It’s OK to Say No to a Promotion

Last week I attended a women’s conference. One of the speakers focused her presentation on a recent study on women CEOs. She gave quite a bit of statistics related to the characteristics of female CEOs. As I sat listening to the speaker, I realized that I was not fully engaged. I was thinking to myself, “This session should have been an elective.” I did not feel that the information was relevant to the full audience. Later, while discussing the session with my supervisor, the comment was made that not everyone aspires to be a CEO. It reminded me of an article I had just read where the author stated that for various reasons, not everyone wants to be promoted. Maybe you’re a caregiver who wants to focus more energy at home. Maybe you prefer the freedom of being an individual contributor. Perhaps, the timing is just not right.

We tend to assume that absolutely everyone wants to move up—particularly in libraries. If someone works as support staff, we think that they really want to be a librarian. Many of us even encourage them to go to school to earn their MLS. Often, however, people are perfectly satisfied with their jobs. They like what they do and have no desire to take on more responsibility. Guess what? That really is okay. It doesn’t mean you’re lazy or that you lack ambition.   

The author of the article I read encouraged readers who might be in this type of situation to consider the reasons they may not be interested in being promoted. She suggested that individuals have a conversation with their supervisor to show appreciation that their managers believe they deserve to be promoted. Explain why the current job is an excellent fit for their strengths, skills, and goals. They should tell their manager that they want to keep growing and offer some suggestions for how they can accomplish this without the promotion. Perhaps there are new projects they could take on to continue developing their skills. The author provides concrete tips to help navigate the discussion effectively. She warns these individuals to be careful not to say anything that could undermine future prospects. Just because one promotion isn’t right, the next one could be.