work habits that will kill your career

If you’re wondering why you’re not advancing in your career more quickly, or why you always seem to be overlooked when it comes time for raises, promotions, or important projects, the answer might be that you’re holding yourself back, through one or more of these eight career-killing behaviors.

1. Not promoting your own work. Your work might be fantastic, but if no one knows about it, it won’t help your reputation, your salary, or your advancement opportunities. Make sure that your manager knows about your accomplishments, whether it’s kudos from a hard-to-please client, waste you uncovered and fixed, or anything else that goes above and beyond your normal work.

2. Getting defensive. If you get defensive when you get less than glowing feedback on your work, you might be striking a death blow to your career. Many people simply give up on having meaningful interactions with defensive people, so your coworkers may avoid you, and your manager may stop telling you how you can improve. “That sounds great,” you might respond – but it means that you’ll be destroying the relationships you need to advance in your career and denying yourself the information that you need to grow professionally.

3. Making rash decisions. Whether it’s walking off the job because the boss said something you didn’t like or taking a job offer without thinking it through carefully, impulsive decision-making has no place in your career. The decisions you make about work will have reach-reaching ramifications on your wallet, your reputation, and your daily quality of life.

4. Not being assertive. You might think that not making waves is the best way to succeed professionally, but being unassertive is more likely to hurt you. If you believe a decision is wrong, or a project is headed for disaster, or that you deserve a raise, good managers will want you to speak up. There’s a difference between being assertive and being obnoxiously pushy, of course, but voicing your opinions in a professional way is key to professional success.

5. Being too negative. If you’re constantly complaining about new projects, your company’s policies, and why it’s taking I.T. so long to fix the network, you’re probably creating an unpleasant environment for people around you. The same goes for negative humor – if you’re regularly snarking about your boss or the new guy down the hall, chances are good that – even if people are laughing – you’ll get a reputation for being bitter and having a bad attitude.

6. Lying. If you get caught in a lie – even if it’s small or if it can’t be proven – you’ll destroy your credibility, and that’s something you can never get back. You could be scrupulously honest for the next three years, but you’ll still be remembered as the person who lied and can’t be completely trusted.

7. Being chronically disorganized. People pay attention to whether you do what you say you’re going to do, by when you say you’re going to do it – whether it’s as small as forwarding the document you promised in a meeting or as big as meeting a project deadline. If you do, they notice and you build a reputation as someone reliable and someone they can have confidence in. If you don’t, they conclude that you can’t be counted on to keep your word.

8. Not learning new technology. You might feel that you’re perfectly comfortable with your existing ways of doing things, thank you very much, and therefore have no need to learn the latest technology … but if you resist new ways of doing things, you’ll soon be left behind by colleagues who aren’t so change-resistant. If you find yourself printing out emails to read them or heading to the library to look something up rather than Googling it, you’re likely to be overlooked by employers in favor of your more technologically savvy competition.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 53 comments… read them below }

  1. Cat*

    Oh, #8. I get the message that you don’t want to be perceived as the office dinosaur, but I know I analyze better with physical paper, highlighter and pen than I do simply by scrolling. For longer messages that require a thoughtful response, to the printer I go before I compose the reply email.

    1. Bridgette*

      I can see doing this with a long email conversation that hurts your brain to read. I think you get into the danger zone if you’re doing what Anonymous describes below. :)

    2. mh_76*

      I analyze better with physical paper, highlighter and pen than I do simply by scrolling

      Yes! Longer emails, longer articles, things that require thought / editing / overhaul… Much easier with pen & paper than by real-time edits that get lost in the rest of the content. A distant 2nd best is using multi-colored text, strikethrough, comments, etc. in an on-screen setting (like a shared GoogleDoc).

    3. Jamie*

      Yes – sometimes I need to use paper because it engages a different part of my brain than typing. In specing out a report if I’m stumped typing in work, sometimes just sketching the outline on paper with markers/pens gives me a fresh pov.

      And in typing this I know that sounds crazy – but it works for me.

      Still don’t understand why people need to print out every. single. email. Like the people who will respond to my email by printing it, printing their reply and then bringing them to my office to discuss them…when clearly I have them in my Outlook as well. Bonus points for printing out a screen shot of an error message where the wording is so small it can’t be read on the hard copy.

