mean more travel. Managing more people can mean more difficult conversations. Many times, the increase in stress, travel, or difficulty isn’t worth the increase in salary.

One of the best defenses from finding yourself in a job that isn’t “worth it” is to live below (or, at minimum, within) your means. If you can survive on $65,000 per year, the promotion that offers $80,000 per year would be nice, but not necesary. Having the ability to say “No, thank you” to a promotion can be dependent on your ability to keep your financial house in order.

If your financial house isn’t in order, and you find yourself living beyond your means, you may feel forced to accept that promotion as you may need that future income to pay off the spending habits of today.

One of the key things that I like to do is have a list of either specific jobs or a general list of things I won’t do for work. I think of these as my guardrails when looking at career opportunities. These aren’t to say that I wouldn’t ever consider something outside of my guardrails, and they aren’t static – I allow myself to change them over time as life and priorities shift – but they serve exactly like guardrails do for cars: they are designed to keep me in line, but allow for flexibility within their bounds.

A few examples:

I am not interested in career opportunities that take me to select geographic areas. For personal reasons, I have a list of places I wouldn’t be interested in moving my family to. That isn’t to say I would absolutely never look at a job based in these locations, but I know the bar for that job is significantly higher than the bar for jobs that aren’t in those locations.

I am not interested in career opportunities working for certain people in my organization. I know how much impact a boss can have on your life – both at work and at home – and that makes boss selection (to the extent that you can control it) important to me. Knowing that a good boss can make your life better and a bad boss can make your life much worse, to the extent that I can select assignments with the manager known in advance, I will weigh that factor heavily.

I know what percent increase in salary I hope to get when accepting a new position. Given that an employee’s ranking during year-end reviews is generally middle of the road whenever an employee starts a new role, the increase in pay as a result of the promotion must be enough to offset the mediocre performance review I expect whenever starting a new position.

Currently, I arrive at the office early and leave the office at 4PM every day. This is a schedule that allows me to spend time with my daughter and wife every day, and one that I plan to continue. Any job that would require me to shift my schedule significantly would be a hard sell.

That isn’t an exhaustive list of guardrails – but I outlined a few general thoughts to provide some examples.

I have found my career to take twists and turns I never expected when I originally began in my line of work out of college. I’ve held jobs that seemed obvious in my career path and I’ve held jobs that I never thought I would be doing. The key is to be open minded with the work, but firm in what you are or are not willing to sacrifice as it relates to your personal life.


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