12 Little-Known Ways You Keep Sabotaging Your Career

These mistakes might not be obvious to you, but they can prevent you from achieving goals at work.
Last updated Nov. 22, 2022 | By Jenny Cohen | Edited By Chris Kissell
serious emotional face holding mobile phone

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Are you self-sabotaging your career?

Unfortunately, it’s possible to undermine your role at work without even realizing it. Those little missteps might fly under your own radar, but superiors likely notice. And that can bring career progress to a screeching halt.

Here are some mistakes that might indicate you’re sabotaging yourself at work. Avoiding these errors is a great way to kickstart your career and quickly move beyond living paycheck to paycheck.

You don’t talk with the boss

Minerva Studio/Adobe man waiting for a phone call

It’s always good to keep lines of communication open with your boss. So consider engaging in some small talk on a regular basis.

Chatting with your boss about sports, television and movies, family, or other things is a good way to connect on a personal level.

You don’t apply for promotions

Prostock-studio/Adobe team leader handshaking employee congratulating

If a promotion comes up, proactively ask what you need to do to be thought of as a possible candidate.

Even if you don’t get the promotion, applying shows interest in continuing to be a part of the company. That will make others think of you if another opportunity comes up.

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You don’t spend social time with co-workers

Rawpixel.com/Adobe business team on a coffee break

You may feel uncomfortable hanging out with co-workers at lunch or during happy hour. Or maybe you don’t feel like you have time to socialize.

However, talking to your co-workers outside of normal work hours is a good way to connect with them personally. That could also help build out your professional network and eventually give your career a boost.

You’re late to meetings

pressmaster/Adobe office worker coming late to meeting

Sure, meetings can be boring. You might even think an email could have covered a meeting’s topic more efficiently.

But getting to meetings on time — no matter how boring they are — is a sign that you're punctual and paying attention to details. It also shows you aren’t a worker who wastes the time of others.

You’re doubting yourself

last19/Adobe asian woman sitting working at home on vacation

Have you felt like an imposter at the office? It can be easy to wonder if you’ve somehow tricked others into hiring you for a position you may not feel qualified for.

Instead, sit up and be proud of the work you do. There are others who believe you are in the position because you deserve to be there. Celebrate that fact.

You’re afraid of taking risks

fizkes/Adobe nervous sweaty public speaker

Fear can hold you back in your career when you’re scared to try something new. Maybe you prefer to stick with the status quo, staying in the same position at the same desk year after year simply out of fear of the unknown.

If you’re scared to take risks at work, try small chances first. See if you can succeed. You might gain the confidence to take bigger risks after you pick up some smaller wins.

Pro tip: Taking the risk to start a new job can be scary, but you'll be glad you overcame that fear if you land a job that leads to bigger and better things. You might find more success than you ever dreamed possible — possibly even enough to see if you can retire early.

You want too much control

zinkevych/Adobe female boss answering the questions of her colleagues

It’s good to be a leader or the head of a team, directing how things should progress or where to take the next project. But trying to exert too much control can make co-workers resent you, or even work against you.

They also may decide not to cooperate with you in the future, which could hurt your standing in the office. So, don’t be a control freak. Instead, listen and incorporate the feedback of others. Be a team player.

You won’t learn anything new

Viacheslav Yakobchuk/Adobe businessman scolding his lazy secretary for not completing tasks

Business constantly evolves, and a good employee should be aware of new things in their field or industry.

If you stick too closely to tradition or show that you’re not willing to learn new things, it can prevent you from taking your career to the next level.

You blame others for issues

nyul/Adobe businesspeople in discussion

It’s inevitable that you will make a mistake on a project or let something fall through the cracks. If that happens, be honest and tell the truth about what went wrong and how you plan to fix the problem.

Blaming others or trying to scapegoat someone else for your mistake will make co-workers wonder if they can trust you in the future.

You don’t think you can find a better job

Drobot Dean/Adobe bored young woman

It’s easy to get in a rut and not perform at your best simply because you don’t think you can get a better job than the one you have. That lack of enthusiasm can negatively impact your work.

Instead of letting frustration work against you, try to excel in your current position while also taking a step forward by applying for jobs. See what’s out there and if there might be a role that's a better fit.

You complain

deagreez/Adobe man pointing at the desktop monitor while talking on phone

It’s normal to occasionally get frustrated with your job or to want to discuss an issue that is bothering you with a co-worker or your boss.

However, constant complaining may turn off co-workers and keep them from listening to you. In fact, it might make you sound less than professional.

You’ve checked out

Kawee/Adobe man feeling drowsy and sleeping on desk in office

It can get tedious to go to work each day and try to find things that interest you. But “checking out” and not contributing to your company can sabotage your plans for your future.

If word gets around that you are not a hard worker, it can jeopardize your career movement at both your current company and possibly with prospective employers.

Bottom line

kostikovanata/Adobe woman writing and keeping her personal a daily diary books

If you're self-sabotaging your career, there are still ways to pull yourself out of the rut. If you're exhibiting any of the above behaviors, change them.

Consider sitting down and creating a checklist of goals. If your current position isn’t helping you build wealth and achieve professional aspirations, start to look for a new job that will motivate you to do better.

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Author Details

Jenny Cohen Jenny Cohen is a freelance writer who has covered a bit of everything, from finance to sports to her favorite TV shows. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and FoxSports.com.