Seven sloppy work habits to avoid, in order to get ahead in your career and nail that promotion

Posted by
Anna Brech

Are you one of those people who usually turn up five minutes late to a meeting? Or are you in the habit of firing off abrupt "urgent" emails to your colleagues? Perhaps you like gathering round the water cooler for the latest chat about what Dan from accounts did in the pub last night, or you don't always take five minutes out to brush your hair when you could. 

None of these traits are particularly unusual, and none of them are likely to cost you your job.

But poor work habits have a nasty way of subtly infiltrating themselves over time, in a way that may affect your career progression or prospects of a promotion.

Sure, you're making it into work every day, but you're hardly regarded as employee of the year.

"When you get lazy or frustrated, you can develop some bad habits that can harm your career," says careers strategist Karen Siwak. "When I have a pause in my day, I slump.Our careers can be prone to slumps – professional bad habits that become our comfort zone, but are highly detrimental to our long term career health."

From procrastination to poor email communication, here are seven common work habits that you can easily avoid to let your career prospects soar: 


She always hated her telephone anyway


In the course of your working career, you will naturally come across things that frustrate you but you need to learn how to deal with these without constantly giving voice to them. Someone who develops a habit of moaning - even in an incidental or jokey way - will quickly become earmarked as trouble by the powers that be.

"You become a headache for your manager,” says Amy Hoover, president of employment site Talent Zoo. "Your boss is likely responsible for ensuring her teams are contributing to positive morale and anyone on the team who is counterproductive to that reflects poorly on her.

"Negative employees are often referred to as ‘cancer’ by upper management for good reason: they will eventually be cut out."

Find a way to keep a lid on your irritations without letting them overwhelm you; put a neutral face on, set boundaries and use more of these tips, or save your bitching for non-work drinks. 

Poor email communication

People often overlook etiquette on email, but as it's usually the leading form of communication at work, you need to be as mannered as you would be in face-to-face interactions. If anything, you may actually need to be more slick since so much is lost in translation in quick, constant messaging. 

"E-mail is a shallow way to communicate. It’s easy, fast and lacks the depth of understanding most people have face-to-face," says life coach Scott H. Young. "Unfortunately, many people don’t realize just how much of this understanding is lost. As a result, they pick up bad habits and start driving coworkers and bosses crazy."

Avoid urgent requests with exclamation points and capitals; it comes across as shouty and will likely cause stress or antagonize your recipients; pick up the phone instead, or do it in person. Be as succinct as you can, because no-one wants to wade through paragraphs of text and it will dilute whatever point you're making. Make your request or call to action clear, rather than burying it in text. but you also want to use enough tone so that your messages don't come across as abrasive or rude.

The worst thing you can do here is develop a reputation for not responding to emails, as it will seriously undermine your professionalism. You need to be organised and gain control of your inbox so that you respond rapidly; even if it's something you can't deal with straight away, get back to let the sender know that, so that they have some form of response. 

Avoid water cooler gossip

Water cooler gossip; fun but bad

Getting involved in office politics

A study from Indiana University found workplace gossip presents itself in the form of subtle put-downs during meetings, highlighting the fact that flippant chit-chat over the water cooler can have a real, detrimental effect on office life. We're all drawn by the thrill of rumours and secrets, but getting pulled into office warfare can seriously disrupt your productivity. And worse, if you become known as someone who loves gossip, you may be regarded as not quite reliable or responsible enough for that upcoming promotion.

"Getting caught in the crosshairs of a workplace controversy can be out of your control, but if you're the one instigating the drama, you're earning a bad reputation," says Anthony Balderrama of "You're the person who starts trouble and whom no one trusts. That's the kind of notoriety that follows you from one workplace to another."

It can be good to have a finger on the pulse of what's going on, but try to avoid obvious gossip flare points and never pass speculative information on.


In a world of constant email and funny cat videos, it's very easy to get distracted or lose focus. Studies on the topic show employees waste up to two hours a week not attending to the task at hand, and when a big deadline looks there are plenty of reasons to avoid it. But putting tasks or projects off to the last minute will not only harm your own productivity, it's a habit that will seriously put other peoples' backs up.

"This habit can seriously hurt you in a work setting," says Dr. Katharine Brooks, author of You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career. "If you’re one of those folks who believes that you do your best work at the last minute and put off projects or assignments until the day (or hour) before they’re due, you may not be aware of the impact your habit is having on your co-workers."

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Instead of being the go-to person to blame because a project runs late or misses a deadline, look at developing good work habits that will avoid procrastination altogether. Set yourself strict deadlines for particular tasks and try turning off your phone or email for set periods of time while you get something done. 

Naps on the keyboard won't get you ahead

Naps on the keyboard won't get you ahead

Poor time keeping

Timeliness is more than just a matter of showing respect, it's also about demonstrating your trustworthiness. Forget for a moment the disciplinary implications of continued lateness; even if you are slightly late on a regular basis, it could affect you on a more subtle level. If you constantly arrive a few minutes late to work, forget about meetings or let deadlines slip through the net, people will start to regard you in a slightly different light. You'll become someone who's not quite to be relied upon, who is too complacent or careless to be trusted with an important new enterprise. 

By being the person who always turns up on time or bit early, you not only show that you care, you'll also save yourself a good amount of personal stress.

"Look at the costs of being late and the payoffs of being on time,"  says Julie Morgenstern, author of Time Management From the Inside Out. "I think people's stress level is very high when they're late. They're racing, worried, and anxious. They spend the first few minutes apologizing. One of the payoffs of being on time is that you eliminate the stress of the travel time and you eliminate the time spent apologizing."

The same rules of good time-keeping apply to any projects you take on. You don't want to procrastinate (as above) but you also want to avoid rushing a job just to get it done

Being too set in your ways

Sometimes your boss will ask you do something that it's outside the parameters of your job, but "that's not in my pay grade" is hardly the kind of attitude that will see you catapulted up the career ladder. Good companies thrive on flexibility and being tenacious enough to adapt to new challenges and juggle whatever's thrown at you is all part of being a great employee.

"It’s far too easy to get stuck in your ways if you’ve been in a job for a while and although you may be content being in this comfort zone, your inflexible manner will make it harder for you to adapt if necessary or compulsory changes to your job occur," says life coach Jen Smith

"Being inflexible in your work is not a quality any employer would wish from their staff, which could result in you being overlooked for promotion or even worse, one of the first on the list if redundancies have to be made."

Work on developing a reputation as the go-to person who will take on the hard tasks that other people shy away from; it'll keep your job interesting and your boss will be forever grateful. 

Andy misjudged the dress code in The Devil Wears Prada

Andy misjudged the dress code in The Devil Wears Prada

Bad personal presentation

We all know that being presentable is the one of the most basic edicts of professionalism, creating the impression you want to give of yourself to the rest of the world. Much depends on the industry or business you work in but it definitely pays to follow the status quo and adhere to good grooming, no matter how casual the workplace.

"It’s naïve to assume that your appearance won’t affect what people think of you, you must present yourself in the right way," says  fashion editor Lucy Turner. "You can’t just roll out of bed, throw on whatever you find and turn up to work looking scruffy, with bitten nails and greasy hair, and expect people to take you seriously. "

Forbes magazine suggests you should bear in mind these three rules of dressing well, no matter what the job:

1. Presentation counts. 

2. Casual shouldn’t mean slovenly. 

3. Dress as you want to be seen: Serious, professional, upward-bound and ready to meet clients. 

Words: Anna Brech, Photos: Rex Features and Getty Images

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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