Common Workplace Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Haley Nahman | September 14, 2016

Coming in hot from a former HR specialist

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Want more advice? How about How to Ask for a Raise From a Former HR Specialist and 6 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Working.

If we’re to believe Hollywood, humans are far more tortured by where they’re getting love than where they’re getting paychecks. I’m not sure my experience nor that of my friends has quite reflected that, though. There’s something about the workplace — the fact that most of us rely on it to survive, that our actions there have such tangible consequences, the sheer number of hours we spend there — that makes it the perfect breeding ground for emotional tangles and snags that linger far past 5 p.m. Or at least snags that feel more immediate and easier to place than those in our personal lives, which perhaps burn a little slower (and a little deeper).

Unpacking the social constructs of the workplace has always appealed to me because an office is like a tiny, more defined version of society. I still engage and enjoy HR-related debates and discussions with friends and coworkers, even though I left that career in March.

Here are four common mistakes I keep coming across, and how I think you can avoid them.

1.  Worrying too much about face time

Even the most progressive organizations can get caught up on face time. Who gets in when, who left early, who is working the longest days. I get it: It’s hard to decouple progress from hours logged, even if we know better. If this causes unnecessary tension in your office, try this:

a. DON’T GIVE IN. Work smarter, not harder, and dare to leave when the work is done. Let your work speak for itself.

b. Establish a new form of documenting progress aside from time, like an end-of-day or end-of-week summary email.

c. If you are in a position of seniority, set the tone. Encourage others to take time off, head out early or take a break.

2. Asking for the wrong kind of help

Frame your emotional state in a way that emphasizes the logical implications. Saying “I’m stressed” (so?) or “I’m fine” (not fine) or just letting the pressure build up until it manifests in your facial expression or in passive aggressive behavior is not the way to get the help you need.

Ground your emotional state in diplomacy, i.e. “I’m hesitant because if I take on this new project, the quality of my other projects will likely suffer.” Then follow up with at least two ideas on how to make the request more manageable. Whether or not these ideas are used, working through them with your colleague will help you understand each other better.

If you need to, ask for help prioritizing before you ask for help with actual workload.

3. Overcorrecting in the heat of the moment

I’ve observed managers do this a lot over the years and it can be frustrating for those working with them and demoralizing for those working under them. It’s a natural response — and one that comes easily to problem-solvers — to identify the source of a problem and both fix it and effect change to prevent it from happening again. But when done too hastily, these kinds of knee-jerk reactions can overlook what was actually just a fluke, misattribute blame, waste time or, worse, work contrary to bigger-picture analysis.

Be willing to let some things slide, not draw a conclusion from every roadblock. Be thoughtful about when to fix something and move on, and when to pause.

4. Failing to think out loud

So often when I’m helping a friend through a work issue, I find myself asking, “Have you told them this?” It’s such an obvious tip (one my mom taught me, actually, but in a relationship context!) but one many people overlook. Simply vocalizing a concern is one thing, thinking out loud is a different flavor of externalizing your thoughts. It’s a more acute, in-the-moment version of communicating that enables people you’re working with to better understand your thought process.

Don’t feel like the moment you open your mouth you need to have an answer. Think out loud and take them on that journey. You’ll both understand the situation better as a result.

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  • Harling Ross

    I want to wallpaper my room with Haley’s MR work advice archives.

    • Krista Anna Lewis

      I just want to carry Haley around in my pocket to give me great advice all the time.

      • Patty Carnevale

        I want to own a Haley Magic 8 ball that can tell me all the answers no matter what the question.

        • Haley Nahman

          I want to honey-i-shrunk-the-kids all of you and keep you inside my left ear, but that would be super selfish

  • Mallory Harmon

    Great tips, Haley! I used to be so concerned with face time, but just like you said, work smarter not harder is the best practice. Also, I love your advice for thinking out loud. This is something I struggle with, but I feel it is so important to be able to vocalize thoughts and ideas. For myself, I struggle with the idea that my thoughts will not be taken seriously at work, but I’m taking a good hard look at my organization and what I want in my career, and I’m trying to overcome those thoughts. That being said, I think it is really important for an employee to feel as though their working environment is a safe place that fosters collaboration between employees and various thoughts and ideas.

    • Haley Nahman

      Definitely! I learned this skill from people I admired a lot. They would actually vocalize this sort of thinking: “My first instinct is no — but that’s only because we’ve had issues with x and y in the past. If we maybe approached it this way — sorry, just thinking out loud here — maybe we could avoid that. Let’s sort through a few ideas on this white board…” That kind of vocalization is so much productive than a quicker answer that might confuse the other person!

  • Alison

    Haley, you are a boss! I just opened MR as my early lunchtime escape. (Yes, I am eating lunch before noon. I’m hungry.)

    All of the articles on the front page are yours. Get it girl!!!! You are amazingly productive.

  • Taste of France

    These are excellent tips. I had a really rotten boss who would tell me certain others couldn’t handle their load and I needed to help more. Then when I pushed back, he would tell me that if I didn’t do more, I’d be demoted and the incompetent person I was supposed to bail out would take my place. I never managed to call him on the hypocrisy of that–I’d try but he wouldn’t hear it. I ended up just leaving, but I wish I had learned the magic words to have said.

    • Haley Nahman

      UGH. I’m sorry. Hit me with any Qs if you have any!

      • Taste of France

        Well, what is the right retort to a boss who has double standards and who twists a “no, that would be too much and would make quality suffer” into a “so you aren’t competent.” This same boss wanted me to come in earlier (I already worked 12 hours a day). I told him it wasn’t physically possible to work early and late and commute and get 8 hours of sleep. He said “It’s a myth that people need 8 hours of sleep.”

