Bad Habits That Can Harm Your Career

10 Bad Habits That Can Harm Your Career


When you get lazy or frustrated, you can develop some bad habits that can harm your career. When I have a pause in my day, I slump. Literally. I lean forward in my chair, rest my chin in my hand, and ponder what I’m reading and writing about. It’s a posture that feels right to me.

It requires no thought or effort. It’s the pose I used for my online picture. You might even call it my comfort zone. As it turns out though, my slump is not working for me, and has actually been doing me some harm.

I got my wake up call last week when I went to the chiropractor for a pinched nerve in my neck. By slumping in that particular position, I have managed, over time, to knock my neck, jaw and shoulder out of alignment.

So, now, in addition to enduring some sounds-like-gun-shot chiropractic adjustments, I am having to do “sit up straight” exercises so I don’t fall back into my slumping habits. I can tell you, it isn’t easy.

Our careers can be prone to slumps – professional bad habits that become our comfort zone, but are highly detrimental to our long term career health.

10 Signs You May Be Career Slumping

  1. Your answer to, “How was your day?” usually involves gossip or complaints about your colleagues and clients.
  2. The last workshop you took was a company-mandated workplace safety course two years ago, and you can’t remember anything except the chocolate-chip cookies that were served.
  3. You haven’t added any new people to your network of contacts in the last month, and some of the contacts you do have won’t take your calls anymore.
  4. You used to belong to an industry association, but you dropped out because FILL YOUR OWN EXCUSE IN HERE.
  5. Your response to people’s suggestions automatically starts with, “Yes, but…”
  6. When asked to get involved in a special project at work, your first thought is “Oh no, why me?” or, “Does this mean I have to stay late?”
  7. Your boss’s boss has no idea what you do. Or worse: Your boss has no idea what you do.
  8. You are under 45, and are already day-dreaming about your retirement.
  9. The only person you’ve thanked in the last week was the person who handed you your change and cup of coffee.
  10. Your reputation at work has started to include the preface, “Oh. He’s an interesting guy.”

If your answer is “Yes” to any or all of the above, you are either in or headed for a career slump. The longer you let it go, the more painful will be the adjustment when you get the “sit up straight or else” wake up call. The good news is that there are simple steps you can take immediately to de-slump yourself.

10 ‘Sit Up Straight’ Exercises To De-Slump Your Career

  1. Hop off the gossip-train. The power trip you feel when you have ‘the dirt’ on somebody is nothing like the strength you feel when you really get to know them.
  2. Make learning a priority. If you can’t afford to enroll in a course, then look for free webinars and downloadable courses. Learning isn’t just about acquiring new skills and knowledge, it’s also about shaking up our stale assumptions and misguided preconceptions.
  3. Talk to somebody new each week. Ask them about their interests, their challenges, their families. Business may be powered by money, but it is nurtured by personal connections.
  4. Join an industry association – and not just so you have something to put under Professional Affiliations on your resume. The payoff in terms of networking opportunities, early insights on industry developments, and heads-up on emerging opportunities will be invaluable.
  5. Pay attention when people make suggestions. Fine, some of them will be just plain dumb or impractical, but some of them will contain a grain of truth or even brilliance, and you won’t know which is which if you haven’t taken the time to listen.
  6. Take advantage of the opportunity to do things outside of your job description or comfort zone. Not only can this be a chance to acquire new knowledge and skills, but it can be a great way to de-slump other people’s understanding of who you are and what you have to offer.
  7. Make sure your higher-ups understand how you are contributing to the big picture. Make sure YOU understand how you are contributing to the big picture. There is no employee easier for a decision-maker to cut when it comes to downsizing than the one whose job is a mystery to everybody else.
  8. Find something right now that turns your crank and energizes your day. Make at least one personal and one professional goal that is realizable in the near future, and put the action plan in place to achieve it.
  9. Adopt an attitude of gratitude. I’m not talking about being relentlessly and annoyingly chirpy, I’m talking about taking the time to recognize and acknowledge the people to whom you owe a thank you.
  10. If you are being described as ‘interesting’ in quotation marks, chances are you’ve slipped over the line of chronic sarcasm, cynicism or bitterness (acknowledgments to Dave Howlett for this insight). Bitter, sarcastic cynics may have funny and repeatable one-liners, but that’s just about all they are good for. They don’t make good team members, they can’t be trusted with referrals, and they don’t get promoted or recommended for new opportunities. Except in the “we’ll make him available to industry” kind of way.


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Karen Siwak

Karen Siwak is an award-winning Certified Résumé Strategist, Karen has crafted top calibre career transition packages for thousands of clients. Her specialty is helping people identify and articulate their unique brands and value propositions.


