Your colleagues could be holding you back - here's how

Written by: Georgina Bloomfield
Published on: 16 Mar 2016

Colleagues can be funny creatures to deal with. Sometimes you’ll get on with them like a house on fire and have a great team around you. Other times you’ll feel isolated and have nowhere to go. At times this could entirely be down to you. Are there things that you could change about your own working habits and ethics to improve your career wellbeing? Alternatively it could be your colleagues making you feel isolated in your career and you’ll find that they’re holding you back from your long-term goal of success without even knowing it. Here are the signs that your colleagues are the ones who are impeding your career, and what you can do about it.


What’s their agenda?

Everyone (or most people) in their careers have an overall agenda. What is your goal for example? Are there positions in your job that you know you’d be able to fill? If your colleagues have their own agendas and you’re getting in the way of their goals then you might find that they end up holding you back – this could be by not telling you about certain projects or leaving you out of meetings.

Listen to the whispers

There’s gossip is in every single workplace; whether it’s an office or a warehouse. If your colleagues are gossiping about you –even if it’s a fun joke that means no malice- it could end up being put out of context and being heard by the wrong ears. If your reputation is damaged by you being known as the slacker in the office, the next time a promotion comes up you could be forgotten.

Is the promotion not in your favour?

If you’ve recently got a promotion and you’re now in charge of your colleagues, this can take some time for them to get used to. A lot of us don’t like change, and adapting to it can be difficult. So if you’re managing colleagues who you once turned to for advice in your first few weeks at the company, they may still see you as the newbie on the block. This ultimately undermines your newly-found authority and can make it difficult to thrive in your new position.

Making friendships isn’t always useful

Workplace friendships can be really beneficial and make your work life a whole lot easier. However if you’ve got a friendship with someone who wants to sabotage your progression for their own, you’re the one who ends up getting pushed down the ladder in the process. Too much trust in someone can be damaging to your career, so as much as workplace friendships are great things, they can also be dangerous.

If you’re a good listener – ease up

Listening is a fantastic skill that can take years to learn how to do properly. However, if your colleagues know that you’re a good listener, it’s easy to become so burdened down with their problems and baggage that before you know it, it’s lunchtime and you haven’t got anything done that you wanted to. Your colleague however will feel a lot better after unloading their problems (albeit temporarily until they find the next person) and although you’ve strengthened a workplace friendship, your actual work has suffered as a result.

Similarly, being too nice can be detrimental to your career. If you always say yes, you go out of your way to help others and you’re always on hand to give advice whenever anyone needs it – you’re facilitating your colleague’s agendas and damaging your own. If you can get the balance right and be able to say “sorry, can we discuss this another time when I’m free?” you’re the one who’s in control and you’ll be able to make yourself less available to everyone. This can be hard to stomach for someone who’s so nice – but if your own work is suffering then that niceness is only helping everyone else. It’s also worth knowing that when the tables are turned, you might not get the same treatment in return.

Although this is a somewhat cynical way to view your colleagues (not everyone has an agenda to push you out of your job and climb over you to get to the top) it’s worth keeping in mind that if you want to progress in the workplace – chances are that your colleagues want to as well. And that’s fine. Competition can be really healthy for productive work. It’s when it gets past the point of productive and into the horrible territory of preventative that you need to start recognising those red flags.

What can I do?

There are multiple things you can do, and it doesn’t matter what level of seniority you have. If you have a good relationship with your manager, you might find that they have recognised that something’s going on before you do. Keep the lines of communication open with your manager and let them know if you become unhappy with a situation with a colleague. Understand that these conversations are confidential and you won’t need to worry about it spreading through the office. If there’s a chance that your manager is a gossip – speak to someone more neutral to the situation (for example someone in a non-rival department).

Speak to the colleague in question directly if you can. Usually they don’t know themselves that they’re putting your career at risk, and they won’t want to be doing this either. Acknowledge what needs to change and come to a solution that way. It doesn’t need to get unfriendly or awkward.

Can you avoid seeing this colleague for a while? Is there somewhere else you can work if it’s a colleague who always tells you their problems? If you can remove yourself physically from the situation then do so. If not – can they be removed? If all else fails, it could be time to move on. Some companies just have a culture that doesn’t fit the employee, and that’s okay. We’re in an age where company culture is more prevalent than ever. If we’re not the right fit, then things will only get worse the longer you’re at the company. The culture of a company is rarely something we can control ourselves, so moving on can only be a good thing.