Ca­reer – Stop The SelfSab­o­tage

Are you your own worst en­emy at work with be­hav­iour that slows your progress? Read on to see which habits ap­ply to you and how to break them


Does this de­scribe you: you are con­stantly on your phone dur­ing work hours for per­sonal ex­ploits. Nine out of ten times, you’re us­ing the com­pany Wi-Fi to What­sApp, share so­cial memes on Twit­ter and watch In­sta­gram live videos. Stop and think. How much work can you re­al­is­ti­cally com­plete in be­tween watch­ing TV se­ries on your desk­top?

Then the time for pro­mo­tions comes, and sur­prise, sur­prise, you are not among those picked to move to the next job grade. Dev­as­tated, you ques­tion why you’ve been over­looked when you are at your desk 24/7, work­ing on the job.

Er, re­mem­ber the be­hav­iour de­scribed above? These are se­ri­ous red flags that can ham­per your ca­reer progress. While you may be en­ti­tled to them, when, where and how you dis­play or use them is where the self-sab­o­tage lies.

Let’s take a look at six be­hav­iours stop­ping you from tak­ing your ca­reer to the next level:


The rules for tak­ing leave are usu­ally very clear. The De­part­ment of Labour states that, based on Leg­is­la­tion in Sec­tion 20 of the Ba­sic Con­di­tions of Em­ploy­ment Act, “work­ers must get an­nual leave of at least 21 con­sec­u­tive days, or 1 day for ev­ery 17 day worked or 1 hour for ev­ery 17 hours worked.” The con­di­tions of your leave would’ve been agreed upon up­front in your con­tract, and so you should un­der­stand how the sys­tem works.

But, as Jo­han­nes­burg-based in­dus­trial psy­chol­o­gist Jenna Se­gal ex­plains, “Absenteeism, in this in­stance, does not mean tak­ing your an­nual or sick leave. It’s when you take what’s called ‘gatvol’ leave. This means that peo­ple are ei­ther burnt out or not fully en­gaged in their work so they take time off work with­out much warn­ing.” In the mid­dle of a team dead­line, this could be detri­men­tal to its suc­cess, and add pres­sure to the team as a whole. “Re­mem­ber, we all need to take breaks from work and time to re­cover. It be­comes self-sab­o­tag­ing when peo­ple choose to do this as a pas­sive ag­gres­sive ‘protest’, rather than hav­ing a proac­tive en­gage­ment with man­age­ment,” Se­gal adds.


Be­ing phys­i­cally present at a place, doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily equal to be­ing fully en­gaged. Se­gal de­scribes pre­sen­teeism as peo­ple ar­riv­ing at work, but ei­ther do­ing the bare min­i­mum, be­ing un­pro­duc­tive or be­come ‘pro­fes­sional pas­sen­gers’. There’s prob­a­bly a sit­u­a­tion where you’ve seen some­one in your of­fice who dis­played this be­hav­iour. What kind of emo­tions did this bring out in you and other col­leagues? Most likely frus­tra­tion, ir­ri­ta­tion and anger that the per­son was just coast­ing or plain lazy. “Peo­ple who do this are less likely to en­joy their work or make an im­pact. This is not enough to fire you, but enough to make your man­ager dis­trust you,” Se­gal em­pha­sises.


When you’re new to an or­gan­i­sa­tion, you’re of­ten given the op­por­tu­nity to work in var­i­ous de­part­ments be­fore set­tling down to what be­comes your niche. Many new em­ploy­ees feel en­ti­tled to these ro­ta­tions. Although, many times, it’s manda­tory, it’s im­por­tant to make sure you track what you agree to, so you don’t stall your growth. Say­ing yes to ev­ery­thing when you’re new is well-in­tended, says Kutl­wano Bokala, a Cen­tu­rion-based con­sul­tant and coach spe­cial­is­ing in hu­man re­sources so­lu­tions. “You want to show­case your ex­per­tise, to show you’re will­ing to go the ex­tra mile, be a team player and that ideal em­ployee you promised in your in­ter­view and ex­hib­ited in your CV. In the struc­ture of many in­tern­ship pro­grammes, you ac­tu­ally get ex­posed to dif­fer­ent func­tions so the or­gan­i­sa­tion can also track your ca­reer growth and map out your suc­ces­sion plan,” she says.

