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How do I Keep Plateaued Employees Motivated?

Plateauing is basically what happens when an employee reaches the highest level he or she can go in the company. There are no more opportunities for advancement—no chances to grow or to be challenged. Plateaued employees feel completely frustrated by this apparent lack of control over their careers; they frequently don’t put in the same effort; their morale declines; they are tardy or stay home. If an opportunity for another job presents itself, they will take it.

Meet with your plateaued employees, and let them know that their situation is not unique. If it is not due to their own competencies but rather is a result of actions taken by your firm to achieve competitive advantage, let them know. They may want promotions, but your employees can’t be made promises that you cannot keep. Promotions, however, aren’t the only way out of plateauing.

As an option, offer a lateral transfer or sit down with the employee to redesign or restructure his or her job. This not only solves the problem of repetitive routine but also lets the employee know that you have confidence in his or her ability to learn and master new skills.

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Career plateauing stems from two situations:

  1. Structural plateauing stems from the lack of any place higher within the organization to go. This is a situation that happens to everyone sooner or later. But given today’s lean organizations, it is happening sooner for a larger number of people. There are just more people available to fill fewer vacancies due to downsizing. The result is that many talented, hardworking employees do not have the same opportunities they once had to climb the corporate ladder.
  2. Content plateauing occurs when an employee knows a job so well that it no longer is challenging. After a few years in these positions, they have no interest in going to work. The jobs are often entry-level or other lower-level positions. Everywhere else the holders of these jobs see changes occurring, but their jobs remain the same. And there is nowhere within the organization a higher position to which they can go that would offer the challenges they need.

Talk to the employee to determine why they feel they have plateaued. Determining why can help you determine a solution. Sometimes, just talking about the problem—letting the employee know you are aware of their frustration and dissatisfaction—can help. Often, an employee just needs to be able to redirect energies and thoughts to get off the plateau. By talking—and listening—to your employee, you can help him or her sort out his or her feelings and reach some decisions about how he or she can become more satisfied.

By being supportive and by working to redesign some jobs, you can improve the quality of work life for your employees—and as their morale goes up, so will the productivity level in your department.