Bad Habits At Work You Don't Know You Have

by Melany Gallant | Posted | Career Management

Bad Habits At Work You Don\'t Know You Have

[Update October 4, 2013]: This post was originally published back in June, 2010 and was co-authored by Heather McCulligh and Mary Montserrat-Howlett. After talking with a friend of mine last weekend about her office, I decided we needed to add a new bad habit to our list: Being a Slob. It’s now Bad Habit 11. I've also added some tips for overcoming a few of the bad habits mentioned. Read on.
"A habit is something you can do without thinking – which is why most of us have so many of them." ~Frank Howard Clark

Who would we be without our habits? Without those little idiosyncrasies and automatic routines that distinguish one person from the next? Our habits, good and bad, play a paramount role in defining who we are, and subsequently, how others judge our character.

In a work setting, our habits can have a significant impact on how we function, how productive we are, on our performance appraisal and how our colleagues perceive us. So it’s no surprise that exercising good habits can influence the success of our careers.

Given that we’re all marked by our habits, this article outlines some of the major bad habits we may be exhibiting in the workplace that we may not be aware of, but that could be impeding our careers.

Being aware of our behaviors in our work environment can help shift a bad habit cycle and transform it into a positive working routine.

Top 11 bad work habits

  1. Isolating Yourself
  2. Avoiding Work
  3. Resisting Change
  4. Being Negative
  5. Gossiping
  6. Procrastinating, Then Rushing
  7. Being Disorganized
  8. Not Sharing Experience
  9. Sharing Too Many Experiences
  10. Always Taking Things Personally
  11. Being a Slob

"The easier it is to do, the harder it is to change." ~Eng’s Principle

The first step to breaking a bad habit is to recognize it. In 5 Steps to Breaking Bad Habits and Being More Productive, Shelley Doll suggests keeping a journal to track how you spend your days at the office, including things like start and end times, locations, and participants. Performance review software is also fantastic at aligning employee performances with company objectives. You may be surprised by what you discover about yourself in your work environment.

Taking note of how you spend your day will also help you to identify your “triggers” and understand what sets off your bad habits and your good ones. You can then work on creating positive habits to replace the negative ones, for each of the triggers.

Bad habit 1: isolating yourself

If you want to argue that the point of being at work is to work, you’re right. But if you find yourself rarely participating in conversations, it can have undesired consequences that affect you and those around you.

You’re not obligated to like everyone; not everyone has to like you either. However, having good manners and a friendly disposition can go a long way. Just think about how significantly your day can change when someone smiles at you.

It’s the simple gestures such as smiling, making eye contact, saying hello when you walk in and good bye when you leave that yield unprecedented results in the long run. Participating in work activities, going to lunch, these also give you the opportunity to get to know co-workers in a different setting.

These small efforts are at the forefront of maintaining harmonious relationships with your colleagues and enabling what is called group synergy, a group intelligence that emerges from the collaboration of many individuals.

Bad habit 2: avoiding work

(image: source)

If you find yourself continuously hesitating to take on new projects or are exceptionally skilled at finding someone who can do a task “better than you”, you may inadvertently be denying yourself the chance to learn something new.

True, sometimes there is someone better to handle a job but don’t get confused; there is a big difference between delegating work and simply avoiding it. Where delegating is an aptitude for assigning specific tasks to the appropriate people, avoiding just means not doing the work at all. The more work you offload, the more pressure you put on others. While this doesn’t entail saying “Yes” to every task, showing your willingness to help and find solutions reflects positively on you and your work ethic. It may well encourage others to want to work with you, or recommend you for important projects in the future.

You can also make sure you set yourself clear goals and link these your organization’s goals. Having clear goals and understanding the purpose/context for your work can be a great motivator. It can also help you better prioritize your work.

Bad habit 3: resisting change

Often times, people aren’t comfortable with change. The mere fact that “We’ve done it this way for 30 years” makes them resistant to new ideas. Coupled with this resistance is often a deep-seated fear of change. Overcoming this fear sometimes takes pretending: embracing something that makes you feel uneasy, anxious or scared.

Change will happen with or without you, so it’s up to you to either take part in it or watch it from the outskirts. If you truly feel that a new method of doing something will be counterproductive to the company’s goals, express your concerns, but have a set of alternatives that you think could work as well, or better.

Bad habit 4: being negative

“Disappointment requires adequate planning.” ~Richard Bandler

The “Negaholic”, as coined by Dr. Cherie Carter-Scott, is a person who is addicted to negativity in thought, word, or behavior. Negativity can be highly contagious and spread rapidly in an office setting. Being negative is a vicious cycle that’s easy to fall into.

It can quickly become second nature and make you begin to think, feel, and believe that you are insufficient to meet the challenges that are being presented to you. You may also resort to putting the blame on factors outside yourself rather than examining within.

There’s nothing as energy-sapping as having to deal with a spiteful, pessimistic co-worker. One of the first habits to get into when trying to overcome the negative cycle is to focus on the bright side of things. Life isn’t always perfect. Things do go wrong, but even when they do, if you focus your energy towards what you’ve learned from a bad situation, you can manage it better in the future. Being able to accept a situation and move forward is fundamental to having a positive outlook.

