While there’s a lot of talk about going up the ladder in the corporate world, it seems that few people ever consider the possibility of climbing back down.

It’s as though our brains are programmed to strive for career growth only, which, admittedly, can be a good thing, but not necessarily.

What good is the ladder if you can’t climb back down, right?

It seems that there’s an innate optimism that feasts on our ambition and motivates us to excel at what we do.

Naturally, we expect to reap the fruits of our labor, but for many reasons, the season can be less than a successful one.

While optimism is a great and possibly the only attitude that propels you to succeed, it can also backfire.

If you become obsessed with the idea of success so much that you’re unable to process the possibility of failure, you’re threatened by your own mindset.


It depends on the sector you’re working in of course, but everything cannot always be foreseen and accounted for.

Sometimes things just get out of your hands and it’s up to the elements or higher powers to decide on the fate of the crops so to speak.

That’s why, if you’re dependent on the idea that the only possibility of moving is an upward one, what happens can catch you off guard.

There are many people who excel at climbing the ladder, but they don’t know how to stop or climb down.

For those people, climbing down necessarily means falling and it’s often a disgraceful taboo in the corporate world. That sort of megalomania has a self-destruct button installed.

People who consider stepping down to be shameful, are bound to trip sometime as all people do.

Since they don’t know how to take a fall, they take so much more time and energy to get up.

It’s not to say that employees bent on success are less capable, it’s just that they are more prone to perceive a simple step back as a catastrophe.

In other words, their motivation is unstable and their willpower is fragile as they depend on fixed ideas about success in terms of business and wealth.

Whether you’re climbing down voluntarily or you’re a superior that has to assign an employee to a “lower” position in the great pyramid, you need to be able to understand the corporate ladder.

It’s used to ascend as well as descend and neither way is fixed and permanent so make the best out of it.

Both ascending and descending the ladder have their perks and disadvantages so it’s best to keep them in mind.

Since people usually tend to climb up, there are some risks to making candidates climb down the corporate ladder involuntarily:


An employee who worked hard to get promoted might be severely disappointed in himself/herself or the employer if his expectations are thwarted.

You don’t have to be a shrink to know that, when you expect something and put your back into it, but don’t get any results whatsoever, you don’t tend to reinvest the same amount of energy you did before.

Sometimes numbers demand demotions but make sure it’s an economic necessity before you make your move.

If the demotion is unfair, it’s a sure way of making the employees slack. Discontent in a corporate world spreads like a plague as much as it does in other spheres of life.

Psychology 101 teaches us that the amount of satisfaction with your job is proportional to the interest you take in it and the interest you take in it usually dictates your efficiency at it.

More motivation means more success and demotion doesn’t really scream motivation.

Source: hbr.org

When an employee is relegated without sound and obvious reasons, it can have a negative impact on staff morale.

The world morale signifies the capacity of a group to maintain belief in an institution or a collective goal.

Making employees climb down the ladder with no apparent reason doesn’t really convince people that you, as a manager, hold their welfare as a priority.

Ashlie B. Johnson, head of Brooke Human Resource Solutions, saw the effects of employees climbing down the corporate ladder firsthand:

“I’ve had very difficult conversations relating to demotions and layoffs many times in my career as a head of HR”. “I’ve had some positive outcomes in such situations because I’ve addressed the employees with respect, and have done everything in my power to support the candidates through every step of their transition.”


In relation to what’s been previously said, an employee may regard the demotion as humiliating and such tampering with the ego can take its toll.

For example, if an employee refuses to accept the demotion, the employer has to consider dismissal.

Dismissing the candidates puts superiors in the difficult position of having to find and employ more qualified workers to compensate for the lack of a more experienced one.

Sometimes, depending on the position, new employees take time to train and as the saying goes, time is money so try not to waste it.

Another downside to dismissal can be financial penalties for prematurely terminating the contract with an employee.

That depends on the contract, but in serious institutions, some forms of reimbursement offered to the employee are usually implied.

Put together the time you need to train the newcomers and the potential financial penalties for prematurely terminating the contract and you just might find out that it is more economical to avoid demotions.


Prior consultation and agreement should always take place before opting for changes in roles or job statuses.

This is the case even when employers have reserved the rights to change terms and conditions of employment by contract.

If the employee evaluates the change in status as a substantial one, he/she can opt for an attorney in order to legally defend their rights in front of the court of law or an employment tribunal.

