The purpose of this paper is to provide insights into the practice of demotion. This study aims to do so in two ways: first, by investigating Belgian HR professionals’ key motives for practicing and not practicing demotion and second, by examining the reasons why HR professionals choose for these specific motives.
The explanatory mixed methods design is used: survey data are analyzed through cluster analysis resulting in insights into the motives for practicing demotion. Follow-up qualitative focus group interviews provide an explanatory understanding of the motives for practicing and not practicing demotion.
Low employee performance, optimization of the organization, employer branding and career possibilities are motives for practicing demotion. Demotivation, salary issues, a taboo and a lack of vacancies are motives for not practicing demotion. A cultural change, walk the talk, carefully selected vocabulary and transparent communication could possibly counter the motives for not practicing demotion.
The use of terminology such as “downward career twist” instead of “demotion” in some questions of the survey might have influenced the answers of the Belgian HR professionals. In a focus group, no matter how small, participants sometimes tend to give socially desirable answers under group pressure, and this could influence the accuracy. Moreover, the HR professionals often expressed their own opinions, which they clearly dissociate from the views of the organization.
Organizations need to explore alternatives to motivate their employees in general and in particular in case of a demotion. This can be emphasized through a demotion policy. However, these alternative ways to motivate are important as extrinsic motivators such as salary are not the only way to motivate employees.
Motives for practicing and not practicing demotion are to the authors’ best knowledge never studied from a recent, Belgian HR perspective. These motives are contextualized in organizational justice theory. This study contributes to the demotion literature by elaborating the list of motives for practicing and not practicing demotion.
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