  1. Thank you for the article. I’m in a place right now where I’ve hit a “slump’ (where I’m from we call them ruts) and it is hard to turn things around. I am trying to do #2 and #4 in the “Sit Up Straight Exercises” so far and trying to keep myself engaged.

  2. Thanks Karen, and thanks all for your insightful comments.
    You call them 10 signs, I call them symptoms just for personal preference.
    Some can be direct symptoms of each other, or related in a more distant way, such as #10 being a symptom of #1, #5, #6, #8, and #9 in varying degrees. The best medicine I know for these is practicing gratitude & maintaining realistic expectations.

    Because I’m not perfect this makes for a handy self-check.

  3. #3 under the 1st category really hits especially when you have always had a good working relationship with someone and they have offered to serve as a recommendation before and have been in touch afterwards, but suddenly they haven’t been responding on Facebook since the past few posts or messages and when you are still connected with that person on FB. I wish this would never happen and that with something already established well that things are smooth with response from the other party. Wondering how I could send a message diplomatically to this person who I hope to not lose a connection and speak up tactfully and kindly and not be overbearing, thanks? Also,

  4. I agree with the point about making sure that your boss and your boss’s boss are aware of what you do. I think that doing this saved my job recently. My company was having to do cutbacks and my department was one that I believed was under consideration. Because I made myself visible and demonstrated my skills they kept me and moved me into another department.

  5. From the numerous replies Karen it is clear you have struck a chord with lots of people today!! It is a fantastic article laced with positivity-well done!

  6. Nice reminder that sometimes we scoot over to the passenger seat and stop driving our career which makes us feel like there is really nothing we can do about it anyway.
    Getting back on the driver seat may feel like too much work, but steering the wheel based on what inspires me is definitely more fun and it attracts other people to go for a ride with me.

    • Thank you Karen, you got me there, I have about 2 yeses, including the industry organization networking, now I have to do something about it

  7. In my type of comment, I will say that, Never misjudge or depreciate the learning opportunity you have in your daily life.
    A saying is “Anyone who teaches me a word is my teacher”. Learning could be from younger or elder, you will face something newly experienced in your life. Another thing to tell you guys is never finger out or criticize a person whether or not he is more or less qualified than you. Job is a routine work, if you want to enjoy and gratify your job you can do it, otherwise all the time it will be a headache for you. You always will be unhappy and unfortunate to achieve your goals in life.

  8. Thanks Karen for this great article. Talking to someone new each week is a great idea and can take you places.

    Also, I never say “no” to an opportunity for new experience and it has given me more experience than I get in my day to day duties.

  9. I read this all up til the point where the word “webinar” was used. Upon reading this, me and my entire family have perished. Woe onto us.

  10. “Talk to someone new every week” – a great learning resource through simply being social = caring and curious about others’ perspectives.

  11. As an association CEO, I’m glad to see the comment on joining your industry association. The benefits??? What YOU make of them. Networking can change your career and offer opportunities for success as well as keeping you apprised on the latest developments taking place in your profession. And look for a mentor!

  12. Hi Karen. Wonderful article. The straight plane strategy of get through the week until FRIDAY mindset is also an indication of need for a change of mind about where we work. Employee of the year award? How about the same time and energy invested to own and grow a successful business? No one can run your company like you do! Enjoy the freedoms of ownership.

  13. Mohamed Hassanein

    Thanks Karen,

    Though what you wrote is not new for me but still helped me :) and I will follow the advises and keep us updated with your nice sharing and advices.

    making your boss’s boss know what your doing and opening a dialogue with him/her will definatly put you on the potential map for growth if you deserve it! It also safe guard you any un ethical moves and let you communicate to all who you really are.

    Never lie cuz you cant out smart everyone all the time.

  14. Interesting article & I know I am falling foul of some of these bad habits! Sometimes it’s easy to get too comfortable in your comfort zone & that can be destructive to your career and reputation..

  15. Thank you Karen for this interesting article.

    One bad habit I would like to add to your list which is very damaging to career progression is ‘procrastination’.

    People who are in a habit of delaying the completion of tasks or frequently say to themselves or to others “yes I will do it later” but never do it or do it on time are creating a big hole for themselves which becomes very hard to climb out of!

  16. Hi Karen – this is a really useful piece! And it is so easy to first enjoy the job, then grow accustomed to it, and eventually become complacent. I am pleased you did not write anything about ‘find your passion’ as that kind of advice is everywhere and is generic….

    I would add that speaking to your boss of what challenges you want in your job, what new skills you want to learn is also useful since s/he can help steer direction.

    – Razwana

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