The most common workplace mistakes can compromise the reputation and hinder the career of even the most conscientious and hard working employee. Workers worry about missing deadlines, making major errors, and falling short of their employers’ expectations, but the most frequent missteps are things many of us do every day without considering the damage they could do to us professionally. How many of these have you done and, more importantly, what can you do to avoid them in the future?
1. Using your workplace internet for personal things. You would be hard pressed to find someone who did not write a personal email, browse favorite sites, or shop online during business hours. Before you shrug this behavior off, however, you should know that 25 percent of companies have fired employees for email misuse and 26 percent have dismissed workers for browsing sites that are not work-related. With the proliferation of computer monitoring software, many companies can read your email, examine your browser history, and see everything you typed and clicked on their equipment, all without you knowing until it is too late. Save personal emails, job searches, shopping, and perusing the internet for your own electronic devices when you are off the clock.
2. Gossiping about your coworkers. You may not think of yourself as a gossip, but every time you relay a story, repeat a rumor, or express you personal opinion about a coworker, you are gossiping. Even if the subject of your idle chatter never hears what you think about her wardrobe choices or knows you divulged personal information, someone else might overhear and it could color that person’s whole impression of you. You may not intend any ill will, but the listener may interpret your comments differently. You transform from a trusted and admired person into a suspicious and mean spirited individual. Mind your own business at the office and if you absolutely must complain about a colleague, dish about the latest developments, or share an interesting story, save it for the privacy of home and only your closest friends or family members.
3. Poor wardrobe choices. Dress codes vary extensively from one company to another and the most popular one, business casual, lends itself to a myriad of interpretations. Even if you are a long-standing employee, you can become complacent and even neglectful of your professional appearance. In general, management sets the best example for appropriate dress. Take a few minutes the night before to select your wardrobe for the next day. If you notice stains, wrinkles, missing buttons, or loose threads, choose again. If something is too tight or too big, put it back. Before you leave in the morning, look in the mirror and ask yourself how you would feel if you were meeting someone in the workplace for the first time. If you could do so with confidence, you are probably on the right track.
4. Sloppy emails. Every work email you write is a reflection of your professionalism. The appearance and content should be work appropriate. Avoid slang, text speak, and emoticons. After you perform a spelling and grammar check, reread it before sending. Use a professional looking normal-sized font and a white background with a standard text color such as black. If you are composing the first email in a chain, do not enter the email addresses until you are finished and review them before you click send. When responding, avoid reply all and confirm the recipients before answering. Be careful about what you put in writing and remember that humor and sarcasm are easily misinterpreted. Most importantly, keep in mind that every email can be forwarded, printed, or read on someone’s screen at any time. Once you send it, you no longer control who sees it, so be selective about what your write.
5. Speaking without thinking. We usually get into the most trouble when we forget to self-edit. It is easy to fall into this trap when we are tired, rushing, or preoccupied. It is even more likely when socializing outside of the office because our guard is often relaxed, especially if we have been drinking. The three most egregious blunders are excessively complaining, over sharing, and using crass language. Before you launch into a work-related tirade, reveal personal information, or utter the more colorful parts of your vocabulary, take a moment to think about what you want to say. Choosing your words carefully will prevent you from saying something you live to regret.
These are only five of the most prevalent workplace mistakes and they all have one thing in common: being careless about our behavior. No one expects you to be perfect, but you should try your best and endeavor to be as professional as possible. Adopting good work habits and exhibiting proper manners requires practice and diligence. A little care can go a long way, however, towards protecting your reputation and career from self-sabotage.