We’ve all done something we regret in our career. You get that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach every time you think about it.
Here are some of the obvious and not so obvious ways you can sabotage your career along with examples I have personally observed during my HR career. Names have been omitted to protect the not-so-innocent from embarrassment.
1. Deceptive and dishonest practices.
You’re going to get caught. Maybe not the first time, but eventually someone is going to catch on. When they do, fess up. Don’t act like the three-year-old who lies to his mother, naively thinking that she doesn’t know you ate the last cookie even though you have chocolate all over your face.
2. Illegal practices.
I’m not referring to taking home a company pen. I’m thinking more along the lines of taking home a laptop, check kiting between company accounts and your own, or stealing privileged information for a friend who works for the competition. Don’t worry about losing your job; focus on finding an attorney to keep you out of jail.
3. MIA during business hours.
Everyone takes a long lunch or cuts out early for happy hour every once in a while. Taking it to the extreme is acting as if you’ve been on a business trip (that you expensed) when you were actually on a mini-vacation. This example can also fall under the two previous points. Another example is hanging a sign on your office door indicating that you are in a three-hour meeting when you’re really shopping for a new car.
4. Sex and work.
They just don’t mix. Whether you are having a quickie in an empty office (or a company plane … there IS a pilot on board, you are not alone) or you’re having an affair with your (married or single) boss, it will affect your career. Unless you’re looking for a severance package or a reputation you don’t want to get back to your family, I don’t recommend it.
5. Unprofessional image and attire.
Corporate America has relaxed the dress code over the last several years, however, the following are never acceptable. Leather or pleather, in any form other than shoes. That means skirts, blouses, vests, or pants. Visible belly rings, thongs, or cleavage. Drowning yourself in perfume or cologne. Dirty and/or wrinkled clothes. In my first HR Generalist position, I told new employees to check their attire before leaving each morning and if they hesitated even slightly, they should change.
6. Becoming the company “suck-up.”
There’s one in every company. You know the type; they have their lips perpetually planted on management’s backside. Typically, this path is taken because the person has very little to offer. They become the undeserved, go-to person at the expense of their coworkers and all levels of management between themselves and their new best friend. If I’m describing you, it’s time to make a complete career change to a company where your reputation can’t follow. You’ll never be able to change the opinions that have been formed by your existing coworkers. Choose a career where you can add value so you don’t fall back on old habits.
7. Making a fool of yourself at company-sponsored functions.
All executives will have to attend company-sponsored functions, with or without clients. Skip the heavy drinking, acting like the office Romeo, or doing “The Elaine.” Even if you’re not in the office, you’re still at work—act like it.