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30 Things You Should Never Do at Work 

The office faux pas to ditch (before your boss ditches you)

Whether you're logging long hours in a warehouse or doing your daily grind behind a desk, there are some unassailable rules that go along with being a gainfully employed adult. And while your company's CEO may come in wearing ripped jeans or your manager may take your team out for drinks from time to time, that doesn't mean all sense of propriety flies out the window when you return to work.

"I find that my clients who work at startups or companies that seek to lessen the sense of hierarchy between employees and supervisors often struggle to make sense of how to negotiate office dynamics," says Dr. Cicely Horsham-Brathwaite, Ph.D., a New York-based psychologist and career counselor. "In decades past, office structures demonstrated roles and power differentials. You knew, for example, who had power based on whether they had a corner office with windows, or a door and perhaps a gatekeeper like an admin who didn't allow access to the boss. Fast forward to today where you may be sitting near the CEO whom you spend 10 hours with per day sharing ideas (and sometimes even gossip about the personal life of other employees). This creates an illusion of openness that simply may not, and arguably should not exist."

If you want to climb the corporate ladder—or even if you're just eager not to get called into HR with a litany of complaints filed against you, it pays to have these 30 things you should never do at work committed to memory. And when you want to take your career to the next level, make sure you know The 25 Best Ways to Score a Promotion.

Over-consume alcohol

hilarious words

Just because your workplace offers the occasional happy hour doesn't mean you should use it as an excuse to get wasted. Having a drink with your coworkers is a totally acceptable means of socializing, but getting drunk and revealing your deepest, darkest secrets will definitely make it awkward at the office on Monday morning.

"I think you have to be very careful. If you know what you can tolerate, don't go above that," says career counselor and coach Lynn Berger. "People notice and you don't really want the attention being drawn to you in that way." And when you want to improve your position in the workplace, make sure you know the 40 Best Ways to Jumpstart Your Career.

Have dramatic phone fights

Woman on Phone Work From Home Jobs

Sure, relationship drama doesn't always begin and end after office hours are over. That said, if you're having loud, dramatic personal phone calls at work, don't be surprised if you're not employed for long. Not only will hearing your personal business likely make everyone around you plenty uncomfortable, it also means that you're wasting valuable company time and money with your non-stop drama.


Angry boss, first heart attack, smart word

Working on a team can be frustrating and may make you want to rip your hair out from time to time. However, no matter how hot under the collar you might be, there's never an excuse to yell at your colleagues. If you feel like you're on the verge, excuse yourself until you can regain your calm. And for more office faux pas, check out these 20 Subtly Sexist Things People Still Say at Work.

Grab some extra office supplies

office supplies, deals, discounts

Of course, it's not uncommon to return home only to realize you've got a pen or pad of sticky notes from the office in your bag. However, if you're intentionally skimming supplies from your workplace, your boss probably won't look to kindly upon your sticky fingers. After all, those supplies are costing somebody serious money, and you could risk your job by swiping them.

Talk trash

girls gossiping Embarrassing Things

We all have those coworkers we don't get along with, but that doesn't mean it's ever wise to express your less than positive feelings about them in the workplace. While you may feel like disparaging your coworkers will make you look better by comparison, all it really does is reveal that you're not a team player.

Reveal overly personal details about your life

woman scorning man in office

As you get to know your coworkers, details about your personal life are bound to come up, whether you're lamenting a recent breakup or bragging about your kids' accomplishments. However, that doesn't mean that every personal issue is fair game; generally speaking, your sex life and in-depth discussions of your medical issues should always be off-limits.

"In business, you should place limits on sharing your whole self because it could interfere with your abilities to produce the product or service you work on with your team," says Dr. Horsham-Brathwaite. "The thing about intimacy is that too much of it in the work world can make it seem as if you are connecting with your work colleagues on a personal level; it makes you see people in more personal ways (we are here for each other) more so than professional ones (we are here to accomplish a business goal). The people who get rewarded are those that accomplish business goals while being able to connect in an appropriate way." Her advice? "Bring yourself, but not your full, unedited self. No one needs to know how hung over you are on Monday morning."

Steal your coworker's lunch

Man Eating Tomato Anti-Aging

Those names on the lunch bags in your work fridge are there for a reason. Stealing your coworkers' food is not only rude, it may rob them of the only chance they have to eat during the workday—not everyone has the time or available cash to grab a second meal, after all. And if you want to make yourself a better employee, make sure to ditch the 40 Things No One Should Ever Say at Work.

Give creepy compliments

Office dating

The office doesn't have to be a totally compliment-free zone. Acceptable compliments include: "Congratulations on that promotion!" or "I like your new haircut." Ones that don't pass muster? Anything about a coworker's body, sex appeal, or anything backhanded, like, "I'd never imagine someone as hot as you could be so smart."

