The 3 Main Causes of Career Derailment And How To Manage Them


Is your career on-track or derailing? Career success and derailment tend to mean different things to different people. If you define what career success and derailment means to you, you are a step ahead in deciding whether to continue as is or plan your next move.

Careers are so rewarding when they’re going well and painful when they’re not. Sadly many people suffer career derailment and ruts in silence. Thing is, career derailment can happen to anyone, including high potentials and seasoned professionals! It’s a place none of us want to be. It’s not healthy or productive being locked in a position that drains your energy and enthusiasm levels.

Why do we get stuck in career ruts? How do we get unstuck? You will find the three major causes of career derailment, and ways to manage them, below.

1. Culture-Fit

Working hard in an organisation that doesn’t appreciate you because of a lack of culture-fit is a poor return on your energy and time. I remember coaching someone who had bags of enthusiasm and energy for her role, a high potential. However, her Line Manager found her zealous nature annoying. She worked at a fast pace, he worked at a slow pace.

The option for her in this scenario (her Line Manager wasn’t going to change) was to manage upwards, modify her pace when working with her Line Manager, or explore other opportunities. The easiest and most motivating route for her was a career move. She moved to new organisation and benefited from a better culture-fit; and, increased her salary by 25%. A year later, her salary went up again by 29%. Work-life flows so much better when you fit into your organisation’s culture.

2. Change-Fit

How you handle change is your business. It impacts your reputation and career.

What if an organisational change doesn’t match your values, goals, or, you are worse off in some other way? What if you’re tasked with leading a change project you don’t believe in? Trying to be a round peg in a square hole is an uncomfortable place to be. If you find yourself in this situation, review your career. What would happen a year from now if you remained in the same position? What would the impact be on your morale and performance? Where do you really want to be in a year and beyond?

What if you are change averse and struggle at handling change? Develop your change management skills. The more skilled you are with change, the more opportunities will come your way. Those who are slow to respond to change miss out.

3. Team-Fit

An inability to be a team player and get things done through people as well as independently is another major cause of career derailment. It doesn’t matter how good you are at your profession, if you regularly rub people up the wrong way, the situation is unlikely to be sustainable.

Develop your people skills. With some courage and persistence, you can step out of your comfort zone and do things differently for different results. Once you experience the benefit of collaboration, you’ll be hooked on it.

Choosing a career that plays to your strengths and is a good fit for your aspirations makes work-life flow.

Some people like a routine job that they can clock in and out of. Some people like a career that fits with their lifestyle. For example, a role that offers flexible hours to accommodate childcare to a role that funds exotic holidays! Others like stretching roles they can grow into and shine at; and, some want that plus promotion opportunities. There is no right or wrong answer. It’s what’s right for you. It’s also what’s right for the culture of your organisation.

Unless you are self-aware about what you want and don’t want in relation to your career, it’s easy to experience career derailment, on purpose or by accident. So, take a little time out to work on your career goals. Here’s to minimising career derailment and maximizing career success!

Susan Douglas runs Work-Life Flow, a skills-development business. She works with driven individuals, and business-focused heart-centered organisations who want grounded and confident leaders, of all levels, who deliver results.