What is Career plateau?

By Abhishek Kathpal | Updated 25 July, 2022

It's not easy staying in the same job for years. It becomes even more complicated when employees are asked to perform the same role. Boredom starts to develop, burnout sets in, and dissatisfaction follows. Those are some of the symptoms of an HR term called "career plateau".

What is Career plateau

Career plateau meaning and definition

A Career plateau is a stage in an employee's career when they have had a long time between promotions, are losing interest in their job, and see no possible opportunity for upward mobility within their organization. As stated above, it leads to growing dissatisfaction and burnout. Essentially, the employee sees no chance to grow, and their work starts to lose significance.

Types and causes of Career Plateau?

Though not officially recognized in some quarters, there are two widely accepted causes for career plateaus. By extension, there are two common types of career plateaus. They are structural plateau and content plateau.

  1. Structural Plateau is a situation where an employee feels plateaued due to organizational reasons. In such a case, the disgruntled employee feels unable to progress because management believes they lack skills for higher-level jobs, lack commitment/desire to move up, or do not have personal goals that align with the company's vision. This type of career plateau could also develop due to a bad economic situation, misguided recruiting, and the current hierarchical situation of the company. However, at the core of this type of plateau are decisions/conditions generally out of the employee's control.

  2. Content Plateau: this type of plateau, on the other hand, is caused when the employee indeed lacks the skill, ability, temperament, etc., to progress within the company. In such a case, the restrictive factors are primarily internal. However, there are cases where a content plateau is imposed on an employee by the organization's unwillingness to sanction training programs, grant mentorships, or provide the flexibility that allows the employee to outgrow their roles.

Along with these two types of plateaus, a personal plateau is also possible. In such a case, the employee's career intentionally stalls for personal, family, health reasons, etc.

How to manage and outgrow a Career Plateau?

There are two general ways to manage the situation from an employee's perspective. According to Jenny Blake (author of "Pivot: The Only Move That Matters is Your Next One"), the right move is to channel your frustration with the plateau into a creative outlet. Work on a rewarding personal project and use the dissatisfaction with your career situation as fuel. The second way is the more conventional way; approach HR and figure out how to improve your career opportunities.From the employer's perspective, cook up ways to increase employee engagement and contributions, schedule regular training programs to update skills, recruit with a long-term vision, and maintain the structural flexibility to guarantee lateral growth.

About the Author

Abhishek Kathpal

Abhi is the co-founder at Longlist.io. Funded by US based OnDeck, Longlist is currently enabling 50+ businesses to increase their candidate and client reach outs, automating the workflow across stages.