career plateau

Have You Reached A Career Plateau? How to Regain Control

Author: Shelagh Donnelly

Have you paused lately to assess where your career is going? Are you making progress, or have you plateaued? Think about it. Plateaus are generally flat expanses of terrain, and you’ve made either a descent or a climb to reach one. There’s little variation in the landscape unless you want to go downhill or make the effort to move upward.

The same is true for career plateaus. We may feel under-appreciated, wish our job was more challenging, or have lost out on a promotion. Other times, we’re simply drained after being tapped for a major undertaking or high-stress project. You’re glad you were able to contribute, but feel as though you’ve run a marathon.

If you’ve hiked to a plateau, you know it can be a great place to rest and soak up the surrounding scenery. Career-wise, plateaus can be good for us – for brief periods of time. You can regroup, collect and focus your thoughts, assess prospects on your own horizon and generally recharge.

You just don’t want to stay on that plateau too long, because that can imply a period of minimal growth or even a decline. If you find yourself still on that plateau months after arrival, ask yourself why – and how you can build momentum to move forward and upward. How so? Well, that depends on how you reached your personal plateau.


You’re frustrated by limited opportunities in your workplace but decided that, for personal or financial reasons, you need to stay put. Or do you? Assess the barriers: are they your employer’s (limited jobs or budget) or your own (lack of credentials or experience)?

Think about part-time studies to add to your qualifications. That can broaden your prospects and open doors that might otherwise stay closed. If inexperience is holding you back, approach someone whose work you admire and ask him/her to mentor you.

It’s Become Routine; I Could Do this in My Sleep

Bored? Feeling underutilized? Take the initiative. Approach your manager about taking on increased responsibilities. Ask to join or form a workplace committee. Offer to help coordinate a “lunch and learn” session, or an after-hours network of your peers. Mentor someone else, and you’ll find it’s also good for you.

The Workload is Ridiculous

You haven’t taken a break in weeks? Lunches are something you rush through at your desk, and you’re available on your smartphone day and night?

Ask yourself: Does your boss expect all this, or even know that you’re struggling? Or have you been your own worst enemy, sacrificing yourself to the job? It’s time to set some boundaries, although that’s easier said than done.

If your workload is unreasonable, accept that there’s no shame in making the business case to your manager for assistance or some reallocation of workload. The key is to present not only the concern that you’re overworked, but also one or more potential solutions.

Approaching Burnout

Assistants spend much of their time taking care of others’ needs. We recognize that interruptions and competing priorities will be part of each new day. What to do? Ask questions to assess degrees of urgency, and practice negotiating timelines or redirecting requests. Manage interruptions and learn to say “no” where appropriate.

If you’re a perfectionist, learn when your work is “good enough” to submit rather than spending extra minutes or hours refining it. Separate ideals from necessities.

Be honest. Are you productive in the office, or simply busy? Have a look at your time management skills, and how best to invest your efforts on a daily and weekly basis.

Becoming a Negative Presence?

Clients and colleagues pick up on negativity before you even realize you’re emanating it. If you’re negative, you’re doing yourself – and your reputation – more harm than good by staying put. Ask yourself whether it’s time for a job change or an attitude adjustment.

Have you been investing too much of your sense of self in your work? Try for some new perspective. Remember that this is your job, not your entire life. Identify habits you need to adopt or drop, and watch your words. Turn to peer networks, blogs, and books to support your turnaround. Change can be difficult, but also rejuvenating.
Shelagh DonnellyShelagh Donnelly is the founder and publisher of Exceptional EA (, an online resource for administrative professionals that are read in more than 130 countries.

She knows how to build and enjoy an administrative career, and understands the importance of choosing roles and levels of responsibility that align with various stages of your personal life. Shelagh also understands the C-Suite, and how to work effectively with its inhabitants. In a series of roles within three organizations over two decades, she’s worked with three Board Chairs and been a direct report to four CEOs, one COO, a Treasurer and a couple of Vice Presidents.

Shelagh lives in Vancouver, Canada and is the College Secretary at a large public college, where her role holds some similarities to that of a Corporate Secretary. A mentor and a former trainer in the private sector, she’s passionate about ongoing professional development and presents regionally, nationally and internationally.


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36 thoughts on “Have You Reached A Career Plateau? How to Regain Control”

  1. Gloria von Gesslein

    I didn’t realize there were different causes of reaching a plateau until I read this article. Thanks!

