10 Signs of Career Stagnation and How to Overcome It

Learn how to break through the metaphorical ceiling.

Reviewed by Hayley Ramsey

A man looking for signs of career stagnation

You started your job hoping for a bright future and that you’ll be recognized for your all your efforts, climbing the career ladder along the way. But fast-forward four years later and you’re still stuck in the same role because you just got comfortable, and the only thing that’s actually keeping you there is the annual bonus or the social aspect of the job.

Whatever the case, the earlier you come to terms with the fact that your career is officially stagnant (and has been for a while now), the better, and it’s never too late to make a change.

Here are the 10 telltale signs your career is stagnating — and tips on how you can overcome it.

Signs of career stagnation

There are many signs that could suggest you’re at a stand-still in your career. Here are some of them to watch out for:

1. You get the Sunday night blues

California-based psychiatrist Stuart Brown says: “Sunday nights aren’t considered the end of a great weekend but the beginning of something neither the child nor the adult is looking forward to.” But there’s a difference between being sad because the weekend is coming to an end and feeling anxious because you’ve got to get through another excruciating week at work. You need to ask yourself why this is — for example, is it because you no longer find enjoyment in your work or are you just tired of doing the same monotonous tasks day in and day out?

There are many ways you can overcome the Sunday blues, depending on what exactly brought them on. If you’re anxious about what you’ll be faced with on Monday, for example, start preparing for the week ahead as much as you can on Friday, like making a to-do list.

You might even want to consider scheduling something to look forward to on Monday, like a lunch date with your work wife or happy hour with your teammates after work to end the day on a positive note. (Disclosure: By no means am I suggesting that getting sloshed on a Monday night will make the problem magically disappear.)

2. You’re bored at work

If your job is no longer challenging you and has limited variety, and you feel like you’re on a constant treadmill, it might be because your job is static. This monotony can, in turn, lead you to making careless mistakes, as you’re no longer putting in the effort that’s needed.

A good way to deal with boredom and a boring job is to try to find new tasks to complete to make your job interesting again. If there’s something you know needs doing, even if it’s a simple task like clearing the shared drive and organizing it, take it upon yourself to manage it. You could even form a social club to boost the overall morale of the company — just be sure to run it past your boss first!

3. You’ve stopped learning

Has it been a good year or so since you’ve stopped actually learning anything new? Do you feel that you know everything there is to know about your job, but haven’t grown within the organization? A sudden halt in your career’s development can — and should — cause alarm.

By volunteering yourself to take the lead on new projects — like giving a presentation or taking on a new client or proposal, for example — might just give you a new lease of excitement in the workplace. Not only this, but it will also allow to research new ideas and use your brain in ways that it’s not used to.

4. You’re earning the same money you started on

If you’re still earning the same money you started on or barely saw an increase in salary over the years, despite all your hard work and commitment, it might be a sign that you’ve stayed in the same role for far too long. You’ll need to get to the root of the problem: for example, is it because you’re working at a small startup with limited funds or, worse, your manager simply doesn’t value you?

If the latter is the case, schedule a private meeting with your boss and consider ask for a pay increase. Before your chat, though, be sure to research what others in your field with the same level of experience typically earn, so you back up your argument with valid statistics. If your request for a rise is refused, meanwhile, it’s probably time to jump ship.

5. You’re passed over for a promotion

Are other people in the company jumping the ropes? People who joined the company after you? And are you being passed over for promotion after promotion? It can understandably be quite demoralizing, to say the least.

A good way to approach this particular situation is to first make a list of all your accomplishments at the company. Then arrange a meeting with your manager and ask them why you’re not getting promoted when everyone else is (and you’ll have your list of accomplishments at hand to show why you deserve to be). Remember, though, that the reason you’re not moving up the ladder might be simply because you’re the only who knows how to do your job. If there’s really no room for you to move up, then perhaps suggest a fair alternative, like a significant pay rise, for example.

6. You’re not using all your skills

You were initially hired because you brought a specific skillset to the table, but you may have realized after a few years that you’ve not actually used any of those skills and that there’s been no change in your role. This, understandably, can leave you feeling frustrated and even overqualified for the job.

Before you throw in the towel, though, you need to assess whether you really are in a dead-end job, or you just don’t like what you’re doing. If the latter is the case, you could consider asking to move to another department or even suggesting an entirely new role that would be a better fit for you.

7. You clash with your boss

Do you never see eye to eye with your boss? Do they constantly put you down, making you feel insignificant? Do you dread going to work every day because you’ll have to spend eight hours with them?

Rather than letting all that anger build up, which in effect can ruin your overall career development, it’s best to start exploring other options and find a job somewhere where your values align with those of the organization.

8. You’re no longer praised for your work

Is your performance review identical to last year’s and the year before that? Does your work simply “meet expectations” and is your performance simply “adequate”?

