Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

The Bad Work Habits You (Seriously) Need to Break Now

Have you ever sat next to a pen-clicker?

It goes like this: You open up a fresh Word doc, ready to churn out the assignment for your 5 PM deadline, when—click-click-click-click-click. Your cube-mate is deep in thought—too deep to notice that he’s incessantly clicking his retractable pen, annoying everyone in earshot.

But don’t just blame your co-workers for their annoying habits. Because the sad truth is, you probably have some yourself. Ranging from the innocently distracting (click-click-click) to the seriously career-risking, check out the following all-too-common work habits—and if you recognize any, vow to kick them ASAP.

The Distracting

Idle Cubicle Habits

When you’re deep in thought, you may tune out your wildly jiggling foot, the pen cap that’s getting mangled between your teeth, or, yes, the incessant clicking of the pen under your thumb.

But your co-workers? They notice. And it probably makes it difficult for them to focus on their work. So when you catch yourself in one of these habits, switch to something quieter or a little less noticeable—like squeezing a stress ball or doodling on a notepad.

Unnecessary Noise

It’s great to have a fun office culture and co-workers you can chat with throughout the day. But while you’re loudly reliving your awesome weekend, your co-worker—who’s on the phone with an important client—doesn’t appreciate the background noise.

Maybe your team is focusing hard on finalizing the month-end report—and your cell phone (on “silent”) is vibrating its way off the table in your co-working space. Or, you have constant reminders that pop up on your computer to alert you to emails, IMs, or upcoming meetings—each ding bringing your co-workers a little closer to insanity.

The bottom line? If you don’t have your own office with a door, quiet those unnecessary noises (or at least check in with your co-workers so you’re on the same page when it comes to office din).

The Gross

Anything Hygiene-Related

You wouldn’t think it’d be a common practice to clip your finger- or toenails at the office. But after working in corporate America for just a short while, I’ve heard the unmistakable clip, clip, clip of nail clippers more times than I’d like to remember.

If you do this, stop. Please, just stop.

Sniffling All Day

A little cold and runny nose doesn’t seem like it should stop you from coming into the office. If you’re not running a fever or falling over nauseous, you’re good to go—right?

Not so fast. Your all-day sniffling is going to annoy your co-workers, but worse, you’ll also expose them to your sickness. As much as they appreciate you putting in your share of work at the office, it’s not fair to them to spread your cold—causing them to use the sick days you should have used in the first place. (And, if nothing else, leave the room to blow your nose!)

The Inconsiderate

Refusing to Do Your Part

I’ll admit, I was once one of those workers who would stealthily empty the last of the coffee into my mug, and then with a quick glance back and forth, scurry off back to my cubicle without brewing a new pot.

But doing this kind of thing on a regular basis is going to quickly earn you a lazy reputation. Same goes with leaving a printer jam un-fixed, letting whoever discovers it next open an IT ticket, or leaving your spilled soup in the microwave for the next unsuspecting employee.

Eventually, instead of being known for your killer work and positive attitude, you’ll be recognized for not pulling your own weight.

Showing Up Unprepared

Maybe you call it efficiency—but speed-reading a meeting agenda once you’re already in the meeting isn’t exactly the picture of preparedness. And when the meeting leader asks you for your three suggestions for a training program (which she’d asked for in the aforementioned agenda), your impromptu ideas probably won’t impress.

Your lack of preparation isn’t only disrespectful to the leader—it’s inconsiderate to the other attendees, too. And using your busyness as an excuse probably won’t get you much sympathy.

The Career-Wrecking

Arriving Late (to Everything)

A late morning here or there is understandable. But arriving a few minutes late to the office every morning (not to mention your tardy arrival to every meeting, presentation, and training session to boot) is just plain unacceptable.

A late few minutes may seem harmless, but this habit doesn’t just put you at risk of disrupting your co-workers—this is something your boss is going to notice pretty quickly. And if he or she can’t count on you to show up on time—ever—you may not be able to count on that job for very long.

Griping (About Everything)

You may not be an eternal optimist (I admire the person who is!), but the office tends to be a more enjoyable place when everyone focuses on the positives. In other words, no one really wants to listen to you grumble about the clients you’re given (“I always get the worst ones!”), your management team (“They don’t know what they’re doing!”), and your co-workers (“No one works as hard as I do!”).

And your boss, who overhears the complaints about your workload, salary, and, er, boss? He or she would probably agree that’s a habit to kick—ASAP.

Tell us! What other work habits do you (or your officemates) need to kick?

Photo of woman running late courtesy of Shutterstock.