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10 Bad Habits That Can Cost You Your Job

By Gerald Walsh ©

We all have bad habits.

And while one bad habit, on its own, might not be the end of the world and can often be overlooked by your boss, the cumulative effect of these behaviours can be costly to your career.

Here are 10 career-related bad habits you should watch out for:

1. Losing your cool.

Especially in senior roles, you are expected to be able to handle stressful situations without falling apart or losing your temper. If you do, others will assume you cannot work well under pressure or handle big responsibilities. Whether it is losing a client, an unreasonable request from your boss, or an uncooperative iPhone, you should never swear or bang your desk, or respond in any way that is anything but with poise, composure and confidence. 

2. Not being a team player.

Some people like to shut their door, put their head down, and work alone. While sometimes this concentration is needed to get a job done, team players experience more success at work. This means giving credit (when due) to others, helping others when they are overworked, and doing tasks that may not be in your job description. If you help others, they will help you when you need it.

3. Violating behavioural norms.

Whether you like it or not, certain behavioural norms exist in every office. And violating them could limit your career. Examples include: tardiness, spreading gossip, sexist actions, foul language, backstabbing, taking credit for other people’s work, arrogance, inappropriate use of email, apathy, and constantly needing to be the centre of attention.

4. Not admitting that you don’t know how to do something.

Let’s face it: some managers are poor communicators and don’t always provide clear direction on how to perform the task. Or maybe they mistakenly believe you already have the skills to do the job. Having the confidence to say you are not sure how to handle the task (or you don’t understand) is a sign of strength, not weakness. After all you can’t be expected to have all the answers all the time. Tell your manager that you do not understand. You will avoid costly mistakes and embarrassment.

5. Bad body language.

Actions often speak louder than words. And your non-verbal behaviour may be communicating the wrong message to your peers, bosses and clients. If at all possible, avoid negative body language like poor eye contact, weak handshake, overuse of hands, inappropriate voice tone, and poor posture.

6. Negativity.

Habitual gossipers, whiners  and complainers rarely get ahead. Instead you should maintain a positive attitude even if things look bad. This is a trait of successful people. They approach problems with confidence knowing they can be overcome. Because of their pleasant, upbeat manner, they are much more enjoyable to be around.

7. Disregarding the human and social aspects of work.

No question, your career will grow faster if people like you. One way to do this it to show interest in your co-workers’ lives. Within reason, ask about their family and personal interests outside of work. You will be seen as human, personable and empathetic. And be sure to attend all office functions and parties, even if you just make an appearance.

8. Not learning from your mistakes.

In the end, your successes matter more than your mistakes. Yet you learn more from your mistakes. The problem is: most people conceal their mistakes or find ways to blame others for their mistakes. Real learning takes place when you try to understand what happened, what went wrong, and why.

9. Thinking small.

The best career opportunities will occur for those who see the big picture. Don’t be that person who happily explains to everyone why a new idea will not work. Be strategic and lead a discussion about how a new idea can be revised to meet your company’s overall mission and goals. If you do, you will relate better to senior management’s way of thinking.

10. Bad work habits.

Bad habits like missing deadlines, procrastination, disorganization, wasting time, and not responding to emails, will annoy your bosses and co-workers. You don’t want to be that person who gets labeled as having flawed work habits as you will be the first one who is blamed when a project fails.

In the coming week, take a good look at yourself. And be honest: are you exhibiting any of these behaviours? 

To share your thoughts on this blog post, please write me at walsh@geraldwalsh.com.


Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. During a 25+ year career, he has interviewed more than 15,000 job candidates, completed hundreds of successful searches for a range of organizations and guided many individuals – from young professionals to senior executives – to successful career change. 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 and LinkedIn.