Everyone has weak moments, where a panic moment or a lapse in judgment leads to workplace decisions we’re not especially proud to own. And unfortunately, if there are witnesses to said behavior, there could be whispers about your unprofessionalism that follow you around. However, if you know ahead of time where some of the danger zones lie, you can try to avoid being branded with a scarlet “U.”
Throwing other people under the bus
It’s just never a good idea. You may see an opening to avoid blame or disapproval, but if it means offering up one of your colleagues, you’re better off not playing this game. If something truly isn’t your fault, you should stick up for yourself, but “he did it too!” didn’t work in elementary school, and it doesn’t work now.
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Gossip is a notoriously problematic concern within the workplace. Talking smack, even if it’s mild or true, may get you a laugh from a coworker in the short term, but it’ll also get you a reputation for being indiscreet and/or catty. This type of behavior is not only unprofessional, it causes conflicts and deters collaborative efforts among teams.
Don’t be that guy who has screaming matches on the phone with his wife in his open-plan cubicle. Don’t be the lady whose pungent microwaved leftovers permeate the whole office with a salmon-y smell. Or the guy whose cologne makes him a walking billboard for the Axe body spray you never want to smell again. Being oblivious to the senses of those around you can be a huge professionalism misstep.
Biting the hand that feeds you
Oh, you don’t agree with every single decision your boss or the company makes? Neither does anyone else. That doesn’t mean you’re free to complain about the powers that be every chance you get. For serious grievances, take them to the appropriate channels (HR, your supervisor). For run-of-the-mill gripes, save those for your trusted confidantes outside of the office walls (spouse, cat, clergyperson). You don’t want to be known as the malcontent who hates this place, because it’ll become much easier to a) ignore your concerns; and b) ding you for not being a team player.
Mistaking work-social events for social-social events
The office party with an open bar is an open invitation, right? I mean, would your company offer drinks if they didn’t want you to get sloshed and have a good time? It’s a trap! Not an intentional one—at work-sponsored social events, your company probably does want you to have a good time. Within reason. Exercise moderation at these events, because no one respects the professionalism of the person holding beer #5 while loudly demanding that someone play “Freebird.”
Your reputation is one of the most important professional tools you’ve got—and unlike your resume, which you can improve and revise with every new job, your rep is often beyond your control. If you do everything you can to make sure you’re putting forth the employee you want to be, that’s what others will see. The last thing you want is for a former boss or colleague to waffle (or worse, tell stories about your public failings) when asked for a reference.