Why do high performers fail to get promoted?

Why do high performers fail to get promoted?
Last Updated: May 24, 2023


You might be surprised to hear that not all top performers are promoted. Usually, there are legitimate reasons why these individuals may be overlooked for the next promotion. It is not that they do not do a good job. The opposite is true.


Top performers are frequently the best in their field. They are, after all, top performers for a reason. They complete their tasks more efficiently, quickly, and thoroughly than anyone else in the office. Why aren't some of these top performers being promoted? Continue reading to find out why some high performers fail to get promoted.


Related: Attributes of top-performing employees at any company


Why do slackers get promoted?


Toxic people cause havoc in the workplace. They begin the drama. They divert attention from others. They assign blame to others. They act selfishly rather than for the good of the team. They also disrupt workplace productivity through gossip, negativity, and/or bullying.


And yet, they remain because we wouldn't be here talking about them if they didn't. In fact, despite their toxic behavior, many of these individuals rise to the top of their organizations. Here's why toxic employees get promoted even though the rest of the workplace believes they aren't deserving.

They show confidence (even if it's fake)

Toxic individuals understand how to play the game. They know that confidence is essential, so they fake it until they make it. Of course, this isn't always a bad thing to do, but toxic people can wear masks that deceive others.


They're dirty competitors

Toxic people enjoy competing. They want to win and can become fixated on being "the best." As a result, they boast about themselves while disparaging others. While their toxic behavior may be obvious to some colleagues, their arrogance may attract the attention of others. Of course, there's a fine line between being proud of your work, bragging about your well-earned successes, and making yourself look better by putting others down and throwing others under the bus.


They manipulate their way up

Toxic people are skilled manipulators. They will place blame on others when it is not justified. They will lie to managers about their qualifications and experience. They will exaggerate their achievements to the nth degree. They will do whatever it takes to get to the top, even if it means sacrificing their dignity in the process.


They're likable, even if they're not suitable

A toxic employee may be the office socialite, always organizing happy hours and gathering everyone together. Perhaps they even make many people enjoy being around them simply because they are entertaining. That could explain why people automatically think of recommending them for a promotion or advocating for them when there is room for advancement.


However, while the extraverted chatter who wanders from department to department talking about the weekend may be a likable individual, they can also be extremely distracting. This type of behavior is deceptively toxic and does not promote a productive workplace.


They start drama in others' careers

Toxic people are notorious for starting drama, and they do it in other people's careers as well. They understand that if they can eliminate their competition, they will have a better chance of success. As a result, they will spread rumors and gossip, and create unbearable workplace drama to make their competitors appear unqualified for the promotion.


They're painfully negative

Toxic people are typically negative. They may be dissatisfied with their jobs or salaries or beg for more money to support their families or pay off their debts. Tell a manager why you need the raise rather than why you deserve it is never a good idea!


Maybe a pushover manager will get tired of hearing it and move this toxic employee to a new position to keep the peace. Of course, this does not always occur. And, in most cases, negativity will not get you ahead in the workplace. However, a manager dealing with larger issues may promote a toxic employee to appease and pacify.


They're a workplace martyr

A toxic employee may spend a lot of time telling everyone who will listen how much and how hard they work, even if they are burnt out. They will be the first to arrive at work and the last to leave, and they'll invent extra work and stress for themselves out of thin air. They'll never take time off, and the concept of work-life balance isn't even in their vocabulary.

Related: Work-life balance quiz


You have got your eye on the next rung on the ladder, and you are checking all the boxes:

  • You consistently arrive on time,
  • You consistently outperform on your projects,
  • You make every effort to act like a leader.

You are desperate for the promotion, but your patience is wearing thin.


You might be asking yourself the following questions:

  • Have your bosses noticed that you are ready for the next level?
  • That you're the right person for the job?

Patiently waiting can be a good strategy at times, but sometimes that promotion isn't going to happen.


If you are wondering if you have a future with your current employer, look around at the road signs; they may indicate you are on a dead-end street. The following are four of the most common signs that it is time to change your path and look for a job with room for advancement:


You get all of the grunt work

If you're always the one in the office who gets the scary, messy, boring, and microscopically-detailed assignments, it's a bad sign for your future career. It means you've turned into a human garbage disposal, with no one willing to help because they know you'll be ready to handle the unpleasant, minor details. You're busy, and you're dedicated, but guess what? You're not going anywhere.


