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14 Everyday Habits That Could Be Derailing Your Career

Updated: Jan. 20, 2023

You get your work done and you're good at it, but if you're guilty of any of these habits, you could be unknowingly sabotaging your career.

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A negative attitude towards work … and life

When someone is complaining all the time and has a bad attitude towards work and life in general, it really wears on those around them, especially as research shows these emotions are contagious. Eventually, this negative attitude will turn your coworkers against you, says Jason Patel, a career expert, former career ambassador at the George Washington University and founder of Transizion, a college and career prep company. “Your supervisors will end up becoming reticent to give you work because they don’t want to hear the corrosive things you have to say.” These are the 50 secrets your boss won’t tell you that you need to know.

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Poor hygiene

Everyone’s in a rush in the morning, but that’s no excuse to skip brushing your teeth or putting on deodorant before leaving for work. “Bad breath and body odor will drive people away from you, literally. Brush and floss for your health, and for your professional habits,” says Patel. Don’t miss these office mistakes to stop making ASAP.

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Lacking accountability

A key indicator of narcissists is that they don’t take responsibility for their actions and attack others for team failures, says Patel. “At first, people will tolerate this attitude, but, over time, they’ll realize that you’re not cut out for leadership.” Instead, he advises, “If something is your fault, admit it and learn a valuable lesson.”

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Dressing down

More companies may be skewing casual with their dress codes, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to show up wearing torn jeans and flip-flops. “Dressing professionally gives you credibility and shows you fit in with the work environment,” says Brandi Britton, district president of the staffing firm, OfficeTeam. “In an OfficeTeam survey, 80 percent of executives said clothing choices affect an employee’s chances of earning a promotion.”

Also, ditch these bad work habits that make you seem unprofessional.

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Being too fragrant

Smells in the office ranging from food to perfumes and cologne can be offensive and distracting. “They can also cause your colleagues to avoid you or perceive you as inconsiderate,” says Britton. “When in doubt, avoid items that may have a strong aroma.” Of the workers surveyed by OfficeTeam, 19 percent said their companies have scent/fragrance-free policies and identified eating stinky food as the most annoying.

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Being too much of a people pleaser

Do you consider yourself a “yes” man or woman? “People could start to view you as a pushover if you are always trying to do what everyone else wants done, instead of figuring out what’s important to you and your job performance,” says Heidi McBain, a professional counselor for women. Employers may see this as spreading yourself too thin.

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Having poor attention to detail

This comes from being lazy and relying too much on spellcheck, among other things. You could have read a vast amount of literature and integrate a beautiful and effective vocabulary into your work, but if you can’t bother to read for grammar errors and typos, it means you don’t care enough to submit a proper deliverable. Simple and concise is better than sophisticated and riddled with mistakes,” says Patel.

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Being constantly late is a surefire way to sabotage your career. Patel says, “If the company has a work culture that emphasizes punctuality, tardiness clearly demonstrates a lack of faith in company culture. Leaders are quick to fire those who do not fit in.”

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Saying “I’m sorry” too much

Be careful not to overuse the words “I’m sorry.” “Saying you’re sorry when it is not necessary, will make you sound like you are unsure of your opinion,” explains Jacquelyn Youst, an etiquette expert and president of the Pennsylvania Academy of Protocol.

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Not being mindful of your verbal punctuation

How you speak can give off a certain impression, bad or good. “Own what you say by using appropriate inflection and speaking with confidence. You will undermine your professionalism by ending a statement or fact with a question mark, which derails your credibility,” explains Youst.

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A lack of confidence

People follow those with confidence. “It’s important to project some sense of confidence. How? A firm handshake, back straight, head up, maintain eye contact, and interact with energy,” says Patel. Act confident, and you’ll end up building it… and your career. These are the “soft skills” employers look for in job applicants.

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Not paying it forward

Most successful people have gotten to where they are with the help of others. “At a more rudimentary level, if someone has helped you in the office, make sure to be good to others and be kind to the person who supported you. It’s a good way to build relationships and build your personal brand,” suggests Patel.

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Not truly becoming a part of the team

Supervisors want you to integrate with the team not just because it builds camaraderie but also because a team that sticks together fights for each other. Even if you don’t drink, go to happy hours and laugh with your team or bring doughnuts every now and then,” says Patel. Becoming a part of the team will help you build a foundation, and these relationships will come in handy when you’re in need.

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Putting personal life before work while at work

We can all admit to leaving early for appointments, using work time to deal with that contractor who’s remodeling your kitchen, or texting your sweetie a quick hello. But when you constantly do this at work, it shows you don’t value your job, or your company’s time. Save the personal calls for your lunch hour.