    4. ooloncoluphid*

      Related to #8, stop proudly proclaiming yourself to be computer illiterate. It’s not really something to be proud about.

      1. Another Emily*


        I think people do this to send the message that they don’t care, but actually it really bothers them that they can’t use a computer but feel too daunted to learn. I sympathize, but this method of coping isn’t helping.

  2. Anonymous*

    Ugh. My old boss used to print EVERY SINGLE E-MAIL SHE GOT. She said she wanted “documentation”… it was like she didn’t understand that if she saved those e-mails instead of deleting them, she could pull them up anytime. Literally, the printer (used between 3 people) never stopped printing. To make matters worse, she would never get up to get what she was printing (so imagine a giant pile of paper) so the other two of us always had to jump up and grab what we printed immediately so our work wouldn’t get lost in her gigantic pile of e-mails.

    Oh, and did I mention it was my job to file these in employee files? So I had to file every single one of these trivial e-mails, sometimes the same e-mail printed over and over after each response, some who really had nothing to do with any particular employee… YUP. (And no, these e-mails had no business being in employee files…)

    1. Juana*

      A coworker at my last job did this too, and for client confidentiality reasons every file we printed had a coversheet so she was really wasting twice as much paper. I remember a day she came back from 6 weeks of medical leave and went through several reams of paper in a morning.

  3. Catherine*

    My last workplace enabled #8. I worked at a university where the president and higher-ups would send out email memos quite frequently to all faculty and staff, but they would always print a copy and put it in our mailboxes. Such a colossal waste of paper, ink, and electricity. Many people suggested either doing away with the paper copies altogether, or just let those few individuals who wanted them print them out themselves (more likely, their admin assistants printed them out), but the higher-ups refused to consider the suggestion, and to my knowledge, still print them out 3 years later.

  4. Zed*

    “If you find yourself printing out emails to read them or heading to the library to look something up rather than Googling it, you’re likely to be overlooked by employers in favor of your more technologically savvy competition.”

    As a librarian, I made a :( face right here.

    1. GeekChic*

      As someone who has worked and hired in libraries before, I would advise against trying to compete with Google. That ship sailed a long time ago.

      1. Zed*

        Oh, I’m no dinosaur, and believe me I love Google. I agree that in the context of most workplaces, a good Google search makes more sense than zipping off to the public library. But I do always get a little sad when people imply that libraries are “the old Google” – they do different things!

        But this isn’t a library blog, is it? :)

        1. GeekChic*

          Fair point. I’ve just met too many people in the library industry that still think that they can seriously compete with Google / the internet (and, yes, I know that not everything is on the internet – but a lot is).

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I love libraries! But I’ve worked with people who took a morning to go there and look things up that they could have found on their computer in five minutes.

      1. GeekChic*

        The explanation I’ve heard from managers in libraries is that communities are “active and vibrant” and they expect their libraries to be as well. Shushing is seen as “unfriendly” to the vast majority of patrons (don’t know whether that is true – but it is what is believed).

        Many libraries have study rooms or areas that are designated for quiet use – though not all have the room for this.

        I generally prefer quiet, but I’m a curmudgeon.

  5. ChristineH*

    #1 – I can’t get it out of my head that promoting my own work would seem like bragging or seeming conceited.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I think the key is the point that was made about going above and beyond your normal work. It would look like bragging if you promoted the fact that you did your regular job, but why not let everyone know that you were the one who solved some sticky problem?

      I got better at this once I got into a situation where I was teamed up with someone else & had to make sure people knew what *I* was doing on my own.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes — and it’s not “Look everyone at what I did, I solved this!” It’s, “Hey, we were having problem X, so I did Y and it should be taken care of.”

    2. Jamie*

      I think the key is what AnotherAlison said about going above and beyond your normal work.

      A helpful test is that if it’s something that if someone else did you would want to make sure their bosses knew about it then do the same for yourself.

      If the receptionist answers the phones all day and does a great job…that’s the standard for what she does all day and it’s remarkable if she’s hanging up on people or answering with the wrong company name. I wouldn’t email his/her boss to comment that all the calls were routed correctly.

