Discovery Surveys, Inc.
Specializing in Employee Opinion and Customer Satisfaction Surveys
Improving the Workplace

By Bruce L. Katcher, Ph.D. President, Discovery Surveys, Inc.

6 out of 10 employees say their company doesn't provide advancement opportunities

I consulted to a small liberal arts college tucked away in a remote rural town in northern New England. The junior faculty was in an uproar. No junior faculty member had received tenure for the past 10 years. The college already had a large number of tenured faculty members who were all planning on staying with the college for many more years until they retired. That left little room for advancement for others.


Many good employees want to be promoted. Promotions mean more money, more prestige, and greater responsibilities. If too much time goes by without a promotion, they will be unhappy and may leave. Here are some reasons why organizations are having a difficult time offering advancement opportunities.

  1. More companies are contracting rather than expanding which leads to fewer opportunities for advancement than in the past.

  2. Mergers and acquisitions more often lead to downsizing than promotions.

  3. A new kind of glass ceiling is emerging. The large crop of baby boomers who have reached management positions are staying at their jobs longer and making it difficult for younger, talented employees to move up.

  4. Organizations are becoming flatter, limiting the number of supervisory and management positions available.

  5. Promoting employees requires paying them more. This places a difficult strain on the budgets of many organizations.

  6. College graduates join organizations with unrealistic expectations about their advancement potential.



  1. Set Realistic Expectations for Employees

    Prior to offering a position to new employees, tell them in a straightforward manner how likely or unlikely they are to be promoted within one, three, and five years. Also, be brutally honest about promotion possibilities during employee performance reviews and developmental discussions.

  2. Be Sure to Point Out Opportunities for Improvement

    If a supervisor says to an employee, "your job performance is excellent and there is really nothing I can suggest for you to improve," the employee could easily believe that she is a strong candidate for promotion. If there are no positions available, this employee could be disappointed. Job performance can always be improved, even for the best employees. Point this out.

  3. Promote the Best

    Needless to say, if employees feel that the wrong people are being promoted they will be unhappy. Be sure to promote only the most competent employees.

  4. Create New Positions

    In some organizations, it is possible to offer "mini" rather than "full" promotions such as Junior Programmer to Senior Programmer, Credit Specialist I to Credit Specialist II, or production worker to team leader. But be careful not to just change the name of the person's job. Also increase their job responsibilities and pay.

  5. Offer Technical Track Promotions

    In many organizations, strong technical employees such as engineers and programmers are forced to become managers in order to receive a promotion. The problem, however, is that they may not have the skills needed to succeed as managers. Create a technical career ladder so that you can give these employees more responsibilities and more pay without forcing them to become supervisors.

  6. Promote From Within

    Employees become unhappy when they see their organizations hire new employees into positions they feel they could have handled if they had been promoted and given a chance. Adopting a consistent policy of promoting from within whenever possible can increase employee commitment.

  7. Move People Around

    Consider moving promising employees you are unable to promote into different jobs where they may have more potential for advancement.

  8. Encourage People to Move On

    In some instances it is better for both the organization and the individual employee for them to be encouraged to find a position elsewhere that might better match their career goals. This sends a message to all employees that you care about their future and don't want anyone to feel trapped.


Keeping your best performers is obviously important. Although many of them may be deserving of a promotion, advancement opportunities are often limited. Organizations should set realistic expectations for new employees, be sure to promote only the most competent, and be creative in the different ways they promote them and provide them with added responsibilities.


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