Americans with full-time jobs spend about a third of their weekdays at work.
So it's understandable that in all that time you spend around your coworkers and bosses you've let a bad habit or two slip. Many of these office faux pas, however, may be avoided — you just need to know what it is that drives everyone around you nuts.
For the sake of your office companions, take a moment to remind yourself what behaviour at work may be negatively affecting others.
"The professional thing to do is to arrive on time, ready to do what is expected. It's not like they just sprung this job on you," she says.
Similarly, arriving late to meetings shows that you neither respect your coworkers — who showed up on time, by the way — nor the meeting organiser, Vicky Oliver, author of "301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions," tells Business Insider. "Keeping people waiting can be construed as inconsiderate, rude, or arrogant," Randall says.
"Remember the adage that half of life is showing up," Oliver says. You won't prove you deserve the promotion if you call in sick every few weeks.
Eat lunch at your desk at your own peril.
Experts say you should never eat lunch at your desk because it's unhealthy and makes you less productive.
But eating lunch at your desk doesn't just affect you — foods that are messy, crumby, smelly, or noisy can have a serious impact on your coworkers' productivity.
This is especially true for pungent foods, which can be hard to ignore.
Smelly foods like the following should stay out of the office:
Repeatedly responding to suggestions with a pessimistic or contrary attitude can be construed as being uncooperative, Randall says. Phrases like "That won't work," "That sounds too hard," or, "I wouldn't know how to start," should be avoided.
Similarly, complaining too much puts you in a bad light.
"While there may be times when everyone feels the desire to complain about the boss, a coworker, or a task, voicing it will only make you look unprofessional," Randall says. "It's even worse if you complain every day, all day, from the moment you walk into work. Before long, people will go out of their way to avoid you."
"There's nothing as energy-draining as having to deal with a pessimistic coworker," Rosemary Haefner, chief human-resources officer for CareerBuilder, tells Business Insider. "Things do go wrong, but even when they do, focus your energy towards what you've learned from a bad situation."
She points to a recent CareerBuilder survey, which shows that a majority of employers — 62% — say they are less likely to promote employees who have a negative or pessimistic attitude.
There may be no stupid questions, Oliver says, but there are certainly annoying questions. These are the kinds of questions that prove you really don't want to do the assignment or illustrate you only want to hear yourself talk.
"When you receive a new assignment, gather your questions, and pose them in an organised way," Oliver suggests. "Never just spout out question after question off the cuff."
"Whether you're at your desk or in the break room, being known as the office slob is never a compliment," says Randall.
When you clog the office kitchen sink and leave your garbage around, who exactly are you expecting to clean up after you?
"Leaving your mess behind shows lack of responsibility or consideration, arrogance, and immaturity," Randall says. Similarly, your workspace can be a reflection of you, she says.
"If you're like me, who works well in a semi-messy environment, it can be inhibiting to be clutter-free. But with open cubicles or workspaces, the professional thing to do is to make some compromises," Randall says. "It would be disrespectful and inconsiderate to expect your coworkers to deal with your mess."
According to Haefner, employees who don't clean up after themselves can hurt their chances for a promotion in the eyes of 36% of employers.
"There is a reason why texting is illegal while driving: It's impossible to concentrate fully on two things simultaneously," Oliver says.
Texting, surfing the web on your laptop, instant messaging, emailing — doing any of these things during a meeting shows everyone else in the meeting, especially your boss, that you're not paying attention.
"They know that while your butt may be planted in the chair, your mind is roaming," Oliver says.
"It's rude to interrupt. When you do, it shows others that you don't have any respect, judgement, or patience," Randall says. While participation can earn you some brownie points, bad timing can wipe those points away.
"Piggybacking with a comment either to outdo, correct, or worse, rephrase the comment and claim it as your original thought, is a sure way to make your coworkers' eyes roll," Randall says.
When we're proud of an accomplishment or about something good that happens to us, it's natural to want to share the news with others," Randall says. But sharing can easily become bragging, and she says there are a few key indicators that this is happening:
In most fields, casual grooming in public is frowned on, Oliver says. If you need a touch up, she suggests heading to the bathroom.
At the same time, you want to look like you take your job seriously when you walk into work, and your hygiene and appearance play a role in that.
"Poor hygiene and sloppy clothes scream, 'I don't care!' and are a surefire way to put off those around you," Randall says. Your boss may wonder whether your attitude about how you present yourself extends to your work, she explains, and you may be passed over for a promotion, overlooked when it's time to meet with a client or represent the company at a conference, and not invited to social gatherings.
"Burping, passing gas, picking your teeth, adjusting your body parts, and rarely showering are not just unprofessional behaviours for the workplace, but they're pretty darn gross as well," Randall says.
Oliver says there are two issues that arise from openly discussing personal problems like your ongoing divorce at work: "First, you just don't look like you are actively employed when you spend hours a day dishing about your ex. Second, you're discussing a personal problem at the office when you're supposed to be a maestro at solving problems." "The place for disclosing confidences is outside the office," Oliver says.
If they're divisive issues in politics, they're probably divisive at work, too.
Certainly, you spend so much time at work that you may have built up a chummy relationship with your coworkers and bosses, which makes you feel entitled to express your opinions.
