Middle Class Career – Part 3

Career Plateauing

Career plateauing expert Judith Bardwick refers to the “Rule of 99 Percent” which states: “In every large and complex organization, the number of positions at the highest decision-making level is always less than 1 percent of the number of employees. This means that long before retirement promotions will end for almost all workers. Bardwick goes on to report that in today’s well educated, over supplied work environment, only 10 percent of all middle-class workers will ever reach any level of even middle management. As a result many now in their thirties, educated, ambitious, disciplined, and qualified are facing the fact that they have plateaued. This plateauing occurring well below their ceiling with perhaps another 30 years of working life ahead.

Three Kinds or Plateauing

Plateauing is not a gradual process, but tends to happen suddenly. At the beginning of their careers the middle-class individuals may get promoted every 18 to 24 months. Then at some point they realize that they have not been promoted in the last five years and are probably not going any further. This is because the shape of the typical organizational pyramid is not the regular geometric form we usually envision but is very irregular, somewhat like markedly smaller rectangles piled on each other. Though interrelated Judith Bardwick defines three distinct kinds of plateauing:

1. Structural: Structural plateauing is marked by the end of promotions and is caused by the organizations structure. Structural plateauing will generate enormous problems for middle-class individuals for the next twenty years because of the over supply of college educated men and women.

2. Content: In content plateauing the worker has become expert, knows the job completely and has little more to learn about it. This can lead to profound boredom. While structural plateauing is inescapable content plateauing is not. Lateral moves can give workers new content and thus reduce boredom.

3. Life: When promotions end some men and women develop a terrible sense of failure. Life plateauing is more profound, more total, and more serious than either content or structural plateauing. Those who are life plateaued feel a real sense of despair.

Quiet Desperation

It isn’t Unusual for a man or woman as they moves into middle age to find the range of opportunities narrowing, ambitions becoming thwarted, while still years from retirement. Today in most industries this “plateauing” begins at 42, and is trending downward. The first hint of plateauing may be exclusion from a company trip to another facility for training on new methods and technologies. Then a Catch-22 is set up where they are denied promotion because they lack the skills to do the job.

Since the middle-class man and women often derive their sense of worth from their career, they almost reflexively work even harder. They resist facing the fact that their career has flattened, even when it’s clear to co-workers. When they finally realize that their career has stopped its linear advancement the middle-age worker feels a marked sense of failure. There is no graceful way of backing down the ladder, and taking a less stressful job. In fact, unless the worker has a disability, lateral movement is viewed as almost un-American.

Next Week – Classical Organization Theory and New Policies

Published in: on October 16, 2013 at 9:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

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