How to get ahead without a promotion

Many of us measured career success by the number of promotions, pay raises, and fancy job titles we get in the past. But as the traditional workplace hierarchy is dismantled and companies shift to leaner and flatter structures, many workers have started to wonder – where is there for me to go?

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review looked at how employees can grow at work when there are very few rungs to climb on the ladder.  They put forward four suggestions for employees: lateral moves within your organisation; reshaping your current role; expanding your influence; and deepening your skills.

One of the key takeaways from the article – which is well worth a read in its entirety – is the importance of identifying what energises you at work.

While not everyone gets to do what they love for work – despite the age-old advice that if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life – there must be aspects of your job that you find engaging, stimulating and energising.  If there aren’t, you’ll burn out very quickly and should click here before that happens so we can help you find something that will inspire you.

These energising aspects can be just about anything – tasks, outcomes, the colleagues or clients you work with or just about anything. What’s important is that it excites you! You might realise that what you get satisfaction from is organising events at work or writing weekly blog posts.

Once you’ve identified what you enjoy, you can start to build a business case to incorporate more of these kinds of tasks into your day-to-day.  But first, ask yourself these questions:

  • Can I reasonably take on these tasks with my current workload?
    Don’t expect to drop some current responsibilities to take on more of your preferred tasks, especially right away.  It is more likely that you will need to take these tasks on as an addition to your primary responsibilities and be able to demonstrate that this extra work is not impacting your other work.
  • Is this task important to the business?
    If it’s not, your manager may see this as a distraction from your primary role and be reluctant for you to take it on when there are more pressing tasks at hand. You also risk looking like you’re out of step with the business’ priorities.
  • Is this task already a primary part of someone else’s role?
    If the answer is yes, this can go two ways. Hopefully, you will have the chance to learn from experienced colleagues and learn how various functions are done within your business. Alternatively, you may be perceived as encroaching on someone else’s responsibility when you have your own work to do.

If you’ve answered all of these and still want to go ahead, here are our tips on approaching your manager and making a case:

Explain that increasing this aspect of your role will improve your engagement
Everyone works harder when they care about what they’re doing. Let the management know that, in the absence of direct progression opportunities, you see this as a way to expand your skills set and remain engaged with the company.

Demonstrate that this won’t detract from your current responsibilities
And make sure it doesn’t! It can be easy to get absorbed in tasks you enjoy. However, it would be best if you still respected the opportunity you’ve been given by ensuring you don’t fall behind on your other primary responsibilities.

Outline which skills this will help you grow and why they are important
Remember that this is all about finding opportunities for growth and development, so it can be helpful to outline for your employer the areas and skills this additional responsibility will help you in. The benefits this will have for you as an employee and the business overall.


Want to learn more about career progression?  Click here to read our five tips to identify your next career opportunity or check out the Career Centre.

Read more:
Lost a job? Your guide to upskilling after retrenchment
10 important career lessons most people learn too late in life
Putting the “work” into working from home: how to be productive

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