25 Bad Work Habits to Avoid at all Costs

Some habits are good. But these ones are bad. Very, very bad.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Bad work habits to avoid

Once you’ve been in the same job for a while, it’s easy to fall into the trap of getting too comfortable and developing certain bad work habits without even realizing it.

Whether you’ve started arriving late to work on a daily basis or you add an extra 10 minutes to your lunch break (because you can!), it can harm your chances of getting promoted or, worse, cost you your job altogether.

But there’s no cause for alarm just yet. As long as you’re able to identify — and eliminate — any bad habits, there’s nothing stopping you from advancing your career.

Let’s discuss 25 of the worst habits in the workplace that you need to look out for, and why they’re so bad for your career — even if they seem innocent!

What are bad habits?

Outside the workplace, it’s easy to define what bad habits are: patterns of behavior that we perform automatically that are harmful to our health, success and relationships. If you had to name a few, you’d likely pick habits like smoking, drinking and not getting enough sleep. While these can obviously bring about problems (mental and physical), some behavioral patterns are so innocent-sounding that you might not even consider them to be bad habits.

In the workplace, these “sneaky” ones are the ones you really want to look out for! Like talking too much, for example, or giving your coworkers one-word responses, or keeping a messy desk. They’re by no means the worst you could be doing, but they’re likely not working in favor of your productivity, growth and work relationships, either.

Why they’re bad for your career

Consider the habit of talking too much. While on a surface level it can look like an attempt at being friendly, it can actually make your coworkers think the opposite: that you’re too self-absorbed to listen or too inconsiderate to respect their time when they’re busy.

Or you could be thinking that your hoard of gadgets and trinkets makes your workspace look interesting, while all it’s doing in reality is causing you to waste time looking for the things you actually need. (When was the last time you saw your stapler?)

In a nutshell, ignoring bad habits can sabotage your performance and relationships at work, which in turn can be damaging to your sense of self-worth and motivation overall. If you want to progress your career, be on good terms with your team and feel a sense of accomplishment, then you’ll want to nip these habits in the bud.

25 bad habits to avoid

Bad workplace habits tend to cost workers time, energy and other people’s respect. In turn, this has a negative impact on their career progression and relationships. Read on to find out if you’ve been unknowingly tripping yourself over in the workplace — it’s the first step to kicking bad habits!

1. Fidgeting mindlessly

You’re just getting into your brainstorming session when you suddenly start clicking your pen, tapping your nails on your keyboard or jiggling your foot. These mindless outlets of nervous disposition might seem innocent and harmless to you, but they’re anything but to your cubicle pal who can’t help but notice every single annoying pen click or shake. In other words, try finding a more silent — and less annoying — outlet instead, such as doodling or using a fidget spinner.

2. Dressing unprofessionally

Even if your company has a relaxed dress code, it’s always a good idea to dress to impress. Some items of clothing — or entire outfits, for that matter — are better saved for the weekend and are completely unacceptable for work. Like that comfy velour tracksuit that you love, for example — hey, I’m not judging, but looking sloppy won’t earn your boss’s respect!

A smart or smart-casual outfit could even positively affect your self-perception, boosting your self-esteem and helping you perform better at work.

3. Going into work when you’re sick

You think you might be doing your team a favor by coming into work when you’re ill — after all, you’re not dying, right? — but that’s definitely not the case.

Besides the fact that your constant coughing, sniffling and heavy breathing (yes, your coworkers can hear it!) is irritating everyone, you’re also putting your entire team’s health at risk. Remember: one man down is better than a whole army, so next time you’re feeling under the weather, call in sick or at the very least consider working from home.

4. Being unprepared

Are you a pro at winging it? So much so that you managed to trick your way through the interview for your dream job? Sadly, you won’t be able to keep this act up for long — senior management will eventually see through the façade and start noticing how you turn up unprepared for every meeting. Do yourself a favor and start setting time aside to prepare for meetings and huddles — your effort will pay off, and you’ll get noticed for it.

5. Showing up late to everything

Rocking up late to work and meetings will give off the impression that (quite frankly) you don’t care about your job or your coworkers. No matter how hard you work in the time that you’re present, your boss will only remember your tardy arrival, and nothing else. So, clean up your act and start making an effort to be early to everything — I promise: it’s not as bad as it sounds!

6. Making a lot of noise

There’s nothing more frustrating and distracting than hearing a coworker’s cell phone vibrate 20+ times a day or hearing the sound come out of their headphones as they watch YouTube videos when they should really be working! So, try to be a little more considerate of your coworkers and keep distracting noises to a minimum — you could even consider muting all your devices (unless, of course, there’s a serious reason not to).

7. Complaining

If you’re sick of hearing your own voice, it’s likely that your coworkers are, too! Although you may not be the voice of positivity, being known for your morning moaning can be soul-destroying.

