Across every industry, one thing holds true: it’s human relationships that cause the most joy, and the most stress, in the workplace. You already know the ways your co-workers are driving you crazy, but do you have a few bad habits of your own?
REDnews spoke to 2 local industry experts to find out some of the work mistakes you can avoid to further your career and make your job run more smoothly.
Mistake #1: Backstabbing
Sitting with a colleague and complaining about your co-workers can be highly enjoyable, but it’s not a good strategy for your career or for a harmonious working environment.
As this article explains, gossiping, backstabbing, telling lies and announcing you hate your job are some of the worst mistakes you can make at work.
“One of the dangers of gossip is that people think it’s a way to the top,” says Sarah Macartney, communications manager at SEEK. “Saying ‘We both think that person’s horrible,’ is a very short term way to creating a network in your office and it won’t set you up for the long term. You need to form genuine relationships.”
Good communication with your co-workers will create a good workplace – it all comes back to honest conversations, says Macartney. Don’t let problems fester; address them politely and directly, then move on.
Mistake #2: Passing the buck
Nobody wants to put their hand up when senior management asks why a problem has arisen. But we all make mistakes. If you’ve missed a deadline, don’t come up with a range of creative reasons why someone or something else is at fault. It doesn’t help the company and it doesn’t help you. Be honest and take responsibility for your own actions.
“People who aren’t self-aware don’t reflect on ‘How could I take responsibility?’, ‘Is there anything I can do to fix this?’,” says Melony Lowe, director of HRLady.co.nz. “They’re busy blaming and making excuses.”
She says if she could only teach people one workplace skill, it would be to be self-aware: taking responsibility for yourself and considering how your actions will impact other people.
Mistake #3: Bringing your personal problems to work
It could be a break-up, a financial problem, or a health issue – whatever’s going on in your personal life needs to stay at home. That doesn’t mean you need to pretend it’s not happening, explains Macartney. Explain your problem to the people who need to know, then get on with your work to the best of your ability.
Bringing personal issues into negotiations is particularly awkward, Macartney says: “In a conversation about negotiating your salary, don’t say, ‘I’ve got three kids and my husband’s been made redundant so I really need this money’. Show your commitment to the business, as opposed to ‘It’s all about me and my situation and you have to help me’. Show what you’re doing professionally to add value to the business.”
Mistake #4: Passive aggression
Almost every office has a passive-aggressive person. You really don’t want to be that person. Their snide remarks and subtle put-downs leave co-workers feeling annoyed, frustrated and sometimes genuinely hurt.
When asked to explain one of these remarks, says Lowe, the passive-aggressive employee will make it seem as though other people are oversensitive or don’t have a sense of humour. They’ll say ‘It was just a joke, can’t you take a joke?’ or ‘I didn’t mean it like that.’
“People like this are all over the place,” says Lowe. “They’re not evil, they’re just unaware. They think they’re justified and it’s right to be opinionated in this way. A good manager will know how to deal with that, but most managers aren’t trained in how to do it.”
Mistake #5: Doing the bare minimum
You arrive on time. You leave on time. You do your job. But if you’re only doing the minimum amount to prevent yourself from getting in trouble, you’re doing yourself and your company a disservice. You may need a new job, or at the least a new attitude, because doing your job this way will often feel empty and meaningless.
Lowe describes it as “ticking boxes” and says workers who do the bare minimum are the hardest to get rid of. But because they’re not engaged with their work, they can turn toxic and pessimistic, undermining the success of the whole team.
Mistake #6: Missing opportunities
Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you. People often think their special talents are being ignored, but in reality it’s more likely they haven’t been noticed.
“You might think your boss will come and say, ‘Hey, I’ve noticed you’re really talented at this particular skill’. It doesn’t happen,” Macartney says. “Don’t wait for people to find your talents – demonstrate them.”
Put your hand up for projects or responsibilities, or take the initiative to do something extra that shows what you can contribute.
Mistake #7: Turning down chances to improve
“You’d be surprised how often people turn down training, because they don’t want to admit what they don’t know,” says Lowe. It’s hard to admit to gaps in your knowledge, especially if you’re concerned it will make you vulnerable to being replaced or made redundant. But that strategy can backfire:
Now retired, in the early 2000s bank manager John was offered the chance to learn how to use computers. He believed he didn’t need to know: “I thought I would always have a secretary to type my letters, so why did I need to know how to type?” A few years later John was first to be made redundant when the bank tightened its belt – his lack of computer skills and reliance on other people to do his typing were costing the company money. He now admits he made a terrible decision when he turned down that training.
Mistake #8: Failing to train your staff members
Conversely, if you’re managing a team, it’s easy to forget that they need training, too. We all assume that the job has gone to someone who knows how to do it, but that’s too simplistic.
“The manager thinks, ‘Why should I train Joe to sweep the floor when I’ve employed him to sweep the floor?’,” says Lowe. “Then the manager won’t say anything to Joe until they’re so fed up they say, ‘I want Joe out of my workplace’. But have you told Joe what the problem is? He should know.”
Managers need to help people to be more effective and have clear, fact-based conversations about where improvements need to be made. Training your team is usually a lot cheaper than replacing them and the problem may simply recur with a new group of poorly-trained employees.
Mistake #9: Thinking only about the money
It’s easy to become obsessed with how much money you’re making, or think you should be making, says Macartney, while ignoring all the other ways your workplace is recognising you.
“People will often go directly to a pay rise, and are quick to disregard training, new opportunities, and flexibility, like working from home one day a week,” she says. “Being fixated on what you get paid makes it harder for the manager to provide opportunities to reward you, especially in a period when money is tight.”
More money isn’t always the best way to increase your engagement at work, even if your company could pay you more. Research has found a low correlation between salary and job satisfaction – instead, people are motivated by focusing on the work itself. The researchers found that focusing too much on money may even prevent you from enjoying your job.
Mistake #10: Changing your career because you don’t like your job
When you hate your job, it’s fun to daydream about the career you could be having. You start fantasising about yourself as a graphic designer, or opening your own cake shop, or becoming a personal trainer.
“It could be the culture of your company,” says Macartney. “Often it’s worth figuring out what you don’t like specifically. Is it the hours? The location? The manager? Changing your career because you don’t like your job is probably the biggest mistake you can make.”