The potential complications could be avoided by getting feedback from the employee and perhaps offering alternatives in addition to changing the job title, duties and responsibilities.

Even when consultations take place, employers need to be careful not to pressure the employee to agree to the offered alternatives, since the consequences of refusal may be severe.

When an employee feels too much pressure has been put, he/she may choose a resignation and a plea to the court.

As for the consultations and agreement, employers should be careful to properly engage with the candidate so as to conduct a meaningful process, otherwise, the worker can consider the process to be a sham which could also result in a claim for a constructive dismissal.

Candidates, dismissed for refusing the demotion, may also have a claim for an unfair dismissal and breach of contract if the employer doesn’t serve the notice of termination of employment in time.


A demotion can also be the basis for a claim for discrimination which opposes the Equality Act passed in 2010 which protects characteristics relating to race, sexual orientation, gender, disabilities, age, religion etc.

An employee may not even need to fulfill requirements in terms of length of service to be able to push the claim of discrimination before the court of law or an employment tribunal.

Unlike claims of unfair dismissals, there is no limit to the compensation for loss of earnings that an employee might sue for.


While demotion can be a useful option for employers in some circumstances, it may have its legal pitfalls.

Having in mind the risk of financial exposure, superiors should always seek legal advice before opting for demotion or dismissal as one can imply the other.

Sometimes employers tend to get an employee to quit rather than firing candidates. That way, managers avoid the difficult situation of firing a candidate.

From an HR point of view, the advantages of this strategy relate to avoiding paying the severance. It’s not an advisable strategy, and not just because it’s immoral, but because it can backfire as some workers simply start slacking at work rather than quitting.

When it comes to financial benefits, managers can also reduce the salary of an employee instead of officially demoting him/her.

That way the position is retained as well as the financial gain. It’s a non-advisable strategy also as it can backfire in the same manner as the previous one.

The best strategy in addressing the risks of demoting candidates is consulting with them and explaining that the demotion is not a disciplinary step.

It should be stressed that it’s not due to the incompetence of the employee either, so as to avoid hurting their pride and demotivating them.

If possible, it should be stressed that the demotion takes place due to the downsizing of the firm or a similar cause or that the management assessed that the employee’s competencies would be better put to use in another sector of the organization.

The likely impact on staff morale should also be considered. It’s not a path employers should choose lightly.

However, sometimes employees voluntarily climb down the corporate ladder as that can have its advantages.


There are more and more people opting for climbing down the ladder themselves. The reasons for such a maneuver may differ.

The ways you can climb down also vary. You may want to climb down in your own firm or you may decide for a full-fledged transition.

The reasons for climbing down the career ladder are usually relating to the draining nature of the work at higher managing positions.

The higher the position is, the greater the responsibilities are and not many people can cope with too much responsibility.

There’s a reason that the higher you go, the less place there is at the pyramidal corporate structures.

Sometimes it’s not just the responsibility, but what you do as a superior. It depends on the job, but superior functions at corporations usually require more management than creativity and action, so people who like to “work on the field”, often lose themselves in doing something they didn’t really dream about doing in the first place.

It is advisable, although it does not occur that often, that corporate leaders sometimes take a step down to remind themselves of the hardship and the nature of the challenges their subordinate colleagues face every day.

That way they can get to know the thick and thin of the corporation and understand its structure better in order to be better leaders.

Getting to know the staff and the working environment first hand is always an asset to the manager.

It’s a growing trend for the boards to choose the potential managers by capacity and qualifications, but to train them from day one and from the lowest position at the firm.

That way the potential managers have to get promoted, step by step, all the way to the top of the institution they ought to govern.

By the time they get to the top, they already know the workers and the working environment like the back of their hand.

To reverse the process, sometimes managers and executives voluntarily climb down the ladder to check the base floors before they climb back up.

There are those who choose to step down because of the conflicting beliefs or because they lost themselves in doing something they don’t feel is right for them or right at all in terms of ethics.

Others value their time, freedom and peace of mind more than the advantages of climbing the ladder.

Some people just miss spending more time with their families.

Be that as it may, both climbing down and up the corporate ladder, have their advantages and disadvantages.

There are risks to deciding to step down for a while and we’ll list some of them in order to help you think and avoid doing something you might later regret.


Before jumping into rash decisions, think about how your superiors will take your request. You might just convey a message that you’re not ambitious or confident enough.

If you question your own expertise, competence and motivation, why should your employer put trust in you and promote you?

