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Overcoming Self-Sabotage in the Workplace

Self-sabotage at work can seriously undermine your career growth and satisfaction. While you may not even realize you're doing it, self-sabotaging behaviors like procrastination, perfectionism, fear of failure, not speaking up, and isolation can hold you back from reaching your full potential. Recognizing and stopping self-sabotage is critical for professional success.

Today we will explore the key traps of workplace self-sabotage and provide concrete examples and advice for avoiding them.

The Five Main Traps of Self-Sabotage at Work

Perfectionism: Perfectionism can seem like a positive trait, but taken too far, the unwillingness to be satisfied with anything less than flawless work becomes problematic. Perfectionists get stuck trying to perfect tasks instead of completing and delivering them. This slows down productivity and frustrates colleagues who are waiting on the work. For example, a writer who obsessively edits and re-edits an article instead of submitting it on time is self-sabotaging through perfectionism. To avoid this trap, set firm deadlines for finishing tasks, determine when further improvements provide diminishing returns, and remind yourself that done is better than perfect.

Fear of Failure: Many ambitious professionals paradoxically undermine their success by dwelling on potential failure. While healthy concern about risks helps you prepare and perform, being paranoid about failing prevents you from taking chances required for growth. For instance, an engineer afraid of having her design rejected misses opportunities to pitch innovative ideas. Combat this by reframing failure as an essential prerequisite for learning, taking small risks to build confidence, and avoiding positions where you’re paralyzed by anxiety about failure.

Not Speaking Up: Holding back your opinions and insights robs you and your organization of your greatest assets. Worrying about being ignored, judged or offending others causes many professionals to stay silent when they should speak up. For example, an employee with a great product improvement idea might keep it to herself for fear of criticism. Make sure you aren’t self-sabotaging by finding tactful ways to voice your thoughts, starting with small assertions, and remembering that being heard is more valuable than avoiding all risk.

Procrastination: Procrastination convinces you that you work best under pressure, but it actually reduces the quality and thought put into your work. Habitually delaying key tasks not only hurts your productivity and causes stress when deadlines loom, but it can also frustrate teammates counting on deliverables. For instance, an accountant who puts off preparing financial reports holds up business decisions dependent on having current numbers. Beat procrastination by breaking large goals into steps with their own deadlines, rewarding yourself for progress, and remembering that started is half done.

Isolation: While it's important to focus on your own work, refusing to collaborate or interact with colleagues cuts you off from information, opportunities, and support networks critical for success. An isolated analyst misses out on key insights from coworkers that could strengthen her reports. A programmer who won’t assist colleagues or share his expertise stunts his career growth. Avoid insulating yourself by proactively communicating with coworkers, participating in training programs, and viewing cooperation as strengthening your own capabilities.


Left unchecked, self-sabotaging tendencies like perfectionism, fear of failure, silence, delay, and isolation can severely limit your job performance, growth and satisfaction. Identifying these traps within yourself and consciously changing thought patterns and behaviors will unlock your full potential. With self-awareness, practice, and determination to stop getting in your own way, you can eliminate workplace self-sabotage.


Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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