Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

Plateauing: Redefining Success at Work

Published: October 04, 2006 in Knowledge@Wharton

As an executive coach who works with corporations, Monica McGrath has her ear to the ground. And what she is hearing is this: A number of men and women in middle management are increasingly reluctant to take the next step in their careers because the corporate ladder is not as appealing as it used to be, and the price to climb it is too high. “These people are still ambitious, and they are still driving. They just aren’t driving for the same things they were driving for 15 years ago,” she says.What may be happening, suggest McGrath and others, is that people are setting career paths based on their own values and definitions of success. They are not burned out or dropping out; they are not going back to school and changing careers; they are not having a mid-life crisis. Instead, they are redefining how they can keep contributing to their organizations, but on their own terms. Rather than subscribe to the ‘onward and upward’ motto, they are more interested in ‘plateauing,’ unhooking from the pressure to follow an upward path that someone else has set.

A number of oft-cited trends in the workplace contribute to this phenomenon: Technological advancements are breaking down the barriers between work and non-work hours, adding to the pressure to constantly be on the job or on call. Strategic decisions like restructuring, downsizing and outsourcing are adding to job uncertainty at all levels and reducing the number of promotions available to mid- and upper-level managers. The continuing influx of women into the workforce keeps raising the level of stress when it comes to work/life balance issues…

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