What Is an Employee Plateau?

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Plateaued employees are those who, for various reasons, cannot progress any further along their current career path. Scientists from Kwangwoon University in Korea found that an employee who perceives he has reached a career plateau is likely to experience reduced job satisfaction and commitment. The result of such frustration may lead an employee to exhibit negativity about an organization and its structure. An employer must deal with that eventuality, as attitudes such as these can prove insidious to an organization in the long term.

Causes

An employee in a low-paid “dead-end” job may have little hope of career progression and will often be aware of this from the outset. Most skilled employees, however, expect to move upward throughout their working lives. They may be unable to do this due to any number of circumstances, such as a lack of training, lack of opportunities, a lack of inherent skill and, frequently, the limitations of one's chosen field. The Tech Republic website suggests that even if a vertical career path continues to be available, an employee may psychologically plateau. This may happen when a high-performing employee “burns out” after working too hard for too long. A psychologically plateaued employee usually requires support to ease her workload.

Effects

Scientists from the Institut d'Administration des Entreprises in Canada found evidence that "plateaued" and "non-plateaued" employees respond differently to their work environment. They corroborated other studies that have shown plateaued employees are more likely to exhibit negative behavioral responses such as lowered quality or quantity of work, and psychological withdrawal. Their negative attitudes can be transmitted to other non-plateaued employees, thus damaging the overall working environment.

Mitigation

Many employees reach the zenith of their chosen field fairly early in their working lives. Continuous career progression is rare, especially in relatively unskilled employment areas. In cases such as these, plateaued employees need other forms of work-based stimulation. According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, plateaued employees provided with expanding job assignments, mentoring opportunities and involvement in projects or team building exhibited more positive attitudes and higher perceived performance.

Anticipation

Employees who have worked for a single organization over a long period of time are frequently valuable assets. They are also the most likely to plateau. On the part of management, anticipating employee plateaus is vital in keeping committed employees satisfied and engaged. According to the HRCrossing website, an employee who has already reached her career plateau may refuse to recognize the barrier and may refuse offers of help.

References

About the Author

Justin Schamotta began writing in 2003. His articles have appeared in "New Internationalist," "Bizarre," "Windsurf Magazine," "Cadogan Travel Guides" and "Juno." He was a deputy editor at Corporate Watch and co-editor of "BULB" magazine. Schamotta has a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Plymouth University and a postgraduate diploma in journalism from Cardiff University.

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