Earn Careers

6 Things You’re Unintentionally Doing (Or Saying) In The Workplace That Could Be Holding You Back In Your Career

Sarah Fielding  |  August 16, 2019

Sometimes it's the small, subconscious things that we do that can hurt our careers the most. Here's a look at what to avoid.

No matter how long you’ve been the career world, figuring out how to how to act, what to say, and how to respond in tough workplace situations is always difficult.  Office environments can differ so immensely, even within the same industry, that what was appropriate at your previous job may not be at your current one. 

And make no mistake: You can do all of the tasks assigned to you perfectly — and these things still matter. “A large part of your career advancement is centered around your people skills and emotional intelligence,” says Lynn Taylor, a workplace expert and author of “Tame Your Terrible  Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job.” “Managers will make some accommodations for employees at all levels who lack a few minor business or technical skills — but who possess a positive attitude, motivational, flexible and engender trust.” 

Here are six things you’re saying or doing in the workplace that could be hurting your career.

1) You’re Creating A Negative Image Of Yourself

It’s important to let people form their own opinions of you versus feeding them the negative information playing in your own head. “It’s really negative and detrimental to sort of put yourself down before giving anyone a chance to like you and think you’re great..  So [steer clear of] any kind of statements that say, ‘Oh I know I’m not very smart, but..or I know I’m a recent graduate so I don’t have a lot of experience,” says Lindsey Pollack, author of “THE REMIX: How to Lead and Succeed in the Multigenerational Workplace.” “There’s no reason to call out your own insecurities in the workplace.” On the flip side, Pollack stresses how important it is to be your own advocate. This doesn’t mean you have to be in your boss’ face about how great you are.  But let your actions speak for themselves and provide additional, positive input when appropriate.

2) You’re Treating The Office Like Your Home

There are a lot of things you would do at home that are simply not appropriate for an office environment like “grooming in an open space, eating bad-smelling foods, wearing inappropriate clothing, hitting on people, promoting political or religious beliefs, taunting or bullying others, ostracizing others, gossiping, stealing others’ food, come to work drunk [and] taking credit for others’ work,” says Taylor.  Clearly some of these are more egregious than others, but it’s reasonable that coworkers and superiors would be frustrated by this behavior and see it as a sign that you are not taking your job seriously. 

3) You’re Only Managing Up 

“It’s important to connect or network or build relationships with people at all levels of an organization,” says Pollack.  “It can be really detrimental if you only hang out with people more senior who you think are ‘important’ to your career and you don’t build relationships with people at your level or below you.”  In particular, the people at the same level of seniority as you are the people you will run into again and again throughout your career. Creating relationships with them can be helpful for when you need advice or someone who understands your workload. And remember, everyone in the office is worth saying hello to.

4) You’re Not Leaning On Others For Help

On a similar note, the team of people you work with are there for you to lean on and vice versa. Take advantage of that and ask them these questions, seek their advice on projects you’re working on, and more.  I particularly important to have [good relationships with] colleagues of different generations. If you’re younger, having someone significantly older that you trust can be valuable — for example, when you’re writing an email and want a sanity check on the tone.  If you’re older, having someone younger on your side can also be an asset — for example, when you’re building a presentation and want to make sure you sound appropriately relevant. “You, yourself, are a focus group of one,” Pollack says. “You’re not the first person to worry whether your skirt is too short or if your email is too informal. Check in with somebody and just get some feedback.”

5) You’re Assuming Instead Of Asking

With all the variants in today’s workplaces, it can be hard to know how you should be dressing or what time you’re expected to arrive if no one tells you. The biggest mistake you can make is assuming you know. Instead, say: ‘Hey, what’s the protocol here on what to wear? What’s the protocol on what time everyone comes in the morning?’  A lot of these rules are unwritten. Asking when you’re not sure is far better than doing it wrong day after day.

6) You’re Taking On More Than You Can Handle

While it’s nice to be the person anyone can go to for help with a project, taking on too much extra responsibility can lead to none of the tasks being performed as well as they could be. Instead, focus on what’s most important to the company or your immediate supervisor and raise your hand selectively.  Then check in with your boss about prioritization. “Your boss may not be aware of everything on your plate. It’s your job to inform your boss of what on it and get alignment on priorities,” Taylor says. 

With a few small changes in behavior, your career can find so much more room to grow. 

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