acer mobile phone, white coffee cup and apples on a wooden table

Stuck in a career rut? Feel like you’re going nowhere? Here’s how to make it work for you.

Photo courtesy of

There are many metaphors for careers: path, ladder, carousel, journey  – all giving a sense of movement, of rising and climbing, but what should you do when you feel stuck in a career rut and start describing your career as a plateau?

The dictionary definition of a plateau is a state of little or no change following a period of activity or progress – no wonder it’s not something many people aspire to!

There can be a number of reasons why you might get into a career rut or feel like your plateauing – sometimes through no fault of your own you have simply stopped developing your career.

  • Structural Plateaus occur when the organisation simply has no more opportunities for you to move into. If you’re working in a small organisation then this can happen quite quickly, and even in a large organisation it will happen sooner or later to everyone.
  • Content Plateaus happen when you have become very good at what you do and feel there is simply no more challenge left in the role.
  • Contribution Plateau is within your control, but for whatever reason, boredom, fear of change or lack of engagement you have simply stopped developing and looking for opportunities to learn, develop new skills and add value. This is a dangerous plateau to find yourself on because becoming resistant to change and learning in today’s fast evolving workplace can leave you isolated and vulnerable.
  • Life Plateau can occur when you have chosen to plateau either due to caring responsibilities outside work, often women returning to work may find themselves plateauing while their children are small, or it can happen because there are activities or passions beyond work that you want to throw yourself into.
  • Alternatively you can voluntarily plateau when you love what you do and you know the next move will take you into a managerial role where you don’t get to do what you love anymore.

Can a plateau be ‘good’ for your career?

As plateauing seems static you might be inclined to think it is not a good thing, that somehow you will fall behind, miss the boat or lose out in some way, but there can be advantages to a career plateau:

  • Plateaus give you time to step back and take a look at where you are, what you have achieved, and lets you ‘check in with yourself’ to make sure you are heading in the direction in which you want to travel. If you are climbing a hill it’s nice to be able to stop for a while and enjoy the view rather than rushing to the top.
  • Similarly in our careers, taking time for reflection is  important for our self-development. Research has shown that having meaning in our work is vital to our career happiness, so having time to evaluate  how meaningful you find your work can also give you clues as to your next move.
  • Plateaus also  give you time and space to learn – this can allow you to become more expert or specialist in what you do, or simply time to be able to focus on acquiring and absorbing knowledge, maybe it will be the opportunity to study or simply consolidate what you already know.

How to avoid getting stuck

Think strategically and have a plan – how long do you want to plateau for? It’s easy to get stuck in a career rut so set a deadline for re-engaging with moving upwards or undertaking change. You can always review the deadline but without it you run the risk of stagnation.

Re-frame success for this period of your life. Challenge yourself to find success from sources other than pay rises or new job titles – so whether its taking on a new project, learning a new skill or becoming more ‘expert’ in your field celebrate in the same way you would a promotion.

Consider a sideways move to a  new organisation if you feel that it is structural plateauing that is holding you back – the new experiences in a different workplace  can be valuable when you are ready for the next upwards move.

Use your time well – if you dream of starting your own business one day then while you are plateauing in your current career, and have the mental space, you can start planning and researching what you would need to do to begin an entrepreneurial journey. Even consider developing this in parallel to your existing career – working 5pm-9pm on your own business can be energising after your normal 9-5pm.

Whatever happens don’t view your career rut as negative – see it as an opportunity so that when you’re ready to engage with change or move up you are in a good position to continue with your career journey.

This article originally appeared on Guardian Careers site – read the original here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *