In the dynamic arena of the contemporary professional environment, achieving optimal productivity is a constant pursuit for both employees and employers. However, there are often subtle, self-sabotaging habits that hinder individuals from reaching their full potential within the workplace. As employers, understanding and addressing these behaviours can significantly impact team efficiency and overall success.

Irrespective of the seniority, position or tenure of the employee, no one is immune from moments of self-sabotage from time to time.

There are many ways that self-sabotage manifests in the workplace, including:

  1. Saying “Yes” when we really mean “No”

 At some point in time, we have all committed ourselves to taking on an extra task, role or responsibility when deep down we know that we don’t have the capacity for it. In saying “Yes” we believe that we are doing the right thing, that it will help us with a future promotion, or sometimes it is an act of kindness to a colleague.

But what is the impact of saying yes when we know that we can’t do it without making a compromise somewhere? Taking on too much ultimately leads to burnout and exhaustion, impacting our mental and physical wellbeing, as a result, the quality of our work suffers. We take it out on those around us; both in the workplace, but also on those that mean the most to us in our personal lives. In 2022, McKinsey Health Institute found that a quarter of employees, based on a sample of 15,000 workers in 15 countries experienced burnout symptoms.

  1. Never stopping

Anyone with the ambitious, “going-places” gene will feel that they should be using all the time they have available in pursuit of their ultimate goal. The number of days of holiday to carry over becomes a competition, as does being the first and last into the office, or online. Time to rest and relax is seen as a luxury for the “lazy” un-ambitious. We develop a belief that if we stop or show how we really feel that it will be seen as a sign of weakness.

  1. Being the lone wolf

Every workplace has a lone wolf; the person who never asks for or accepts help. The person who works on a project in isolation takes all the credit for themselves as if no one else in the organisation is capable of delivering to their standard. The lone wolf often finds themselves without allies to support them when they face challenges; they’ve burnt too many bridges to rebuild them all!

  1. Avoiding conflict at all cost

No-one enjoys conflict, or at least very few do. Many employees would rather bury their heads in the sand and avoid conflict than face it head-on. At best, an employee in conflict may choose to speak to a more senior manager or a peer, but often the fear of how we will be perceived if we complain is enough to stop most of us from saying anything.

Conflict impacts us all at a profound level and can be traumatic to those experiencing it. Stress, illness, and absenteeism, among other symptoms, can all be results of experiencing conflict. Research shows that more than 1 in 3 workers experience conflict at work at a cost of £28.5bn per year in the UK as a whole – an average of around £1000 for every UK worker”, according to a study conducted by ReWAGE.

Is it that we are afraid of facing the consequences of addressing conflict or is it that we are ill-equipped to handle it compassionately? Most likely a mix of the two!

  1. Staying within our comfort zone

When we only take on roles and responsibilities that lie within our comfort zone, we are limiting our growth and potential. Staying within our comfort zone is a form of self-sabotage where we are held back by the limiting beliefs, we have about ourselves. “I’m not good enough”, “I’m not worthy”, and “I’m not loveable” are all beliefs that we have unconsciously developed. These limiting beliefs are hard to uncover but can be seen played out in our behaviours. The lack of confidence. Procrastination. Not meeting work deadlines. Not being honest about a project’s status. Not speaking up.

Some of these forms of self-sabotage may resonate, some not. It’s all well recognising them, but how do we change what we aren’t really aware of?

Understand self-sabotaging behaviours

The first step is to understand the behaviours that are self-sabotaging. You may get some insight from recurring comments in performance reviews. A coach will be able to help you explore them, or you can take a self-sabotage quiz, such as the one offered by Positive Intelligence.

Once you have an awareness of how you self-sabotage, the next step is to become aware of these behaviours in the moment. This can take a period of time to do as we can’t control the timing or frequency of the events that trigger the behaviours. Learning mindfulness and the techniques offered in Positive Intelligence’s Mental Fitness programme, offered by Certified Positive Intelligence Coaches, teach us the skills to slow down and be present moment by moment. Regular practice of these techniques helps us to establish new neural pathways that help us to pause in the moment, rather than reacting in unconscious auto-pilot – as we have learnt to do in the past.

Based on the latest research by neuroscientist Dr Caroline Leaf, it can take up to 63 days to establish new neural pathways, so practising little and often is important. Over time, the space between a trigger and a response extends and we choose more powerful responses; like waiting before we say yes, or facing a conflict with compassion and curiosity, or putting our hand up to make a point, trusting that the outcome will be good.

The third step is to choose a powerful response from a place of love and kindness. Put another way – if your self-sabotaging behaviours were not present, and you believe in collaboration, abundance and infinite possibility, what course of action would you take? You wouldn’t worry about competing with your colleagues, or if you get seen by management more often than your peers. You would trust that all the work you need to get done would get done on time, without stress and exhaustion. You would recognise that in working with your colleagues, in playing to everyone’s unique strengths, your combined knowledge would be more powerful and achieve more than you can imagine. These are choices of the ego-less, driven by a common goal and aligned to common values.

So what happens when these steps are implemented across a team or within an organisation? Great things!

Implementing schemes, such as Positive Intelligence, has resulted in improvements in performance and wellness across the organisations that implement them. 83% of participants improved their self-confidence, 92% became better leaders by helping others to develop their abilities and 84% handle conflict better. 85% are happier and 91% more able to manage their stress levels. Research by Oxford University’s Saïd Business School showed that happy workers are 13% more productive.

In conclusion, the journey to a more productive and harmonious workplace begins with self-awareness and a commitment to cultivating a positive culture. By recognising and addressing these self-sabotaging behaviours, employers can unlock the full potential of their teams, fostering an atmosphere of innovation, resilience, and achievement. As the workplace evolves, so too can the strategies employed to counteract self-sabotage, leading to a brighter, more successful future for both employees and the organisations they contribute to.

Claire Renée Thomas
Founder at Reaching My Best | Website | + posts

Claire Renée Thomas, founder of Reaching My Best, is a mindset and mindfulness coach, and one of the few certified mental fitness coaches in the UK. Her passion and focus is on guiding and empowering women to unlock their full potential and overcome any obstacles they may be facing personally or professionally. Her mission is not just to guide individuals to greater fulfilment, but to empower them to lead rewarding, purpose-driven lives.