      But if she talked a disgruntled customer down from their ledge, or pitched in on a project she didn’t have to and helped get great results I’d make sure her boss knew about it.

      It’s often easier to see accomplishments of others than our own. So try to view yourself the way you would view other people.

    3. Esra*

      I think it’s really how you go about it. My manager is pretty notorious for not giving credit to the team, or trying to take credit for everything.

      One thing I make sure to do when I feel like a project went really well (I’m a graphic designer), is to follow up with other people in the org in casual chats. Ask them how the presentation went, did they like the logo? Hope it goes well with the report, it was a great project to work on! etc etc.

    4. fposte*

      I’d also suggest documenting your achievements even in your normal work. It’s a morale boost and it helps quantify your contribution at your current workplace and any time you’re searching after that. And if you think of it as “documenting your achievements” you avoid that whole “bragging” red herring.

    5. Rana*

      I struggle with this too – though I’m trying to overcome it because, as a freelancer, if I don’t toot my horn (or remind others to give it a beep now and then) it doesn’t happen.

      One thing that helps me is thinking of it this way: in a work context, people want to know these things. It’s not bragging to puff yourself up; it’s letting people know that work is getting done effectively, or that you have skills on offer that they can use in the future.

  6. Malissa*

    #8–Yes! Don’t be the debbie downer who sits there and says this worked just fine before, why do we need to change now. Because once upon a time it may have made sense to write a manual ledger but if you are not putting things into the new computer system you really are holding everybody up.

    1. Jamie*

      UGH – and when they go live with a new ERP system don’t spend 15 minutes every single time you discuss it talking about how “I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I’ve never needed more than a pencil.” And accusing the temp of implementing a new million+ dollar system (because temps have that kind of power) just to complicate things for them.

      New systems everyone should get 5 venting coupons and that’s it. Logging an issue =/= venting – issues are fine. Whining gets old fast.

      1. JT*

        The answer to the question has to be something specific, such as greater efficiency, less redundancy, better access to info from remote locations, less errors, lower overall costs, etc.

        If Debbie Downer asked the question and someone can’t give a strong answer like that, then DD may have a point. AAM’s point about not being negative is right. But if we can’t answer the “why different” question, then we’ve got a bigger problem than a negative person in the office.

        1. Malissa*

          In my case it was a matter of if the programmer we had for the old system had a tragic accident we’d be up a creek with-out a paddle. So we really needed to change to something more common and supportable.
          But I do agree with your assessment. Change just for sake of change is never good.

        2. Jamie*

          Questions are fine. Reporting bugs or issues are fine …all encouraged.

          It’s when Debbie has to preface every interaction with a rant about how much system X sucks in general and how the system before was like traveling on a rainbow while riding a unicorn eating a cupcake* that it gets old. So basically I don’t mind being told something sucks if there is specific suckage to address…but I don’t have the patience for general poutiness about change.

          *(tm Christina Wilson – Hells Kitchen winner. She said it about meeting David Beckham, but I find it works for many situations.)

          1. Esra*

            I misread poutiness as poutines. Ideally my job would be to ride a unicorn over rainbows while eating pulled pork poutine followed by cupcakes.

            1. Jamie*

              I have no idea what that is, except that it’s something Phil Giroux used to eat on the Tom Green Show and that memory just slammed into my frontal lobe from nowhere!

              I do have to say that you paint a picture that sounds so lovely I can overlook my aversion to pork.

              1. Esra*

                Pulled pork poutine = crispy fries covered in cheese curds, pulled pork, and spicy gravy. It’s a delicious heart attack.

    2. BW*

      I get “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” and as a reason I shouldn’t do something, “but it’s different…”

      This is from people who work in a field where it is imperative to keep up with changing technology. Don’t even get me started.

      1. Rana*

        Heh. I’ll be right there, ranting with you. One place I worked had a terrible data management system. Buggy, hard to use for three-quarters of the functions, and the company that designed it was phasing it out, so support was terrible. New, proposed system would have fixed all of the problems and had amazing customer support, but would have required the person who had the one-quarter that worked adequately learn something new. Oh, and that one person was friends with one of the owners.

        I think you can guess what happened.

  7. JT*

    I’m moderately old but the second most tech-savvy person in my 25-person office, behind our IT manager.


