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Your how-to guide on overcoming career stagnation

Your how-to guide on overcoming career stagnation

Artwork by: Veronika Kiriyenko

  • What is career stagnation?
  • What are the signs of stagnation?
  • No ambition
  • Boredom
  • Procrastination
  • Conflict
  • Lack of a promotion and raise
  • Why is my career stagnant?
  • Lack of learning opportunities
  • Lack of coaching
  • Lack of risk-taking
  • Not acknowledging shifting values
  • Lack of growth opportunities
  • What are the effects of career stagnation?
  • How can you overcome career stagnation?
  • Change your mindset
  • Set a goal
  • Get a coach
  • Volunteer
  • Follow your passion
  •  Key takeaways:

Career stagnation happens for a variety of reasons, and overcoming it can be difficult without the right information. The tips and advice in this how-to guide can help get you back on track.

Early in your career, you had big dreams and ambitions of moving up the ladder and being the youngest senior exec in company history, but now it seems as if your career has hit a wall. Because your career has stagnated, you have become disengaged and complacent. You don’t understand what has happened, and worse, you don’t know how to overcome it. No worries, we are here to help.

In this article, you’ll discover:

  • What is career stagnation?

  • What are the signs of stagnation?

  • Why is my career stagnant?

  • What are the effects of stagnation?

  • How can you overcome career stagnation?

Recognizing the signs and correcting the effects of career stagnation can propel you to more fulfilling and purpose-driven work.

What is career stagnation?

Career stagnation is the feeling of being stuck in a job or career with a lack of engagement and no chance of advancement or change in sight. This feeling of being stuck can be a lonely place and make you think you are the only disengaged employee. The truth is that according to a Gallup poll 66% of employees have felt disengaged or actively disengaged with their current job.

Before we move along any further, we should understand the difference between disengaged and actively disengaged.

There are three types of employees.

  1. Engaged employees – This group of employees is highly motivated and passionate about their jobs and careers. These are the ones that will move mountains to get the job done and advance the mission of the organization.

  2. Disengaged employees – These employees have mentally, physically, and emotionally checked out of their job and career. The disengaged employee is simply punching the clock and collecting a paycheck. They look to add no value to the mission of the organization.

  3. Actively disengaged employees – This group of employees hates their job to the point where they are actively trying to poison the well of morale for the other employees. They are looking to sabotage the mission of the organization.

What are the signs of stagnation?

When you feel stuck in your job and your career, it can be a sickening feeling. You can literally feel ill at the very thought of work. Here are some signs that may provide a clear indication that you have hit a wall and your career is stagnating.

No ambition

You have no ambition or willingness to give 100% effort at your job. Your skills are eroding, and you have no desire to learn or enhance your skills. In addition, you are no longer involved in projects or team activities. 


You find that you daydream or surf the web more than you work. As much as you may think others won’t notice, your apathy toward your job is screaming career stagnation to your colleagues. The good thing about being bored at work is that it can be cured with a conversation with your manager. Let your manager know that you are looking for more challenging work.


With career stagnation comes procrastination. When you feel stuck in your career, have no ambition, and boredom has set in, you have no drive to take on new projects or meet deadlines. The problem with procrastination is that it impacts the entire team.


Try and remember that you have not always felt like this. You were once an engaged employee who is now disengaged. If you do not overcome career stagnation, chances are you may become an actively disengaged employee who is continually in conflict with everyone around you.

Lack of a promotion and raise

A true sign of career stagnation is that you have not had a promotion or pay increase in a few years. Whether this is due to a struggling company or your disengagement, not receiving a promotion and a boost in pay means that your career has stalled and is not on an upward trajectory.

Why is my career stagnant?

Since you now know what career stagnation is and are better able to spot the warning signs, you’re on the road to curing the problem. One more step is to uncover some potential causes for career stagnation and remove them.

Lack of learning opportunities

A reason your career has hit a snag is the lack of learning opportunities. When your skills are out of date, and there is no opportunity to expand your knowledge base, you will be left behind and lagging in comparison to your counterparts.

Lack of coaching

Growth takes nurturing. Having the right support system in place will make all the difference in whether your career blossoms or withers away.

Lack of risk-taking

Getting too comfortable at a job or in your career will certainly bring on career stagnation. When you stay too long in the same position or company because you are afraid of change or taking a risk, it will lead to complacency.

Not acknowledging shifting values

Over time your values will change. You should not only acknowledge this shift in your value system but pivot to ensure that you are following your passion and perhaps a new career path will present itself. 

Lack of growth opportunities

When there is no upward mobility or a career ladder to climb your career will stagnate, and you will certainly feel stuck. We all want to feel appreciated and rewarded for our efforts. According to a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, The Little Things That Make Employees Feel Appreciated, when these needs are met, workers are more productive.

Expert Tip

Career advancement is a process that takes proper planning. Get more insight in our blog, Career Advancement: How to Achieve Your Career Goals.

What are the effects of career stagnation?

The effects of career stagnation can be severe and life-altering.

  • Career stagnation can lead to actively being disengaged at work. A person who is actively disengaged is looking for ways to negatively influence others through intentionally bad actions and expressed negative energy.

  • Another effect of stagnation is complacency. Someone who gets into a rut at work will become complacent and lack the drive to provide value or give their best at work.

  • At its extreme, career stagnation could ultimately lead to termination. When a person is actively disengaged or gives less than the minimum effort, the company may choose to part ways with the employee. 

Expert Tip

Career stagnation is not all negative. Being stagnant can light a fire under you and drive you to make a career change allowing you to work and thrive inside your passion. This is the desired effect of career stagnation.

How can you overcome career stagnation?

Change your mindset

Just as with any successful change, you must shift your mindset first. The Forbes article titled Feeling Lost in Your Career? Quickly Find Your Way in 3 Actionable Steps states, “When you’re feeling lost, wallowing in your misery is tempting. Worse, your frustration can unintentionally impact others. But staying in a negative headspace won’t help you move forward. Instead, shift your mindset to one of positivity and possibility.”

Set a goal

When you create a career goal, you are focused on the objective. Your goal will keep you motivated, encouraged, and engaged. When you are focused on growing and adding value to the mission of the company, it leaves very little room for career stagnation.

Get a coach

A great strategy to help overcome career stagnation is to get a coach or mentor. Having a coach or mentor that can help guide you will do wonders in overcoming career stagnation.


Volunteer to take on additional responsibilities and ask for challenging projects that will push you to use or learn new skills. Keeping your skills up to date will keep you engaged and prevent boredom.

Follow your passion

The best way to fight career stagnation is to follow your passion. When you “do what you love and love what you do,” it is hard to stagnate. Following your passion will make you want to do more and push for forward progress.

 Key takeaways:

  1. Learning to recognize the signs and the effects of career stagnation will propel you to a more fulfilling and purpose-driven career.

  2. There are three types of employees: engaged, disengaged, and actively disengaged. Strive to be engaged and stay away from actively disengaged employees.

  3. Career stagnation in the extreme can lead to termination.

  4. Overcoming career stagnation consists of changing your mindset, setting a goal, getting a coach, seeking out challenges, and following your passion.

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