The Essence Of Career Plateauing

What Is Career Plateauing?

The Essence Of Career Plateauing


By Mark Swartz
Monster Contributing Writer

Your legs may be getting sore from trying to climb the career ladder. Does clambering for promotions and raises mean less to you now than having a more balanced life?

If so you may be a candidate for career plateauing—a period of your worklife where you more or less put the brakes on ambition. You continue to work and earn income. But your focus shifts to reducing stress while pursuing other goals.

The Essence Of Career Plateauing

Not everyone is destined to become a CEO. Constant upward progress at work is hard to sustain. Over time it can even lead to burnout.

Can you think of an actor or actress you know of who once was famous but has since stayed busy, though not so much in the limelight anymore? Or someone you know personally who seemed to be rising skyward career-wise, however lately is more inclined to spend time with their family or on a hobby?

When you career plateau, you take time-out from striving for more money and responsibility. Overall you are satisfied with what you earn. Your work load is acceptable to you. And you really don’t care much that your rival in the next cubicle has a fancier title than you.

Plateauing To Take Care Of Family

Some people elect to plateau in order to look after family members. Like some new mothers who go back to work after maternity leave. They may want to opt for the slower lane. So might a person who is caring for an aging parent.

Kaitlyn D., age 34, has returned to work as a Customer Service Manager after her Parental Leave expired. This is her second child in three years. She and her husband both need to keep their jobs, given their financial obligations.

What Kaitlyn has opted to do is put her career growth on hold. She would rather have more time with her infants. That’s why she respectfully turned down her boss’s offer of a promotion to Assistant Director of Customer Service; an offer the boss had made before Kaitlyn’s leave began.

“I sure could use the extra money, especially these days” says Kaitlyn. “But my boss wasn’t surprised when I explained to her I needed more time with my young ones. In fact, she proposed that I work from home (telework) two days a week.”

Since Kaitlyn is experienced in her job, she is able to manage her workload and motherhood at the same time. “Having an involved husband and understanding boss sure helps, as does my mother’s being able to care for the kids when I’m work,” adds Kaitlyn. “But it’s definitely worth it to be on the ‘mommy track’ instead of the fast track for a few years. I’m glad to give up the fancy extras for now.”

Plateauing To Lead A Less Stressful Life

It can be easier to explain your decision to plateau when there’s a pressing need to slow down. Caring for children or elders doesn’t raise eyebrows. Nor does nursing an injury or other serious health condition.

But how do you explain to your boss, or to others, that you’re simply content with the way things are?  And that you don’t feel a need to compete for promotions and bigger raises.

That’s what Anthony K. has had to deal with. At age 29, his boss asked him to consider a move to a different province, to take a leading role in starting up a brand new sporting goods division.

Anthony surprised his boss by saying thanks but no thanks. “My boss is in his early 40’s, looking to move up the ladder. He couldn’t understand why a guy my age wouldn’t jump at this huge opportunity,” says Anthony.

“It was hard to make it clear that I love what I’m doing right now, and that balance is key. I know my job inside out. I have time to go mountain biking, snow boarding…getting out in nature and doing my thing means more to me than going after bigger bucks, at this stage anyway.” Later on in life Anthony may shift his priorities as his circumstances change.

Stepping off the fast track can be risky though. Turning down his boss’s offer almost cost Anthony his job. “At first the senior managers thought I lacked commitment. One of them accused me of not being a team player,” says Anthony. “I kept pointing to my sales numbers and how they were growing every month.” After month three rolled by, his boss told him they had found someone else to take on the start up. Anthony adds “They decided to keep me in my current position. My dedication and performance helped them see the light. Mind you, if they didn’t accommodate me, I guess I would have had to look for work elsewhere.”

Can Just Anyone Plateau Voluntarily?

Some jobs lend themselves to plateauing more readily than others. For instance, the smaller your employer is, the fewer positions there are for you to move up into. Unionized jobs can also put less emphasis on promotions. There are seniority and other rights that govern your rate of ascent.

In any event, opting to plateau may involve varying degrees of sacrifice. Gone during the plateau are higher raises and extra bonuses, more prestigious titles, greater responsibility and the like.

Yet whatever your reason for plateauing, doing so can give you a chance to continue the work you enjoy at a wage you can live with. There may be extra time to pursue outside interests. Also reduced stress because you’re not competing so much with rivals.

If you can be content with all that, then “onwards” may not always require you to move “upwards.”