Education

10 workplace blunders to avoid at all costs

Career not taking off the way you expected? The reason might lie in some of your on-the-job behavior. Steve Tobak runs through a few things NOT to do at work.

Some of you will shoot up the corporate ladder like you were born with leadership abilities far beyond those of ordinary mortals. If only that were the case for everyone.

The vast majority of us actually progress in fits and starts, with maybe even a minor correction or two along the way.

Don't feel too bad; it's just the universe's way of screwing with us from time to time, just to make sure we're paying attention.

Still, I've found that most of the issues you're likely to run into can be avoided if you know what to look out for. Since we can all use a little help these days, here are 10 things you should never do at work.

Note: This article is based on an entry in BNET's The Corner Office blog.

1: Say or write anything you wouldn't want plastered on the Yahoo home page...

... or in the hands of the SEC, FTC, DOJ, or IRS. You have zero expectation of privacy at work and should therefore assume that anything and everything is being recorded for all eternity and will come back to haunt you at the worst possible time. That includes emails, phone calls, even hallway or parking lot conversations.

2: Over-apologize

We all make mistakes and it's always good to fess up, but in business, you can go too far and actually make matters worse. If it's a minor issue, just a quick "sorry about that" is fine. If it's a big screw-up, apologize in private, face-to-face. Look the guy in the eye, say your piece, and be done with it. If you want confirmation, then ask, "Are we good now?" Don't grovel, make promises you can't keep, or anything else. Just man-up and leave it alone.

3: Take your smartphone to the bathroom

Hopeless addiction to smartphones, needing to stay connected 24×7, and being constantly pressed for time do not belong in a place where flushes can be heard on the other end of the line or, God forbid, the thing can drop into something wet, white, and porcelain. Leave it in your pocket and if it rings, have the good sense not to answer.

4: Cross swords with your boss, your boss's boss, or any other boss

Too many of you just don't get how civilization, organization, or the lack of either -- which we affectionately call the jungle -- works. You simply don't square off with your boss or anyone in the chain of command. If you lose, you lose; if you win, you still lose. It'll end badly and reflect badly on you no matter how it goes down. If you want to know how to deal with a bad boss, click the link.

5: Go looking for trouble

If you're in a bad mood or pissed off at somebody, walk it off or treat yourself to a nice greasy donut or something. If you go looking for trouble, however, I can almost guarantee you will find it and it won't end well for you. Don't pick fights, push buttons, or otherwise give anyone a hard time. It's called acting out, it's childish, and it'll stunt your career, big-time.

6: Make commitments you can't keep or exaggerate your ability or influence

And don't lie, either. The more straightforward and genuine you are, the smoother your career -- and your life, for that matter -- will go. Do what you say you're going to do and leave the BS for the other guy. Your credibility will grow, people will count on you for more and more, and off you go.

7: Get angry, abusive, combative, or loud in an open or cubicle area

Admittedly, I was often guilty of this back in the day. It wasn't acceptable then and it's not acceptable now, but at least then, it was a relatively common occurrence. These days, you stand out like a big bully. And nobody likes a bully.

8: Say or do stuff people really don't want to hear or see

"Too much information" might be a bit subjective, but there's a common sense line you shouldn't cross, including anything to do with your sex life, religious beliefs, political leanings, finances, holistic cures for mysterious ailments, frequency of bowel movements, revealing tats or scars that are and should remain hidden by clothing... you get the picture.

9: Act like a whiny, PITA negatron

If you're a big crybaby, nobody will want to have anything to do with you. It's ironic, but those who do all the complaining are the ones who make the workplace a living hell, not the people or stuff they're always whining about. Think about it.

10: Talk trash about a coworker to anyone, anywhere on company property

You can be sure it'll get around and come back to bite you in the end. Save it for friends, your spouse, or better still, the dog.

Other mistakes?

What are some other workplace stunts guaranteed to torpedo your career?

Additional reading

16 comments
learn4ever
learn4ever

... from Wednesday of last week? I just got the link to this again in today's email from TR.

littlepitcher
littlepitcher

Some people don't have much choice, as regards scars, unless you want them banished from your workplace. In a downer economy, it makes little sense to banish productive employees because someone in the office has an entitlement attitude about personal esthetics. The case also could be made that such choices constitute color prejudice, and this is a Federal offense and carries heavy financial penalties against corporate entities. If you want us to wear burkas and chadors on our imperfect skin, be prepared to wear a muzzle on that mouth.

logicskey
logicskey

Pointing out a flaw to someone usually demands some ingenuity to get the desired response; proving a point sometimes takes more than a softspoken voice - without yelling of course but a decible above. Monotone puts everyone to sleep :). Serious firms have learned to appreciate and encourage constructive criticism especially from insiders in order to expand. In the real world, things are seldom nice and perfect. Tobac, I thourougly enjoy all your articles :)

abc123a
abc123a

These are all great tips. If you do want to disagree with your immediate boss, do it in private and respectfully. Have facts and focus on the issue. Once a decision is made, like it or not support it as if it was your own. If you cannot do this or your boss does not allow it, find another job quickly. Never say "No" immediately to any request no matter how reasonable. Say "let me think about it or let me find out more" and walk away. Once you have had the time to think or investigate (if it so warrants) offer alternatives and options rather than say no.

