The Plateauing Trap

Author Judith Bardwick, a successful consultant, begins with an extended definition of plateauing, explaining why it is so important to organizations and the people who work for them. In Bardwick’s scheme, plateauing is divided into three types: structural, content, and life. The employee who has advanced through his organization’s promotional structure until he can proceed no further is in danger of structural plateauing. When an employee experiences boredom and loss of challenge in the work itself, the result is what Bardwick calls content plateauing. Similarly, in the world outside the job, with its parallel stresses, frustrations, and potential for boredom, the employee is vulnerable to life plateauing.

After thoroughly discussing the reasons for structural plateauing and the psychological toll it can take, the author turns her attention to content plateauing and the need for all people to have new challenges and new opportunities for learning.

Much time is devoted to middle age as part of the discussion on life plateauing. Although people plateau more than once in a lifetime, plateauing is most critical in middle age because both life and work are likely to be affected. Because so many of the goals set at the beginning of adulthood have been achieved, middle age is seen as a period where insight into self and objective self-evaluation can make the difference between greater future happiness or a slide into chronic dissatisfaction and depression.

The final chapters of the book address ways to surmount or avoid all three forms of plateauing. Advice ranges from specific suggestions for managers and executives on handling plateauing employees to a collection of theories of human behavior so that employers will better understand their personnel.

An outgrowth of articles and workshops developed by the author, this book may be useful to organizations in the context of staff development activities. There is not, however, sufficient material to sustain a full-length book. The result is a repetitious volume filled with generalizations, altruisms, oversimplifications, and superficialities, all presented with an underlying feminist bias. While the concepts are interesting, the book does not do them justice.