Research reveals why millions of Americans feel stuck at work — and experts share solutions.
It’s a long way to the top.
Only 38% of American workers feel that they can get ahead in their careers, according to a study of 3,000 workers from Harvard Medical School; University of California, Los Angeles; and the Rand Corporation released in August.
“People feel that they’re stuck at their level … they’re not able to see the path forward,” study co-author Nicole Maestas, a professor of health care policy at Harvard University, tells Moneyish.
One big reason they can’t move up? They’re not being taught the skills they need. “If you’re being trained to access some system that is very specific to your employer, that might be very particular to your employer’s business and may not be what we think of as ‘transferable skills,'” Maestas says. It’s those transferable skills “that would help you advance in a next-level job.”
Another reason may be that there are fewer opportunities at some companies. “Staffing at organizations has become an issue. As organizations have gotten leaner, there are fewer layers of management where you move up,” says executive coach and author Marc Dorio.
That said, it’s not hopeless. The June 2017 unemployment rate stood at 4.3% (the lowest at any point since May 2001), and more than 200,000 jobs were created last month — a figure that beat expectations.
Here are a few strategies you can use to move up the corporate ladder.
Enhance your emotional intelligence: Emotional intelligence — the “ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others,” according to Psychology Today — is an asset in the workplace, Dorio says. “Get feedback from people how you’re coming across, learn more about yourself, and use self-assessment tools,” he recommends.
Executive coach Ora Shtull, founder of Career Blast, agrees. “The point here is self-awareness,” Shtull explains. “We can make changes after our performance reviews, but what’s equally important is to understand what makes us unique, what makes us relevant. Understanding how to use your strengths and monitoring the potential derailers,” is crucial to becoming a go-to resource for your boss and colleagues — which in turn can help you get promoted. And knowing how others perceive you can help ace a job interview as well.
Provide value to your boss: Having your boss on your side is vital to landing that promotion. “Take some things off your boss’ plate,” Shtull suggests. “Set expectations and solve problems for your boss; then they’ll become your biggest advocate,” she adds.
And, emulate the habits of successful coworkers. To find out what your boss might react well to, “look at others in your organization who are getting promoted, [and ask] what do they do?” Dorio says. “What competencies do they have?”
Broaden your skillset: “Start doing elements of the job [that you want now],” Shtull advises. If you want to sharpen up your presentation skills — perhaps an important ability for the role you’re secretly vying for — don’t wait: “Start doing it, go sign up for a course, watch people, practice and get feedback from your friends,” she says.
Keep moving: The conventional wisdom used to be that employees who frequently changed jobs spelled trouble, but Dorio says that’s changing: “When you look at people’s resumes today, if they haven’t moved around frequently, you wonder — what’s wrong with them? Why haven’t [they] moved?”
As for how long you should remain in a current position, “there’s no magic number,” Shtull adds. “Some people are quick to think the grass is greener somewhere else, but you’ve already planted a lot of roots where you are. Before you decide to look over the fence, make sure that you’ve taken advantage of every opportunity internally.”
Be honest with yourself: Promotions aren’t for everyone, Dorio cautions. “Why should you advance? Some people shouldn’t — they should be good performers, hone their technical skills, and [deliver] value,” he concludes. “Organizations have to find a way to reward people who are good performers,” he says, suggesting that some workers try to negotiate a pay raise independent of managerial responsibilities.
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