How­ever, most time, say­ing yes to ev­ery­thing is rooted in the fear of miss­ing out on op­por­tu­ni­ties. De­spite this, Bokala stresses that, “not mea­sur­ing your yes can sab­o­tage your ca­reer. You can’t cre­ate em­ployee/em­ployer bound­aries, which can

lead to you feel­ing de­pleted and ex­hausted.” Once you be­come dubbed a ‘Yes Mam’, it be­comes dif­fi­cult when you say no, even when you’re en­ti­tled to.


Even if you con­sider your­self an in­tro­vert, the fact re­mains you have col­leagues. Be care­ful not to turn pri­vacy into ex­clu­sion. Ex­clud­ing key mem­bers from your ca­reer jour­ney could lead to stag­na­tion, Bokala ex­plains. “Get a men­tor and be ac­count­able to some­one. Ask for tips from your se­niors on how you can im­prove. Get peo­ple who can ad­vo­cate for you when you’re not around — some­one who can tes­tify that you work su­per hard. You may think you don’t need friends, but you do need peo­ple as they will help you ad­vance your ca­reer.”

So don’t iso­late your­self, but grow re­la­tion­ships that you feel are authen­tic to who you are.


It’s im­por­tant to not feel self-im­por­tant, and think a de­gree is all you need to ad­vance your ca­reer. “In this cur­rent cli­mate, or­gan­i­sa­tions are cut­ting down on train­ing and de­vel­op­ment. If you don’t un­der­stand this as an em­ployee, you’ll get frus­trated at why you aren’t get­ting the op­por­tu­ni­ties,” Bokala con­tin­ues. Recog­nise that de­vel­op­ment can come in nu­mer­ous forms.

Learn­ing from oth­ers and their ex­pe­ri­ences can be a way to make sure you re­main rel­e­vant and sharpen your skills. “We need to be agile with how we un­der­stand pro­gres­sion. How we grow will not come in the tra­di­tional form. There’s no dis­tinct hi­er­ar­chy or lad­der to climb, in some ways, the lad­der no longer ex­ists,” Bokala ex­plains. Se­gal adds that in any or­gan­i­sa­tion, there are op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple to grow that aren’t nec­es­sar­ily in a ver­ti­cal growth tra­jec­tory. There could be ex­tra train­ing your di­rect job needs, or the po­ten­tial to be­come in­volved in a com­mit­tee or club at work. Although this may add ex­tra tasks in your day, it broad­ens your skills and al­lows for wider so­cial in­ter­ac­tions in the or­gan­i­sa­tion. b


Many peo­ple feel as if hav­ing a job means you have a pur­pose. This is not en­tirely true, be­cause peo­ple of­ten have jobs purely as a source of in­come. “When it comes to ca­reers, it’s great to know where you’re go­ing and what you need to do, but most im­por­tantly, why you’re in a par­tic­u­lar ca­reer,” says Miné Syming­ton, a Tsh­wane-based Hu­man Cap­i­tal Busi­ness Part­ner. She con­tin­ues: “Many peo­ple think they don’t have to out­line their pur­pose as part of a mem­ber in a team. But, clar­i­fy­ing it will help you to 100% crys­talise why you do what you do, and help your team­mates and man­ager to also buy into what you’re try­ing to achieve.”


When you’ve been a cer­tain way for a long time, it takes a lot of courage to firstly recog­nise that you’re not in a good space from a work­place be­hav­iour per­spec­tive, and then to also change the be­hav­iours. Se­gal says, “If you re­alise you’ve been act­ing in a way you no longer want to con­tinue, it’s time to re-eval­u­ate. Ask your­self ques­tions such as ‘Why am I not feel­ing en­gaged in my work?’ or ‘What’s pro­mot­ing this be­hav­iour in me?’. This ex­er­cise is not about self-crit­i­cism, but rather about you com­ing from a place of cu­rios­ity and neu­tral­ity.”

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