The Top 5 Work Mistakes To Avoid In The New Year

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tough conversation at work


Michele Wheldon
Michele Wheldon
April 14, 2024 at 5:39AM UTC
No one is perfect. But from early in your career up through the C suite, you need to avoid these mistakes to ensure upward mobility. So take a hard look at these five blunders, and make a pledge to avoid making these errors in the new year and beyond.

1. Being unresponsive. 

There is a happy medium between being someone who responds to an email within 30 seconds—how odd you weren’t busy doing your work—and someone who never seems to respond within a timely period. If it is not urgent, 24 hours is a good goal for a response. Longer is acceptable on the weekends and breaks. You never want to hear someone say, “She never answers emails or texts.” Soon they will stop asking for your input, and then you are through.
“A paper from researchers at the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering found that the most common email response time is two minutes. Half of responders in this study responded in just under an hour. About 90 percent of people who were going to respond did so within a day or two,” according to Fast Company.

2. Avoiding social contact. 

You may not want to have everyone gather at your desk for coffee each morning and stop by throughout the day for a gossip break. If you do, you may be seen as the social chairperson and not the talented team member or leader. You may, at times, really need to skip the group outing at lunch to the new BBQ place up the street...but at the same time, you do not want to stay at your desk every day from the opening bell to lights out without any small talk.
In a new study from the Pew Research Center, 87 percent of the respondents say men and women express their feelings differently. That leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation. What you see as industriousness, others may see as a signal of aggressive disdain. So try to occasionally join in the impromptu karaoke battle at the office so everyone considers you a team player.

3. Being completely disorganized. 

Years ago I worked with someone at a large daily newspaper who kept piles of newspapers, papers, files and notes surrounding his desk from the floor to about waist high. This kind of chaos does not inspire confidence in your leadership or organizational abilities. You do not have to use spray cleaner on your work space every night before leaving, but you do want to have a semblance of order.
“Keep your work area bright and uncluttered to ensure it’s a productive environment – a tidy house is a tidy mind. Everything in our design space is always filed away immaculately at the end of every month, because if there’s clutter you can’t be productive,” Kelly Hoppen of Dragon’s Den tells The Guardian.

4. Bringing drama to work.  

Yes, I have gone into the bathroom to cry at work, more than a few times at a few different jobs. But you have to separate work and life during work hours. No fighting with your roommate, family, children, significant others or friends on the phone, by text or in any form that is visible during work hours. Unless there is a serious problem that your manager or team needs to know—you are being stalked, harassed or fear for your safety in some way—keep it calm.  There is no Take Your Drama To Work Day for a reason. 

5. Not learning from your mistakes. 

Maybe it's a tad redundant to include a mistake about making mistakes, but you have to honestly look at your own track record to see how to avoid similar bumps that you have created or contributed to along your career path. "Know Your History" is No. 1 of the 9 Leadership Power Tools for a reason. Be honest with yourself and "you can create the future of your choice," says Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead.
You know, of course, not to do anything illegal or immoral at work, because those are mistakes that will get you fired or worse. Just avoid these missteps so your climb up the ladder goes as smoothly as possible.

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Michele Weldon is an author, journalist and editorial director of Take The Lead. Her most recent book is Escape Points: A Memoir.

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