  2. Agreed, great advice! I especially liked where she reminds us it is a job, not our life. I often struggle with that myself. The Exceptional EA is another great resource, thank you!

  3. Thanks for the posts this week. Definitely food for thought in many different areas of the admin assistant profession.

  4. Wow. This spoke to me – especially about becoming a negative presence. I saw myself in those words and now I will take the time to move forward and be the person I used to be. THANKS!

  5. Great article! Last week I was being negative, and thankfully, someone pointed it out to me. She just asked, “Are we ok? Seems like you’re upset about something”. That was enough for some good ole’ self talk! I hadn’t even realized I was being negative!! Thank you!

  6. This article couldn’t have come at a better time. I think I have a hit a plateau in my administrative career and I don’t know what the next step is or how to take the next step. This article makes me reassess my career and gives me more insight into my career path and how to take the next steps. Thank you Office Dynamics, thank you Exceptional EA.

  7. Paula Sandritter

    Great article! I feel that I have reached a plateau in my current position so in order to stay motivated I’m taking time to take online courses and webinars centered around administrative excellence. I feel will help me move to the next level when the opportunity arises.

  8. Thank you for this article. I am blessed to have a great boss. He is relatively new in his current position, which means he is still learning what skills I have. I find that my plateaus have often been because I am not reaching my potential. (Great case for a career portfolio!) Fortunately, I have had several opportunities to create my own projects that prove beneficial to him and our department, and help me over that plateau as well.

    1. My pleasure, Myrna, and it sounds as though you have a good situation. Having a new boss is a good opportunity to demonstrate your skills – as you’re doing with projects – and build that all-important rapport. – Shelagh

  9. This is great advice. I hadn’t thought before of the fact that you have hiked up to or gone downhill to get to a plateau. They are a great resting spot for a while, but it is also very easy to get comfortable there, and hard to get started climbing again.

    1. Thanks, Heather, and glad that the perspective resonated; I agree with your comments on it being easy to get comfortable on a plateau. It requires effort to get moving again, but is worth it. – Shelagh

  10. This article really hit home. I do feel like I am on a plateau and don’t know how to position myself to work up the next level. I don’t have the finances at the moment to take classes I am required to pay for. I want to continue learning and have committed myself to strengthening my weakness – Excel macros, pivot tables and formulas – which I can use YouTube. However, I know classes such as Office Dynamics promotes would be of great help to me – just have to keep working towards the goal of saving funds to take the certification classes I want!

    1. I’m glad this was relevant, and keep on using online resources for development while working toward capacity to take those credit/certification courses. All the best, Shelagh

  11. It definitely helps doing courses to develop but also to broaden your knowledge and horizons. We forget it doesn’t have to cost a lot to help us grow and change our view of things

  12. Wow, I do feel as though I’ve reached a plateau, even though I’m busier than ever. I know that I need to set some goals and make some changes in order to grow and improve in my position. I do want to move forward and make a job change eventually, but I feel there is more I can learn and do in my current job before I take the next step.

  13. I love how timely the subject of the blog posts are this week. I can relate to several sections within this blog but specifically a ridiculous workload. We have had some recent staffing vacancies but are now fortunate to have a replacement that is awesome and much improved from the previous individual. We are still in the process of training her and reassigning job duties. The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter every day!!

    Thanks again for all the resources and expertise you share with admins everywhere every day!!

    Chris Garcia

  14. Kathleen Bender

    Thank you for this post, it was just what I needed to acknowledge that this is exactly where I am right now in my career, and that I have choices to make in order to move forward and grow.

  15. Timely advice. I’m in the process of making changes both personally and professionally so this post really help me see that I’m doing the right things and heading in the right direction.

  16. Thank you Shelagh for this substantial and enlightening article. I find it very relevant because we all encounter those crossroads in our careers. It’s really important to reflect and evaluate our work landscape to address it more appropriately. Thank you for the tips to reinvigorate our careers.

  17. Great article from the lovely Shelagh. This is so easily done and I will put my hands up to admit I have done it in previous roles.

    However now knowing what I want to do and what my goals are, I am helping myself get there. I am currently studying an Executive Assistant Diploma through distance learn. It will take about 12-18 months to complete but once done I will have so much more knowledge and the certficates to prove it.

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