6 Bad Habits That Are Holding You Back at Work

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Hoping to move up the ladder, but feeling stuck on the same rung? These common workplace tendencies might seem like they’d help you get ahead, but in reality, they stand to hurt (or even halt) your career growth. Correct course now to increase your career momentum. (And, actually, banishing these habits could help your personal life, to boot.)


Even when you don’t need to—or don’t mean it. For plenty of workers, saying “I’m sorry” has become an automatic reflex, whether you’ve interrupted someone, contradicted them, gotten hung up or off-topic when speaking, or even awkwardly brushed by a colleague at the water cooler. You might think this polite apology shows that you’re agreeable, but in reality, uttering the phrase unnecessarily makes you look like a pushover who’s taking responsibility for issues that aren’t your problem (and in some cases, aren’t actually a problem at all).

Typically exhibited more often by women than men, this habit was the focus of a spot-on sketch by Amy Schumer, in which female panelists at the top of their fields spent an entire discussion apologizing. So how can you stop? Examine when you apologize most and modify your behavior—reading all your emails through before sending them and deleting any unnecessary apologies is a good place to start. And know that, in many cases, an apology can often be replaced by a “thank you.” 


For some career-minded hard workers, this might seem like an ideal day at the office: Come in a bit early, sit at computer, work your way through an ever-growing to-do list like an efficient and valued worker bee, barely leave your desk, and go home a bit late. On the one hand, employers treasure folks who finish projects on schedule and on point. But that old adage about putting your head down and letting your hard work get noticed? It doesn’t always hold true. Take time, instead, to build relationships with your coworkers, catch up with your boss, and stay abreast of what’s happening in the company at large, too. Say hello! Embrace small talk! 


The flip side of that robotic must-get-work-done mentality can be just as dangerous. For some—once they get to know Patty in accounting, Dave in contracts, and everyone in between—it’s easy to fall into the black hole of discussing office romances, alliances, and beefs all day long. In this case, put another old adage to work: If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. And if you’re face-to-face with the office gossip, shut it down by responding “Really?” and changing the subject.


We’ve all worked with those people whose default setting is negative. Office Eeyores drag others down, but even worse are coworkers who can’t get excited—or worse, are vocally negative—as their companies face big changes or big opportunities for growth. Nowadays, change is the only constant in many industries. Learn to deal with the fear surrounding change in a positive way, and higher ups will recognize that you’re flexible and happy to adapt.


Constantly complaining can be toxic in the workplace, whether you’re venting to peers or marching to your manager’s office with a litany of things you don’t like. (To be sure, there’s a big difference between chronic complainers and folks who rightfully stand up for themselves and their team.) Before you complain to others in the office, think about how to fix the problem at hand. Does your boss keep changing his or her mind as you complete a project? Try to check in more often, or outline each step needed to reach the finish line. Feeling like the office culture has taken a turn for the worse? Suggest a group lunch outing or after-hours happy hour. And save those complaints for when you really need them.


The fear of sounding stupid holds countless people back from making their voices heard in meetings and on conference calls. But just as being a workaholic robot can hold you back, remaining silent in group settings can have the same effect. Even shy people can build up self-confidence and learn how to make their voice heard, even in large conversations. Start by picking a point ahead of time that you’d like to make clear, and aim to speak up early in the meeting, so you’re not worrying about finding the right time to interject later on.