12 Work Habits That Can Harm Your Career

By Gerald Walsh ©

We all have habits we're not aware of, which may be annoying to our colleagues at work. It’s possible we’ve had these habits for years yet no one has ever told us about them.

I worked with someone who constantly spoke over other people, raising his voice to do so. I know of another person who speaks about their child non-stop. Another friend always checks their email when others start to speak.

(I will leave it to my close friends to let me know what my bad habits are.)

These small habits can cause you to be passed over for a promotion, turned down for a job, or refused the raise you want.

Here are 12 work habits to watch for:

1. Being negative. It’s tempting to complain or criticize. But if you do, you will quickly be labeled as a problem by your boss. Try to maintain a positive attitude even in the face of adversity. You will be more fun to be around.

2. Stressing out. You should be able to endure stressful situations without falling apart. Whether it is an unreasonably tight deadline or a serious financial issue, you must be resourceful and overcome this stress with poise, composure and confidence. 

3. Poor body language. Non-verbal communication is important. A limp handshake, bad eye contact, and inappropriate dress can create the wrong impression and be interpreted the wrong way.

4. Disorganization. Forgetting things or missing deadlines due to disorganization will cause others to conclude that you can't be counted on to keep your word.

5. Being self-absorbed. Instead of always talking about yourself, take some time to show interest in your co-workers’ lives. You must be seen as human, personable and empathetic.

6. Inappropriate humour or grammar. Telling sexist jokes or using profanity—even if others do—is offensive and should be avoided at all cost.

7. Blaming others. If you’ve made an error, own it. Don’t place the blame on others. People around you will respect you more, not less.

8. Being close minded to change. You might feel perfectly satisfied with your current ways of doing things. But if you resist new ways of doing things, you'll be left behind by others who aren't so change-resistant.

9. Arrogance. While it’s important to promote your own work, you should avoid placing unreasonable demands on your boss about compensation, vacation, or working conditions. It comes across as arrogant—a trait that is certain to limit your career.

10. Repeating the same mistake over and over. Mistakes happen, but they become a real problem when you don’t learn from them or blame others for them. Real learning takes place when you understand what happened and why.

11. Not being assertive. There's a fine balance between being assertive and obnoxious, but being comfortable speaking up in a professional way is key to career success.

12. Lack of confidence. For example, if you’re not sure what your boss has asked you to do, tell them you do not understand. Having the confidence to say you are not sure how to handle the task is a sign of strength, not weakness.

A final word: If you suspect you display some of the habits listed above, or if others have told you that do, but you don’t know how to correct them, you should consider consulting a trusted colleague, human resources manager, or business coach for help.


To share your thoughts on this blog post, please write me at

Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. He is the author of “PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career. You can follow Gerry on Twitter @@Gerald_Walsh