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Bad Employee Behaviors. Are You Guilty?

I’ll never forget the day my client Joan* revealed to me that she had slept with her boss, but yet wasn’t sure why she wasn’t getting promoted at work.

“That can’t be what’s holding me back at work. No one knows about it,” she told me.

I was fairly confident that it wasn’t as much of a secret at the office as Joan had assumed.

I hold no judgment on Joan, but here’s the deal: Bad workplace behavior like this can really damage your professional reputation—not to mention get you fired. Of course, this is a pretty extreme example of bad employee behavior, but as it turns out, employee misconduct is more commonplace than most of us would have thought. A recent survey revealed just how prevalent: 55% of respondents reported that they had a co-worker who was regularly late, 54% reported having a co-worker who gossips, 53% had a co-worker who took a sick day when they weren’t sick, and 51% had witnessed a co-worker yell at someone. That means that more than half of the 2,000 respondents in this survey had witnessed all of the above bad behaviors by at least one co-worker at some point or another.

Not good news! No one should be yelling—or getting yelled at—in a professional work environment. And the office gossip needs to stop.

Other less common—but still too frequent—behaviors that respondents reported having witnessed in the workplace included taking an unapproved extended lunch break (43%), leaving early without asking the boss (41%), and lying to a superior (41%).

Ouch. Better hope you don’t get caught in one of those lies!

It’s not just employees who behave poorly—members of management were reported to exhibit various negative behaviors at work as well. A big chunk of respondents—37%—reported they had seen their boss yell at someone, 21% reported their bosses use bad language, and 19% witnessed a member of management gossip.

The survey also broke down specific behaviors by industry, profession, and gender. Employees in education, manufacturing, and retail were more likely to report faking a sick day, which begs the question of whether they’re taking more fake sick days, or are just being more honest about reporting it in the survey… Although those in education were also reported as being consistently late to work more so than other professions. What gives, teachers?

Men use bad language at work more often than women, but women were reported to be more likely to take a sick day without being sick. Women were more likely to gossip while men were much more likely than women to yell at the office. Men and women tied for the rates in which they reported lying to their bosses and arriving to work late on a regular basis. So at least there’s that.

In all seriousness, a word of caution: All of the habits and behaviors listed here can be very damaging to your professional reputation, no matter how seemingly benign. And rebuilding a tarnished professional rep is no small feat. Earning the trust and respect of colleagues is a career-long goal you should strive for, and doing things like showing up late all the time, dipping out before C.O.B. hoping no one will notice, and faking sick for a day off will chip away at your integrity and strip you of the trust and respect you worked so hard to earn.

In an era of transparency, be accountable. If you need to take a long lunch, give your colleagues and boss a heads up and stay a little late to show your dedication to your job and your team. If you need to leave early, just ask. Chances are, your boss will be OK with it, especially if you prearrange for someone to cover. But the worst thing you can do is sneak around and cut corners.

And for Pete’s sake, do yourself a favor—never, ever yell at the office, or sleep with your boss.

*Client name was changed due to confidentiality.

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