The Effects of Learned Helplessness on Work Performance and Success

CoachHub · 20 December 2022 · 9 min read

Life often comes with several disappointments. It is nearly impossible to go through life without experiencing a few setbacks. The frequency of these setbacks and how we approach them have an effect on how we view life in the long run. This feedback cycle can quickly become detrimental if not carefully considered. Constant failure can often lead to a phenomenon called learned helplessness. The situation is however redeemable. Since it is a learned behavioral trait, it can be unlearned as well.

What is learned helplessness?

Learned Helplessness is a phenomenon that occurs when an individual has been through repeated stressful situations. After a while, they begin to believe that they cannot change or control such situations, hence, they do not attempt to, even when chances to change those situations occur.

Such individuals have “learned” that they have no control over such situations and become accepting of it, even when there are opportunities that prove otherwise.

Once people experiencing learned helplessness realize that they can’t control the things around them, they become unmotivated. Even when other chances arise where they can change their situation, they are unable to do so.

People who have learned helplessness are most times incapable of making decisions the way others can.

At first, learned helplessness may not seem like such a serious problem because human beings in general, do not have complete control over the things around them. However, this kind of mindset can have negative impacts on a person’s work performance.

The world we live in is one that requires certain levels of determination to succeed. A person experiencing learned helplessness is more inclined to give up when faced with challenges in their career, making it harder for them to tackle situations and provide solutions that would otherwise help them climb higher up the career ladder.

There are several solutions implemented to help people overcome learned helplessness, one of which is digital coaching. In a world, dominated by technology, digital coaching has come to play a major role in helping people overcome learned helplessness.

learned helplessness

The link between learned helplessness and work performance

Learned helplessness has a greater impact on a person’s work performance than we realize. To become fully functional in a work environment, individuals need to have certain levels of motivation and determination. With learned helplessness, this becomes impossible and productivity is reduced significantly.

Some of the symptoms of learned helplessness in the workplace include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of motivation
  • Inability to ask for help
  • Passivity
  • Procrastination

Oftentimes, these qualities reduce an individual’s decision-making and problem solving abilities, making it a lot more difficult for such people to complete work tasks. The implication of this is a reduced desire to participate in work-related activities. When individuals experiencing learned helplessness are faced with problems that require critical thinking in the workplace, they are often inclined to give up and may refuse to ask for assistance as they believe there is nothing they can do to help their situation.

The long-term effect of this is reduced job satisfaction. It is very difficult for a person with learned helplessness to derive joy from their job because there is no motivation to complete tasks at all.

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The impact of learned helplessness on career success

The inability of an individual to perform well in the workplace due to learned helplessness could have negative effects on their career. In professional settings, career advancement only occurs when an individual is able to prove their value to the organization. This is impossible when learned helplessness is in place. A person experiencing learned helplessness would be unable to do well enough to be considered for things like promotions or bonuses. It could even lead to loss of employment opportunities.

It would be difficult to go after external career advancement opportunities with learned helplessness because the mindset would be one of expected failure. It is difficult to try to move ahead in one’s career when you already believe that you will fail. People with learned helplessness are often not inclined to make moves that will help them move to better career advancement opportunities.

Job performance is negatively affected with learned helplessness. There are less opportunities for a person to perform well with learned helplessness and when that is the case, the chances of getting overall career success become a lot slimmer. Career advancement is very competitive and people who do not display certain levels of zeal and motivation in the workplace are less likely to be considered for life-changing career advancement opportunities.


Common causes of learned helplessness in the workplace

Learned helplessness is not something that settles in on its own. It is a learned behavioral trait that is often triggered by some conditions such as:

Stress and burnout:

Many work environments are toxic. This makes it increasingly difficult for individuals to summon the motivation needed to perform well or provide solutions to work-related tasks and problems. It is also easier to become burnt out when there is constant stress around an individual at work. This creates an avenue for learned helplessness to settle in.

Lack of support from colleagues and supervisors:

A work environment where there is minimal support from coworkers and superiors will make it easier for learned helplessness to occur in an individual. At work, people often encounter stumbling blocks that require the assistance of supervisors or colleagues. When that assistance is not forthcoming, it becomes easier to give up, procrastinate or become unmotivated. One of the things that help people develop desire to tackle their job is when there is outside motivation. The absence of that often results in learned helplessness.

Difficult or unfulfilling work environments:

For people to have personal conviction to solve work-related problems, they often need incentives. When there is no forthcoming incentive or reward within a work environment, it creates an avenue for workers to experience learned helplessness. People need to have a level of job satisfaction to continue to devote their time and attention to their job. A difficult or unfulfilling work environment will make it very hard for a person to summon the kind of devotion required to do well.