Your workstation is a desert island

People come and go around you, projects are assigned, and problems are discussed, but you feel like an outsider watching it all. You're always the last person to know what's going on in the office. You're not invited to meetings, not involved in the big project that everyone else is excited about, and you barely see upper-level management.


Your boss' career objectives are hazy

If your boss isn't invested in your growth and development, you're unlikely to advance any time soon – or ever. Perhaps your boss has previously inquired about your professional objectives but has never followed up or attempted to assist you. Perhaps they have never even inquired.


Employers who are open to your advancement know what kind of development they expect from you. They can help you visualize your potential career path. They can tell you what you need to do to justify that new role (or pay raise) you've been offered.


The books are unbalanced

Perhaps the issue is bigger than you and your boss! If your company has become stagnant or unprofitable or is about to go bankrupt, your chances of getting a promotion are slim, no matter how hard you work or how much your boss likes you.

RelatedEverything you need to do so that you get promoted


Why do l get overlooked for promotion?

Despite stellar results and glowing reviews, you were passed over for a key promotion. You have asked where you are falling short, but the answers have been vague and unsatisfactory, leaving you angry, frustrated, and unsure of how to move forward. Promotion decisions appear to be arbitrary and political. What exactly is going on?


As high performers reach their full potential, they are often overworked and have no time to recover. Furthermore, not having spare time limits their opportunities to grow and learn new skills, which is detrimental to their career advancement.


While their boss will likely appreciate that their performance is always at its peak, they may be overlooked for a different position or prefer to be kept in a job that produces excellent results. Some of these high performers will most likely approach their manager about a possible promotion or job change. However, top performers usually look elsewhere if they receive a negative response. Below is a list of reasons why high performers fail to get promoted.


They haven't been with that organization long

Sometimes high performers fail to get promoted because they haven't been with that organization for long i.e., the newness factor. For example, someone who has just joined an organization for just 8 months might be overlooked for a promotion. It is important to understand that you are now standing on the next step if you are this person. But first, you should establish a track record of success in what you do now.


Poor demeanor

Regardless of how good a high performer might be, any track of poor attitude might result in managers not promoting them. Immaturity, poor communication, a lack of empathy, and a lack of self-awareness lead to managers overlooking high performers for promotions.


Not participating in the game

As a high performer, it is not enough to be good at your job if you want to advance. You must be skilled at convincing others that you are competent in your field. When you meet with your boss or other department heads, it should not be your boss telling them how wonderful you are. Alternatively, it would help if you were telling them yourself with confidence. Avoid displaying self-doubt at all times.


Not having a company owner mindset

A hardworking employee would work for the company, do what is asked of them, and expect to be paid for their efforts, and the employer would see the employee in the same light. Employees' actions and behaviors immediately reflect their mindset when they change their mindset and become the company, and the employer notices the difference and offers better opportunities. If you do not portray leadership traits even as a high performer, you might be overlooked for a promotion. It is important to have a strategic vision and think big.


They do not want to be promoted

People appear to forget that not everyone wishes to be promoted. Some top performers decline from management positions. They prefer to be doing what they were doing. This is because they might feel a promotion is not suited for them. Hence, next time when opportunities for promotions rise they might be overlooked as they would have declined similar offers before.


The employer might not afford a raise

There are two types of promotions:

  1. Those that allow you to continue doing what you were doing but with more money and a better title,
  2. Those that require you to take on more responsibility and leadership.

The first is possible for any job, but there is a limit. The second requires luck or circumstances to align and the person's willingness and desire to take on more responsibility.


Related: Guidelines on how you can be promoted


Employers cannot promote someone when their business area does not require a manager or a larger team. Employees may find this difficult to accept. Being deserving of a promotion isn't enough. If an employer promotes you to a position that the company does not require, they are failing both you and the company.


If the promotions they have aren't what you are looking for, and if the promotion you are looking for isn't something they need right now, you won't be getting a promotion this year.


Related: 6 Reasons Why Some People Never Get Promoted


Wrapping it up

Work hard, be reliable, be successful, have a positive attitude, be helpful, give constructive criticism, show leadership, and visibly do all this if you want to get promoted. On top of that, you must be patient. Promotion is a function of both preparation and opportunity. Chance does not wait for the unprepared therefore, you must prepare.


Kudzai Derera
Super User
This article was written by Kudzai a Super User at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd

Related Articles


Sign up now to get updated on latest posts and relevant career opportunities