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15 Bad Habits That Can Destroy Your Career

By Gerald Walsh ©

I want to talk about some of the bad habits that can cause you to be fired, passed over for promotion, turned down for a job, or refused the raise you wanted.

When these things happen, the first inclination often is to blame someone else. But this may be the time to take a good look in the mirror. Your own habits could well be the cause of the problem.

Here are 15 habits that can quickly destroy your career:

1. Falling apart under stress. 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. 

2. Bad personal habits. Whether it is poor grammar, profanity or telling inappropriate jokes, bad personal habits can be offensive to your bosses and co-workers and should be avoided at all cost.

3. Having a pessimistic attitude. It’s tempting to gossip, grumble or criticize. But if you do, you will quickly be labeled as a problem by your bosses. Try to maintain a positive attitude even in the face of adversity. You will be more fun to be around.

4. Making unreasonable demands on your boss. This is especially so for younger workers who haven’t yet “paid their dues.” Avoid placing unreasonable demands on your employer about compensation, vacation, or working conditions. It comes across as arrogant – a trait that is certain to limit your career.

5. Poor body language. Non-verbal communication is so important. That’s why a limp handshake, bad eye contact, and inappropriate dress can create the wrong impression and be interpreted the wrong way by your colleagues.

6. Ignoring the social aspects of work. Likeability is important in the workplace. That’s why you should take the time to show interest in your co-workers’ lives. You must be seen as human, personable and empathetic. But find the right balance. Too much socializing can be a problem too.

7. Not learning from your mistakes. Mistakes become a problem when you don’t learn from them,  rationalize them, or blame others for them. Real learning takes place when you try to understand what happened, what went wrong, and why.

8. Poor work habits. Disorganization, procrastination, tardiness, and missing deadlines can make you appear inefficient, complacent and careless – not qualities you want people to use to describe you. If you are not sure if you have these leanings, ask others for feedback.

9. Not accepting responsibility. If you’ve made an error, admit it. People around you will respect you more, not less.

10. Ignoring behavioural norms. In business, behaviours that can damage your career include: spreading gossip, using sexist or foul language, backstabbing, taking credit for other people’s work,  inappropriate use of email, apathy, bullying, and constantly needing to be the centre of attention.

11. Not seeing the big picture. Don’t be that person who always explains why a new idea will not work. Instead, think about how it fits with your company’s overall mission and goals. If you do, you will relate better to senior management’s way of thinking.

12. Going over your boss’ head. Unless your boss is engaging in some unethical or illegal behaviour, you should work out all problems with him or her directly.  

13. Leaking confidential information. Especially when you are out socializing or on social media, be careful when talking about issues concerning customers, employees, finances, strategy and salaries. Even if it’s not totally confidential, it is unprofessional to be discussing these matters with others. 

14. Not admitting that you don’t know how to do something.  If you’re not sure what your boss 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. You will also avoid mistakes and embarrassment.

15. Poor team skills. Some people prefer to work alone. But let’s face it. All organizations are leaning toward team-based workplaces. Don’t isolate yourself. Instead, develop strategies that will help you get along with others, such as active listening, encouraging input and showing respect.

Question: What have I left off this list? Are there other habits that can destroy your career? Let me know by dropping me a note. My email is 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 10,000 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.