Let’s start by asking ourselves a broad enough question: how does one succeed in their career? One reason people are unhappy with their careers is that they are stuck with the notion that success means progress, movement, and change. No matter a person’s definition of success, they don’t want to fail at what they set out to do.
There could be obstacles standing in the way of achieving their professional goals. It may be hard for individuals to see exactly what is holding them back, especially when those reasons are personal. Not only that, but some obstacles can stem from issues outside of their control. An example of this could be insufficient workplace diversity, equity and inclusion(DE&I) policies.
Highlighted below are various obstacles that could halt the positive career trajectory we all aspire towards. And, in the case of issues related to DE&I, advice on how we can help to bridge the gap.
5 things hindering your career
- Being highly interested in what your colleagues earn
It is a quirk of human psychology that we evaluate things in isolation with difficulty, but we are particularly good at comparing two things. Is your salary high? Who knows. Is it higher than that of your friend or your acquaintance? Easy answer, but such comparisons are predictable to dissatisfaction and unrest.
From a DE&I perspective, discussing salaries can be a helpful exercise so long as it is being undertaken to help promote pay equality. It should be an opportunity to support one another and ensure that no one is being treated unfairly rather than providing the opportunity to sour a working relationship. Any anger or annoyance should be directed at the people who agreed to the pay discrepancy, not the ones receiving it.
Spending your days comparing yourself to others prepares you to be unhappy. Even if a person is accomplished, successful, and deserving, no matter how near the top they may have travelled, someone is always a bit closer, doing a bit better.
- Feeling you are not paid fairly.
Thinking about situations in terms of “fairness” is a recipe for sadness and frustration. First and foremost, the world is not fair. In almost every way imaginable, abilities and outcomes are unevenly distributed. In some cases, those coming from a place of privilege might not even understand the struggles experienced by those on the other side. Second, personal conceptions of fairness can be very different from others and highly influenced by what they would like to achieve.
What does this have to do with career success? If an individual feels they are not paid fairly, they will become resentful. This will impact their attitude and work. And people will notice. Ironically, one way to boost your salary is to stop obsessing about it.
Letting go of frustration and dissatisfaction will translate into being happier, a better colleague, and doing better work, translating into higher salaries over time. As a general rule, employees should ask for salary history within their current position, as not doing so can perpetuate wage gaps, enabling them to grow over time. Encouraging companies to work on pay equity policies addressing compensation, promotions, or raises is, of course, the more structured and long-term solution for organisations to address any pay disparity.
There are various ways for companies to keep track of their efforts regarding diversity, equity and inclusion. One such tool is the DEI Maturity Model developed by the Association of Corporate Counsel, which will help companies benchmark the maturity of such initiatives in the workplace.
- Thinking people less competent than you have been promoted ahead of you
We know our virtues, and we also think we know the many failings of those who may have gotten promoted to the job that we believe we deserved instead. Our sense of others’ abilities, experience, accomplishments and ambitions are often incomplete. There are many reasons people get promoted; usually, it is a combination of several factors, some of which a person may not be privy to.
Above all, companies should have a promotion policy that prevents discrimination and ensures an open and neutral hiring process. The decision-makers should be trained on hiring and promotions, including all legal requirements. Holding them accountable for following the promotion process properly and ensuring that, regardless of how an individual may feel about the selected candidate, they are the best person who put themselves forward for the job and were chosen based on that merit only.
Bitterness over being snubbed is evident to colleagues and management, making them question the person’s suitability for promotion. After all, as a manager, they will be confronted with all sorts of difficult situations. It is thus vital that they face any challenges pragmatically.
- Switching companies regularly
The sometimes misguided belief that success in your career requires motion could harm it. An ambitious individual will want to see visible signs of progress. At a minimum, this means they need new responsibilities, a new title, and a promotion at least every few years. A company that does not acknowledge this and accommodate these needs will be deemed a waste of time, so they move on to another opportunity.
There is some truth to this. Certain people have job-hopped their way to outrageous title inflation far quicker than people staying in one place. If a person doesn’t feel valued within their current position, the temptation to look to greener pastures increases. However, they should know the risks involved in seeking out this change.
Before accepting a new position, employees should ask about the company policies, including those in the DE&I sphere, the intensity of the workload, the politics of those in management, and the sophistication of the infrastructure. Don’t buy into the fancy vision statements; many companies are not as inclusive or forward-thinking as they present themselves. And by not doing proper research, a person could not only find themselves trapped in a bad environment but also with their career negatively impacted due to their decision.
Often if hiring managers see multiple frequent hops, they assume one of two things: This person has an unrealistic sense of how quickly their career should progress, and this person is a poor performer and has had to leave once each new employer figures it out. Either way, they are not an attractive hire.
- Focusing on the negatives in a situation
A good motto in life is, “Be happy with what you have, not sad for what you don’t have.” This does not mean we should be delusional or ignore bad things in life. No matter the situation, people are faced with a choice. Do they try to identify something positive, or do they dwell on everything that is not perfect?
A person who can find something positive in dark times is wonderful to be around and is exactly who people want on their team. Because a crisis is always just around the corner, we want to work with people who are positively inclined because they will make a bad situation better in ways that the doomsayer never could.
Some final advice
The aim is not to be perfect. It is instead to be self-aware and deliberate in how we approach situations. We all have weaknesses, and no company is perfect. Still, by paying close attention to these key issues, we can turn the tide to our advantage and positively impact company policy long-term if that’s what’s holding us back.
By James Bellerjeau, a lecturer in the LLM program of the University of Zürich and for the Europa Institut of the University of Zürich.