Prevent Employee Plateauing and Overcome Advancement Barriers

Advancement – it’s on all of your employees’ minds and yet most of our organizations have few advancement opportunities to offer most of our employees. As a result, we probably employ many individuals that have plateaued in their careers, either structurally via no more room to move up or having mastered the work and seeing it as repetitive and no longer challenging or meaningful.  Plateauing is toxic for our organizations – as studies reveal that it results in greater employee turnover perceptions, lower job satisfaction and engagement, more job search behavior, and increased absenteeism (Heilmann, Holt, & Rilovick, 2008). In the face of this challenge that plagues so many small to mid-sized organizations and prevents us from fully engaging and retaining our top people, here are four solutions your organization could consider implementing to prevent plateauing issues and overcome advancement barriers.

Look beyond the silos. The excessively hierarchical organization is no longer effective so reduce the pyramid and increase your lateral opportunities in the organization. This is a way many organizations have dealt with the issue of having more qualified people than open positions – by moving away from the traditional supervisor/manager and subordinate structural configuration in their workplaces to a team-based approach.  Team-based approaches encourage flatter organizations with fewer levels and more development opportunities including cross-training, job rotation, and lateral transfers and open up developmental opportunities over time (Montgomery, 2002).  They also promote collaboration with coworkers in positive and creative ways.

Use a lattice approach. Career lattices enable employees to move in multiple directions within an organization, versus just upward, thereby enabling a multitude of other development opportunities. A lattice approach allows employees to not just move up, but over, out, and across the organization – perhaps in different departments and areas. This encourages development in other areas of the organization and allows employees to branch out and explore new areas. It also encourages employees to view development more broadly, rather than just climbing the corporate ladder.

Stretch employees. If employees are not receiving new challenges and opportunities, your organization needs to focus more on stretching its employees in the simplest of ways. Goal setting, new assignments, and temporary projects are just a few ways to challenge and stretch your employees. Make sure each employee is being challenged and that supervisors understand the importance of making work challenging and meaningful.

Expand rewards for expertise. Our organizations employ many individual contributors that are very strong their areas of expertise, but may not be promotable. By expanding rewards for expertise and focusing on rewarding and recognizing performance as well as knowledge and competency, and not just promotions helps encourage individual contribution and downplay promotions (Montgomery, 2002).


Heilmann, S. G., Holt, D. T., & Rilovick, C.Y. (2008). Effects of career plateauing on turnover: a test of the model. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies.

Montgomery, D. (2002). Happily ever after: Plateauing as a means for long-term career satisfaction.

Additional Resources:

HR Resource Line (members only): Obtain sample policies and procedures as well as guidance for career development and advancement-related issues. Contact
HR Consulting: Expert guidance and project assistance on any of your developmental, advancement, and workforce planning needs is available. Please contact for more information on how ERC can help you.
Professional development: To enhance the skills and competencies of your workforce, consider enrolling your employees in ERC’s training programs or conducting training on-site. For more information, visit

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