How digital coaching can help individuals overcome learned helplessness

Digital coaching is a tech innovation means of coaching where coaches are able to meet with individuals virtually to help them become better. Even though you use tech equipment, your coach is still a real person.

Personalized digital coaching can help people to overcome learned helplessness by province support and guidance while helping them create better avenues for accountability. Digital coaches carry out periodic assessment to keep track of their client’s growth and ensure continuous occurrence of improvement and growth.

Through proper support and guidance, people develop better avenues to set goals and become more productive at work. This is essential in helping people overcome learned helplessness in the workplace.

Digital coaching is essential to helping individuals overcome learned helplessness because they are able to discuss their limitations and get assistance on how to overcome them. This helps individuals to develop better skills that will help them when they are faced with difficult challenges at work.

Digital coaching is a very effective means of assisting people regain their motivation to work and willingness to succeed because they now have a chance to discuss and tackle whatever factors are preventing them from advancing in their career.

Not only does digital coaching help individuals in identifying their problem areas, it also helps them in understanding themselves and figuring out unique ways to approach their problems and solve them.


The benefits of using digital coaching as a tool to combat learned helplessness

Digital coaching is an essential tool today to help individuals solve problems and overcome learned helplessness more efficiently. There are many advantages of implementing digital coaching to combat learned helplessness:

Increased confidence and self-esteem

Through digital coaching, individuals are able to discover and understand themselves on a personal level. It becomes easier when they have someone else willing to help them on the journey to self improvement. Understanding oneself is an important way to boost self-esteem and confidence. It is a lot easier to tackle problems when you are confident in your abilities.

Improved motivation and productivity

The willingness to work and find solutions to problems is increased when there is assistance. The presence of a digital coach in a person’s life gives the individual the reassurance that they have an avenue to ask for help if need be. This reduced the chances of being unmotivated and abandoning difficult tasks. With increased motivation comes improved productivity.

Better work-life balance

People are able to have better work-life balance when there is a digital coach. Digital coaches help people set achievable goals and prioritize. This reduces chances of getting overwhelmed when problems occur. It also reduces the chances of having clashing tasks. Digital coaches help people develop strategies to organize their lives more effectively.

Enhanced career satisfaction and success

With increased motivation and productivity comes better career advancement opportunities. In turn, these improve an individual’s chances of attaining success in the workplace, leading to better job satisfaction.


Strategies for overcoming learned helplessness with the help of digital coaching

Digital coaching helps individuals develop skills that will assist them in overcoming learned helplessness. Some of these skills are:

Identifying and challenging negative thoughts and beliefs

Negative thoughts and beliefs are very effective in convincing people of their helplessness. This makes it difficult for them to solve problems or even attempt to. Digital coaches help people learn how to identify toxic or negative patterns when they arise. Individuals also learn how to tackle these negative belief systems that could foster the growth of learned helplessness in their mindset.

Setting goals and creating action plans

Through digital coaching, individuals experiencing learned helplessness are able to set clear goals and personalized action plans that help them identify priorities. The presence of excess distractions can create a window for a person to become overwhelmed. The feeling of having too much to do can lead to learned helplessness. Digital coaches help individuals organize their lives better and set concise goals.

Building a support network and seeking help when needed

Digital coaches help individuals create healthy support systems. They also encourage people to ask for help when they need it. A leading cause of learned helplessness is the feeling of being alone. In the face of difficult tasks, this feeling could lead to learned helplessness. With digital coaches, individuals have a guide that shows them how to interact and reach out for help when they need it.

Practicing self-care and managing stress

With digital coaching, people are able to learn better methods of managing stress and coping with difficult circumstances. Self care is important in overcoming learned helplessness as one of the main causes of learned helplessness is stress. Digital coaches teach people to prioritize themselves and take out time to look after their health.


Learned helplessness could have negative effects on a person’s life and chances of gaining access to career advancement opportunities. It is something that could affect anyone irrespective of circumstance. This is why efforts are being made to help people unlearn this behavioral trait. Digital coaching is one of the methods being applied to help people overcome digital helplessness. It is important that you take the first step to overcome learned helplessness and improve the quality of your life so that you can enjoy success in your career and experience better work performance.

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Samuel Olawole
Samuel Olawole is a freelance copywriter and content writer who specializes in creating exciting content across a wide range of topics and industries. When he’s not writing, you can find him traveling or listening to good music.

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