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Career Success

How To Increase Your Chance For Upward Mobility At Work

Samantha is a global leadership consultant, executive coach, growth strategist, and high-performance trainer.
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We all pursue different careers depending on our passions, but there’s one thing many of us have in common: the desire to succeed and work our way up the ladder.

Upward mobility at work is vital for all of us. It serves as proof that we’re good at our jobs. It gives us further economic stability in our lives, and it also allows us to learn and experience more skills as we shift into new roles.

In fact, for many, upward mobility is something that people are constantly striving for.

What Is Upward Mobility?

In its very definition, upward mobility is the experience of moving up into a more privileged economic position in society.[1]

So, if we focus on upward mobility at work, it’s about getting a promotion that gives you more responsibility in your career and a higher salary.

People usually start aiming to move further up the career ladder after being in their role for around two years. By this point, many have learned the company’s values, ethics, and long-term goals well. They’ve also managed to work on the skill-set required for the role and proven to their managers that they can achieve everything expected of them.

When they feel ready to move on—to a more senior role or taking on more responsibility—there are usually two ways they do this: either they stay within the company and get promoted to a more senior position, or move to another company within the same industry at a more senior level.


Research on Improving Upward Mobility at Work

In 2021, it was suggested that the U.S. economy is facing a mobility crisis.[2] Many Americans are finding it harder to get ahead, and Covid-19 has presented a stark divide in the workforce.

In the past few years, millions of low-paid workers have lacked job security and long-term plans. Career paths have also been ruined due to digitalization and the displacing of jobs.

The research found that only 43% of workers in low-wage occupations leave low-wage work over ten years. And traditional pathways from low to high-wage work are expected to disappear.

“Steppingstone jobs,” which are like middle-wage jobs, are shrinking. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projections for 2029 employment—in about seven years—the labor market will need to have nearly 775,000 more “steppingstone” jobs to keep their 2019 share of total employment.[3]

Why Is Upward Mobility Important?

Quite simply, achieving higher upward mobility in the workplace will put individuals in more favorable economic positions in their lifetime.

Not only will a more senior role in the workplace increase their satisfaction in their career—and, therefore, their happiness—but it will also give them the freedom to have a more comfortable life away from work and away from potential financial stressors.


Employees who are happier benefit both themselves as individuals and the company they are working for. In fact, studies show that we work harder when we are happy.

This not only benefits employees, as it will help them improve their performance and achieve further career success, but it also benefits the productivity output of the business.[4]

How Is It Different From Social Mobility?

Upward mobility at work differs slightly from upward social mobility. The latter refers to the movement of an individual to a position of increased status or power.[5]

Upward social mobility focuses more on the movement of individuals or households within or between social strata in society rather than their position in the workplace. Sometimes, of course, this may overlap with economic upward mobility.

For example, if someone moves forward in their career and becomes the CEO of a company or the mayor of a town, this will increase both their social and economic mobility at once.

Improving social mobility is still important at work, though.[6] Employers must be inclusive and ensure that people from all backgrounds can work, develop, and succeed.


Top 5 Ways People Achieve Upward Mobility at Work

Now that we’ve tackled what upward mobility is, we would naturally want to know how to achieve it as well. So, here are the top five ways people can achieve upward mobility at work.

1. Undergo Training and Development Programs

Employees who undertake training and development programs at work and upskill themselves are more likely to increase their chances of achieving upward mobility and higher economic success[7]

Learning new skills can allow them to develop and progress into new roles with knowledge others in the business may not have.

Moreover, training shows an employee’s passion for furthering their career, which will reflect favorably on them with senior managers.

2. Document Successes and Goal Achievements

In every role, employees will have specific KPIs (key performance indicators) that give them goals to achieve in the job they are doing. While some employees may loosely pay attention to these goals, others focus on achieving each one.

Employees who target each of their KPIs in their day-to-day workload will be recognized by their managers. Employees must document their performance and successes so none of their actions are overlooked.

And to ensure that the senior management is aware of their performance, it’s helpful if employees and managers commit to regular one-to-one meetings where these points can be highlighted and discussed.


3. Cultivate a Growth Mindset

Having the right mindset is key to achieving upward mobility and a more favorable economic position.

Individuals who believe that talents and skills can be developed and improved through hard work, collaboration, and well-thought-out strategies have this growth mindset. They’re more likely to strive to achieve more, which will result in more success.

To do this, employees should see challenges as opportunities, reflect on their output, and stop seeking approval from others. They should look back on things they have learned and analyze how they can improve and do better next time.

Anyone can develop a more robust skill-set at work through effort, encouragement, dedication, and feedback.

4. Get Noticed

Getting noticed in the workplace is essential, and an excellent way to do this is by going above and beyond what is expected of you to give more value to the company.

Employees who are passionate about taking the initiative and developing creative ideas for problem-solving or specific challenges are likely to get noticed.

It may not be in their job description, but those who put themselves out there will reap the benefits. This could be a project they pitch to their manager, a game-changing new idea, or an added benefit to a strategy. Don’t keep these ideas in your head.


5. Leave for Another Job

Of course, some employees may find that moving workplaces is their best option to increase their upward mobility in their careers. There isn’t always the possibility, budget, or need for people to get a raise—or the structure in place for promotion.

That’s why many may choose to look elsewhere, in another company, to increase their chances of a promotion. If their employer is aware this is happening, they may also try to stop that employee from leaving and therefore, reward them anyway.

Companies Can Also Help With Upward Mobility

While employees can take many actions to increase their chances of upward mobility, the structures need to be in place within companies to allow this to happen.

Companies can create good jobs, support engaged employees, expand mobility opportunities, and address any gaps or barriers needed. Offering upward mobility is crucial in creating an engaged workforce and reducing the number of employees who leave.

It’s the company’s responsibility to build their employees’ knowledge by providing the training and mentoring opportunities needed and stretching their skills by giving them projects or key targets that will address them.

Upward mobility can also be increased through job shadowing, where an employee can truly understand the roles and responsibilities of the jobs above them. This could be part of a built-in success plan model that employers provide.


Ultimately, there needs to be a business culture that supports upward career mobility so it’s attainable.

Having an Upward Mobility Plan

For individuals, it’s worth doubling down and creating an upward mobility plan for the workplace—setting their own career goals for what they want to achieve.

Where would you like to be in five years? What about ten years? And what roles can you see yourself in versus what roles would you actively avoid?

Writing this down can help cement the ideas in your mind and ensure that you put yourself on a path to achieve these goals. Only then can you decide when to work towards upward mobility in the workplace and the best strategies to accomplish this.

Final Thoughts

The key to working your way up the career ladder is to keep this upward mobility plan in your mind rather than looking at it in isolation and leaving it for a few years.

Small actions in your day-to-day career can help you work towards your plan, so it’s essential to keep it prevalent and present. After all, you have the power to drive forward the change you want to see in your life.

Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com


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