Table of contents
1. NaivetéIt’s easy to overlook this one, but naiveté is a serious mistake at work. Do you manage your career by believing that if you simply contribute good work, you’ll be recognised and rewarded? The view is naive. Certainly, it’s another kind of sin to become a calculated, political monster. But ignoring or avoiding the reality of office power dynamics is just foolish. It can also be a career-killer. As HR leader Sherrelle Sherrod, points out, “It’s okay to advocate for yourself and ensure that the work that you’re doing is visible.” While no one wants to come across as bragging, she notes, “I’m a firm believer that if you don’t acknowledge the work that you’re doing, how can you reasonably expect someone else to? Your manager sometimes may not understand the nuances of all you’re contributing.” You don’t have to be “political” to devote a little thought to what is valued in your company and how to make those types of contributions visible. If you ignore relationships and influence, as if those dynamics don’t touch you, you’ll waste a lot of energy feeling underappreciated and unrecognised.
2. ProcrastinationOkay, there’s nothing new about procrastination. It’s as old as time and too common. A recent study shows 88% of the workforce procrastinate for at least an hour a day. Whether it’s common or not, it’s still a mistake at work you want to avoid. Procrastination is the reason you miss that deadline and become known as someone who might not come through. When that happens, there’s trouble ahead. Nobody wants a flake on the team. Let’s say you’re one of those smug procrastinators who is reading this and thinking, “Aha! Though I may procrastinate, I always meet my deadlines.” Even if this is the case, procrastination often produces an inferior contribution. You’re feeling relieved you made your deadline—practically killing yourself to reach it—but you’re producing something far inferior to what you might have done. Give yourself adequate time, and you can turn in a high-quality deliverable. The sin of procrastination often produces self-loathing. We are so disgusted with ourselves—and then with our tasks—that there is no enjoyment because of the pressure we’ve created for ourselves. This distaste for our work is a career-killer. People who love what they do usually excel at what they do. Psychologist Susan Hill notes there are many reasons why people procrastinate. One of the most common, she says, is that “people feel overwhelmed and paralysed. They don’t know how to break things down.” She recommends consciously deconstructing the whole task into tiny parts and then working on those parts, one by one.
3. Self-importanceThis one’s simple: no one wants a diva on their team. If you can’t suck it up and cope with sub-optimal conditions, people are going to try and shed you from their group, sooner or later. Everyone needs to get their hands dirty sometimes–and that includes leaders. Sometimes the boss could even clean a toilet. Servant leaders create incredible influence; exercising their power alone can’t create the same connection. No matter your position, remember not to commit the sin of self-importance. Don’t be rigid about what you will and won’t do. Don’t continually try to impress your importance upon others. And don’t take yourself too seriously.
4. InappropriatenessSignals about workplace behaviour appropriateness have always existed. But the definition of what is appropriate has become more specific. Much of that is healthy. Racist jokes and demeaning comments to women —once commonplace in many offices — are no longer tolerated. In fact, roughly ⅓ of workers say they’ve changed how they act at work as a result of recent social movements. It’s no longer okay to be a jerk. Hallelujah! Maybe you’re not a jerk, but if you’re someone whose sense of humour tends to be a little profane, check yourself. What’s okay on your own time is a mistake at work. The same caution applies to lively discussions about politics or controversial topics. It’s great to have in-depth discussions; it’s not great to do so on work time. You can easily put your co-workers in an awkward position by assuming they share your views. And that can end up putting you in a career-killing position, if you let it happen often enough. In a world where there’s always a recording device at hand, keep your work time and workplace conversations appropriate. What you view as an innocent comment or stimulating conversation could unravel your career.
5. Formality/InformalityObviously, this one depends on the expectations of your boss and co-workers. If you are wearing a suit every day in a casual workplace, all kinds of assumptions are made:“He’s too uptight,” or “She’s so old school.” Casual workplaces often place a premium on innovation, creativity, and challenging the status quo. Dressing too formally sends inadvertent signals that you can’t loosen up and think outside the box. On the other hand, are you wearing pyjamas routinely in your Zoom meetings and thinking no one will notice? Oh, they will notice. While they might find it endearing, they might simultaneously find you less substantial as a professional. You’re the quirky one. Not a leader. If this happens to be your particular temptation, fear not: You can have both worlds. Beyond dress, communication styles can be another pitfall. If you’re texting your boss and she really wants you to leave a voicemail, you’re going to get annoyed. If you’re incapable of anything but a formal, well-written email when your team just wants a two-sentence response, you’ve got to adjust. Don’t be too sloppy and informal. Don’t be too uptight and formal.
6. IntroversionIf you’re an extrovert reading this, you can skip this one (that will give you extra time to chit-chat, slap some backs, and search for a party hiding somewhere). If you’re an introvert, you’re probably outraged that this is listed as a “sin.” Yep. It’s unfair, but it’s reality. Most work cultures are designed for extroversion. An introvert risks being seen as that odd hermit who produces great work, but doesn’t fit:
✓ “She’s so quiet.” ✓ “Why does he always have his door closed?!” ✓ “Why doesn’t she ever join us after work for drinks?”What introverts see as re-energising time alone, extroverts often view as anti-social isolation. The severity of the “sin” depends on how extroverted your workplace is vs. how introverted you are. For the sake of your career, you probably need to force yourself outside your comfort zone. Susan Cain, the author of Quiet, suggests that introverts can learn to “coach themselves to do things…like set personal daily quotas for how many times a day they leave their office and walk through the hallways.” Consider small habits of extroversion you could bring into your daily work routines, whether that’s remote or not. “One CEO,” says Cain, “had to remind himself when walking down the hallway to make eye contact and greet people, because his natural inclination would be to walk lost in thought, solving some problem. But he realised people thought he was being aloof and dismissive of them.” Little changes can have a positive impact on perception.
7. Cluelessness to cultureIf you can’t read your company culture, you’ll never be effective in it. There’s a lot of talk about “fit.” It’s vital to match the culture of your organisation. How do you figure out a culture? Your two main tools are (1) Observing and (2) Asking questions. Ideally, you want to assess culture before you decide to take a job, but better late than never. Culture encompasses many aspects:
✓ individual vs collaborative ✓ attitudes and practises about work/life balance ✓ how people are rewarded ✓ how performance is managed ✓ team dynamics ✓ day-to-day schedules (flextime, meeting styles, workspace, communication methods, etc.) ✓ how decisions are made (unilateral vs. consensus) ✓ introversion vs extroversion ✓ formality vs informality.Notice what stories are shared and reshared (whether inspirational or cautionary tales). Stories are filled with cultural clues. If you don’t understand your company culture, a little self-assessment can help. You may be the manager holding hour-long meetings when 10-minute standups are the norm, or ignoring birthdays when there was a long tradition of lunch celebrations. If you feel like you get looks that are hard to read or you can’t read the vibe, you probably need to spend some time observing and asking questions. Know your culture to succeed in your career.