By second-guessing the board’s decision and faith in you, you may lose a chance of getting promoted again.

Yes, we said it’s a two-way ladder, but it doesn’t mean you should jump off of a moving train or expect to get back in the saddle just like that.

While freeing yourself from the responsibility of higher functions has its perks, it has its disadvantages too.

Before you demote yourself, make sure you can handle it financially. It’s good to have additional incomes and freelance side hustles if you don’t want to get too involved in the corporate machinery.

Either way, you’re working for the salary. Few things in life come pro bono so you might as well make a decent career for yourself. Not a necessity of course.

After all, the corporate viewpoints are becoming more liberal these days so there are reduced responsibility programs for people who want to lessen the workload.

Better think of a good excuse for temporarily doing it if you want to climb back on though.


When a candidate with senior skills applies for a junior position, it usually makes employers wonder if the position is just a temporary stop on the way to something better.

As most managers look for reliable and dedicated staff, your application might even get turned down.

If you’re thinking about voluntarily relegating yourself then make sure you’ve come up with a good story to back up your application.

Be ready to explain why you’re climbing down the career ladder and make it a good one.

Even if you convince your employer that it’s the spot you feel like you’ll really give your maximum at, are you sure you won’t miss the challenges of the higher position?

Perhaps you’ll find you miss being in a tight spot as the sheer difficulty of the work you’re doing can sometimes force the creativity in you.

It’s a common mistake to think that free time alone will fulfill you.

You need to know what is it that you want to do with your spare time because if your challenges at work don’t match your capacities, you’ll become bored, apathetic and depressed.

Make sure you have a plan for that prolonged weekend you hoped for all along for you might just find that Sundays make you anxious and that you can’t wait to get back to work and do something meaningful.

Of course, if you know what you want to do and have something to devote to in your spare time, this doesn’t apply to you.

Low Self-Esteem

While there’s more and more talk about dialing down on the career goals, since they don’t guarantee a good life quality, people still stick to the old prejudice that the higher you’re on the ladder, the happier you are.

If you’re used to some form of admiration from your subordinates, friends or acquaintances and if that admiration is in relation to your title, think twice before opting for demotion.

It’s not to say that you shouldn’t do it. Being identified with your vocation and grounding your status on position alone is not a wise thing to do. If you’re already doing it, however, consider the impact your new job will have on your self-esteem.

Low self-esteem means low motivation which decreases your productivity which in return decreases your self-esteem.

Yes, it’s a vicious circle so be careful not to make the mistake of defining yourself by what you do for living… or if you can’t help it, try to do something that would do you justice.


Candidates with senior skills applying for junior positions often do not take their jobs seriously.

The results of such an approach are detrimental to the cause of the enterprise.

If you underestimate your job, you’re bound to overlook something and make a mistake.

The results of arrogance are, in the long-term, usually catastrophic, not just in business, but generally.

Be careful not to overestimate yourself or take your responsibilities for granted because you might just find yourself falling from the ladder instead of climbing down.

It’s not good for the staff morale to underrate the tasks at hand so if you think your capacity outmatches the challenge, keep it to yourself.

Be a mentor, but don’t ridicule what you’re teaching if you don’t want to sell yourself short.


There are many ways to climb down the career ladder and even more reasons to do it.

Of course, there are many risks to it, so it’s by no means advisable. It’s not to say that we advise against it either. It’s an individual thing so, if we advise anything, it’s to think carefully before you do it.

Many candidates make the decisions on impulse and in the heat of the moment. Give yourself time to cool down before you make life-changing decisions. Do your homework and research.

Read the article again if you have to and sum up the pros and cons.

If you feel and think that climbing down the ladder is something you should do, by no means should you stick to the position you’re not satisfied with.

Just don’t be rash. Have a good reason for both climbing up and down the corporate ladder.

It’s not the position that guarantees the quality of life, because all of us have different priorities. Just make sure you know what yours are before you climb that ladder.

It’s hardly an irreversible process, but it can save you a lot of time and energy if you set your priorities straight.

If, however, you failed to do that and you find yourself climbing up or down involuntarily, don’t worry. Sometimes you need to take a step before realizing why you’ve taken it and where it can lead you.

Not everything can be planned ahead, but doing homework doesn’t hurt… unless there’s really too much of it in which case climbing down the ladder works like a charm.

The Risks of Candidates Climbing Back Down the Corporate Ladder

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