Career killers: 7 workplace mistakes that can cost your job

September 8th, 2007

From a new article in NAFE magazine by yours truly…

You’re at your desk by 8 a.m., wouldn’t dream of pocketing a single box of binder clips, and haven’t worn flip-flops to work since your lifeguard days. But there’s more to keeping your nose clean at the office than hitting deadlines and following the employee manual. Some of the most seemingly innocuous acts can kill your shot at that promotion — or worse, land you on management’s hit list next time layoffs roll around. Following are seven fatal workplace mistakes you should avoid at all costs.

Abusing technology
Think one little email rant about your boss to a sympathetic pal can’t hurt you? Think again. A recent American Management Association study found that 25 percent of companies have fired employees for email misuse. And 26 percent of businesses have given workers the axe for browsing sites they shouldn’t.

“Misusing the technology in your office is the number one career killer,” says Cynthia Shapiro, former HR executive and author of Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn’t Want You to Know — And What to Do About Them. Thanks to computer monitoring software, “you’re no longer invisible.” So the next time you want to shop online for a new pair of pumps, vent about management via email, or burn up the phone lines with your latest childcare crisis, do it at home.

Butting heads with the boss
You don’t have to invite your boss out for happy hour, but you do have to build an amicable partnership with her. “If you don’t have a good relationship with your boss, your job is in jeopardy right now,” Shapiro says. “Your boss can put a raise freeze on you that will last your entire duration at that company.” Not only that, a bad write-up in your personnel file can haunt you any time a future employer calls to check references.

Unless you’re working for an abusive Neanderthal — in which case you might want to dust off your resume — treat your boss as though you’re self-employed and she’s your biggest client, Shapiro advises. A supervisor who is unsure of your commitment will have trouble grooming you for the next rung.

Settling for a support role
“Support roles are dead ends,” says Penelope Trunk, author of Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success. If you have your eye on the executive suite, Trunk advises getting out of HR, marketing, or customer service. Instead, move into a department that’s responsible for the company’s bottom line, such as sales, finance, or business development.

In meetings, too, avoid playing the servile mother hen who takes notes and ensures everyone’s had a chance to voice their opinion, says Michele Lodin, a veteran HR executive at Advanced Medical Optics, Inc., in California. Instead, focus on the job you were hired to do and fearlessly offer up your expertise.

Confiding in HR
Contrary to popular belief, your human resources representative is not your friend, advocate, or confidante. “The role of human resources is to support the company, not you,” says Trunk. “If you need support, hire a career coach.”

Complaining about your boss to HR is like griping about your husband to your mother-in-law and expecting her to keep quiet. Ditto for voicing concerns to HR about your health, family, or ambivalence toward returning to work after maternity leave. “You cannot tell them anything that would make you appear to be a threat,” either legally or in terms of job performance, Shapiro says.

Read the rest of the article here.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Shweta  |  September 25th, 2007 at 6:09 pm

    I must say, this is the most insightful article I have read on how to succeed in the workplace, EVER. I’ve looked around for advice, bought and read a couple of books, yada yada.

    They all went on about hard work, professionalism, self-leadership, looking the part. But in my last role at a large company, despite demonstrating these things, I still had a terrible result, due to the fact that I had unwittingly committed some of the mistakes you talk about in your article. I went to HR about serious management concerns that had about 90 percent of a brand new branch of the business LEAVE over about 3 months. HR at first was sooo supportive and gave me all the assurances of supporting me, transitioning me into another team, etc.
    But after a couple of weeks of ‘investigating’, they transitioned me OUT of the company with bully tactics. All for the best, as I am much happier with my life now I’m out of there… an the Manager who caused it got majorly busted for a very serious, other
    So I am now more realistic about how HR’s ‘New employee inductions’ are much more like propaganda. thanks for the tips and i will be much more aware of all the things I do as per your list! Wish I’d been aware of it earlier! :)

  • 2. Michelle Goodman  |  September 26th, 2007 at 4:44 am

    shweta, glad you found the article so helpful, and glad you got out of that stinky job!

  • 3. suma  |  July 2nd, 2010 at 12:44 am

    I’ve made the first deadly mistake. I’ve misused technology in a sense that I had my earphones on my ears when my boss got into the room. Earlier that day, he had seen me with my mobile phone. Then, he was soooo angry, and I heard a very unpleasant comment from him.
    I do not know what to do right now. I know I’ve been mistaken, but I don’t know who to correct my mistake.
    I don’t know what to do when I don’t have any work to do.
    by the way, I’m just a telephone operator and at the reception.

  • 4. Avoid Making Common Work &hellip  |  January 25th, 2012 at 8:15 am

    [...] [...]

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Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

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