Regardless of whether you’re in your dream career and plan to stay forever, or have plans to leave your current gig by the end of the year, it never hurts to avoid making mistakes at work that might make you seem unprofessional. On a daily basis, maintaining a certain level of professionalism can mean having a better day, but in the long-term, it can also mean moving up in your field, or getting a great commendation from your boss.
“Your reputation really does follow you,” Emily Liou, career expert and founder of Cultivitae, tells Bustle. “You may have heard the phrase, ‘It’s such a small world!’ It’s even smaller when you’re in a specific niche or industry. People tend to move to multiple companies throughout their career. In addition to being recognized in your current workplace, you want to ensure that your reputation and personal brand are also recognized by ex-colleagues who could be your future colleague or manager.”
But even if you aren’t planning on going anywhere, it’s still important to maintain a level of professionalism. Small mistakes can affect how others perceive someone in an office environment, Heather Monahan, workplace expert and founder of Boss In Heels, tells Bustle. “Taking the time needed to address any potential issues will not only set you up for future advancement but will ensure that you are looked to as an important person to keep on the team.” Here are a few mistakes to avoid making at work, as well as what you can do instead.
1 Gossiping With Coworkers
It’s so easy to fall into a gossip circle at work. You might meet up with work BFFs in the break room and find yourself talking about the boss, or maybe you’re in the habit of sharing a few too many criticisms while in a lunch meeting. It happens to the best of us, but is definitely something you should be mindful of, whenever possible.
“If you think that making an ‘innocent’ comment about another co-worker can’t hurt you, you are wrong,” says Monahan. “No one wants to be labeled the water cooler person who likes to pick at other employees. Ensuring that you keep your opinions of others to yourself will ensure that you are seen as a professional and not a gossiper.” And potential comments will not come back to haunt you.
2 Letting Your Desk Get Really Messy
While we all have different work styles, keep in mind that nothing screams “I’m in over my head” quite like a desk full of papers and old coffee mugs. “Having a disorganized desk … can be a sign that you just don’t have it together,” Monahan says. “It is rare that leadership will want to entrust an employee that doesn’t seem to be on top of things. Making your workspace appear clean and neat will help in allowing others to see you as a true professional.”
Often all you need to do to stay on top of things is spend five minutes before heading home straightening papers, filing a few things, and bringing dishes to the kitchen. Not only will your desk give off professional vibes, but it’ll be so nice to arrive at that pristine workspace the next morning.
3 Sending Out Emails With Spelling Errors
Everyone’s entitled to a mistake or two, especially if you’re firing off email after email all day long. But if it becomes a constant issue — and you can’t seem to send a message without making a mistake — some bosses and colleagues may start to notice.
“That’s because often, managers see ‘small’ mistakes like these as indicators of something larger … and the same can go for your clients [if you work with clients],” staffing specialist Shannon Steed, owner of Apex Staffing, tells Bustle. When emails and reports are sent out riddled with errors, it can make the company look bad.
“Fortunately, there are easy ways to combat grammar and spelling mistakes,” says Steed. “Turn on spell-check, or install a grammar app on your computer and phone.” And give everything a quick once over before hitting send. That way, you’ll catch mistakes before they happen.
4 Forgetting To Make Agendas For Meetings
While it might seem obvious to set up an agenda for a major work meeting, don’t forget to do so for little ones, too. “Meetings are at the heart of a successful organization, and people expect their fellow employees/managers to be good at designing and leading meetings,” consultant and trainer Paul Axtell tells Bustle. When it’s your responsibility to run a meeting, and you show up without a plan, the meeting may not be as productive.
So, do yourself a favor and arrive with a game plan. Your coworkers “will appreciate anything you can do to make better use of the time they spend in meetings,” Axtell says. “Not only will they feel more productive,” but you’ll look like an organized, respectful part of the team.
5 Going On About “Hating” Your Job
We all get stressed, and we all have moments where it seems like the work day will never end. But if you go on and on about hating your job, or complain all day long, it can easily dip into unprofessional territory.
By sharing that they don’t like their job with colleagues or superiors, someone may rub people the wrong way, Lily Valentin, US Country Manager at global job search engine Adzuna, tells Bustle. “Nobody wants to hear it, it drags down morale, and it immediately casts [that person] in a less than glowing light.”
If you need to vent, go to a trusted coworker, or take a walk around the block to cool off. And, if you really hate your job — and aren’t just saying so in a moment of stress — definitely look into moving on, and finding a career that’s a better fit for you.
6 Taking Over The Kitchen
It may sound like NBD, but how you conduct yourself in the break room can tell others a lot about you. Are you someone who cleans up after lunch, or leaves their plates and cups everywhere? Do you take make more coffee, or stroll away leaving an empty pot?
“Teamwork is all about having each other’s back and picking up the slack when needed,” Jason Patel, founder of the college and career prep company Transizion, tells Bustle. By being the person who refills the coffee, and leaves things better than they found them, you’ll be boosting everyone’s opinion of you.
7 Ignoring Coworkers As You Walk By
Everyone gets busy, so it’s OK to stroll through the office on a mission. But since ignoring people can make someone seem like they’re not a team player, try not to make it a habit of constantly ignoring your coworkers. When you arrive in the morning, or when you see someone coming your way, for example, it’s always a good idea to acknowledge them.
A simple greeting, or hello will do it, Patel says. “You’re all on the same team, so it’s a good idea to make them feel welcome and wanted.” Plus, getting to know your coworkers can make the work day so much better. And having more people on your side always comes in handy when you want to request off for a vacation, or need to call out sick. So really, it’s a win/win.
8 Not Saying “Thank You”
Another mistake that’s easy to make is forgetting to say thank you, maybe when a coworker helps you out, or when your boss does something special for you. Again, this could be due to busyness, or feeling like it’s not necessary. But try not to let your standards drop.
People remember when you don’t treat them with respect, so do your best to keep the politeness up all day, every day. As Patel says, “Make sure to show your gratitude when someone completes work or goes above and beyond the job … People work hard. It’s simply human to desire some gratitude.
9 Complaining About Your Paycheck
It can feel good to vent about your paycheck to coworkers, but this may not be something you want to share at work.
It’s also just not helpful. “While it may feel frustrating not to be earning as much as you want, rather than complaining about it, focus your energy on fixing the problem,” Kathlyn Hart, career coach and creator of Be Brave Get Paid, tells Bustle. “For example, you can reach out to your boss to share your ambitions within the company, and discuss what your possible path towards growth and advancement looks like.” That way you’ll be taking a proactive approach.
While it may be tempting to let your guard down occasionally, remembering to maintain professionalism in the work environment can make your day a lot easier, and ensure your success in the future.