Career Quicksand: Busting The 5 Behaviours Keeping You Stuck In A Rut

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It’s not uncommon for individuals to feel stuck in a rut in their professional lives. Despite putting in the work and the hours, they may still not see the progress or growth they desire.


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This feeling of stagnation can leave them frustrated and disheartened, particularly if they believe they have been doing everything by the book.

More often than not, the problem isn’t with their effort or dedication, but rather with certain beliefs or behaviours that have become ingrained in their professional lives, a leadership expert says.

“If you are feeling that you are on a career path to nowhere despite your best effort over the years, know that you are not alone. Many people at all levels, in all fields and sectors, have felt this sense of defeat, not knowing where to turn or what to do,” says Advaita Naidoo, Africa MD at Jack Hammer, Africa’s largest executive search firm.

“There are a number of behaviours and beliefs that can hold professionals back. Being aware of these, and considering whether they may have played a role in your own career, could help you break free from the cycle of frustration, allowing you to start making real progress towards your goals,” Naidoo says.

They are:

Relying on meritocracy

Most people believe that hard work and great results will, and should, automatically lead to recognition and reward - whether that be in the form of promotion, annual increases, bonuses or benefits. However automatic recognition is the exception, not the norm, so it is important for employees to (diplomatically) take credit where it is due, and initiate conversations and negotiate for advancement.

“If you feel your contribution isn’t being acknowledged and suitably recognised, it may be necessary to become more strategic in terms of managing your career, and communicating your value and accomplishments on an ongoing basis,” Naidoo says.

Ignoring the impact of working remotely

While many of the world’s workplaces have embraced remote and hybrid working arrangements, and most people are grateful for their more flexible working arrangements, being passed over for promotions and projects because you are out of sight and mostly out of mind isn’t ideal, says Naidoo.

“Remote and hybrid workers should not assume that their contributions are being automatically picked up by the key decision makers. The reality, which we are seeing all over the world, is that unless an organisation is truly invested in equality around hybrid and remote workers compared to their fully in-office peers, those with more flexible arrangements may feel their careers starting to lag.”

Remote and hybrid workers should aim to continue “showing up”, by consciously working on engagement with their managers and colleagues, volunteering for new projects, and cultivating relationships that extend beyond one’s core scope of work.

It also goes without saying that they should take advantage of as many in-person meet-ups as possible.

Ignoring the rules of the game

“Staying out of office politics” is a noble endeavour, but should not be mistaken for divorcing yourself from the rules of the game. Every organisation has certain norms, expectations and behaviours that form part of its culture and supports cohesion and teamwork.

Without compromising personal authenticity and integrity, those seeking to advance their careers should aim to understand the unwritten rules of their company and teams, and to become a valued player within the team – not one that stands to one side and does things on their terms only.

Neglecting social capital

Perhaps one of the most important ways to cultivate career advancement opportunities, is to invest in networking and building relationships.

Related to the sentiment of doing more than just getting the job done well, professionals need to broaden their horizons, seeking out mentors and role models who can help them on their journey.

It’s also important to seek out people outside of one’s immediate team, to broaden access to information, resources and opportunities, as well as increase one’s visibility, particularly in big organisations.

Indulging in the office grapevine

Feeling like you’re in a professional rut is the ideal breeding ground for office gossip to flourish, but indulging is the catalyst that will start off a vicious cycle. It may seem comforting to cultivate a sense of camaraderie in sharing war stories about team members or managers, but this is one activity that is all but guaranteed to kneecap your career prospects.

Office gossip is an indulgence that seldom benefits anyone – and in fact could backfire by you being ‘thrown under the bus’ by fellow gossip-mongers at an opportune moment. This is definitely a career-limiting practice to be avoided.

“While it may be tempting to blame lack of career growth prospects on external factors, a first step is to examine whether your career ‘quicksand’ may be of your own doing. The good news is that if any of these five pitfalls are at play, you can take immediate action to address them and shift quickly out of your career rut,” Naidoo says.


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