14 Career-Threatening Work Habits That No One Will Tell You About

By Marla Walters on 8 July 2014 (Updated 18 August 2014) 2 comments

Passed over for a promotion? Feeling stuck in your job? Maybe you are feeling invisible. There could be a reason — or reasons — your career is going nowhere. And the worst part? Nobody is telling you what you're doing wrong. Does any of this look like the work you?

1. You Don't Dress Professionally

We started out with "Casual Friday," but that seems to have expanded to Tuesdays, alternate Wednesdays, and the occasional Monday.

If you have started wearing jeans or really casual clothes a few days per week, chances are, your boss (and his or her bosses) have noticed, too. Determine first what is appropriate. Is there a dress code at your workplace? That is your starting point. Next, observe what the "movers and shakers" are wearing. While you do not want to completely copy them, try choosing some similar conservative pieces and adding your own touches. How is your hairstyle? Are you dousing yourself in perfume? How much makeup are you wearing — too much, or too little? Guys, a little aftershave goes a long way. (See also: This Is How You Dress Like Don Draper on the Cheap)

The Fix

If you have a friend with good style, ask them to come help you sort out your closet and possibly take you shopping. You don't need to break the bank to do this — check out thrift or consignment stores for bargain work clothes that look like you're ready to take the next step in your career.

2. You Have Bad Breath

This is such a difficult thing to bring up. In fact, it's so embarrassing, that many bosses and coworkers would much rather avoid you than tell you that you have bad breath. A good rule I heard once: If someone offers you a mint or piece of their gum, take it and say thank you. That may have been a gentle way to tell you that you have bad breath. Our love of coffee drinks can be problematic, too. Coffee breath is not pleasant!

The Fix

Keep a toothbrush and toothpaste in your drawer at work (just be sure to clean the sink afterward) as well as mints and gum. There are plenty of cures for garlic breath and plenty of coffee breath cures, too.

3. Your Hand Never Goes Up

There are always those annoying tasks that nobody wants to tackle. They are usually tedious, boring, and there may be very little recognition for a job well done. But somebody needs to do them! Maybe you have always managed to avoid eye contact when the call for help went out, thus branding yourself as the person who isn't a team player.

The Fix

Be a hero and volunteer for a few projects that need ownership. Handle them to the best of your ability, and your boss will be grateful and know that you are a go-to person.

4. Your Voice is Problematic

There are some people who do seem to have loud, or booming voices. That's fine in a bar, or outdoors, but in an office, you need to use your inside voice. Sometimes, we may not want a conversation shared with our entire group of coworkers. Have you ever worked with people who speak in a monotone? That can be off-putting, as well as the worker who mumbles. Also, watch your speech patterns. In a recent job interview I conducted, a candidate used the word "totally" 26 times. She may have been qualified to do the work, but she will not get the chance.

The Fix

If you think you might have issues with your voice or speech patterns, try to get some feedback from a friend, or see a speech pathologist.

5. You Don't, or Won't, Think Outside the Box

"That isn't the way we do things." Ever heard that one? Does it make you a little crazy? It should. Even in work situations with many layers of bureaucracy, we need to cut costs, work more efficiently, and try new methods. If you are resistant to trying new things, your boss is probably exasperated, and won't come to you for help.

The Fix

Volunteer to set up a focus group to examine the problem. Try mapping, clustering, whatever — give your boss a list of possibilities. Even if a solution is not readily available, be the person who tries to solve it.

6. You Once Complained That Something "Wasn't in Your Job Description"

And, by doing so, you marked yourself as a problem child. Assuming that the request was not immoral or illegal, it may have been a great opportunity to help out, learn something new, and add to your skill set. But now, having complained, your boss will probably steer clear of asking you again.

The Fix

Turn over a new leaf and give it a go. You might need to talk to your boss, explain the reasons for your previous reaction (likely anxiety), and ask to be considered next time there is a need.

7. You Don't Network

There are employees who clock in, clock out, and that's it. They may do their jobs competently and thoroughly. But when promotions are handed out, they are passed over. Has this been you? It might be because you do not network. Do you attend classes or seminars in your field, or attend community events to promote your company? If you think just showing up for work is enough, you're wrong. Companies need good ambassadors.