And choosing to have a positive outlook can help build a more positive work culture that’s focused on high performance. Managers, and really everyone in the organization, can contribute to creating a positive culture by giving employees constructive feedback on behavioural competencies important to the organization.

Bad habit 5: gossiping

Humans may be curious creatures, but there’s a fine line between being inquisitive and being a nosy gossip. See if you can find a trigger to the gossiping behavior. If you tend to gossip over lunch, maybe you have to rethink going to lunch with people who gossip.

Conversations with co-workers always demand a certain level of discretion in order to protect people’s privacy and respect their boundaries. Asking too many personal questions and meddling in people’s private affairs can make them feel cornered and uncomfortable. If someone wants to involve you, you will be brought in the loop.

Bad habit 6: procrastinating, then rushing

Some people say they work best under pressure but procrastination becomes a problem when it begins to impede your performance. Projects get delayed, you get stressed, and the quality of your work can suffer.

Some habits that may contribute to your procrastination are personal phone calls, long breaks, surfing the Internet for non-work related purposes, or even playing online games. When the deadline finally arrives, the work may be complete but the results are only mediocre.

The best way to break a habit is to drop it. Quitting procrastination takes a good schedule, a time management solution, and dedication.

"Bad habits are easier to abandon today than tomorrow." ~Yiddish Proverb

Bad habit 7: being disorganized (that includes your desktop!)

If scattered documents, clutter, and a Great Wall of Coffee Cups have taken over your workstation, it’s time to reclaim your land. Trying to be productive in a chaotic workspace is about as effective as trying to walk with your feet tied. You find yourself struggling to move but never getting anywhere.

You make things much easier on yourself when you don’t have to spend time searching for things, and aren’t distracted by all the stuff around you. It’s also nice to not feel overwhelmed and frustrated by your surroundings. Feng Shui experts claim that your workspace represents your state of mind. The cleaner and more organized your workspace, the more balanced and focused your mind can be.

Bad habit 8: not sharing experience

Do you have the habit of doing instead of teaching? Doing without explaining how you do it? Sharing your knowledge with others is an important part of talent management and a positive habit that renders everyone capable of sharing responsibilities and promoting group synergy. As Kris Dunn points out, it’s also a great career management step in showing the world you’re freaking awesome at what you do. Take the time to show someone how something is done.

Let them ask you questions until they understand. The more everyone knows about how to do each other’s job, the more effectively you work as a whole.

Mentoring others, whether formally or informally, can be a huge help to you in your career, as well as to the people you mentor. It’s a win-win scenario, so don’t lose out on it.

Another way to share your experience with others is to give them feedback and recognition. The bonus to you is that supporting others in this way usually results in you getting the same thing back from your co-workers.

Bad habit 9: sharing too many experiences

If you find yourself sharing personal information even when you haven’t been asked, you’re probably sharing too much. The over-sharers are often very open about their personal problems, and thrive on drama.

The risk in constantly volunteering stories about your personal life is that these stories (or you) can become the subject of ridicule at work. Try to leave your personal issues outside of work. When you’re at work, really BE at work. Learn to channel the stresses you experience in your personal life into productivity in your professional one.

Bad habit 10: always taking things personally

"Aim for success not perfection." ~Dr. David M. Burns

Sometimes we interpret harmless feedback as a personal attack. It’s not easy to swallow criticism, even if it isn’t meant to be critical of us. The intent is usually constructive and aims to help you excel in what you do. Keep telling yourself that the intent is not to demean or hurt your feelings but to help you grow, learn and improve.

Bad habit 11: being a slob

It’s amazing how many employees forget that their workplace isn’t their home; that they share the kitchen, coffee station, bathroom and other areas with everybody else in the organization. There’s nothing worse than heading to the common bathroom to find the toilet unflushed, the sink littered with someone else’s hair, the counter covered in water, or paper strewn all over the floor.

And how about heading to the coffee station only to find a sink full of dirty cups and a dishwasher that hasn’t been run. And don’t get me started on the microwave that is so encrusted with spewed food you’d need a chisel to clean it, or fridge that’s filled with “mystery” food.

Remember that you share your workplace with other people, and clean up after yourself. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re too busy or that it’s someone else’s job. Your mother doesn’t work here (and even she shouldn’t be cleaning up after you at this point in your life).

Try to be considerate of others and “leave a small footprint” at work. If you like things messy, keep that as a personal décor choice for your home, not for the office.

You can change

Did you know that 50% of your everyday life is habitual? Much of our life has been pre-programmed by our past behavior, but that doesn’t mean we’re unable to change our paths. It’s only once we’ve recognized our patterns and behaviors that we can work to replace our negative routines, with positive ones. As Aristotle says, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Here’s a great infographic with some tips for how to break bad habits and form good ones. And here’s some food for thought:

  • Some of the character traits of successful people include: focus, proactive and decisive
  • It takes on average 66 days to form a habit — good or bad.
  • Habits follow a loop pattern, but you can prevent or break habits using a why, write, and bait-and-switch approach.

Much of our life has been pre-programmed by our past behavior, but that doesn’t mean we’re unable to change our paths. It’s only once we’ve recognized our patterns and behaviors that we can work to replace our negative routines, with positive ones. As Aristotle says, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

What do you think of these 11 bad habits? Any more to add to the list?

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