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Why don’t I get promoted?

Man climbing ladder

Credit: Shironosov/

Dear Working Wise:

I’ve worked for the same company for five years and I haven’t gotten a promotion. I get good job reviews and no one complains about my work, but other people around me have been promoted and I’ve been left behind. What can I do?

Signed Frustrated

Dear Frustrated:

It’s hard to know why you have been overlooked for a promotion, but I’ll bet your boss knows why.

Wait until your anger has passed and then ask your supervisor for a meeting to discuss your career path. Explain to your supervisor that you like your job and that you are interested in taking on more responsibility. Then, ask for their advice on what you need to do to earn a promotion.

Be prepared for criticism or suggestions that you will not like. Don’t get defensive or critical of your supervisor’s comments—listen with an open mind, because he or she is telling you what you need to hear.

Your performance might not be as good as you think. The way you interact with other people may need improvement. You might need more training. Or, you might have stepped into a workplace trap that’s holding your career back.

The four most common workplace traps are:

1. Complaining – Every workplace has problems. Complaining will not solve them. Complaining lowers morale, wastes time and gives you a reputation for negativity that can hurt your career. In fact, in a recent survey, the top workplace pet peeve is people who complain too much. Do what you can to change the situation. If that’s not possible, accept it and move on. If the situation is unacceptable and you’ve done everything in your power to change it without success, then look for a different job.

2. Gossiping – Reduces productivity and undermines teamwork by creating mistrust and suspicion between co-workers. If a co-worker starts gossiping:

  • Leave the conversation, e.g., “Sorry, I’ve got to make a call.”
  • Change the subject, e.g., “How was your weekend?”
  • Steer the conversation in a positive direction, e.g., “Gee, we can’t do much about that, but what can we do to make things better?”

3. Inappropriate online activities – many employers provide their staff with email and Internet access. They also keep track of their employee’s Internet use. Be sure you are using your computer and Internet access for work-related purposes. Check with your supervisor before you use these resources for personal use and never send an email or visit a website that you wouldn’t want your supervisor to see.

4. Comparing – Dwelling on how much faster your co-workers were promoted than you is a waste of your time, it destroys your morale and keeps you from taking positive action. Have a conversation with your supervisor about your goals, make a plan that you both agree will take your career in the right direction, and follow it. Catch your supervisor’s attention by learning new skills or volunteering for a project.

Bringing a positive and professional attitude to work with you every day is the best way to avoid workplace traps and give your career a lift.

For more career tips, visit the Alberta Learning Information Service (ALIS) web site at:

Do you have a work-related question? Send your questions to Working Wise, at Charles Strachey is a manager with Alberta Human Services. This column is provided for general information.


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