The Fix

Start small. Try volunteering to represent the company at a college fair or school career day. Attend a Chamber of Commerce mixer. Join a company-sponsored sports team. You'll enjoy yourself, have fun, meet nice people, and boost your profile at work and in the community.

8. You Don't Promote Yourself

Promoting yourself is tough to do, and in some cultures, it's especially difficult, because it is considered to be bragging or immodest. However, if you don't show your boss what it is that you do all day, your boss may only have a vague, or incorrect, perception.

The Fix

Show your boss what you do. Put together a succinct report and send it to your boss each month. Here is your opportunity to illustrate what you did: "Our new system enabled us to process 35% more applications per week" or "Streamlined office supply list, saving 20% this month."

9. You Gossip (More Than the Usual)

Office gossip is part of office culture. It is certainly pervasive everywhere I have ever worked. Beware, though, of becoming the "office gossip." You probably can identify this person. Conversations stop when you walk near, and fake smiles appear. This person relishes spreading gossip and is probably not repeating anything interesting or possibly beneficial, but something purely spiteful. Also, they do this repeatedly. If you're that person, chances are, your boss will want nothing to do with you, because you have successfully labeled yourself as a troublemaker.

The Fix

Before you succumb to gossip, think about how you feel when you do it (crummy). My trick? Change the subject.

10. You Don't Continue Your Education Voluntarily

Even highly-educated people cannot rest on their laurels. Continuing to take courses keeps you sharp and up to date. Your boss may not be able to force you to take classes, but might wish you would. (See also: 8 Cheap Ways to Continue Your Education Without Going Back to School)

The Fix

Classes do not have to be expensive. Check with your local library or community college; try Coursera, or contact the national association for your profession for continuing education. Join a book group, which will get you to read really good literature and meet people. Try Youtube.com for mini-classes. Don't forget to mention what you have taken in your report to your bosses!

11. You Don't Handle Yourself Well in Social Situations

If you have not been asked to represent the company at a conference, luncheon, college fair or cocktail party, there may be a problem. You may be somebody who is not perceived as being professional or capable of presenting a positive company image. It could be your manner of dress, or your social skills. Maybe you attended something with your boss and did not handle the situation well. Do you know how to shake hands, make small talk, or pay for lunch? Are you approachable? (See also: 18 Things People With Good Social Skills Never Do)

The Fix

Check out Toastmasters. Besides teaching you to be socially comfortable, they have a leadership program. Or, invite a friend to lunch; explain you need to practice and ask for feedback.

12. You Aren't Aligned with the Company Mission

Do you even know what your company's mission is? If so, what do you do to support it? Your boss is not likely to promote a person who cannot describe the company mission, vision, goals, etc.

The Fix

Learn what your company's mission is, and use your monthly report to demonstrate how your projects promote and align with your company.

13. You Aren't Dependable

A big report was due, and you called in sick. Your team had a project due, and you forgot to turn in your data. Word gets around about a person's dependability. After a while, though, a boss may just give up. If it's a civil service situation, you may be difficult to fire, so it may be that you will be ignored, and not given anything to do.

The Fix

Unless you are happy just sitting around for eight hours a day, start being a better employee. Show up, turn in reports, play your part, do your thing. Apologize for past transgressions, if necessary, and let your coworkers and boss know you're going to do better. You may have to work at it for a while to re-build trust.

14. Your Skills Aren't Up to Par

Are you faking it? Do you really have no clue how to run software, assimilate a report, or write a good memo? Odds are, your boss has noticed, and she probably isn't all that interested in educating you on the company's dime.

The Fix

Get the training, now, on your own. Find a class, hire a tutor, read a book, ask a friend. You do not want to have to rely on someone else to help you do your job (and if they are doing it, they ought to be getting credit, not you).

Anything I've overlooked? Please tell us in comments!

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Oh, and you forgot to mention: You're female and over 50. Good luck.

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Brushing will remove food debris from your teeth, but it doesn't really resolve bad breath. Keep a bottle of mouthwash in your desk or carry a small breath spray in your pocket or bag to chase the skunk away.