The Real Reason Why Great Employees Don’t Get Promoted

Great employees don’t always get the rewards and recognition they deserve. Learn why, and what you can do about it.


Hard Work Should Be Rewarded

Hard work should be rewarded, right? Ideally with a promotion and pay raise!

But sadly, this isn’t always how the real-world works. Sooner or later, we all come to learn that high-performing employees don’t always get promoted. 

Unfortunately, many of us learn this lesson the hard way. When annual review time rolls around, we’re given high ratings for our positive attitude and great results, yet fail to get rewarded with a well-deserved promotion. 

Sometimes we’re coached to be more visible, be more confident, or be more something else that’s difficult to understand, let alone act upon. Or worse, make it seem like we need to become someone we’re not to finally get promoted.

All this career advice can leave us feeling frustrated and confused on what it really takes to get ahead. 

A “Hard Work” Mentality Can Hold You Back

Look, having a strong work ethic is a very good thing. It’s what helps us succeed. Believing that hard work should be rewarded can push us to do better and get recognized as a top performer. 

But sometimes, that same belief can hold us back. When we’re stuck on the idea that hard work should always lead to rewards, it’s tough to see other ways forward. It can make it very difficult to consider new ways to reach your goals.

Here’s 3 ways a “hard work” mentality can become a barrier to advancing your career.

1. It’s Hard to Do Something Different

Like many of you, I believe hard work and results should be rewarded. And this belief served me well throughout my career, driving me to go above and beyond at work and often be recognized as a hard working employee.

But it also became the cause of some serious problems in my career. 

You see, even after learning the hard way that it would take more than hard work and results to advance my career, I failed to do anything differently to get promoted.

I continued to quietly work hard and believe I would eventually be rewarded (and if not, just work even harder!).

As a result, my career stalled out and I was left circling in a career cul-de-sac, unable to reach my full potential and advance beyond my current role in middle management.

But deeply held beliefs can do that to you. They hardwire your decision-making and behavior, making it very difficult to stop doing what’s not working and start doing something different. 

2. It Can Put You on Autopilot

Even after we realize it takes more than hard work and results to advance in business, many of us keep working harder to deliver even more results and expect that it will finally pay off with a promotion.

I recently had a conversation with one of my former rock-star employees who was at a breaking point because he had just been passed over for a promotion. 

He shared a long list of reasons why this was the year he deserved (and expected) to get promoted. His justification for a promotion included many impressive accomplishments.

He told me this even though he knew promotions took more than being one of the best performers. This wasn’t his first rodeo—he learned that lesson years ago.

Yet, his belief about hard work and results had created a tunnel vision about what it would take to get ahead. He was operating on autopilot despite knowing better.

He made the same mistake I’ve seen so many great employees make over the years: doing the same thing over again and expecting a different outcome. 

If this continues, do you think he’ll ever get promoted and reach his career goals? 

3. It Can Take a Toll on Good Employees

Believing that hard work and good results should be recognized can not only limit our actions, but over time, it can also turn a good employee into a toxic employee. Unfortunately, this was the case for someone I used to work with. 

He was super smart, hardworking, and always brought top-notch ideas to the table. But here’s the catch – he carried a massive chip on his shoulder from past career disappointments. 

Year after year, he watched others get promoted while he was left behind, and his frustration was written all over his face. Not only that, but his resentment towards management was palpable. 

He didn’t hold back from telling others how he felt. And that’s probably why he wasn’t receiving the support needed to move up the corporate ladder.

He just couldn’t get past his frustration that his hard work and results weren’t getting rewarded. 

Expand Your Perspective to Advance Your Career

Here’s the thing: It’s one thing to know that hard work and results aren’t enough to get promoted. It’s an entirely different thing to come to terms and accept this knowledge when it conflicts with your beliefs about work.

And only after accepting it can you move on and do something about it.

You’ve got the power to change things up if what you’re doing isn’t working. That might mean thinking about work in a whole new way.

Be willing to try different approaches to move your career forward. Instead of just relying on hard work, think about adding new skills and perspectives into the mix.

Move from one-dimensional thinking (hard work should be rewarded) to multi-dimensional thinking (hard work + new key skills + new empowering beliefs will be rewarded).

Embrace New Ways to Think About Work

For me, it wasn’t until I broadened my perspective about work that my career began to take off and I was able to gradually make my way  into an executive role.

I still believe working hard and delivering results should be rewarded. This continues to be a cornerstone of my belief system — getting recognized as a top talent and building a track record of success is important.

But I also learned to expand my perspective about work and what career success means to me. For example…

1. I believe potential is meant to be realized. 

This belief is essential to get outside your comfort zone and show your readiness to take on new leadership roles.

If you shy away from stretch assignments, it’s going to be difficult to get included in succession planning for future leaders — which is one of the best ways to earn internal promotions.

Plus, high potentials get access to a ton of special training that isn’t offered to average performers.

2.  I view career setbacks as opportunities to grow, develop and become better. 

This belief is much easier said than done, but learning how to turn workplace adversity into success stories is key for career advancement.

If you don’t learn how to effectively respond to workplace challenges, you’re not going make the most of your professional potential, let alone have a successful career.

3. I believe it’s my responsibility to make it easier for senior management to see my potential and promotability.

This belief can be a real game-changer when it comes to gaining workplace visibility, getting credit for your hard work, and speaking up more in  meetings.

By considering how you can make it easier for management to see your potential, you’ll become instantly empowered to take more meaningful actions — and amazing things can result.

4. I believe career success isn’t a solo sport

This belief helps you build strong relationships and gain more support and advocacy for your next promotion.

Having a supportive boss who believes in you is vital to advance your career. But a lot of time, getting the right people–clients, partners, executives–to know you better can be even more important. 

Each of these 4 beliefs and more helped to fuel new ways to advance my career.

They made it easier to grow and develop new skills and abilities—and push myself to find a way forward in a way that worked for me.

Develop Essential Skills and Abilities

And that’s what career advancement is about, developing the skills and abilities that matter most to move up to the next level.

Not faking it until you make it. Not perfecting your personal style. And not by being a great employee who works harder and harder to deliver even more results.

If you want to move from an individual contributor role into a management position — or advance from middle management into the senior ranks — being a super doer isn’t enough to land better opportunities.

Being a great employee is a great place to start. But being a great employee with empowering beliefs to supercharge your way onward and upward is even better.


About Author

As a former CMO who started her career as an admin assistant, Alison writes about climbing the corporate ladder to achieve financial freedom.

You can read more about her story here.



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *