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How to Break These 6 Bad Work Habits That Are Sabotaging Your Career

Topics: Career Advice

Were you late to work more than once over the past week? Do you spend your lunch breaks gossiping about your boss? Or maybe you’ve been putting off an important task because you don’t know where to start?

No one is flawless. We could all confess to at least one bad work habit, or more, that we know is holding us back.

As a career coach, I’m invested in helping my clients overcome hurdles. When you’re building your career, striving to be on top of your game matters. But what happens if a bad work habit is getting in the way of pushing your career forward? It’s not too late to correct the course.

Bad Work Habit #1: Showing Up Late

Fabrizio Verrecchia/Unsplash

Consistently showing up late to work isn’t good. Even if you make up the time by working later, first impressions last. If you’re rarely at work on time people will start to assume you lack discipline.

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On top of that, being late raises your stress levels and that’s the worst way to start your day. If your journey to work is a killer, get real about exactly how long you need to commute, versus how much time you think you need. Make a commitment to set out earlier.

Do what you can to streamline your morning routine by using the night before to get a jump-start on your day. If you think ahead, you can prep a lot of important things before you head to bed, from choosing what to wear to deciding what you’ll eat for breakfast.

Keep on hitting the snooze button day after day? Try moving your alarm clock out of physical reach. Once you’re out of bed, half the battle is won. Then, if you have everything laid out and ready to go, it’s a much nicer way to start the day.

If you’re straight up exhausted every morning you may need to rethink how much sleep you need. I’m with Arianna Huffington, the author of The Sleep Revolution, on this one. Getting more sleep is essential. It’s the gateway to increased productivity, happiness and smarter decision-making.

Flip the bad habit by aiming to get to work at least 15 to 20 minutes before you need to be. You’ll appear organized, reliable, efficient. Plus, you’ll have time on your side if you must deal with something unexpected.

Bad Work Habit #2: Negative Body Language

When it comes to the workplace, your nonverbal communication is just as important as what you say and what you do. People around you will form an impression of who you are based on your body language.

Consider your body language when you’re feeling tired versus relaxed, stressed versus engaged and frustrated versus enthusiastic. There are huge differences between those emotional states, and our body provides silent cues that demonstrate loud and clear how we’re feeling inside.

Negative body language includes crossed arms, slouching, putting your hands in your pockets, supporting your head on your hand, avoiding eye contact when speaking and nervous gestures such as fidgeting or playing with your hair. Often, we aren’t fully aware of the signals we’re sending. I could always tell when a former member of my team was stressed or anxious because she’d immediately start twisting her hair.

Be mindful of your habits and aim to adopt some positive body language techniques to help cement a positive impression. Sitting up straight conveys attentiveness, because your posture is an indicator of your confidence and composure. If you’re slouching in your seat at a meeting, people will assume you don’t want to be there.

Pay attention to the position of your hands, arms and legs, too. Crossed arms will make you appear defensive, while open arms convey an open, friendly attitude. Fidgeting or shifting around is a sign of anxiety and will lessen your credibility.

When in conversation, remember to smile and make consistent eye contact when appropriate. Smiling puts people at ease. Avoiding eye contact when speaking suggests a lack of confidence and trust. In contrast, appropriate nodding and mirroring the body language of the person you’re talking to can help build rapport.

When you practice powerful, positive body language you’re not faking it to the people around you. You will simultaneously give yourself a boost, by sending subliminal messages to your brain that reinforce positive, confident feelings. Adjusting your stance and your expressions will make you feel more confident and that will manifest in how you appear.

Bad Work Habit #3: The Out-of-Control Inbox

email rules

Email is like Tetris. No matter how fast you are at responding, there’s always more coming. According to a recent McKinsey study, the average person receives over 100 emails a day. Unfortunately, communication overload seems to be getting worse, not better.

If you feel like your drowning when you open your inbox, start by getting rid of any emails you no longer need. Delete what you can and archive any emails you won’t need soon. Unsubscribe from any email newsletters that have become redundant, or leverage email management software or apps to help you manage your incoming mail.

Another tip you can adopt is to scan your inbox for urgent or important items and tackle those first, versus what’s sitting right at the top and working down. If your inbox is heaving, you need to focus on what matters most. You don’t want to leave an important or time sensitive email unopened or unanswered for days.

Organize your inbox with appropriate labels, folders and categories. Don’t be afraid to adjust as needed. Refining your filing system will make it much easier to locate specific emails when you need them. You can streamline your inbox by creating filters to automatically file any emails that can be aggregated by subject, sender or content. Use flags to indicate emails that require follow up action.

Dedicate blocks of time to processing email and treat email processing as one of your priorities during your work day. Few of us achieve the infamously elusive inbox zero, but creating a system for organizing and processing your emails will help you work smarter.

Bad Work Habit #4: Constant Gossiping With Your Coworkers

While it may seem hard to avoid, workplace gossip can be damaging. In addition to disrupting the workplace, gossiping can impact morale, hurt others and damage your credibility in the process. If you’ve become a gossiper, you can take steps to fix your reputation fast. What may seem as harmless chit-chat could be dangerous for your career and the people concerned.

If your coworkers are talking about someone or something in a negative manner, you don’t need to get involved. If you wouldn’t have the conversation directly with the person being discussed, then you should think twice before talking behind their back. If rumors related to the company are circulating, you should be careful before sharing speculation that could be sensitive or confidential.

Often people gossip as a way of making social bonds. However, gossiping is more than just sharing news or speculating on events. It can be interpreted as a way of conveying negative emotions such as insecurity, jealousy or anger. Instead of spreading or discussing rumors and negative opinions, find new, positive ways to bond with your coworkers. Be more conscious, disciplined and professional when it comes to discussing work, your workplace and your coworkers.

Don’t be afraid to maintain professional and personal boundaries. You can’t control the actions or motivations of others, so if gossip is swirling around you, show restraint. You can abstain from chiming in on gossip sessions or speculating on circumstances. Avoid creating or get pulled into drama by thinking before you speak, and where possible just simply change the subject.

Bad Work Habit #5: Procrastinating Until the Last Possible Minute

back-channel reference
Christina Morillo/Pexels

When your to-do list goes on for eternity it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

If you have a task, or a bunch of tasks, that you just can’t face they won’t go away if you ignore them. Instead, bite the bullet and develop a new system to get the things you really don’t enjoy out of the way fast.

First, carefully evaluate how critical each item on your to-do list is. Is it a Must-Do-Right-Now item, a Need-to-Do-This-Week or a Want-to-Do-Soon?

Figure it out and schedule the time to complete it based on the urgency. Keep your daily to-do list short and focused on the key tasks that really matter.

Next, “do the worst first” – get the task you’ve been dreading out of the way at the start of the day. Set a time limit and stick to it. Working to beat the clock can be a great motivator to get a task done. Remove any distractions so you can focus on what you need to do and get it tackled faster. If it helps, create a personal incentive as a reward for finally getting the job done.

People who procrastinate are often perfectionists. They can struggle with starting or completing a task because they want it to go perfectly. Others leave important things to the last minute because they choose to harness the adrenaline rush of “I’m almost out of time, I’ve got to get this done immediately” to truly get going. But if you have a boss, or a team, or direct reports who look to you to complete deliverables, your procrastination will start impacting others who are part of the process.

Make changes to make sure you will do what you say you will do, or have been told to do, before the last possible minute.

Bad Work Habit #6: Constant Complaining

More and more of us are falling into the habit of constant complaining about our careers. According to a recent Gallup study, only 32 percent of employees in the U.S. are engaged, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.

Considering the statistics, complaining about your career might feel therapeutic at first, but if it becomes a habit those negative thoughts can snowball fast. Not only does complaining leave a less than favorable impression on those who listen to you, the perpetual negativity impacts how your mind works. Scientific research from Stanford University shows that complaining can literally shrink your brain. Before you know it, complaining becomes so easy for your brain to grasp, you start doing it without even consciously registering the behavior.

If you have fallen into this pattern it’s time to make some changes. Choose to find a way to work through the problem or issue, instead of just complaining about it. For example, if you’ve had a bad meeting, a challenging day, or a stressful week at work, don’t carry it with you or dwell on it. Be thankful that moment has passed, reflect on what you learned from the experience, wipe a clean slate and start over.

Often the things we are complaining about can feel out of our control — a bad boss, a difficult client, an impossible deadline or a task we just don’t enjoy. If the thing that’s accelerating our stress levels can’t be changed, take the responsibility to find a solution by changing your attitude. Our default mode is often to complain about what’s wrong. You can take a huge step forward if you become a problem solver instead of a complainer.

The people who command the most respect are the individuals who recognize issues, including bad work habits and try to solve them. Reconfiguring how you approach your work takes committed effort, but if it helps you move forward, it’s worth the investment.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you have any of these bad habits? We want to hear from you. Share your story in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Octavia Goredema is a career coach and the founder of Twenty Ten Talent. Find her on LinkedIn and on Twitter at @OctaviaGoredema.

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Theodore M Seeber
Theodore M Seeber

35%? Over a century ago, Pareto noticed 20% engagement on 80% of jobs.

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