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15 Work Mistakes (+ How to Avoid Them)

Mistakes happen everywhere, even in the workplace. We've compiled a list of the most common work mistakes and are here to tell you how to avoid them.
15 Work Mistakes (+ How to Avoid Them)

Mistakes at work happen all the time. No matter how experienced you may be, it is inevitable that a mistake or two will crop up at some point in your career.

Some of these work mistakes can be much more severe than others, but they all reflect on you, your professionalism, and your performance as an employee.

Below we have compiled 15 examples of mistakes made at work that you should watch out for and avoid.

Note, this article is all about the most common work mistakes. We have a separate article on top interview mistakes.

Work Mistake #1:​ Overworking

We all want to stand out, prove ourselves, and show that we deserve that promotion because of what we are capable of. Maybe we’ll take on a few extra projects or promise more than we can handle in hopes of getting recognition. But proving your worth is not exactly the same as overworking.

Your worth as an employee is not always equal to the amount of work you do. Rather, it’s the quality of the work itself. Overworking can lead to stress, loss of focus, a general decrease in the quality of your work, and ultimately burnout.

Work Mistake #2: Underworking

Just like with overworking, underworking is another common work mistake that can present a huge problem for obvious reasons.

As an employee, you are on company time that you are being paid for. If you work too little or work with little regard to the quality of your work, you’re not only wasting company resources and hindering co-workers who rely on you to do your part, but you are also building an unprofessional reputation for yourself as someone who is not interested in the work or lacks the motivation to a good job.

Work Mistake #3: Skill Stagnation

Work smarter, not harder. It’s something that’s very often repeated and is absolutely true within the workplace.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses, but not working on your weaknesses or improving your strengths is a common mistake people make at work, and is not a healthy or productive mindset. Instead, try to analyze your work, learn the ins and outs, figure out what skills are invaluable for it, and improve on said skills to make the workflow easier both for yourself and others.

The more efficient you become, the more work you can get done by the end of the day, and the easier your day-to-day tasks will be. Remember that the more work you put into professional self–improvement related to your work, the better it will reflect on you as an employee and your worth within the workplace.

Work Mistake #4: Missing Deadlines

Deadlines are crucial. Some may be tighter than others, but at the end of the day, it is your job to manage your time effectively and meet them. Missing deadlines will reflect badly on you, leading some to think that you’re unreliable, that you lack interest in your work, or that you’re not motivated in your job.

To avoid making this mistake at work, try and organize your tasks during the day with the help of to-do lists or sticky notes, and prioritize important or urgent tasks and projects. To-do list apps are also a good option, as you can set reminders for yourself, so you’re always alerted at the right time. Remember that it’s always a good idea to start as early as you can, so as to leave enough time for yourself to comfortably finish on time.

If you feel like you might miss a deadline, reach out to your supervisor or manager and explain the situation and kindly ask for a bit more time. Of course, this is not always possible, but it is a good rule of thumb to follow.

Work Mistake #5: Disorganization

No matter what your job is, proper organization is important for your ability to do your job well.

Having an unfocused schedule for the day or week can lead to unproductive work and missed deadlines. In the same way, having a messy workstation or desktop will leave you clueless as to where vital tools or pieces of information are and can even be dangerous depending on your line of work.

To get around this mistake, simply try and take notes of what needs to be done, sort your files and tools in a way that suits you, and clear your desk or station of clutter that is not vital to your work.

Work Mistake #6: Ineffective Breaks

Time away from work is very important, and you should be taking regular breaks from your tasks.

Short breaks keep you fresh, help you maintain focus, and help you avoid making mistakes at work because you’re drowsy. But a pitfall of many workers is not using their breaks wisely.

It’s a balancing act. If you take too many breaks, you will not have a productive mindset. Same as taking too few breaks, or one really big break in the middle of the day.

To avoid this mistake at work, try and take short breaks at regular intervals. Nothing fancy.

  • Get up to stretch your legs
  • Look away from your screen
  • Get something to drink
  • Chat with a free co-worker for a few minutes

Stay away from hopping on your phone or starting a conversation that you know will drag on. When the 5 or so minutes are up, get straight back to work and you’ll keep that streak of productivity going.

Work Mistake #7: Not Being Part of the Team

Being an employee means being a part of a collective. Productive work can only be done when everyone works together to achieve a goal.

Separating yourself from the team, or not engaging with them at all, is a huge mistake that can have harmful effects on both you and your colleagues’ work.