christophersav
christophersav

Each of these are cringe-worthy in their own right. I particularly enjoy remanicing about all fo the people I've encountered in my career that make these mistakes -- sometimes in multiples. #2 and #9 are two examples that can wear on anyone's spirits. How about I.T. specific gaffes like re-arranging ADUC before you're familiar or give the 'ol, "at my last job, [some technology] was so much better." I've written a guide: http://wp.me/p1IgSW-1q

nonimportantname
nonimportantname

I deal with one or many of these EVERYDAY, especially #8. Distasteful, crass, abhorrent conversations.

joanne.e.m
joanne.e.m

...know who to complain to (i.e. your boss, HR), do it behind a closed door, and don't gloat if you win - even if everyone else says they agree with you, no one likes a tattle tale ;)

dhays
dhays

Surfing forbidden material at work. Our cautionary saying is that if you wouldn't want it on the front page of the Washington Post, don't send it or say it!

eridonis
eridonis

I have done most of them, too, but have also learned to try not to do any of them. The temptation is always there to justify these behaviors, but nothing good comes from any of it. Even if I believe I am smarter than anyone I am working with (most of us do--even in the same office--lol) , there is alway the honey/vinegar fly count. Act like a jerk if you want to be thought of as a jerk. Act like somone in the same boat with others and have a chance at results. A good way to remember is to think of someone else acting like that to me. do I want to work with them? If the answer is no, then that is the answer they have to wanting to work with me. I can certainly disagree with someone without being abusive. I can dislike someone without telling a group in the breakroom all about it. I can show someone what they could have done differently, without reminding them of their mistake for the rest of their life. How do I want to be treated? Then I treat others that way too. Thanks for the article. I figured most of that out along the way, but it could have helped me when I was younger. Of course I wouldn't have listened to most of it when I was younger....

Random_Dev
Random_Dev

Great advice. Instead of speaking your mind or having a backbone, why not become yet another passive-aggressive, servile member of Today's Work Force? Because the world needs sycophantic yes-men.

ttsquare
ttsquare

I don't think it is discrimination if you lose your job or a promotion because you have a scar or tat in your pants and you show your coworkers.

a.portman
a.portman

READ YOUR AUP! If ebay is forbidden at work, know it and don't do it. Ditto for games, facebook, fantasy football, March madness and porn. Assume the IT guys know where you surf. If your boss asks, we will tell you. We will also tell the next guy in your chair after you are gone.

cflange
cflange

In your sarcastic answer you are showing passive-aggressiveness yourself. Maybe you don't know that one can criticize and stand up for one's ideas without breaking any of the "rules" above. It is called constructive criticism (http://www.wikihow.com/Criticize-Constructively) and it is a most useful skill, if you want to progress professionally. There is a big difference between backbone and bonehead.

gsullivan
gsullivan

I will respectfully disagree with Random_Dev, however. I think that you can adhere to all these things and not be a psychopant. Yes, in many organizations; spineless, sycophantic yes-men do excel. If that's is not your thing, there are other (probably more enjoyable) places to work. Having a viewpoint, setting boundaries and adjusting our ego's (a little) for the common good can all be achieved without becoming a 'welcome mat' that everyone walks over. I know all this is true because as a Boston-Irish punk with a chip on my shoulder, I was doing all the above and my career had suffered. Now in being more humble, serene, tactful and firm (in a respectful way); I find that my career is moving ahead, my sanity is consitent, stress reduced greatly. That's my story and I'm sticking to it - take what you like, leave the rest.. Thanks for the blog, Steve its a good "refresher"

info
info

I have friends and co-workers with Random_Dev's attitude. My father was the same. In quite a few years, they have gone absolutely nowhere with their careers. My father's now retired, and he offered me this bit of advice, "Always be proud and stand up for what you believe is right. Make your opinions known. But not at your job. I did it, and look what it got me. Nothing." My company values me because I can talk to the shop workers on the floor, and then go attend the owner of the company while he's meeting with politicians and lawyers, and even mediate between the two. Some might call my a spineless 'yes'-man. But I know I'm not, my bosses know I'm not, and those that think I am are usually the ones that are going nowhere...

jemorris
jemorris

Your two key words are "firm" and "respectful". Not sure heritage has anything to do with it though but I suspect it does some being part Scottish and native American. I think it also has a lot to do with having a victim or a defiant mentality. Firm and respectful can also be carried across with body language and/or a look. as well as being a victim or being defiant. Just be sure you know the difference between firm and respectful verses defiant.