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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

The 9 Rules of Being an Adult at Work

person talking to co-workers
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We all think we have it together at work. But then something happens—an annoying co-worker, a failed project, a company restructuring—that makes us, well, act a bit out of our element.

So, it’s important every once in a while to be reminded of what it means to be a responsible and mature adult in the office. Because otherwise, we could cost ourselves our reputation, a promotion, or even our jobs.

Yes, these may sound basic, but take note—immature moves could change the way people perceive you, and determine whether you actually succeed in your career (or come out looking like an uncontrollable child).

1. Show Up on Time

Be on time in the morning, to meetings, to presentations, to company all-hands, to off-sites—early if possible. And speaking of time, stay late when it’s needed or expected of you.

2. Dress Appropriately

You know what this means in your office.

3. Do What’s Asked

It shouldn’t have to be said, but I’m going to anyways. Your boss gives you an assignment, or asks you to chip in on something, or wants you to attend a meeting. Do it and do it well—because they asked, and because not doing it (or doing it poorly) will only hurt you in the long run.

4. Respect Your Co-workers

Be kind, honest, and patient with them. Along those same lines, avoid gossip. You’ll have to work with many different kinds of people in your career—and you never know when these colleagues will reappear in your life—so make sure you’re cultivating good relationships with everyone you meet (even if it’s just a professional relationship).

Along those same lines, respect your co-working space (and those dirty dishes).

5. Keep Your Complaining Quiet

There will be times when you’ll have to do work that you don’t enjoy, feels tedious, or takes an excessive amount of your time and energy.

Real adults take these moments in stride. They may not enjoy them, but they don’t whine to anyone who’ll listen—and they don’t do it over and over again in public spaces. And as a result, they are the ones recognized for doing the grunt work (and are rewarded as such).

6. Keep an Open Mind

Your career, for better or worse, will never be truly stagnant. People will change, your job will change, your company will change, your interests will change.

So, be open to new possibilities, whether it’s a new assignment, a new networking opportunity, or a new person to get to know. Let people and things surprise you—and if they don’t, be OK with moving on to something else.

7. Be Resilient

Like I said above, nothing’s truly certain—and that’s a good thing! Change, mishaps, failure, they all make you a stronger, wiser, more exciting person.

When they happen, don’t let them get you down. You can wallow for a bit (yes, even with a tub of ice cream), but then pick yourself up and keep trying. Adults know that they have to own their career to thrive in it, even if that means failing over and over again. Practice being resilient in everything you do, and people will never doubt your maturity and potential.

8. Practice Self-Awareness

Know when you’re frustrating others, when you’re not pulling your weight, when you’re wrong, when you can do better. If you don’t, get feedback.

And, when you’re aware that you’re doing something right, take note of it, too. Always be learning from yourself and keeping tabs on where you stand in your career. (This worksheet can help.)

9. Get Comfortable With Confrontation

Conflict and confrontation at work are inevitable. You’ll have to face firing an employee, dealing with office drama, challenging your boss, being in-between two colleagues, among other difficult things.

Rather than avoid these situations, be an adult and accept them. Learn how to give tough feedback (and receive it). This will only make you a more respected and confident leader.

It’s the toughest moments that are a true test of how far we’ve come since kindergarten. Follow these rules every day (or, at least, most days) in the office, and you’ll prove you’re the kind of adult people want to work with and for.

rules of being an adult at work infographic

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