8 Reasons Why You’re Not Getting Promoted at Work

Has your career stalled? See if you’re making any of these all-too-common mistakes.

An overview of a bar chart with people standing at the tops of the bars. Some bars are taller than others, and one person falls short.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Anyone stuck in a dead-end job, getting passed over for promotions time and again while others around them advance could have some thinking to do. Is it the job, or is it you?

That’s what one woman who emailed me recently was wondering about, too. “Angela” reported that her husband, “Jamie,” has not been promoted, and he feels somewhat shunned.

“I believe it is his aloof, non-sharing – using others – behavior that is responsible for his lack of advancement,” she wrote. “This is having an impact on our marriage. Do you know of any relevant books or TED lectures I can sit him down to watch that might wake him up? We both read your column, and I think he will pay attention to your suggestions.”

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Well, Angela, actually I do have a recommendation for you. I recently had a delightful interview with Dorie Clark, a TED lecturer and the author of several books, including The Long Game, Entrepreneurial You, Reinventing You and Stand Out. She is also an adjunct professor of business administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

Dorie is a powerhouse of ideas with a message: “I would really like to improve society by getting talented people to contribute and to have their ideas appreciated and recognized rather than just the people with the loudest voices in the room.”

I asked her to list some of the ways we can be own worst enemies on the job.

1. Fail to share your ideas publicly.

Consequences: If you don’t share your ideas publicly, only those people who work with you directly have a sense of what you are capable of doing. By sharing your ideas, they can spread, and a wider audience will know that you are of real value to your employer and merit promotion.

2. Go it alone. Fail to build a network of professional colleagues.

Consequences: You can succeed for a while being a lone wolf, but eventually you need to have other people support and advocate for you. If no one knows you that well – because you’ve not built those relationships – this is when your career will stagnate.

3. Only focus on your current assignment. Fail to think about your long-term professional development.

Consequences: You won’t advance. It is essential to always have in mind your long-term career growth. This often includes building new skills through taking classes and cultivating relationships both inside and outside of your industry. In so doing you enhance your chances of discovering new ideas that lead to future professional opportunities.

It is essential to set aside time for doing long-term thinking and creating a future vision of where you want to go and what you want to be.

4. Ask for favors right off the bat.

Consequences: If you meet someone and immediately approach them about a high-stakes favor, it is very likely they will feel used. As a result, you risk burning the relationship before it even starts. So, build true connections before asking for favors.

5. Fail to appreciate people who have helped you! Just move on after someone has done you a favor.

Consequences: If you don’t circle back and thank them, it is unlikely they will ever want to do a favor for you again. You will acquire a reputation of being a user and an ingrate. Worse yet, because of this negative reputation, you will not be kept in the loop and won’t even hear about opportunities. Finally, never forget that people talk, and word spreads to folks you do not know.

6. Fail to acknowledge important events in your colleagues’ lives, such as if someone close to them dies. Just remove emotions from your on-the-job life and expect others to think only of work.

Consequences: It will feel insulting and heartless, especially if, for example, you send them an email asking, “Where is the report?” It is enormously meaningful when people are grieving to have someone reach out with flowers or a card, or even a kind word to check in.

7. If your organization’s culture is to split the bill or rotate buying lunch for the group, be the person who refuses.

Consequences: You look cheap and supremely self-centered. People stop inviting you.

8. Resent your colleagues’ success. Let it be known that you, instead of John, should have gotten that promotion and you are not going to make life easy for him.

Consequences: You are brewing trouble that does not need to be there. The other person probably had positive feelings about you, until you behaved in a hostile manner. This gives you a reputation as being petty and not focused on the good of the company.

Concluding our interview, Dorie offered this thought:

“Ultimately, advancing in your career doesn’t have to be a Machiavellian power struggle against other people. Instead, it’s about doing the right thing, being generous in your interactions, and looking for ways to grow professionally while also benefiting your company.”


This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

H. Dennis Beaver, Esq.
Attorney at Law, Author of "You and the Law"

After attending Loyola University School of Law, H. Dennis Beaver joined California's Kern County District Attorney's Office, where he established a Consumer Fraud section. He is in the general practice of law and writes a syndicated newspaper column, "You and the Law." Through his column he offers readers in need of down-to-earth advice his help free of charge. "I know it sounds corny, but I just love to be able to use my education and experience to help, simply to help. When a reader contacts me, it is a gift."