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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

How to Break the News to Your Boss That You Don't Want to Climb the Ladder

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You’re in the middle of your annual performance review and your manager asks what your goals are for the upcoming year. She expects you to launch into how you’d like to grow and advance; but truthfully, the voice inside your head is saying, I want to be right here doing the same thing—I really like where I am!

Many people want to climb the ladder, and doing so often results in being seen as a go-getter. But there are others who are content where they are, and don’t possess a need to move up and out. For these folks, participating in “Where do you want to go?” conversations can be really stressful, because they don’t want to sound like a slacker.

You know why you want to remain exactly where you are: Your job is an optimal fit at this point in your life. It hits on many of the key factors that make you happy and engaged at work, such as having a good relationship with your boss and peers, being fulfilled by the work you do, earning good pay and benefits, etc. You don’t have the desire to move up, but it’s not due to a lack of skills or confidence or drive—you just really like your job as is.

Having the Conversation With Your Boss

Managers ask about your future plans so they can help develop your skills and advocate for you. But if your goal is to stay where you are, you can be honest (and still be viewed as a valuable member of the team).

Here’s how:

When your boss asks, “What role do you see yourself in over the next year, or two?” explain that you love what you do right now. Follow this up by pointing to the strong relationships you have: “I couldn’t ask for better colleagues than Marcus and Suzanne, we work really well together and I am constantly learning from them.”

Say your boss persists, following up with, “But you are so good at what you do, you’re well respected and liked, why not consider another role—maybe one in which you can really use your management and leadership skills?”

You, of course, thank him for the compliment and talk about how your job fits the life you have outside of work, and that it’s good for you (and your family). It could sound like this: “Thank you so much. My current role allows me the flexibility to spend Wednesday afternoons with my daughter (or care for my dad, or work from home two days a week), and achieve a really strong work-life balance.”

At this point your manager may shift gears and ask: “If you don’t want to move into a different role, I’m not sure what kind of development I can offer you. What are you looking for?” This is your chance to avoid the impression that you’re taking the easy way out or that you simply have a lack of ambition. You should come prepared with one or two ideas for how you can add even more value to your organization and your team right where you are.

Need inspiration? Is there training or a certification you can achieve? Perhaps you can learn from a peer? If you’re unable to think of a process or project that needs improvement, ask your boss what he sees and offer solutions.

If you follow these guidelines, most managers will understand, appreciate where you’re coming from, and continue to see you as an asset. If you’re still nervous you’ll be seen as complacent, keep in mind that supervisors would have a difficult time dealing with a situation in which every single team member wants a promotion. It would be a revolving door of people coming in and out. The competition would be fierce and inevitably someone would end up disappointed or disengaged. The reality is that there are only so many promotions to go around and it’s healthy to have a team with varying career aspirations.

There are many ways to contribute and add value to your organization. Advancement is only one of them. Don’t be afraid to have honest and professional conversations about your desire to stay in place. The key is communicating how your current position benefits both you and the organization. If you make yourself indispensable, your manager will be thrilled for you to stay where you’re happy.