How to Avoid Making a Fatal Workplace Mistake

A weekday afternoon at the ballgame with his buddies sounded like a good idea to Brent. Sun, relaxation, America’s pastime—a picture-perfect respite from his crowded inbox, pesky coworkers and overwhelming projects. So he called in sick that morning. And, just as he planned, he had a fantastic time. That is, until he ran into his boss at a bar after the game and couldn’t explain his sudden return to good health. Brent just broke a fatal workplace mistake and it could cost him down the road.

You don’t have to be a baseball fan to ruin your reputation at the workplace. In fact, there are quite a few ways to send your career to the showers like a pitcher that gave up 10 runs without recording an out. While not every one of them will definitely get you fired, they most definitely get your name on a watch list.

Here’s a short list of the more head-scratching workplace mistakes that you need to avoid:

Being habitually late

Set your clocks ten minutes early. Record your favorite late-night shows so you can watch them when you get home from work. Whatever you need to do to make sure you’re on time for work every morning. You don’t want to be the employee consistently making a mad dash to your desk in the morning, or glancing around corners like a Cold War spy to avoid the boss finding out you’re late again. Being on time every day also helps you out on those days (and we all have them) when public transportation breaks down, or you get stuck in morning rush hour traffic, and you’re legitimately late. You tend to be forgiven when it happens. And, remember: Punctuality applies to deadlines, too.

Getting caught in a lie

Most of us tell little white lies from time to time … mostly to spare someone’s feelings (“Gee, Becky-Lynn … I’d love to see pics from your Ozark vacation for another half-hour, but I have a meeting I need to get to!”). However, purposely lying to a co-worker—or especially your boss—and then getting caught later is basically career suicide. Your integrity and credibility are two of your most important professional attributes and even one lie—just like Brent’s above—can toss them out the window. And, repairing your reputation takes ten times longer than it does to build it up in the first place.

Running wild on the rumor mill

Most of us enjoy a little office gossip to a point. The problem is when it gets blown out of proportion or becomes intentionally mean-spirited. Resist getting involved in the rumor mill whenever possible. Whatever your opinion is of Sarah’s new hairstyle or work ethic, Sarah will eventually hear what you said—and it will inevitably sound far worse and spiteful.

Not being a team player

Being a team player doesn’t mean you socialize with your co-workers. One of the best team players I ever worked with had a minor social anxiety disorder and preferred to work alone. And yet, when he finished his work, he’d email the rest of us asking if we needed any help with projects. He volunteered do help with research if we were on a tight deadline. He committed his efforts to the department and the company and loved solving problems. Most of all, he gladly took on any project without complaint. Yes, there were times he chose not to join us for department lunches, but we respected his decision and didn’t take it personally.

Avoid the dreaded office romance

Yeah, when you’re young and the hormones are flying, this is a difficult one to avoid. Heck, it’s difficult when you’re older too! But there is a legitimate reason many companies write policies forbidding dating between co-workers. Or, at least they discourage dating someone from the same department or company division. For starters, your productivity plummets when you just want to stare at Mr. Perfect. Two, the inevitable messy break-up can destroy an entire work environment. The fallout is uncomfortable for everyone, not just the two former lovebirds.. Third, there’s a razor-thin line between innocuous office flirting and sexual harassment. Most of us aren’t agile enough to not trip over it.

Dress for success, not the nightclub

Unless your name’s Giselle or Tyrese, your office isn’t a catwalk. And what looked cute at the club isn’t likely to impress your boss. Save your hipster look for the weekends. Remember that business casual means clean-cut and professional, not scraggly beard and Birkenstocks.

The funniest part of writing these kinds of articles is that you’d think these are the ultimate “No duh!” behaviors that no normal person would do. But, no. As long as human beings are working in offices, some of them will make fatal workplace mistakes forever.

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