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Oct 1993

Why career plateaus are healthy. (CPA in Industry)

by Kreuter, Eric A.

    Abstract- A career plateau refers to a temporary flat point on the advancement continuum during the career of an individual. Although it sometimes leads to frustration, a career plateau is not necessarily negative. In fact, it can be healthy for professionals, particularly those who have just accomplished a breakthrough in their careers. A plateau can be a highly valuable and stable period of rest and security that provides an opportunity to regain perspective and digest new ideas. Individuals who have comfortably levelled off during this plateau are more likely to regroup and plan better for the next stage of their career development, and are less likely to experience frustration and dissatisfaction than those who have not. Supervisors and trainers should show patience for persons whose career are plateauing and learn to decipher cues indicating the readiness of individuals to resume their growth.

Are career plateaus always negative? Although they do provide an element of frustration on the part of the accountant, as well as for supervisors, plateaus are a time when new ideas are digested. They can be highly desirable stable periods of rest and security used to gain a sense of perspective. Following this, an effort to regroup and plan the next phase of growth takes place in the motivated individual. The person who may be peaking in his or her career is likely to remain at this level indefinitely or begin to diminish in performance.

What is the nature of a plateau? It depends on the ability of the individual, perhaps along with the advice of the person's mentor, to understand the plateau and use it in helpful ways. Some individuals feel safe and secure during plateaus. Although the employee's trainers and supervisors may become discouraged, they should try to appreciate that a period of stability may be very healthy following accomplishment. Such an accomplishment could be in the form of technical learning, increased visability within the organization, overcoming of difficulties in effectively managing subordinates, and making a full transition from one level to the next requiring effective delegation.

It's Quite Natural

The learning process requires plateaus. Following a period of career enhancement, a person benefiting from an opportunity to assimilate the new knowledge or ability will be able to fully integrate it into his or her repertoire of professional conduct and job handling.

Therefore, pushing the accountant too far without the essential period of rest may lead to frustration and dissatisfaction. Such unrealistic requirements hinder the smooth integration of the learning process.

Job stress is increased during periods of increased pressure to absorb and use new technical or managerial material. Allowing accountants time to regain their perspective will help to reduce this tension. Therefore, a transition period is required. The mistakes, which are a natural part of the learning process will serve to demonstrate not to dwell or be overly concerned about them. This should suggest that they will need to fine-tune their approaches to tasks, responsibilities, and subordinates, and to discover what works best for them as unique individuals.

Accountants left to their own natural ability to grow intellectually and emotionally will easily move to the next, more difficult challenge. Supervisors and trainers need to be patient and wait for accountants of varying ability and energy levels to resume the process of growth in accordance with their own feelings and internal motivation. They can, and should, receive on-going career counseling, but not to the point that it becomes counter-productive. Goal-setting should be carefully done to avoid over reaching.

It is important to reinforce accomplishments. Encouragement can be verbal or in written evaluations. It may be beneficial to assign reinforcement task during plateaus. Accountants should be informed that plateaus are perfectly normal and that others are at their same level. Highly motivated staff can become very negative on themselves for perceived stalling of their career growth. It is common for such a person to desire and expect continuous upward mobility through constantly being given increasingly more demanding assignments.

Accountants can and will communicate in some manner their readiness to more their career into a forward direction. This may come in the form of a request for more challenging assignments or a complaint that the work has become routine.

It is imprudent not to move accountants ahead too fast. This may result in early burnout with termination or resignation likely.

Ready For More Responsibility

How can you determine when the person is ready for more responsibility? Having a perceptive view of non-verbal communication such as body language will assist in determining if the person has successfully assimilated the new knowledge or skill. Physical tension, a disrupted speech pattern, avoidance of eye contact, and a dulled enthusiasm may indicate that the person has not integrated enough new information to move ahead today. However, a relaxed attitude and enthusiastic participation in the career process indicates readiness to begin the career progression process.

The system of providing regular, participative performance evaluations along with biennial career reviews will prevent the mutual misdiagnosis and "treatment" of a career plateau. Perhaps what we call the "career pencil pusher" is tomorrow's star supervisor taking a break from unhealthy and consuming pressure and working new knowledge into the daily routine.

It is helpful to stay in touch with your staff by periodically asking them how they feel their work is progressing. Opening channels of communication is vital. Asking what they feel has been their greatest accomplishment and to prepare self-evaluations highlighting the weaker areas will foster this type of openness. Advising developing accountants to stay interested in their careers will help them maximize their potential, find some particularly enjoyable aspect of their career, and further their involvement and development.

A plateau can be a positive experience if combined with reassurance about individual accomplishments. Recognizing the difference between a plateau and a permanently stalled career is essential to good firm and human resource management. Supervisors, trainers, and the human resource professional can all work together to assist upwardly mobile staff to properly assimilate new knowledge and skills.

Eric A. Kreuter, CPA, CFE, Borek, Stockel & Marden, CPAs

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