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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