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Ever notice how your mind can click into autopilot and you can perform actions without any conscious thought at all? With enough practice, it can become second nature to strum a guitar, speak a foreign language—or unhinge your co-workers by talking too much during staff meetings. While some co-workers will tell you when you’re driving them crazy, others will resolve to tell everyone except you.
Before you sabotage your career, take a look at our Employee Bad Habit Hall of Shame. It provides a snapshot of eight of the worst personal habits that career experts say can hold you back in your career. Recognize any?
“Nothing is more annoying than someone who talks too much in a meeting,” says Ann Demarais, Ph.D., founder of executive and career coaching company First Impressions, Inc., and author of First Impressions: What You Don’t Know About How Others See You. She offers this handy rule of thumb: Divide the number of minutes the meeting lasts by the number of people attending, and the total equals the right amount of time for you to speak. (In an hour-long meeting with four people, you should speak no more than 15 minutes.)
“In the modern bullpen-style cubicle environment, noise travels really easily,” Demarais says. “People need to practice speaking as softly as they can, just loud enough for the person you’re speaking with to hear you.” Likewise, it’s a bad habit to converse on your speaker phone from a cubicle or office without the door closed, says Jodi Glickman, a consultant and author of Great on the Job: What to Say, How to Say It. The Secrets of Getting Ahead.
“It’s rude to sit in a conference room checking your cell phone or texting,” Glickman says. “Also, put away your device or phone when you’re in an elevator. It’s an opportunity to engage in conversation and build and maintain relationships.”
If you make it a habit to namedrop your professional connections or talk about getting plum assignments, chances are you’re annoying co-workers, especially peers. “You might think you look impressive,” Demarais says, “but you might look arrogant instead of competent.”
“It’s great to be authentic, but you don’t necessarily want to air all of your dirty laundry,” Demarais says. “We all have life’s normal ups and downs, and you want to share some of them.” If you overdo it, such as disclosing details about a heated argument with your spouse, you run the risk of making co-workers uncomfortable or appearing like you don’t have your act together.
If your clothing is too sexy or too dramatic for your workplace, you’re guilty of a habit Demarais calls “peacocking.” “Every work environment has its own norms and standards. You want to fit in.”
Habits like cracking your gum or twirling your hair “make you look like you’re 12, not a professional,” Glickman warns.
“Leaving food lingering in the office refrigerator or not washing your dishes in the kitchen signals you think your time is more valuable than everyone else’s,” Glickman says.
Everyone has a set of pet peeves at work: A co-worker who returns to the office reeking of tobacco. A colleague’s nonstop chitchat that keeps everyone else from getting work done. A manager who talks on a speakerphone with the office door open. If left unchecked, employee bad habits can torpedo an office’s productivity.
But what do you do with a rude employee who just can’t get the hint? Here are five tips:
- Address the issue with their supervisor. “The only way you can tell a manager if someone’s habit is really bothering you is if it’s impacting your productivity,” says Jodi Glickman, a consultant and author of Great on the Job: What to Say, How to Say It. The Secrets of Getting Ahead. “If it’s simply annoying you, it isn’t fair game.”
- Offer ample feedback as a manager. “I’m a big believer in feedback,” says Ann Demarais, Ph.D., founder of the career coaching company First Impressions, Inc., and author of First Impressions: What You Don’t Know About How Others See You. “I’d rather know that I’m annoying and correct it, versus making it a habit and finding out at a performance review that it’s a problem.”
- Make your feedback constructive and positive. “You can’t tell people they’re doing something wrong if you can’t tell them how to fix it,” Glickman says. “Offer a suggestion on what the person might do differently and make it very concrete.”
- Be gracious. When offering feedback, Glickman says it can be helpful to mention your own bad habit you had to change. You might say: “I faced a similar situation, and here’s what I did.”
- Tap into resources available in HR. “HR specialists often have many coaching and mentoring skills,” Demarais says. A manager could also pair up an employee with an effective peer for mentoring.
Lori K. Baker is an award-winning journalist who specializes in human-interest profiles, business and health. Her articles have appeared in Ladies’ Home Journal, Family Circle, Arizona Highways and Johns Hopkins Health.