Common Workplace Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Coming in hot from a former HR specialist

09.14.16
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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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