By: Anthony Balderrama
Supposedly it takes 21 days to break a habit.
I’m not sure I believe that. Try going on a diet and I guarantee that a freshly baked pizza will break your willpower whether you’re on the second or the 45th day. Or maybe I’m just weak, and 21 days is all most people need.
I’m convinced, however, that workplace habits take a little longer to break. The little annoyances — like the guy who picks his teeth with your letter opener — aren’t what I’m talking about. I’m thinking of the bigger offenses that require a complete change of your mindset. They’re annoying to everyone else and they’re actually damaging your career.
Here are eight work habits you need to break now.
The bad habit: Confusing casual with disrespectful.
Why it’s bad: Feelings get hurt and reputations get damaged.
How to fix it: Ask yourself if what you say or do to your boss undermines his or her authority. Bosses aren’t infallible, all-knowing creatures who can’t be questioned. If you and your supervisor have a casual relationship filled with humor, you already know this. Nevertheless, he or she is your boss, and at the end of the day that’s who makes the final decisions. When you begin to think of yourself as your boss’s workplace equal, you cross a line that could damage your relationship.
Also, your boss probably has a boss, too. This means that calling him or her a nickname, or not being supportive of ideas in front of other people suggests you’re the one running the show. It’s important to remember that showing respect doesn’t mean you need to be a “yes” man or woman who goes along with everything; it just means you should know what’s appropriate for private conversations and what’s appropriate for group settings.
The bad habit: Always doing the bare minimum.
Why it’s bad: Anyone can just skate by, so you’ll be easy to replace.
How to fix it: Not overextending yourself is admirable because not only do you preserve the quality of your work, but you also keep your sanity intact. Very few employers, however, want C+/B- workers. If you have a project due in one week and you’re not particularly busy, moving at a snail’s pace just because you can doesn’t give a great impression.
Those clichés of going the extra mile and giving 110 percent are sometimes worthwhile. You’re not likely to get promoted, get a raise or earn a glowing recommendation if your most notable accomplishment is just being there. Come up with new ideas, improve existing procedures and improve the quality of your work — anything to assure that you’re not just showing up for the paycheck.
The bad habit: Not budging from your job description.
Why it’s bad: Obedience is great, but flexibility is better.
How to fix it: Job descriptions are rarely all-inclusive, so look at job postings with the understanding that your duties will shift over time. Ask anyone who’s fortunate enough to be working today; this recession has redefined job titles in every industry. Yes, you were hired to do a specific job, but over time you could be asked to take on additional tasks or to transition into an entirely new role. Of course you don’t have to, but realize that the job you were hired for might not be needed anymore, and asking you to adapt could be the company’s way of keeping you around.
The bad habit: Forgetting what your job is.
Why it’s bad: If you’re not doing your job, then why are they paying you?
How to fix it: This is the flip side to the previously mentioned bad habit, and I know it’s a fine line to walk. Being flexible to the company’s needs is admirable, and others will notice. But if you spend more time doing things that distract you from getting relevant work done, you’re just not doing your job. For example, if your company’s e-mail policy is lax and you’re allowed to receive personal messages, don’t abuse it and spend more time planning tonight’s party than doing your job. Hours on Facebook also don’t count as work for most employees.
The bad habit: Ignoring the chain of command.
Why it’s bad: You make people look bad, and come off as a brat.
How to fix it: Go through the proper channels to address concerns. Let’s be clear — if you’re dealing with a serious, legal issue and your boss can’t be trusted, then by all means get help however possible. But if you’re griping about some personality conflicts or just want things done your way, address them with your boss before escalating your issues. If it’s an HR issue, speak with your rep, not with the head of HR. If you go to higher-ups about an issue, they’ll immediately wonder why your boss couldn’t handle it (thus making him or her look bad) and why you had to make such an ordeal about it.
The bad habit: Operating on your own clock.
Why it’s bad: Not everyone can work around your schedule.
How to fix it: Be punctual and dependable. Although deadlines and meeting times can be bothersome, you’re probably not the only person they affect. Therefore, your tardiness inconveniences other people. It also gives you the appearance of an unreliable person, and no one really wants to work with that kind of colleague.
The bad habit: Badmouthing your colleagues.
Why it’s bad: You never know who’s listening.
How to fix it: You already know gossip is a no-no, but spreading negative opinions about a co-worker is just as bad as spreading hearsay. First, negativity gets old. Second, your opinion can get back to the people about whom you’re talking. It might even get back to the boss, who may disagree with you or at least disagree with your attitude and hold it against you. If you need to vent, do it away from work.
The bad habit: Flaunting your connections.
Why it’s bad: It’s annoying, and they’re not guaranteed to last forever.
How to fix it: Don’t make a big deal about your enviable inroads. Bragging is tacky, and that’s what you’re doing when you keep namedropping the CEO’s name. Plus, the person you’re talking about might not want the relationship to be widely discussed since it could make others think favoritism is at play. More importantly, the CEO could move on to a new job, and suddenly that sway you thought you had with people is gone.