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I work at a tech company that has numerical levels (as opposed to just "junior" → nothing → "senior") for employees. For the first few levels, you are required to advance to the next level within a set number of months, or you're fired (well, PIPed, so... fired).

I wasn't hired at the base level, and I'd like to move down to it, after learning about this "advance or die" policy. It would mean less money, but that's fine, the company pays a hilarious amount of money to all engineering employees, even at that lowest level. More importantly, I'd receive the same health insurance (fully paid) and time-off benefits, which are what I really care about. I really don't want to lose those entirely, so since moving down a level would allow me to reduce my chance of getting fired, I'll gladly take lower pay for that.

How can I bring this idea up? My company claims that managers don't have much direct control over people's levels and compensation, but I don't know the extent to which that is actually true.

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    My 2 cents: they promote this climb-the-ladder-fast system to push people to improve/move forward, and won't like you stepping down instead of up. red flag. – OldPadawan Jul 24 '17 at 12:38
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    @JoeStrazzere : I think OP discovered after he was hired (I wasn't hired at the base level [...] after learning about this "advance or die") – OldPadawan Jul 24 '17 at 12:40
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    Bringing this up in anyway, however subtle or nice it may be, can be looked at as an acceptance from you that you are not capable of doing your job. If the company has advance or die policy, they can use this against you even at the lower level. – PagMax Jul 24 '17 at 12:44
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    This seems like a very odd system. I assume each level has previous slots available than the previous one due to increased salaries, etc. It feels like a fancy game of king-of-the-hill to see who can come out on top. If you are level 3 and there are no level 4 slots available, do you get tossed out for no real reason other than you've not been promoted enough (which is mostly out of your control). I suspect a company which uses a system like this would find going down a big negative mark that you could never recover from. – bluegreen Jul 24 '17 at 13:12
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    I'd like to reinforce the notion that this sort of system is a major red flag, especially since they didn't bring it up until you were already working there for a while. I'd probably just ride it out while I started looking for a new job. – Cronax Jul 25 '17 at 15:14
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It sounds to me like the whole process is set up as a post-hiring evaluation period.

For the first few levels, you are required to advance to the next level within a set number of months, or you're fired (well, PIPed, so... fired).

So you're hired as, say, position 8, and need to advance to 9. That's not exactly a Kobayashi Maru situation; they want you to prove that you can outperform. From that point of view, any attempt to dodge the bullet may be seen as lack of willingness to put forth a real effort, something that may be needed in the future in a real life scenario - and they want to know they can count on you.

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How can I bring this idea up?

I think you could bring this up to your manager in such a way: "Manager, I am struggling at my current level of responsibilities. Would it be possible for me to move down to WHATEVERTHISPOSITIONISCALLED and then work my way back up?" Highlight the fact that your not concerned about the temporary decrease in pay, your just concerned about being successful long term with the company.

I say could, as you are taking a calculated risk in that the company may feel as though you misled them in obtaining your current position. Only you can weigh the risk and see if its worth it to you. I would also suggest that you verify that a position is available for you to move down to first.

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    I agree with this answer, but I really would stress that second paragraph. In a company culture that forces people to demonstrate the ability to move up a whole position level in a set amount of time may not respond well to the idea of someone self-demoting. – Thomas Owens Jul 24 '17 at 12:41
  • @ThomasOwens it is definitely a risk -- no doubt. – Mister Positive Jul 24 '17 at 12:42
  • I'm not struggling (e.g. I'm performing at or above my current level), my manager actually continually tells me how well I'm doing (especially for someone new to the company), and the company culture is strongly for giving negative feedback if it's appropriate, so I believe she's being truthful. I solely want to exchange salary for lower risk of being fired. – J Boo Jul 24 '17 at 23:50
  • "you misled them in obtaining your current position" that's not really how interviewing at this company works - you go through the algorithms tests, etc. and then you're assigned a level (or not hired). I didn't even know my level until a while after I started, I had to look it up in an internal system to find out. – J Boo Jul 24 '17 at 23:54
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As others have said, I would not bring this idea up at all -- rather challenge yourself to do good work and advance. You may surprise yourself in your ability to excel if given the opportunity.

Asking for a demotion only increases the perception that you don't have what it takes to move to the next level. Eventually (if your plan succeeds) you will get back to where you are now, so your request is in a way self-defeating. You can't really say for sure that getting demoted decreases your chance of being fired.

However, if you are determined to ask for demotion, I would do so gradually and unofficially at first. Ask others, as outside your immediate focus area as possible, if this has ever been done. Work your way toward the point where you can confidently make your request knowing what the answer will be.

  • "Eventually (if your plan succeeds) you will get back to where you are now, so your request is in a way self-defeating." Right, but this way I have double the time without the risk of being fired (only for this particular reason, of course) - and the time frames are long enough that I expect I'll leave the company voluntarily by the time the deadline hits. – J Boo Jul 24 '17 at 23:47
  • @JBoo Yes, theoretically, but that's kind of gaming the system. What if asking the question gets you put on a performance improvement plan? Or let's say you are successfully demoted -- will your superiors expect more from you the next time promotion comes around, since you were hired at a higher level? Managers don't often react positively when someone tries to put in less effort. I suspect that the requirements for promotion to the next level are not as difficult as you might imagine. Companies usually want people to improve and progress. – mcknz Jul 25 '17 at 0:30

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