Why I Don’t Regret Asking for a Demotion and $7,000-a-Month Pay Cut

  • I was promoted in 2020 to chief operating officer at the startup The Living Lab.
  • Burnout in my new role began to trigger my chronic anxiety, and I was crying at work weekly.
  • After making sure a demotion was financially viable for me, I asked my bosses for one in February.

In 2018, I was the first hire at a real-estate-coaching company after leaving my job as head of public relations for an agency. By March 2020, I’d been promoted from a marketing coach to chief operating officer. 

The pandemic was the start of my slow burnout journey. The company was already remote, but we still had challenges like everyone else. 

I had to juggle the pandemic and a new role 

It was now my job to create much-needed operating procedures and hire for new roles, on top of delivering new programs and coaching offers. 

The new responsibility of managing every department and being everyone’s resource for problem-solving, alongside navigating a pandemic, took a toll on my mental health.

My anxiety seemed to grow each day. I wasn’t motivated to do anything except the bare minimum, and I didn’t feel the same sense of accomplishment in my work.

Everything came to a head in summer. My job had slowly evolved over 2 ½ years into something I didn’t love. 

I went from creating operating procedures and working closely with our delivery department to doing work in isolation and taking on responsibilities I didn’t enjoy, such as training and managing sales-team hires.

I also felt increasingly responsible for the company’s financial success or failure.

2 ½ years into the role, I’d reached my breaking point

The weight of this role triggered my chronic anxiety. I was crying about my job at least once a week. 

Being in charge of what felt like everything and everyone was not good for my mental health. 

The stress carried over into every aspect of my life. I was irritable and distracted with family members and friends and turned down social invites because I had no energy. I knew I needed to make a change.

I wanted to return to work I loved: marketing, branding, and creation. 

While I disliked my job, I didn’t want to walk away from the fantastic team I’d built. I also still believed in the company’s mission and felt I had more to offer.

To stay at the company but step away from management would mean moving down the ladder. 

I knew I wanted a demotion but wanted to feel confident in my choice

Before I approached my bosses, I needed to make sure a demotion was financially viable for me. I knew my salary would take a hit, but I wanted to negotiate my pay, as opposed to leaving it up to my boss.

I made a budget and revisited my investments. I cut my salary by 34%, from $20,500 a month to $13,500 a month. I felt the cut would account for my new lack of management responsibilities and boost the salary of the new chief operating officer.

I live in Montreal, where the cost of living is relatively low compared with Toronto or Vancouver, British Columbia. My 1,500-square-foot loft costs me $1,650 a month with utilities and internet, compared with my 550-square-foot Toronto apartment that cost $2,600 a month. Even with a proposed $7,000-a-month cut, I could comfortably cover my living expenses.

My savings were going to take the biggest hit

My proposed cut meant reducing how much income I saved each month by almost half. I made a list of expenses to trim and edited my subscriptions to minimize the effect.

I also spoke with my financial advisor and changed some mutual funds and guaranteed-return investments into stocks — I’m only 33, so I have the luxury of waiting out market volatility.

I’ve also started contributing a few freelance articles to publications each month, which I was doing to supplement my income while with my previous employer.

Preparation was key in having a positive conversation about my demotion with my boss

After six months of careful deliberation, I approached my boss to discuss my demotion.  

I prepared an outline for the conversation in early February. In the meeting, I celebrated my wins, while taking personal accountability for my lack of growth. I also clearly articulated where I felt I could bring value elsewhere and how the demotion would benefit everyone.

I also proposed the pay cut with the clear idea that I wanted to earn my way back to another pay raise. 

The result was a positive, laughter-filled conversation that left everyone satisfied.

I’m so much happier now that I’ve been demoted

Since my demotion in February, I’ve had the opportunity to focus on what I love doing, and it has reignited my joy in coming to work. 

My mental health improved immediately. My anxiety diminished, my sleep improved, I was twice as productive, and within my first two weeks, I created an offer that has brought in significant additional revenue without adding meaningful strain on the team. I’m in a much better place personally and professionally.

If I had to make the same decision again, I absolutely would.