  • Chloe

    Great tips Haley! I’ve only just gotten the hang of not being worried about FaceTime, I do as much as is reasonable for me to do in a day and then go home.

    Working smarter not harder has got to be the best approach. However, it would be interesting to know from others (at intern/entry-level positions) how they manage that? it seems easier said than done when you’re the most junior

    • Haley Nahman

      I think the tip about finding non-time-related ways of tracking progress is a great one for entry-level employees. Other iterations of that: setting goals and actually following up on them, asking for feedback before it’s given, sending a to-do list before you tackle it to make sure your manager agrees. Imagine if you are doing all that and you work quality is high. That’s a dream employee. Take it from me: the employees who are getting feedback about “presence” and “availability” (aka “face-time” kind of feedback) are NOT doing the above. I’ve seen it first hand. Presence only arises as an issue when there are *other* problems and issues around quality/follow-through/reliability.

  • Ana Victoria Sanchez

    In love with the sunglasses… Where are they from?

  • Loving the work advice articles here! I’m sure I’ve already commented this on another work-related post, but I’m starting my first full time job as a graduate on Monday and I’m bricking it! It’s in a big professional male-dominated UK company, in a male-dominated industry. Something I have no experience in, they give training, purposely hiring graduates. I’m still terrified I won’t be able to cope with the long hours. It’s a lot of driving to see clients, I think I’m more worried about getting lost while driving or getting stuck in traffic than actually meeting the clients! Brain dump lol.

    • Haley Nahman

      Oh you’ll cope, I can tell. Good luck!

    • Mariana

      Good luck, Amber! By your description I believe you are working for a big4, no? I remember my very first day at my first job after college, I was so nervous and I tought I had to be super serious, always with a “poker-business-women-face”. Of course you have to respect your job, co workers, bosses and clients, but you can also be yourself because that, ultimately, is going to make the difference.

  • Dee

    So so good this advice. “Ground your emotional state in diplomacy” –Love love love this.
    “Work smarter, not harder, and dare to leave when the work is done.” Exactly but that last part might be an issue. The overcorrecting one has me thinking of personal relationships…lol.
    Yes yes on #4.

    Keep it coming Haley.

  • Amelia Diamond

    These are great!

  • Caitie

    can we please have a “how to be as productive as Haley” how-to list?

    • Haley Nahman

      For the record: three ice cream sandwiches were consumed in the span of time it took me to write this

      • Sarah

        So it took you about 12 minutes?

  • Autumn

    Can you please send this to my boss but don’t tell her it’s from me??

    • Haley Nahman

      Lol Autumn

  • Such great tips – I’ve just started a new job so this is really insightful.

    – Natalie
    http://www.workovereasy.com

    • Haley Nahman

      Good luck!!

  • Lillian

    Are you just acutely self aware, or do you have a strategy for finding solutions to emotional landmines because you ARE SO GOOD

    • Haley Nahman

      I HAVE NO CLUE. I just ate chips for dinner.
      Thank you!

  • Jessica H

    MR hit the jackpot when they hired Haley. <3 her

  • Madison Grace

    I want to read Haley’s advice as a full time job. Please?

    My blog: http://www.bymybedside.com

    madison x x x

  • Mariana

    “Common Workplace Mistakes and How to Avoid Them” -> wear sunglasses indoors, drinking iced coffee and checking the hours because it can lead to the conclusion that you are hangover?! :p JK

    • Haley Nahman

      lol

  • Hannah

    “There’s something about the workplace — the fact that most of us rely on it to survive, that our actions there have such tangible consequences, the sheer number of hours we spend there — that makes it the perfect breeding ground for emotional tangles and snags that linger far past 5 p.m. Or at least snags that feel more immediate and easier to place than those in our personal lives, which perhaps burn a little slower (and a little deeper).” DAMN GURL.

    I’m at a new job and my previous was at a startup with no structure so this was just perfect timing as uj because I’m feeling like an overzealous dolphin trying to poke my nose in a very compact school of fish BUT as I was reading I felt layers of anxiety melt away and I was just like “YOU KNOW WHAT SHE’S RIGHT” Thx Haley 😉

    • Haley Nahman

      YAY, thank YOU

  • it-moi VERÓNICA

    Great tips. Taking notes.

    Kisses and have a nice weekend,

    Verónica

    Blog: http://www.it-moi.com
    Youtube Channel: NEW VIDEO! https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCs4ylV9u2IlYDxRXcroi6jg

  • Erin

    I hope the whole MR team knows that this advice is so, so helpful and that I would be incredibly interested in reading regular posts about different types of workplace advice. I started my DREAM JOB in publishing a few months ago. It’s my first non-service-industry job, and the adjustment was a lot harder than I expected it to be. I worked my way through school and completed three publishing internships beforehand — I did everything I was “supposed to do.” I came in prepared, and I thought I’d just kill it at this job immediately. But I STRUGGLED SO HARD. Basic things like sending emails suddenly seemed like gargantuan tasks. So many things can go wrong — did I attach the right file? CC the wrong person? Did I hit reply-all? — and I caught a big ole case of impostor syndrome. I’ve settled in now, and I love my job. I’m gaining more confidence every day. But Haley’s advice has been incredibly helpful in my adjustment, and I’d love to read more. Thanks for killin it, as always.

    • Haley Nahman

      Thank you Erin!! And good luck!! Let us know if you have any specific questions.

    • tmm16

      I also have a similar experience, Erin! Came out of college running with 4 internships, excellent professional recommendations, and started my first job a month ago thinking… lol wait, I have no idea what I’m doing, JK. I tell myself everyone goes through it and it’s just part of the process! Haley’s recommendations also help a lot too 🙂