So, next time you go to complain about a client, the office supplies, your salary or whatever else it is that you like to moan about, try to write it all down instead. Not only does this give you the release that you long for, but it also saves you from harming your professional image in the process.

8. Being unhygienic

Nobody’s a fan of the office slob: the person who keeps blocking the kitchen sink with the remains of their lunch, who always uses the coffee pot but never cleans it, and who religiously leaves smelly banana peels on their desk for days at a time!

And it only gets worse when they don’t shower or use deodorant. Even if your work performance is stellar, being unhygienic can cause a poor first impression and kill your career advancement opportunities in the process.

9. Neglecting your body language

They say that actions speak louder than words but, sadly, many professionals forget to pay close attention to their body language. And this can be disastrous.

For example, if you close off every time your boss is around you and you fail to look them in the eyes, you’re giving off the impression of someone who’s insecure and who lacks confidence. This, in turn, will make them doubt your ability to perform well on the job. Instead, try sitting up straight and avoid crossing your arms or legs when people start talking to you.

10. Procrastinating

Procrastinating might not have been a big deal for you at university (after all, you were always able to deliver your assignments on time), but it is a big deal in the workplace. Indeed, your constant stalling can get in the way of coworkers doing their own jobs, who are then forced to work overtime when you finally get around to doing your part as deadlines start inching closer. And they really dislike you for it.

If you’re having trouble concentrating, it’s good to eliminate distractions such as social media, and work on acquiring some effective time management skills. In addition, avoid saying “yes” to everything and taking on so much additional work that you’re left paralyzed.

11. Having a messy desk

Having a messy desk may seem innocent to you, but it can be distracting to your coworkers — especially if you’re guilty of spreading out on to their work area. Indeed, if your folders are all over the place and your coworker barely has enough space for their water bottle, you need to address your disorganization — and fast.

Getting a desk organizer for your pens, coasters and sticky notes can be helpful, and if you’ve also got several chargers, a cable organizer can do wonders, too.

12. Ignoring basic email etiquette

Do you get so engrossed in your work that you forget to check your inbox, and are you guilty of one-word replies that often come across as rude or abrupt? Well, quite simply, bad email etiquette makes you look unprofessional.

So, start paying more attention to your inbox, and allocate five minutes every hour to scroll through your emails and deal with those that are important, marking those that can wait until later. Staying on top of it will give you more time to form longer, better-written responses.

13. Being a social media addict

Social media has become such a huge part of our day-to-day lives, so much so that it’s often extremely hard to distance ourselves from the likes of Facebook and Twitter. But if you find yourself checking Instagram 20 times a day, know there’s nothing healthy about it — not to mention that your employer won’t appreciate the fact that you’re updating your social status during work hours. Try saving your social stalking for lunchtime or, even better, log yourself out of your accounts while at the office.

14. Using poor grammar

Even if you’re best buds with the boss, it’s important to remain professional in the workplace at all times. In other words, don’t switch to slang or neglect your vocabulary and grammar because you think it’s “cool”. Not only will you be seen as unprofessional, but you’ll also potentially damage your chances of climbing up the career ladder.

If you’re not too confident with your written or verbal communication, you may find it useful to read books and watch educational videos, such as TED Talks, more often.

15. Being ill-mannered

Interrupting someone mid-conversation or telling them to “come here” is, in one word, rude — not to mention annoying. So, make sure you say “please” and “thank you” (just like your mother taught you), and always be considerate of those around you to respect workplace etiquette. If you really do need to interrupt a conversation because of a pressing issue, be sure to say “excuse me” first!

16. Being hot-headed

Do you generally have a short fuse? If so, it’s important to control your temper and to keep tantrums to a minimum in the workplace. Consider meditating or practicing breathing techniques to stay calm and lower your heart rate — and maybe even try counting to 10 before responding to stressful situations so that you don’t say anything you may later regret! Adding exercise to your routine, be that in the morning or evening, can also improve your mood overall.

17. Not being part of the team

If I had a quarter for every time that I heard the phrase “that’s not part of my job”, I’d be rich. But the truth is that this type of attitude can crush your career.

You should always be eager to take on new responsibilities where you can and to help your coworkers in times of need — after all, you’re part of a team! Similarly, if you constantly avoid social events, you’ll come across as arrogant or antisocial, both of which will harm your progress in the workplace.

18. Being a potty mouth

Not only are profanities frowned upon in the workplace, but they can also land you in deep water with HR. Swearing demonstrates that you’re indeed a hothead and incapable of processing information to form a well-thought-out solution.

If your tendency to swear comes from a place of feeling overwhelmed, tired or unappreciated, it’s good to add hobbies to your routine that help you unwind, and start setting better boundaries at work. And if things don’t improve, you may want to consider handing in your resignation and finding a less stressful job.

19. Abusing company time

Calling or texting friends on company time will make you come off as unprofessional if it’s done constantly. Not to mention it goes against company policy. If you really do need to make a personal call, leave the room so you avoid distracting your coworkers with your chat about what you’re ordering for dinner that evening.