But you're walking a fine line when you bring politics into the workplace.
Passionate discussions are to be expected in the workplace, but they should really be focused on work-related issues.
At the end of the day, you're there to do work, and political or partisan arguments can be distracting to both you and your coworkers.
What's more, as an employee expressing yourself at work, it turns out you have fewer protections than you'd think — and if your bosses don't like what they hear, you could get fired for it.
"Before you pull up your soapbox, you should be aware that in most cases, free speech in the workplace is limited or non-existent when it comes to controversial movements or topics," Randall says.
"There is a line between curiosity and nosiness, which you don't want to cross," Oliver says. Curiosity, she explains, is when you ask who the new hire is. Nosiness, on the other hand, is when you rifle through your boss's files to see how much the woman three cubicles down earns.
There are two conversations in particular that you should never initiate in a work restroom, Randall says:
The first is a conversation with someone who is using the bathroom.
"Cornering someone in the restroom to hold a conversation, especially when they are in their private stall, is awkward and intrusive," Randall says. "They have the right not to respond while conducting their business." If you must converse, at least wait until you're washing your hands.
And the second is a conversation with someone on the phone.
"You might not care if the person on the other end hears your business, but don't assume that others don't," Randall says. "Besides, I can't think of anyone who finds the sounds of toilets flushing pleasant. It's just plain rude."
It seems like almost every office has one or two people who sell cookies for their kids. But Randall says that some companies prohibit soliciting at work because it takes up work time and places people in an awkward position. Breaking the rules could be grounds for firing.
"Before you go cubicle to cubicle enlightening your coworkers about your cause, read the company policies and procedures manual. Most companies discourage or forbid promoting personal causes, especially on company time because it's deemed disruptive," Randall says.
Some employers stock beer in the fridge and host weekly happy hours. Others do not.
But regardless of whether social drinking is part of your company's work culture or not, it's still not a good idea to drink at work so frequently and heavily that you become labelled the office drunk.
This rule of thumb also extends outside the office to company gatherings and happy hours.
Even if you see it as a complement, your coworker may view your comments about their appearance as harassing or discriminatory. It's best to stick to valid compliments pertaining to work rather than how you think someone looks.
Whether you play music loudly while others are trying to work or have conversations the entire office can hear, then your coworkers likely consider you one of the most annoying distractions on earth.
Being noisy, especially in an open office, has a significant effect on your coworkers' focus and productivity, and the noise could hurt business if it carries into an important phone call.
"Try to show your coworkers that you respect them by keeping the music down, and hopefully they will return the favour," Oliver says.
Talking or texting with friends or family on company time is unprofessional and could be against company policy, Randall says. What's more, doing it during a break is fine, but these correspondences should be kept out of the workplace, even the lunch room.
"You never know when your boss may walk by for an impromptu chat," she says. "What will they see or hear?"
"If the topic of conversation is of a delicate nature, be sure to keep it private. One overheard juicy tidbit can spread like wildfire," Randall says.
"Maybe the new guy who smells like French Onion Soup is not your favourite person on staff," Oliver says. "That's no reason to flee him every time he asks you for help on an assignment." Nor should you be spreading gossip about him, Haefner says.
It's best to act friendly toward everyone, Oliver explains: "You will come across as more of a team player and show you have management aptitude." And according to Haefner, nearly half of the employers CareerBuilder surveyed say they would think twice before moving an employee who participates in office gossip up the ranks.
"Take care that any criticism you make about someone's performance is deemed to be constructive, measured, and deserved," Oliver suggests. Not keeping the discourse civil could cost you your job.
Don't be the one who edges into other people's personal space, Randall warns. "You know the ones — they place their coffee mug just so, a comfortable reaching distance, making room for their notebook, elbows, and of course their cell phone and protein bar," she says.
"As the person seated next to them, you're left with only enough room for a water bottle."
"Using foul words or questionable language is not only a bad habit, but in most places of business, it's still considered unprofessional and can even land you in Human Resources for a little chat," Randall says.
Swearing demonstrates to others that you aren't able to calmly and thoughtfully deal with a situation, and it could make you the last resort in an even more difficult or extreme dilemma, she says. Haefner says that more than half of employers CareerBuilder surveyed consider vulgar language an indication that an employee is not ready for promotion.
"Consider learning some new adjectives," Randall suggests.
Jingling your keys, tapping your pen, shaking your leg, constantly checking your phone, chewing gum, biting your fingernails, scratching your head — the list of nervous habits goes on, and you probably don't even realise you're doing it, but your office mates probably do, Randall says.
Not only can these habits be distracting to others, but they could also be perceived as boredom.
"Perception is a person's reality," Randall says.
Whether you're shy or you feel like you have better things to do, never attending company-hosted events, declining coworker lunches, and calling in sick on team building days gives the impression that you are antisocial, arrogant, and not a part of the team, Randall says. "So, next time when you need a favour from your coworkers, don't be surprised if they go MIA," she warns.
From not including subject lines to sending 'urgent' emails that aren't urgent, poor email form can really rub your coworkers the wrong way. While mastering the art of good email etiquette doesn't mean sending out beautifully crafted prose each time — that would take forever — if you can avoid these bad habits, you'll be off to a great start.