Career Transition

Promotion Problems at Work: 13 Things That May Be Holding You Back | Promotion and Performance Series

promotion problems at work

You’ve been in your job for some time now and are feeling ready to move to the next level. But, for some reason, time after time you seem to be overlooked when promotion opportunities come up. What gives? Why are you experiencing these promotion problems at work?

We asked the experts and, boy, did they have a lot to say! In fact, know it or not, there are a lot of things that you may be doing—or not doing—that may be holding you back. Here’s a list of 13 reasons you may be having promotion problems at work.

13 Promotion Problems at Work

1. You suffer from the impostor syndrome! Yes, it’s a thing. The impostor syndrome is a phenomenon discovered by Dr. Pauline Clance while working with high achieving women. It’s the tendency, despite no objective evidence, to believe “that they were intellectual frauds and feared being recognized as impostors.”

2. You’re an expert, not a manager. Lars Sudmann, former CFO of Procter & Gamble Belgium and an executive coach and university lecturer on leadership says this is one of the key reasons he sees among people who fail to get the promotions they’re hoping for. “People have it in their head that they want to get promoted. They think it will be fantastic to mention at the next family meeting. But ultimately…they are experts and specialists,” says Sudmann. “They thrive at solving tough and deep problems, not with negotiating the workload between two team members. It might not be visible for them but for outside people. This is typically a realization that for many kicks in after 5-10 years in the professional workforce.”

3. You’re not dressed for success. John Molloy wrote the still popular book, Dress for Success, in 1975, but its advice still resonates today. If you want to move to the next level, or higher, you need to dress the part!

4. You’re too far “in the weeds.” Shefali Raina is an executive coach who works with executives on leadership and career development. “Early stage professionals are valued and rewarded for being detail-oriented, subject matter experts and for being ‘in the weeds’ in general,” says Raina. “However, spending one’s entire energy and focus on this detail and small picture thinking can get in the way as one starts progressing in one’s career. When decision makers look at who to promote, they want people who can see the big picture, have foresight and create a vision.”


Also read: 5 Signs that You’re Not Ready for Promotion | Promotion and Performance Series


5. You’re not taking on new responsibilities. Mikaila Turman, director of people at GoodHire, says: “If you’re not currently proactively taking on some of the responsibilities of the role you’re seeking, you might be missing an opportunity to show the person who has decision-making power that you’re capable of being successful in that role.” Positioning yourself to take on a leadership role, she says, means having “a leadership mentality and going ‘above and beyond’ to proactively take on some of those responsibilities to prove that you have the skills and experience required.”

6. You don’t seek feedback. “Tell bosses and colleagues that constructive feedback is welcomed so that workplace performance can continually be improved,” recommends Timothy G. Wiedman, retired Associate Prof. of Management & Human Resources at Doane University. And, he adds: “Always remember to thank them for their advice!”

7. You’re not taking credit for the great things you’re doing. Blame it on our Puritan work ethic, but too often we fail to do enough to advocate for ourselves says Andrew Rawson, Chief Learning Officer with Traliant, a compliance training company. “Often times these workers will not take the credit they deserve for the great work they do. Once these workers start taking credit where it is due, management will start to see their potential.”

8. You don’t show up early and stay late. Those looking to move up within their organizations need to visibly demonstrate their commitment. That means not being last in and first out. Whether you realize it or not, others are watching!

9. You stay in your own lane. Savvy executives, says Lisa Barrington, a certified coach, workplace and employee engagement strategist, will take the time and make the effort to learn about other areas in the organization. “For example, the CFO who wants to be CEO will learn about areas such as marketing, HR and operations,” she says.


Also read: Are You Too Valuable to be Promoted? 3 Ways to Escape this Trap


10. You don’t have clarity around your “personal brand.” What is your personal brand? “The difference you make in an organization,” says Beth Benatti Kennedy, a leadership and executive coach. Your brand “can either be career-enhancing or career-limiting,” says Kennedy. “I have seen over and over that people who have confidence, drive-for-results, passionate reputations get the interesting projects and support for development. Conversely, I have clients who are brilliant in their field but ask me, ‘Why have I been in the same position for five years without a promotion when I am accomplishing as much as my peers?’ What they don’t realize is that their reputation—for example, being arrogant with colleagues—is blocking them from getting the opportunities they want.”

11. You don’t have cross-functional support. Lori Scherwin is founder of the consulting firm Strategize That. The more senior you get, the more support you need from all around the organization, says Scherwin. “Make sure you are always helpful to your colleagues around the firm. Actively build relationships and make that as important a part of your job as the tasks of your job. Seek out mentors and advocates who can help your progress.

12. You’re not likeable. It matters says Susan Peppercorn, an executive transition coach with Positive Workplace Partners. “Competent employees often overlook the likeability factor when it comes to moving ahead,” says Peppercorn. “Not only do the most competent people get promoted, but also those that are highly liked. If someone is perceived as grabbing power and not crediting colleagues for work well done, they may suffer the consequences of not getting the recognition they desire.”

13. You’re not asking for it! Karlyn Borysenko, Ph.D., principal at Zen Workplace, says this is the top problem she sees among the people she coaches. Her advice: stop waiting for someone to hand it to you! “Know what you want, be able to make the case that you’re a valuable asset in the position you want to get promoted to and then make the ask unapologetically.”

What’s holding you back?


Looking for More Support Around Promotion?
Check Out All the Posts in the
 Letter from the Editor: Promotion & Performance Series 


About the Author

Linda Pophal is a freelance business journalist and content marketer with a wide range of writing credits for various business and trade publications. In addition to freelance writing for trade journals and publications, Grensing-Pophal does content marketing for Fortune 500 companies, small businesses and individuals on a wide range of subjects, from human resource management and employee relations, to marketing, technology, healthcare industry trends and more.