As with social media use, smartphone use in the office should be kept to a minimum, as it can really hinder your professional growth. The fewer your distractions, the better your focus. Plus, it’s good to have clear boundaries, too: when you work, work. When you socialize, socialize!

20. Sharing TMI

You might be super pally with your coworkers, but some people find it hard to draw the line between personal and professional. And if you’re sharing personal details about your divorce or weekend antics with the whole office, you’re definitely giving too much away.

Rein it back and save it for your closest friends. Also, it’s good not to assume that your close workplace buddies will always be up for listening and providing support. They, too, may be stressing about something, drowning in work or otherwise unavailable to provide a listening ear; so, make sure you check in with them before you start unloading on them.

21. Working with no breaks

Some people think that working productively means working incessantly. In fact, the opposite is true: taking regular breaks boosts your performance, whether you’re in the office or working from home. Needless to say, it’s also better for your health not to skip lunch break after lunch break and to protect your work–life balance.

So, take a mental note to pay attention to this next time you clock in, as this might be unknowingly happening to you. If it is, set alarms to get up every hour, stretch at your desk and clear your mind a little.

22. Having no clear goals

Working without setting goals for the week, month or year can cause you to waste lots of precious time and slow down your career growth. It’s good to break down your tasks for the day, week and month into chunks, and prioritize them by urgency to enhance your productivity. As far as the “bigger picture” is concerned, it’s also good to set long term goals such as completing an online course, acquiring a new technical skill or learning a new language.

Your weekly, monthly and annual goals should come with realistic deadlines and a plan of action. Besides allowing you to feel accomplished, your employer (current or future!) will appreciate your ability to set goals and take initiative.

23. Saying “yes” to everything

Whether in the office or at home, people-pleasing is not a great habit to have. It’s one thing to go above and beyond from time to time and to help out others where you can, but neglecting your own needs to gain someone else’s approval isn’t the way to go. Aside from the fact that it can lead to emotional, mental and physical fatigue, and it can reflect poorly on your confidence and judgment.

Despite what you might think, (good) bosses don’t want you to say “yes” to everything; they want you to be able to prioritize and set boundaries so that you preserve your productivity and output.

24. Multitasking

Much like working with no breaks, some people think that multitasking is also synonymous with being productive. But science suggests the opposite.

It takes the brain time to fully switch from one task to another, even if you don’t notice it. This increases what’s known as cognitive load on the mind, meaning that juggling two or more tasks at once actually ends up slowing you down. Instead, divide up your days and weeks into time blocks so you can focus on one thing at a time. Your mind will thank you!

25. Staying in your comfort zone

This is one of those unhelpful habits that can be hard to detect. You might be thinking “What’s so bad with sticking to the things I know?”. The answer is that a lack of challenge often means a lack of growth.

Consider what you’d be doing if you could eliminate fear from the equation. Would you be signing up for extra training, learning a new language or trying to make more friends at work? Would you be standing up for yourself and setting healthier boundaries with your coworkers?

Pick one thing you’d like to try at a time, and hold yourself accountable to giving it a go. Your support network can help you manage any discomfort you might feel, so discuss your aspirations with your friends!

Why you need to break your bad habits

We’ve seen how, on the road to fulfilment and success (no matter how you define the two words), bad habits act as obstacles. Healthy habits, on the other hand, act as accelerators, pushing you further faster.

In order to break bad habits, it helps to first understand what’s causing them. The more you reflect on this, the better you’ll come to know yourself, which in turn can increase your confidence, help you develop a growth mindset and make you feel at ease around others.

For example, your procrastination might stem from being anxious over your workload, signifying a need to develop better stress management skills. Or your tendency to say “yes” to everything may be hinting at an unhealthy need for approval, meaning you could benefit from being less harsh on yourself — your worth shouldn’t be tied to your performance only!

Each of your counterproductive habits can teach you something, which can in turn help you grow both in your personal and professional life.

Key takeaways

Bad work habits are very, very common. “Reoffending” occasionally after kicking bad habits is also common. Depending on your overall mental and physical state, your behavior and performance in the workplace is bound to be prone to highs and lows. That’s normal — it’s just about minimizing the frequency of detrimental and unproductive behaviors, and increasing the number of habits that are of benefit to you.

To summarize, to deal with bad habits at work, you must:

  • Increase your self-awareness. Developing this trait is essential in identifying where certain habits stem from and how they’re impacting your work.
  • Stay on top of your emotions. The better your emotional regulation skills, the less you’ll be impacted by things like stress and frustration, making you less prone to fall back into unhealthy habits.
  • Be honest with yourself. Unless you can admit your flaws, there can be no change.
  • Hold yourself accountable. No change is possible unless we commit ourselves to putting in the work.

Can you think of any more bad workplace habits? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.

Originally published on June 28, 2018.