Workers often welcome a demotion, even though it means a salary cut

Dana WilsonOne day out of the blue, your boss calls you into his office and says that you’ve been “reclassified.” You have no idea what it means, but it sounds exciting. One thing is certain: You weren’t canned. Maybe it’s a new job, more power, and yes, a bigger paycheck.

Sorry, it’s none of the above.

“Reclassification” means that you’ve been demoted. It’s not a new term, but it’s one companies use to alter and soften the truth. It reportedly originated in Silicon Valley (where else?) over a decade ago, when layoffs and salary cutbacks were a daily occurrence.

In short, reclassification means a lesser job or an immediate or pending salary cut. It doesn’t take an overpaid business consultant to know it’s the product of a human resources executive concerned about lowered morale in the corporate ranks. If corporate America came up with terms like “selected out,” “placed out,” “dehired,” and “non-renewed” to replace being “fired,” the kinder “displacement” is just more clever doublespeak.

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Debunking “reclassification” is an easy target, but there are actually good reasons for it.

At the height of the seller’s market, when employers were frantic to put bodies in jobs, often people who were 50 per cent to 60 per cent qualified were placed in jobs, which ultimately backfired.

A precarious business economy forced employers to hire prudently. The goal for most IT employers is finding candidates who are indispensable and moving them into jobs where their abilities can be optimized. That’s the reason why technology companies, especially, reclassify employees.

If the demotion process is done properly, it doesn’t have to be a demoralizing process, however.

Once you get past the harsh meaning of the word “demotion,” think pragmatically and realize that it is often a strategy that benefits both management and employees. In many cases, demotion is an unavoidable strategy for putting more competent and experienced employees in jobs and moving demoted workers into roles more fitting their abilities and personalities.

No matter how a demotion is manoeuvred, however, feelings and egos get bruised. There is no denying that it usually means lower salary and a lesser title, but it can also mean that employees wind up happier and ultimately more productive because they’re moved into slots they’re more qualified for.

And demotion doesn’t always mean an immediate salary cut. Often, salary remains the same.

A big mistake is assuming that everyone in our success-driven culture is striving for the top jobs. Not everyone wants to be a top gun.

Often when positions don’t work out and workers are moved into lesser positions, they welcome them, even though it means a salary cut. They may not want too much responsibility, travel, stress and tension. And they may want more time to spend with their families.

Many companies sensitively manage demotions, and often they’ve worked out to employees’ advantage. Most, however, handle them badly. Suddenly being thrust into a lesser job, where you’re stripped of power and responsibilities can be an embarrassing and humiliating turn of events – a signal to bail out and find a new job where you’re appreciated.

Once you’re over the initial shock, rather than plan to find another job, do some self-assessment to find out whether it’s ultimately a smart move. Ask yourself the following questions about your new job: How much visibility will I have? What are the paths out of it? Will the demotion put me on a new or different track (which can be a good thing)?

If unsure, give it a try. It could work in your favour. If it doesn’t work out, move on and learn from the experience.

Dana Wilson is a freelance writer.

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