10 Self-Sabotaging Behaviors That May Be Holding Your Career Back

If you’re feeling like you’re not getting anywhere, then you could be making one or many of these common work slip-ups.

10 Self-Sabotaging Behaviors That May Be Holding Your Career Back
[Photo: Flickr user Lord Jim]

Has it been a while since you got a raise? Or maybe you’re hoping for a promotion at your next review?


When it comes to getting ahead at work, a lot of employees say and do things that directly conflict with their goals, career experts say.

“Some people try too hard and many are unaware of the results of their actions,” says Neal Hartman, professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. “They think they’re making a positive impression, but they’re actually doing the opposite.”

While the best way to get a raise is to ask for one, it also helps to make sure you aren’t doing any of these 10 things that will get you passed over:

1. You Complain

If you are consistently critical of your company’s policies or procedures, you could be hurting your chances for a raise, says Hartman.

“There’s always someone in the office who complains,” he says. “Complaints can be good if they bring results, but constant complaining that doesn’t offer ideas on how to make things better is bad. People don’t relate to complainer in a positive way.”

2. You Panic

If your initial reaction to every new challenge or assignment is to panic and say you’re overworked and stressed, then you could get passed over for a promotion, says Mary Ellen Slayter, career expert at


“Even if you eventually calm down and do a great job, that initial fear sends a signal to management that you may not ready for the additional burdens that often come with a promotion,” she says.

3. You Try To Be A Superhero

Employees who spread themselves too thin and don’t do honest appraisals of their strengths and weaknesses can get themselves passed over for a raise, says Jeremy Cohen, general manager of The Talent Studios, a Los Angeles-based recruiting firm.

“If you never say ‘no’ to your boss or are too insecure to say ‘I’m confused, can you explain that one more time?’ you risk overpromising and underdelivering,” he says. “Managers want solid performers but will only relate to them if they are inherently human. Those who don’t acknowledge any blind spots come across as disingenuous.”

4. You Step On Toes

Sometimes in an effort to get noticed, people try to take over work that is outside of their job description. They think it will demonstrate what they could do at the next level, but it could be holding them back, says Hartman.

“This causes two problems,” he says. “First, they fall behind on their real work. And second, their manager could feel a little threatened if they’re trying to take on part of his or her job.”

5. You “Brownnose”

The office brownnoser thinks that he’s impressing the boss with flattery, but the reaction is actually the opposite and it could get you passed over for a promotion, says Hartman.


“When someone is overly complimentary and positive, people find them to be disingenuous,” he says. “It’s not flattering and in some cases, it’s annoying.”

6. You Sap Morale

If you’re whiny, crabby, pawn off work, or are frequently late, you affect those who are around you and it will not reflect positively during an annual review, says Slayter.

“A team member who contributes undue stress among surrounding employees–even if that person is great at their job–may not be worth the additional expense of a raise,” she says.

7. You Don’t Think For Yourself

An employee who requires explicit step-by-step instructions for every task, big or small, can decrease overall team efficiency, says Slayter.

“Managers may not want to delegate additional tasks and responsibilities to employees who can’t decide when to deviate from instructions in special circumstances,” says Slayter. Case in point–the administrative assistant who says to her boss: “You said not to put any calls through, so I told the governor to call back tomorrow.’’

8. You Try To Be a Constant Thought Leader

The person who attends the conference circuit, constantly retweets articles, and tries to adopt and share every strategy they learn has become part of recent business lexicon, says Cohen.


“After a while, these people appear interchangeable because they lack unique, lasting perspective that gives them a true identity in the eyes of their manager,” he says.

9. You Have Poor Communication Skills

One thing that gets people noticed is the quality of their communication skills demonstrated through presentations, reports, and emails, says Hartman.

“If you deliver clear messages, you’ll get noticed in a positive way,” says Hartman. “The person who quickly types an email that has misspellings and hits send before reviewing, however, is being sloppy and will generally get passed over for a raise.”

10. You Keep Your Head Down

The person who believes that promotions are based on merit and doesn’t acknowledge the complex interpersonal and group dynamics at play will most likely get passed over for a raise, says Cohen.

“This solid, silent citizen keeps his or her head down, works hard, and waits for promotions and performance reviews to happen to them,” he says. “They will be beat out by other workers who meet with their manager early and often, express their one-, three-, and five-year goals, and proactively set the choreography and path for the responsibilities they want.”