When It Might Be Right to Step Down

There are several reasons that you make a decision to take on a new leadership role:  to challenge yourself, to make a difference, or to reach a career goal. However, whatever your reason, not every promotion turns out to be the best career move or worse is a good fit.  In those situations, you have to decide whether stepping down is the best solution. I understand this is not an easy decision as it can present potential career and professional repercussions. However, staying in a new leadership role that is not a good match clearly does not bode well either.

The decision to step down should be based on abilities and career goals.  Yet many managers let emotional factors such as pride, greed, or fear of not getting another promotion affect their judgment and stop them from doing the best thing for their careers and their reputation.  Here are some things to consider when deciding to step down.

  • Assess your situation:  You generally know within a few weeks into a new position if it is going to work. When you are promoted and you know it is not a perfect fit, you need to make the decision to either step down or stick with it. If you decide to step down, then you need to list all the issues and liabilities you and your company will face if you decide to step down. Review the list and discuss it with your immediate boss. Remember the goal is to keep the impact of your stepping down from negatively affecting you, your boss, or your company.
  • Stepping down does not equate to quitting.   It might just mean that you are not ready to take the job for any number of reasons:  maybe you can not put in the extra time it is going to demand; or maybe you don’t have the required skills and that it is going to become obvious.  You will need to dispel concerns and work with your boss to help them understand that your stepping down is a win-win solution for everyone. The key is to reassure the company that your intentions are good and that you have a compelling reason for why you need to step down from this particular promotion, yet still be a part of the company. Refrain from telling the company how much you hated the new position and keep the conversation positive.
  • Stepping down can be beneficial.  If done correctly, stepping down for the good of your career and the company can win you the respect of senior managers. It is impossible to be truly successful with a new position when you know you can not do the job and meet expectations.  It will cause stress for you and for your boss that will have to manage your performance especially when both of you know it will not turn out good.  While stepping down will decrease stress and responsibility, you should be aware that it will be up to you to begin to prove your worth again and work toward a goal of increasing your skills to take on new challenges. Stepping down can also provide you with the opportunity to gain a new skill base or knowledge.

 Bottom line:  Not every job opening will be right for you, but you should recognize and admit that staying in a job that is not a good match for your skills can be more harmful to your career than stepping down from such a position.  Have you ever been faced with making the decision to step down? 

photo credit


About Patricia Knight
Hello and welcome. My name is Patricia Knight. Thank you for taking the time to view my blog. I’m a Human Resources professional who is currently pursing an MBA at the University of Nevada-Reno. I am an analytical, detail-oriented professional who believes that collaboration and negotiation are critical for successful employee relations between leadership and employees.

17 Responses to When It Might Be Right to Step Down

  1. Hello, I hopped over to this page from reddit. It’s not something I would typically read, but I liked your thoughts on it. Thanx for making something worth reading!

  2. mRlon says:

    nice to read.. was looking for advice As i am about to make a step down from my current job. iam a unit manager in a hospital and somehow i found myself in a troubled position.. i have temper issues. attitude wise i am ok. but in times of under pressure, stress. can’t control it. and i dont want to lose my job coz of it. i know im hard working. flexible and committed to my job. thanks..

  3. Sally says:

    Thank you so much for your advice on this. I have taken on a management role in a suffering travel agency and am frustrated by my inability to be able to turn it around. Other than my own sales the 4 other staff are selling nothing. I have been spending all my time trying to help them achieve as their manager and am hating my job. I have now made the decision to step down and do what I love again – selling travel!!

  4. Mharis says:

    I been stuck for weeks thinking about if I should step down, when should I step down and how to let my manager know about my plans since his very supportive giving me time to take care of family and elder parent when needed. But the work is causing me stress and anxiety and I feel that even if I am trying my hardest ,I am not meeting the goals. I would rather have someone take over and make my department sucessful. Is that a sufficient reason to step down.

    • Absolutely. My hope is that your boss realizes that you have not come to this decision lightly. Just because it is not the right time now does not mean it will not be the right time later. It sounds like you have really thought things through and kudos to you for realizing this within yourself.

      Good luck,

  5. Jeff says:

    I have been a chef for 20 + years and have worked in some of the finest hotels, restaurants and country clubs all over the united states. Recently I took a job with a fortune 500 company in the hospitality industry and recieved a promotion. I love the travel and the pay but I am no longer in the kitchen doing what I love to do. Also I am bogged down with schedules, payroll, spreadsheets, budgets, costing, invoices, etc… It goes on and on and on..I am getting discouranged and want to step down from this position. Your blog has been very helpful to me and I look forward to reading more in the future,

  6. amit says:

    I like how supportive your article makes me feel about stepping down. you have definitely helped a lot of people decide to step down from their current roles including myself, regardless of the fact I will be earning less money and my social life will deteriorate with the low income, at least my work life will be better right?

  7. Sam says:

    Hi there

    Thanks for writing this. It was definitely a great read. I took on a management role 2 months ago and I’m hating it. I feel over worked and the commute to work is crazy. It’s an hour away. I’m so stressed out. I wanna step down but I don’t want to let my manager down!

  8. Abraham says:

    This has helped me. I was promoted 6 months ago to a department manager and it seemed like something I wanted at the time, but it is not the right fit for me like i thought. It brought a heavy workload and high stress. I’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure because of it. And since my health is more important, I wanna go back to my old role. Reading this is very helpful. Thanks.

    • Lyndii says:

      I hope things worked out for you Abraham – i see it was a bit of time ago you posted. I am at the start of this journey and all the comments have been very reassuring in knowing i am not alone in this realisation. Your position sounds a lot similar to mine (just diagnosed with high BP) Life is way too short to struggle with situations that can be changed, and no paycheck can make up for health and happiness. I hope you are in a better fitting position now

  9. Lyndii says:

    i too took on a managers role within a very busy ED department – and i knew almost right away it was NOT a good move. The staff are fine, and i am (on paper) ideal for the post – my feedback has been great and morale seems to have improved in the department – for everyone but me! I am anxious, stressed and its now affecting my health and family to the extent i don’t recognise or like who i am becoming. I think i’m just not cut out to be a supervisor – i try to please everyone and hate having to say ‘no’ or pick up on people. I have decided to step down – my old post is vacant again and i ‘m asking to be de-moted. I know it is the right choice as i no longer care whether it looks like i’m a quitter or that i may never get another bite at the cherry. I have learned a lot and am grateful for the opportunity, and i think i have learned far more about myself to – i am happiest as a coach, team-mate, maybe even leader but i am most definately NOT a manager.
    Your posts have helped me see that i am not the only person who has experienced this, and for that i am grateful.

  10. JP says:

    I feel like a weight has been lifted from me after reading this. 🙂 I have been really struggling with this for months… Even though I know it’s the right decision for me.

    I go tomorrow to discuss my “stepping down” with our HR Rep. I just hope they don’t say I can’t step down. Does anyone know if they can “legally” tell me no? I’ve been doing some research and haven’t come across anything.

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