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Why Doing a Good Job Won’t Get You Ahead at Work

work advancement

Can you mindmap your way to a work promotion? (image by dgray_xplane, via flickr)

Being a good employee – doing a good job at work – isn’t enough to get you promoted or help you advance up the corporate ladder, says psychologist Albert Bernstein.

Here are Bernstein’s tips for getting ahead at work.

“One of the most damaging illusions that people hold about whatever occupation they happen to be in is that if they do a good job, they will be successful,” writes Bernstein in Am I The Only Sane One Working Here? 101 Solutions for Surviving Office Insanity. “In general, doing a good job means competently managing what is below you in the organization hierarchy. Success comes from managing the people above you. The skills involved are usually very different, so it’s not a good idea to mistake one for the other.”

In Am I The Only Sane One Working Here? 101 Solutions for Surviving Office Insanity, Bernstein offers over a hundred career tips. They range from understanding craziness at work to coping with the worst-case scenarios (your boss’ wife puts her hand up your skirt) – it’s an excellent book for anyone who has a job. Bernstein has a good mix of psychological tips that are easily put into practice, and can make a real difference in how effectively you interact with your coworkers.

Here’s a wee glimpse into his book…

Doing a Good Job at Work Won’t Get You Promoted

What I found particularly interesting was Bernstein’s theory that doing a good job at work won’t get you promoted. You can be the best employee int he world, but your good works won’t help you succeed in the corporate work.

Take Chuck, for instance. He does his job really well, he’s great at calming down angry customers, and he’s always picked to train the new guy at work. But he’s been in the same place for 20 years – he does a good job, but he’s not getting ahead at work.

Are you Chuck? Maybe your dad, mom or brother is – or maybe you have an Uncle Chuck. Bernstein reveals why Chuck isn’t getting ahead at work even though he’s a good employee.

Here are a few activities that show you (and Chuck) are doing a good job:

  • Working directly with customers (and working well with them!)
  • Serving on committees and task forces with people at your own level
  • Training
  • Coming up with ideas that improve quality or morale, but cost money

Sure, you’re a good employee if you do those things are work. But they won’t lead to corporate advancement because doing a good job and moving up the corporate ladder at work involve different tasks and different skills.

5 Activities That Will Get You Ahead at Work

These workplace tips put my older article – How to Get a Job Promotion – 7 Ways to Work Your Way Up – to shame. I think those tips are actually ways to do a good job at work. They won’t help you get ahead at work, but they will ensure you’re doing your job well.

Bringing in new business

“It doesn’t have to be much business or even good business,” writes Bernstein. “ In the corporate world, it is always the rainmakers who are on top of the heap.”

Cost cutting

If you show your superiors that you can and do cut costs, you show them that you are leadership material. “At meetings, always be the one who asks if it can be done cheaper,” writes Bernstein. “If you want to get ahead, never talk about cost cutting and executive salaries in the same breath.”


Also known as networking, socializing gives you the inside scoop on things. The more you socialize with colleagues, the more knowledge, opportunities, and connections you make. This helps you understand and manage people better, and perhaps even learn how to bring in new business and cut costs (which are two activities that will help you get ahead at work!).

If you’re not comfortable socializing at work, read Networking Tips for Introverted People – From Meetings to Marketing.

Doing anything with people of higher rank

This career tip is similar to networking or socializing This is how I found out that my nonprofit organization will be financially stable for at least three years: I plopped myself down next to the Executive Director at a work event. She was sitting alone – too powerful for the underlings to approach – and I felt bad for her. If you want to advance at work, Bernstein recommends rubbing shoulders with your superiors. It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting on the same committee or standing at the same urinal; the more time you spend with your bosses, the better.

Taking the management side on controversial issues

“Doing a good job often involves cooperation and compromise,” writes Bernstein. “Getting ahead involves looking after your own interests. It may be sad, but it’s true. Promotions are not awarded by popular vote.”

Of course, taking Bernstein’s tips for getting ahead at work are easier if you’re in a career or job you love! If you’re struggling with your career, read Best Jobs for People Who Like to Be Alone.

If you hate work, read How to Find the Perfect Job Without Taking a Career Test.

What do you think of these reasons doing a good job won’t get you ahead at work? Comments welcome below. 

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2 thoughts on “Why Doing a Good Job Won’t Get You Ahead at Work”

  1. Hi RB,

    Thanks for being here! There are so many factors that go into getting promoted at work – how often is it about doing a good job? I don’t know the answer to that. I hope it happens more often than not, but I suspect there are more politics and stuff that contribute to promotions (or no promotions).

  2. I found this article to be exactly what I wanted to hear. Being in my position for a few years and ready to move up, I’m finding it more difficult that I had imagined it would be. I had always known about the socializing aspects of getting promoted but apparently I underestimated it’s real effectiveness. Lesson learned.