8 good reasons to turn down a promotion

February 13, 2020, 10:00 PM UTC

Even if a new job opportunity can potentially leave you overworked, unhappy, or unfulfilled, the idea of turning down a promotion is still inconceivable. There’s this fear of appearing ungrateful for the opportunity or as if you’re not serious about your job. While these are valid concerns, it is OK to turn down a promotion if you decide it is not right for you.

So, how do you take that decision? To start off, look at the position as a whole before you do. “Review the job description and envision yourself doing those things each day, and determine whether that would be interesting or exciting for you before accepting it,” says Erica Galos Alioto, chief people officer at Opendoor. This deep dive will give you a much better understanding of how the job would impact your life—and if it’s to a larger degree than you want to.

Saying no doesn’t have to reflect badly on you as an employee. “If a promotion is the gift you don’t actually want to take from the party, it is possible to politely decline without workplace politics getting messy”, says Dr. Joy Lere, a psychologist, researcher and life coach.

“Express gratitude for the vote of confidence in skill and ability, and humbly communicate that it is an honor to be considered for a change in title and/or compensation,” she says. A good employer will respect your decision and commend you for thinking it over so thoroughly. 

“It’s okay to recognize when it isn’t the right time to take on more,” says Galos Alioto, “and doing so will likely benefit you in the end.” Here’s 8 situations when you should probably turn down a promotion.

1. Your life is in transition

A promotion, and the new responsibilities that come with it, can  sometimes be too much to also take on. “Some employees are in the midst of life circumstances that make a transition, time of learning, and increased responsibilities less than ideal,” says Dr. Lere. Whether you’ve just had a baby, are dealing with a traumatic life event or are navigating out any myriad of transitions, it is sometimes okay to pass.

2. You would be stretched too thin 

A promotion may lead you into a balancing act that feels impossible. “It’s always okay to say ‘no’ if it compromises your ability to be the person you want to be in life—a good parent or a good community member, for example,” says Stacey Staaterman, a certified professional coach. When deciding if a promotion is worth it, think about the long-term impact of the position. Sometimes it can lead towards workplace burnout due to traveling or dealing regularly with multiple time zones. “Too many professionals don’t think about the ripple effect of a promotion—good and bad,” explains Staaterman. 

3. It doesn’t align with your career goals

Turning down a promotion can feel counterintuitive as you work to grow your career, but it makes sense if it’s a step in the wrong direction. “Don’t settle for a better job if it means you will have to sacrifice the position you really want to work towards,” says Wendy Webster, finance and HR manager at Ramblers Walking Holidays.

Be honest with your employer about why you’re turning down the position and where you hope to see your career going. “It may be that they will consider you for the role you would like instead, or they may at least help you to work towards it,” she continues. Especially if you’re financially stable, there’s no harm in holding out for what you really want. 

4. You would unwillingly become a manager

There are plenty of reasons why you may choose to turn down a role that requires managing other employees. “Many individual contributors don’t actually want to manage people. They prefer to do the thing they are doing—whether that’s coding, recruiting or selling, for example,” says Galos Alioto. Management is just one track to grow your career, so be upfront with your company about why it isn’t the path for you and where your interests lie instead. 

5. You won’t be compensated fairly

More responsibility doesn’t necessarily translate into more money. As Webster says, “No promotion comes without added duties, so you need to really consider if these additional stresses are worth the money you will be paid in your new role.” If you’ve been offered a promotion without proper compensation, explain your concerns to the hiring manager and negotiate the salary. If they won’t budge, consider asking for an explanation. 

6. The position has a lot of turnover

There’s always that one position that no one seems to stay in long enough to be remembered. “If you’ve been offered a promotion into a role that is frequently vacant, ask yourself why,”  says Nate Masterson, HR manager for Maple Holistics. “There’s usually a reason why positions are constantly being made available—the role is too hard, too brutal, or the expectations are too great. It’s important to find out before accepting the position—and to potentially turn it down if this is.” 

7. It would mean working under a toxic leader

Who you work with—and for—make all the difference in how enjoyable your job is. This sentiment is critical to keep in mind when deciding if you should move to a new position. “If you’re aware that your future boss is likely to be extremely unreasonable or engage in bullying or toxic behavior, then you’re better off declining the promotion,” says Heather Spiegel, an executive recruiter and career coach. “Depending on the size of the organization, you might be offered a similar role in the future working under a better leader.” Of course, if a toxic employee is making such a negative impact, you may choose to bring it up to higher management. 

8. It requires relocating

Even as remote work becomes more popular, many job opportunities still require employees to move. “If you have to relocate somewhere that would be very disruptive for your family. That will cost you in in a lot of ways, even if you are bringing home a bigger paycheck,” Bryan Zawikowski, vice president and general manager of the military transition division for Lucas Group. If you’re single, relocation can still be a big deal as it may mean moving away from your support group of friends and family. If you’re happy living where you are, that can be enough of a reason to turn down a promotion requiring relocation.

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