    I go to the library all the time for work reasons – from my desk. I visit library websites for access to information that is not available through Google (generally subscription databases).

    Also, I print out some emails – long ones with a lot of information – since it’s easier to mark them up for various reasons. Pen and paper have value.

    1. Rana*

      I have to admit this was part of why I bought a tablet. When you regularly get 300+ page pdfs to work on, printing out becomes an expense that I can’t afford. The tablet allows a bit of a work-around. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than working without it.

  8. AG*

    Re #2: When you make a mistake, own up to it, and do everything you can to remedy the situation. I recently screwed up something which would take one of the admin assistants about a day or two to redo, in the middle of our busy season. And even a replacement will never be as good as the original. I called myself out on the error in the first place, then bent over backwards, stayed late, etc. trying to take as much work off the admin’s desk as I could. And I let her take credit for some of the replacement work so she could save face with her boss. I plan to make sure I don’t make that big a mistake for a long, long time, but if I make a smaller one, I know she’ll be more willing to work with me through it.

  9. Aimee*

    Ugh, I’m dealing with #5 right now. I have a coworker who is negative about EVERYTHING. They are also very good at what they do, and could easily be a rockstar, but all of the negativity is hurting their reputation – a lot of people just don’t want to work with them at all. Generally, I just deal with it because I really do like them overall, and understand where the negativity is coming from.

    But now, it’s going to affect my ability to do a project I’ve been assigned. Our boss (new to the role) has been given direction by his boss to do this project, and it’s perfect for me to take on, so I’m the lead. My coworker is supposed to provide some assistance as well, but is basically upset that we are even doing this project and refusing to even talk to me about it until they talk to our boss. I’m new to this role, so I’m not familiar with all of the people I need to talk to in order to get the information I need, and my coworker is. But they are refusing to help me even know who to talk to.

    Thankfully, I’m not new to the company, and will still be able to find out who I need to talk to to get the info I need another way. I do understand the concerns over this project, but I’m an “anything is possible, and we’ll make it work” kind of person, so I’m going to do just that. The constant negativity and refusal to even see that we could make this work is just really annoying me today. I know in a week or two, they will be on board and pitching in (and will have valuable contributions to make).

    1. Jamie*

      I’m really impressed with your attitude. Some people when frustrated (and it sounds frustrating) tend to paint everything with the same brush…but you’re still able to see the positive in her future contributions while assessing what’s bothering you at the moment.

      The ability to be so moderated isn’t as common as you’d think. That will serve you really well.

  10. ooloncoluphid*

    #4: What if you have a bad manager who doesn’t want to hear that his ideas are going to lead to disaster?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If your manager doesn’t want to hear it and makes that clear, there’s not much you can do. I would recommend avoiding working for such a person :)

      1. ooloncoluphid*

        I’ve had 6 different managers in the past 2 years who were supposed to report to him and manage my group. All have quit or been fired. One of those people even told me there’s something of a blacklist floating around LinkedIn concerning this particular person, and telling people in my field not to work for him.

        I only get along with him because I’ve known him for so long.

  11. Lisa Dee*

    Regarding #8 As a 40’s something professor, I struggled with accepting “on-line” electronic versions of student papers. For years, I used the exact reasoning that you bring up. I thought I could grade better on physical paper, by writing comments and having the paper in my hands. I was wrong. When forced to update my skills and learn to analyze those papers electronically, I became more productive and have learned wonderful new ways to use the computer to respond to students and give them more helpful feedback on their projects. As additional bonuses, I can easily check to see if student’s work is original and add helpful links to online information regarding grammar, style and substance. Almost all colleges now require professors to have an online component to their courses. Being unwilling to learn new better ways of doing a task is what causes an employer to perceive you as a dinosaur. We are seeing a trend in higher ed. where professors who refuse to embrace the electronic formats are being phased out. If you are using the excuse that I just work/read/analyze better if I print things out, that is exactly the reason you will be perceived as a workplace dinosaur.

    1. Rana*

      I made that discovery also, after similar reservations.

      I also found it’s nice to have back-ups of student work (and your comments!) in case they lose something, and you can refer back to previous work if they’re revising, or if you want to track improvement over several assignments.

Comments are closed.