Coasting at Work is Easy Because Working For a Promotion is Hard

May 4, 2015

A lot of people wonder why they get passed over promotions – why the promotion always seems to go to someone else. Sometimes the reason is office politics. But most times it’s because most people coast at work. They do that – often unconsciously – because coasting at work is easy. But working for a promotion is hard – which is why most people avoid it at all costs.

Generally speaking, when employers look to promote someone, they are looking for an impact person – that person who stands above the rest in making a difference in the organization. Unless you are that person, the chance of you getting a promotion is slim.

Employers have expectations for all employees, but promotions usually go to the people who exceed those expectations.

For example…

Embracing Company Goals

Every employer, every department, has goals. They have to “make their (sales and net income) numbers”, and establish a set of goals that they believe to be the best way to accomplish it. Naturally, employees who are the most aligned with those goals are typically the ones who are most likely to be promoted when the opportunity comes around.

Embracing company goals is hard. It often means putting your own goals second. It can also mean carrying out a set of objectives that you don’t necessarily agree with – and doing it with enthusiasm. Though that may seem unnatural on an individual level, it’s an indication to the employer that the employee is able to subordinate their own interests for the good of the whole organization.

Going along for the ride is easy. Most employees don’t so much embrace company goals, as much as they ride them out. That is to say that they aren’t necessarily willing participants. They’re mostly going with the flow, recognizing it as a requirement for their paychecks.

Which quality is an employer most likely to favor in a promotion?

Being the Go-To Guy/Girl

In almost every department and every organization, there is a small percentage of the staff who represent key players. They are the people who step up and do the better job each and every day. Most people in the organization readily recognize this; the go-to guy or girl will be the first person they’ll go to when they need help.

Being the go-to person is hard. It means taking time out of your own schedule, and away from your own responsibilities, to either help someone else, or to troubleshoot a problem.

Relying on the go-to guy/girl is easy. It’s easy because you never need to worry about anything but your own work, and if you get into a tough spot, you can simply go to the go-to guy or girl for help.

Is an employer more likely to promote someone who only does their own work, or are they going to promote someone who others have come to rely on?

Taking Ownership of Projects or Tasks

One of the very best ways to position yourself for a promotion is to take ownership of important projects or tasks. Employers see people who do as management material.

Taking ownership is hard. The downside of taking ownership is that you are responsible for the success or failure of the project. Failure is an obvious risk, but success is not without its burdens either. In order to make sure that the project is completed properly and in a timely fashion, you have to put out extra effort, and generally more of it than your coworkers.

Letting others take ownership is easy. This is a low risk strategy for any employee. By avoiding putting yourself in a position to have responsibility, you eliminate the risk of failure.

But you also take yourself out of the running for a promotion. Moving into management, or into higher management, is all about taking ownership.

Learning New Skills

Learning new skills is a way to increase both your importance and your visibility in an organization. Acquiring new skills not only gives you the inside track with new techniques and applications, but it also puts you in a position to teach others. Since training is an important part of management, companies look for people who embrace new skills on a consistent basis when they need to fill higher positions.

Learning new skills is hard. Learning new skills requires extra effort. It also requires extra time, and time is often found in non-working hours. In order to learn the skills that will get you promoted, you may have to invest a significant amount of private time, and even some of your own money.

Stagnating is easy. Not only does this enable you to avoid the time and possible expense involved in learning new skills, but it also lowers the possibility that you will be given additional responsibilities.

By improving your own abilities, you increase your value to your employer. That makes you more likely to be promoted.

Helping Management and Co-workers

In any job situation, there are many employees who do no more than the required minimum. But there are others who make themselves available to help their coworkers and even management when those people are particularly busy and in need of assistance. Such an employee not only demonstrates a willingness to help others, but also the ability to manage their own workload in a way that enables them to have the time to do it. This is an attractive quality for promotion purposes.

Helping others is hard. In order to be in a position to help others, you have to have the willingness and ability to work harder, faster, and more efficiently than others. It may also require working additional hours, such as coming in early, working through lunch, or leaving the office late.

Letting others help you is easy. By not helping others, you’re able to devote 100% of your time and attention to completing your own workload. And you’re virtually assured that you’ll get out of work on time.

Getting a promotion only looks easy on the day it’s handed out. But the work needed to get you to that point – that’s not so easy.


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Kevin Mercadante is professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two teenage kids and can be followed on Twitter at @OutOfYourRut.

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