To avoid this work mistake, try and maintain a friendly reputation with your co-workers. Get to know them, join in on office events, and even help them out from time to time if your own schedule allows. These small gestures will often be returned to you when you most need them.

Work Mistake #8: Not Respecting Other People’s Time

Your co-workers have their own work and their own deadlines and are on company time like you. And just like you, they can get distracted or interrupted in their work.

Respect both your own and others’ time and productivity with small things like not engaging in overly long conversations about non-work-related topics, writing long or confusing emails, or constantly asking questions about things that you can easily find on your own.

Work Mistake #9: Personal Calls

While on the topic of interruptions, another work mistake that you should try and avoid is taking personal calls during work hours which disrupt not only your own workflow but everyone else’s around you.

Of course, some calls have to be taken, and it’s alright if they are not too long and you keep your voice down. But if you feel like a call is going on too long, try and find a quieter place where people aren’t busy, or just hang up and call them back at a more appropriate time.

Work Mistake #10: Email Etiquette

As we’ve mentioned before, another common work mistake to avoid comes in the form of emails. It’s an essential tool of communication, but because it is so common, it is very often used improperly.

Nobody wants to spend their work hours reading through a novella, nor do they want to waste their time deciphering the meaning. So a simple rule to remember is to be concise, precise, and to the point.

Get your messages or questions across directly with a clear subject, provide context if needed, and check your grammar and spelling. Your colleagues should be able to get the gist of your email from the subject line and the first few sentences.

Work Mistake #11: Failure to Properly Communicate

Communication plays a major role in any team and this is especially true for a work environment. Conflicts can often occur but the way it is handled is more important than what the conflict is actually about.

It’s easy to get upset, shift blame, be sarcastic, or passive-aggressive, but these are all mistakes you should try and avoid at work. Instead, prioritize clear and open communication.

Find the root of the problem and address it directly. Calling a meeting with the team is a great way to address larger issues while asking for a more private conversation with a co-worker can resolve smaller, personal issues.

Work Mistake #12: Engaging in Office Politics

Office politics is a clear example of a breakdown in clear and open communication.

Engaging in office politics inherently undermines openness and has a long-term detrimental effect on you, your reputation, your co-workers and/or your team, and the productivity and quality of work in general.

Whenever possible, try to avoid this work mistake by not getting involved, and in the unfortunate circumstance that you are, use clear and open communication to mitigate and or avoid major conflict or fallout that will leave lasting tension within the team.

Work Mistake #13: Disrespecting Boundaries

No matter how comfortable you are at a workplace, it is still a formal environment where you should have consideration for your co-workers. This means respecting both their physical and emotional boundaries.

It is very important that you get to know your co-workers, but it is also important that you do not overstep their boundaries at work. This includes:

  • Asking questions about sensitive topics
  • Sharing sensitive information
  • Engaging in physical contact (hand on the shoulder or standing too close)

Remember that it’s better to practice restraint or to ask if something is alright than to just go ahead with it and cause discomfort to a coworker.

Work Mistake #14: Trouble with Feedback

Feedback is incredibly important not just to receive, but to give. How someone deals with feedback is very telling of the type of employee they are.

Taking negative feedback and evaluating and working on yourself shows that you’re someone who can grow and improve, which is a highly desirable trait in any work environment. But the best responses are often to positive feedback.

It is good practice to learn how to give feedback to colleagues. Positive feedback at work can help improve morale and motivation and improve work relationships. Focusing on what someone does right and giving advice on how they can improve is much more constructive than simply doling out negative criticism.

Work Mistake #15: Not Owning Up To Your Mistakes

Perhaps the biggest mistake you should avoid is not owning up to your mistakes. It is a natural reaction to avoid taking responsibility for things that might negatively affect your reputation. But keep in mind that responsibility is one of the most valued traits in any environment.

Mistakes are there to be learned from, and if you can own up to your mistake, make it a point to change, and manage to prove yourself, it will reflect much better on you than avoiding or shifting the blame.

Avoiding these 15 mistakes at work will ensure you maintain a good relationship with your boss and coworkers, have a healthy work environment, and are seen in the best possible light.

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Pamela Skillings
Pamela is the co-founder of BigInterview and an expert interview coach on a mission to help job seekers get their dream jobs. As an HR authority, she also provides consulting services to companies wishing to streamline their hiring process.

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