5 Signs You're Quietly Being Demoted — And 3 Ways to Fight Back

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k
April 13, 2024 at 3:43PM UTC

Setbacks at work can be difficult to deal with. But what if they happen out of the blue? This is even more challenging, particularly when they’re large scale.

A Fairygodboss member recently reported that she had returned from maternity leave, only to feel as though she had been demoted.

“I've been at my company for 12 years and am in a leadership role, with several teams under my umbrella,” she wrote on the Fairygodboss community feed. “On my fourth day back, my boss informed me that he decided to restructure my teams, hiring a male coworker to take over approximately half of my workload, without even consulting me. He thought I need to ‘focus more’ on other areas. The biggest problem for me is that he took away the favorite parts of my job—a team that I built from the ground up.

I feel like the environment has gotten increasingly toxic over the past year and it's time to start seeking another job. But I admit I'm so scared to start something new when I'm still in survival mode with a new baby….Plus these conversations really caused a hit on my self-confidence.”

For this professional, the demotion was seemingly out of the blue. But in other cases, there are signs you need to pay attention to.

5 signs you’re being demoted

1. Your duties suddenly change.

Responsibilities are shifted or given to someone else. Or, you’re simply being given fewer projects or responsibilities than you’re used to.

2. You’re being micromanaged.

Your manager is constantly nitpicking your work — perhaps they even want to review even the least important assignments and tasks.

3. You receive poor feedback.

Receiving constant poor feedback is a clear sign that something’s amiss — especially when it’s seemingly out of the blue, and you’ve always received positive reviews in the past.

4. Instructions on assignments are vague.

Your manager almost seems to want you to fail by giving unclear instructions. Or, the assignments just aren’t that important, so they’re not spending time explaining them to you.

5. Lower-level employees are promoted above you.

You’re a senior- or mid-level employee who’s seeing more junior members of your team being promoted above you — into positions you thought you were a shoo-in for.

What to do about it

1. Discuss the situation with your manager.

If you see the writing on the wall, don’t just sit back without vocalizing your concern. 

“I’d say that you should take the time to evaluate your role to confirm if you are still passionate about it,” Twannetta Weaver wrote. “If you are, carve out time to discuss your concerns with a mentor or your boss. If you feel it’s a lost cause, start preparing for your glorious exit to someplace where you are appreciated!”

You want to take strides to understand why this is happening. Perhaps your manager will be able to fill in the gaps and explain what’s going on and whether there are steps you can take to improve.

2. Document everything.

“As a former HR professional and someone that has been a ‘victim’ as well, I can say that this is a clear violation of FMLA,” Shelby C. wrote. “I would attempt to manage your manager first.  Sometimes they do not realize the mistakes they have made and the potential legal liability they have placed themselves in.”

“This is a violation of FMLA,” another member agreed. “You are to return to a job with the same capacity as before you left. Now your employer may get around it by stating they never cut your pay or title. I would suggest keeping good documentation and speaking to HR.”

It’s important to document everything that’s taking place because there could be legal issues at play. However, bear in mind that statutes like the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) don’t apply to all companies (such as small-size ones).

3. Take the steps to improve.

If you’ve gotten feedback from your boss on areas that need work, take the necessary steps to improve. This could be a situation where once your manager sees you making the effort, they will recognize that you care about your work and want to do better.

If you haven’t gotten any constructive criticism, try to gather feedback first. If it’s not possible, take a hard, honest look at yourself and your work and identify areas that need improvement. Create a plan of action for yourself, and make your efforts visible to your manager — they need to see that you’re trying. Hopefully, this will make you a better employee and professional, too.


This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.

What's the no. 1 sign someone's being demoted? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

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