Professional Development Work Relationships

The 9 Worst Mistakes You Can Ever Make at Work


Getting a reputation as someone who’s unprofessional is a kiss of death in any workplace. The minute coworkers (or, even worse, your manager) lose respect for you, the game is over. While you may still have a job, you’ll be surrounded by people who don’t trust you—an unpleasant experience for everyone involved.

Here are some key mistakes to avoid if you want to remain at the top of your work game.

1. Backstabbing

It may seem like a snide word behind the scenes is more efficient than a confrontation, but it will ultimately affect your reputation more than the colleague you made look bad. Don’t go over someone’s head to solve a problem. Instead, communicate and try to find a resolution that will make everyone happy.

2. Gossiping

It’s one thing to share information or backstory, but you’ll develop bad word of mouth if you’re constantly engaged in spreading negative rumors about other people. If it’s not constructive or productive, keep it to yourself—or share it with your boss if it’s serious enough that you need to speak up, but be accountable.

3. Taking Credit for Someone Else’s Work

This is just slimy—don’t steal ideals or misrepresent your work. Doing so will also make you look ineffective. If you had your own ideas, you wouldn’t need to steal, right?

4. Emotional Hijacking

Also known as losing your s#$@, a meltdown that involves yelling, throwing, verbal outbursts or making people cry is a fast way to destroy your credibility—or build a whole new credibility as a toddler who throws tantrums. Maintain your self control. Act like an adult. Whoever you blow up at doesn’t look as bad as you do.

5. Announcing That You Hate Your Job

If it’s true, start job hunting and put on a good face so they’ll recommend you to your next employer. If it’s not, suck it up and look for ways to spread positivity at work!

6. Bragging

Be a pro; take your accomplishments in stride. It’ll impress your friends and intimidate your rivals. Act like success is something you see every day and hardly notice any more, even (especially) if it isn’t true.

7. Lying

You may want to protect yourself or someone else, but as soon as you start lying it’s a matter of time until you get caught! Even if it’s a small, unrelated lie, it can damage your relationships at work and your professional career.

8. Smelly Food

Treat yourself to a lunch hour away from the office if you can’t resist your Indian leftovers or a Brussels sprout sandwich every day. Don’t sit in the break room—or worse, at your desk!—pretending nobody can smell what you brought from home. It’s distracting and takes forever to dissipate.

9. Burning Bridges

I still think fondly of the boss who laid me off, even 6 years later, because she made an effort to reach out to me afterwards, followed through on recommendations, and stayed in touch until I landed on my feet. She taught me how to handle even tough goodbyes—you also never know when you might need a connection made.


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About the author

Miranda Pennington

Miranda K. Pennington is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared on The Toast, The American Scholar, and the Ploughshares Writing Blog. She currently teaches creative nonfiction for Uptown Stories, a Morningside Heights nonprofit organization. She has an MFA from Columbia University, where she has also taught in the University Writing program and consulted in the Writing Center.

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