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Don’t Make These 9 Mistakes at the Office—Unless You Want Your Co-Workers to Think Less of You

Updated: Mar. 30, 2023

Even if you're a model of professionalism and efficiency at work, slip-ups happen. These are the ones you should try your best to avoid.

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Mistake #1: Emailing the wrong person

There’s the never-ending thread where you’re trying to find a time that fits everyone’s schedule, the one where your boss is giving you revisions on your latest project, and of course, the maybe-not-appropriate exchange with a co-worker over last night’s primetime show. Most people send dozens (upon dozens) of emails a day, and while you should always double-check your grammar, career expert for Monster.com, Vicki Salemi says you should also give a second glance to that “to” field. “Particularly when there’s confidential information, it’s a no-no to send it to the wrong person. We’re in such a rush these days, trying to do more in less time, and while technology of course expedites that, sometimes it thwarts our efforts,” she says. Though the best thing you can do to prevent an email mix-up is to slow down and proofread, if you happen to send the wrong email to the wrong person, Salemi says acknowledgement is both professional and essential. She suggests saying something like, “My apologies, this was intended for somebody else.” Don’t forget to save the error, just in case it comes back to you too.

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Mistake #2: Missing a deadline

Everyone has deadlines to meet. From sales professionals who have to report their numbers to doctors who must submit claims, staying on-task helps the organization function to it’s highest potential. When you don’t do something you say you’re going to do—even if you have a terrific excuse—it becomes a negative reflection of your job performance and your dependability. “You can recover from missing a deadline by addressing it directly with the intended recipient—maybe it slipped your mind, maybe you input the wrong date on your Outlook calendar, maybe you simply didn’t meet it,” she says. What can help you put a brave—and professional—face on it is to work quickly and shrewdly, making sure you reinforce that this is not your typical work ethic. And though a quick text or email might seem easier and faster, it’s not the best mode of communication. “In many instances, when you make a blunder, it’s a lot easier to recover with a conversation either in person or on the phone. You can express your sincerity much more than in a one-dimensional email,” she says. Psst! These scientifically proven ways to be happier at work might come in handy.

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Mistake #3: Insulting the boss (and she overhears you)

Who are you allowed to vent to about your employer when you’re having an off-day (week, month, or year)? Your best friends who hold your secrets under lock and key, your partner who can soothe your anxiety and frustration, and your pup, who will never bark a peep. Who can’t you dish to? According to Salemi, anyone and everyone at the office. Though you may have reliable work spouses or friends, any negative discussion about your boss can pose a danger to your career. “You shouldn’t insult anyone at work, even if you feel they deserve it, and even if you’re at the point where you don’t care of you will get caught. You always have to assume that you will,” she explains. Unfortunately, recovering from this blunder is tough. “The damage has been done. You might start apologizing, state it’s not what they thought they heard, and more, but then it just raises additional reason for concern,” she says. “You can recover from it by realizing less is more and move forward.” Your boss expects you to act a certain way without having to tell you what you should and shouldn’t be doing, these are the other secrets your boss won’t tell you.

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Mistake #4: Leaving your resume at the printer

Truth: Using the work office supplies to print, copy, or scan anything is far cheaper than going to staples. Also true: It’s against most company policies. And if you’re using their goods to print your resume or cover letter? You risk getting outed ASAP. If you’re looking for a new job, Salemi says the hunting and applying should be done on your own time and not while you’re in the office. But if you are in a mad-dash to take a “lunch” that’s really an interview and your co-worker catches you in the act? Pray that it’s someone who will keep the secret. “I’ve heard of job seekers getting caught, simply exchanging glances with colleagues like a code whereby no words were exchanged but they weren’t about to throw them under the bus,” she says. Or if it’s not someone you know can keep a tight lip? Salemi says to make a casual reach for it without raising eyebrows to erratic behavior. If they question you, have an explanation handy: You’re helping a friend build their resume and they wanted an example to model after, or something else believable. Bottom line though? Pay the dollar at your local copy shop and avoid the drama.

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Mistake #5: You kissed a coworker

If you happen to let happy hour blur your judgment and you end up getting cozy with an office mate, it’s important to address the incident with your boss before the office has time to make it a bigger deal than what it was. “Assuming you may not be necessarily dating the person, but things started heating up, the next day at work you need to address it. Say something along the lines of, ‘you probably saw so and so and I kissing but it won’t happen again,'” Salemi recommends. In addition to having a private discussion with your employer, you should also pull aside your kissing buddy and lay down some ground rules, depending on whether you want to pursue the relationship or not. “Talk to the person you smooched to discuss your strategy,” she says. “You should still keep things under wraps and completely professional going forward, even if you do start dating.”

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Mistake #6: You got wasted

One tequila, two tequila, three tequila—HR’s door! More and more companies are adopting a casual Friday mentality, with in-office beers and mingling. This environment may help you connect to your coworkers and unwind after a stressful week, but it also challenges your self-control and ability to stop after you begin to feel out of control. “Definitely limit alcohol intake, even if everyone else is doing it. It’s much better to be the sober person sipping a glass of seltzer with lime and observing the flailing than have to live down bad behavior,” Salemi says. If you have to be taken care of by your coworkers because you drank too much? Or you got too rowdy and embarrassed your team lead? Whatever happens, it’s important to make sure you address it with tact and a sincere apology.

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Mistake #7: Using technology to job search

Your personal laptop has bitten the dust and your company one is so much more reliable and easier to use, so you bring it home and get to watching Netflix. Or you decide to set up LinkedIn job alerts, just in case there’s a promising opening in the pipeline. Though you might not think your employer is keeping tabs on your device, it’s better to separate work and life as much as you can, according to career coach Cheryl Palmer. She says you could face unemployment for breaking a code of conduct, giving your boss grounds for termination. “As with everything, the best cure is prevention. Don’t use the company’s technology in the first place. You probably won’t be able to undo the damage if you have already used company property and you find out later that they were monitoring your activities,” she says. If it makes you feel better, do a thorough clearing of your search history and delete anything inappropriate and try to move forward. Though they may know already, they may cut you a break if the activity stops.

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Mistake #8: Talking trash on social media

Even if you think you’ve mastered your privacy settings so no one at the office can see your posts complaining about how much you “hate your job,” putting anything on the Internet that’s negative about your employer is a big no-no, according to Palmer. In addition to screenshots that you can’t detect (and could be sent to your boss), privacy settings change consistently, meaning you might need another full-time job just to track them all. If you’ve gone too far already, delete everything ASAP, Palmer says. While there’s still a chance it could be detected if a professional was hired, removing all mentions will protect you as much as possible. And better yet? Keep those complaints to in-person or phone calls with trusted pals, where you can’t be fired for venting with vino at your bestie’s house.

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Mistake #9: Trusting everyone

Especially when you’re new to a job, it’s important to pick your in-office friends carefully and with office politics in mind. As Palmer says, it doesn’t matter how well you do your job, if you’re not aware of who’s who in the office, your career can greatly suffer as a result. “Running afoul of the wrong person can have very negative implications, and in the worst case scenario, you could be fired,” she explains. “For workers who may have naively ignored office politics in the past, now is the time to turn over a new leaf. While I am not suggesting that you kowtow to everything that a power broker says or does, it makes sense to identify who the power brokers are and at the very least try to keep from clashing with them.”