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Career plateau: A review of 40 years of research

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Wei-Ning Yang, Karen Niven, Sheena Johnson

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)286-302
JournalJournal Of Vocational Behavior
Volume110, Part B
Early online date19 Nov 2018
Accepted/In press15 Nov 2018
E-pub ahead of print19 Nov 2018
Published28 Feb 2019


King's Authors


A considerable amount of research has been published on career plateau since its first appearance in the careers literature in the 1970s. There is therefore a need to summarise what is known about the field in its entirety and what remains unanswered. This paper presents a review of career plateau research published between 1977 and 2017 and includes 72 empirical sources. Focusing on hierarchical and job content plateau, the review adopts a social exchange perspective in explaining why the two types of plateau are linked with various unfavourable work outcomes, what the mechanisms and moderators of these relationships may be, and the possible antecedents of career plateau. The 72 sources included in the review revealed that career plateaued individuals generally report unfavourable affective outcomes (e.g., poorer satisfaction and well-being) as well as other undesirable work outcomes (e.g., poorer job performance and organisational commitment, and enhanced turnover intentions), and that these outcomes can be explained by the fact plateaued individuals perceive a lack of support from their organisation. Furthermore, our review suggests that the effects of career plateau are moderated by several key factors, namely, the extent to which both the organisation and individual adopt strategies to counteract plateau, and the extent to which individuals care about being promoted. In terms of antecedents of plateau, proactivity and additional responsibilities given by the organisation are negatively related to career plateau. Based on these findings, our review offers managerial implications and suggestions of future research directions.

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