To break the curse of just being “okay”, you should schedule a one-on-one meeting with your manager to discuss your performance and set goals to achieve more at work. You could even ask for additional responsibilities and challenges to help you progress.

9. You’re given no opportunity to grow

According to a University of Phoenix survey, 64% of working adults report having limited opportunities for growth in their current companies. So, if you feel like there’s no way up, you’re not alone.

A good way to avoid feeling burned out at work is to try freelancing. You can start with a small venture that you’re genuinely interest in and take it from there. And you never know, it might just bloom into a booming business and you’ll no longer need your day job anymore!

10. You lack motivation

The most obvious sign of all is a clear lack of motivation. Do you struggle getting out of bed in the morning, getting dressed and making it to work on time? Are you the last to show up and the first to leave? Has your drive to do well dropped to zero and do you count down the minutes to the end of the day?

If that’s the case, you might need to adjust your attitude to see whether the problem is you. You’ll need to identify where your dissatisfactions lie and then find ways to overcome them. You could start by making a to-do list — you’ll start feeling much more motivated when you tick off the tasks you accomplish.

Here's a recap: 

5 signs of career stagnation to look out for

Tips for overcoming career stagnation

If you feel stuck at work and see no scope for learning or improvement, here are five tips you can follow to overcome career stagnation:

1. Have honest chats with colleagues

Though it feels like you’ve been due a raise forever, your boss may not necessarily hold the same opinion. Ask them where they see opportunities for growth for you and listen to what they tell you. If they’re not available for a conversation right away, there are always other people on your team who know you well and might have suggestions.

Keep in mind that it’s easy to get defensive when you feel like you’re being treated unfairly. In fact, you may not even realize you’re doing it. If your impulse is to try to convince them how much you’re already doing, you may not get that bit of valuable information that could help you progress.

2. Set clear goals

If your manager isn’t handing you new tasks or responsibilities, don’t wait around for too long. Setting goals of your own is extremely helpful when you’re trying to remedy your lack of job satisfaction.

To get started, ask yourself what skills could benefit you in your current role or the next one you’d like to pursue. While some skills are transferable, others may have to be developed from scratch. Online courses, books, and podcasts are excellent ways of acquiring new knowledge — and work even better if you combine them!

Since your current role is likely draining you to begin with, set smaller goals and realistic timeframes. The more achievable your desired outcome, the more likely you are to stick to your learning plan.

3. Keep your skills up to date

Skill shortages, digitization, and changes in the economy are just some of the things that impact the job market. With new trends emerging constantly, it’s important to keep an eye out for the latest happenings in your industry.

Whereas a few years ago, a specific set of skills or qualifications could land you a job, some may now be considered less desirable. That’s why keeping an eye on all the recent developments is important: it keeps your skillset relevant.

An up-to-date skillset can both keep you engaged in your profession and show your boss your dedication. If, however, your boss is the kind who takes little notice, there are other hiring managers out there who will consider your know-how a catch.

4. Stay open to challenges

One of the biggest telltale signs of career stagnation is lack of excitement. You drag your feet to work, slump at your desk, and mumble to yourself all the way home. Taking on a new role or responsibility can bring back that spark, however.

Once you’ve ensured that there aren’t any gaps in your skillset and you’re ready for a new challenge, let your manager know. If there is no job role available within the company that you could shift to, you could always ask to take on additional responsibilities in your current position.

If you’re offered the opportunity to progress, make sure that what you’re taking on matches your preferences and knowledge. Finding yourself in another unfulfilling role will only defeat the purpose.

5. Network, network, network

If you ask for feedback, update your skills, and tell your employer you’re ready for the next step, they may still not respond how you expect. That’s why staying in touch with the right people is key to achieving the career growth you envision.

While your career advancement is, in many ways, in your hands, you also need to be in an environment that encourages your growth. By meeting people through networking events, career fairs, workshops, and social networking sites, you can lay the groundwork for the next step in your career.

Key takeaways

According to a Pew Research Center survey, the lack of career advancement opportunities is a top reason why people leave their jobs. In fact, the survey has shown this factor to be just as important as low salaries in determining voluntary turnover rates.

If you feel that your career has stalled, however, finding a new one might not be the only answer. As we’ve seen, it’s important to take initiative where you can.

To summarize:

  • Career stagnation is a very real problem that impacts employee productivity and has team members second-guessing their worth
  • If you’re feeling underwhelmed, speak to your boss. Ask for honest feedback and let them know you’re up for the next challenge
  • Working towards upgrading your skillset is a great way of dealing with “boreout” — even if that’s done in your own time
  • Keep in mind that lack of engagement may be a sign that you’re in the wrong company or industry

Do you feel like you’ve hit a wall with your job? Join in on the conversation below and let us know your experiences and how you handled a stagnant career…

Originally published May 18, 2018. Updated by Electra Michaelidou.