Eat pungent food

weight loss motivation

Unless you want to make your coworkers hate you, keep those pungent foods where they belong: at home (and far, far away from your desk). There are few things more antisocial than heating up last night's fish tacos in the microwave or bringing in a batch of steamed broccoli.

Get political

American Flags in Crowd

No matter which side of the political aisle you find yourself on, bringing up politics in a workplace setting is a recipe for disaster. While your liberal leanings or conservative philosophy may be known to your coworkers, being vocal about your particular politics in the workplace can make your coworkers feel uncomfortable or even harassed.

Blame coworkers for your mistakes

things women over 40 need to know

No matter how old you are, it's always difficult to accept blame. That said, if you want to keep your job (and the respect of your colleagues), it's important to admit your mistakes and never lay the blame on someone else. Telling your boss that a mistake is someone else's fault won't necessarily make them look bad, but it will make you look like someone who can't be trusted.

Refuse to do your job

frustrated woman in office in front of laptop

While taking your boss's cat to the vet probably isn't on your list of official duties as the office accountant, you shouldn't simply refuse to do certain things just because they weren't listed in the job description. As you grow in your career, your list of responsibilities will inevitably grow, too, and the more often your boss hears, "That's not my job," the more likely they'll be to find someone who does want to tackle those tasks.

Talk religion

Hands in prayer, Pixabay

Is it okay to mention that you're celebrating a religious holiday to your coworker? Sure. Is it cool to ask them if they've been saved? No way. While it's fine to mention that you are religious in the workplace or explain some of your traditions to a colleague, proselytizing is always inappropriate in a professional setting.

Ignore your boss's orders

Stern boss, bad bosses

There's a major difference between your boss's casual requests and their orders. If you want to keep rising in the ranks, or even just keep your job, it's important to know which is which, and to make sure you're complying with the latter. If your boss tells you something is due by noon on Friday and you take that to mean Monday morning, don't be surprised if you're not on the payroll for long.

Talk about another person's race

Woman Being Bullied Sexist at Work

It's not just obviously racist comments that are inappropriate at work: discussing another person's race or asking them intrusive questions about their ethnic background is nearly as bad. If your coworker hasn't brought up their ethnic background personally, it's probably not appropriate for you to.

Groom at your desk

hilarious words

Repeat it until it becomes deeply ingrained: the office is not your grooming station. While it's fine to throw on some lipstick in the bathroom before you head out for the day, brushing your hair, clipping your nails, or putting on makeup at your desk is just gross.

Work on a side job

woman at computer Never Say to a Teacher

You may have a dozen side hustles on top of your 9-to-5, but that doesn't mean you should be working on them when you're at your main gig. If you're working on side projects at the office, you're cutting into time you should be focusing on your "real" job. For ideas on how to nab some extra dough, though, check out these 20 Lucrative Side Hustle Ideas for Putting Your Savings on Steroids.

Initiate unwanted physical contact

Office dating

Just because you're a hugger doesn't mean your coworkers will relish your physical affection. Whether you're hugging people, giving unwanted backrubs, or putting your hand on a colleague's knee, making physical contact with your coworkers outside the occasional handshake or high five is never a great idea.

"You want to err on the side of being very careful, because what one person thinks is being friendly another person can see differently," says Berger. "You don't want anything misinterpreted."

Exaggerate your credentials

Looking at resume

Sure, everyone inflates their skill set a little bit when they're trying to land a job. However, once you've already snagged the role, it's time to stop pretending to know how to do things you don't. If you say you're a social media pro but don't know how to compose a tweet, you're going to get found out sooner or later.

Overdo the perfume or cologne

woman spraying perfume floral

Workplaces are often tight quarters, and that means that spraying yourself from head to toe in your favorite fragrance is never a good idea. While a dab of perfume or cologne on your neck or wrist is probably fine, bringing a cloud of the stuff into the office with you is undeniably antisocial.

Say yes to everything

resume noticed, Pick-Up Lines So Bad They Might Just Work

While you don't want to be known as the person at the office who says no to everything, saying yes to everything won't work out much better in the long run. Overloading yourself with tasks you simply don't have time for will make you the office doormat in no time, and puts you at risk for burnout, too. If you feel yourself running headlong toward that outcome, you may want to bone up on the 25 Genius Ways to Conquer Office Burnout.

Send personal emails from your work account

Email, more time, productivity

Virtually no one has only a work email address these days, so there's no good reason to send private emails from your professional email address. Not only is this potentially against company policy, those emails probably aren't as private as you think, so if you don't want your company's HR or IT staff knowing your personal business, it's best to keep it out of your office email.

Dress too casually

80s Jokes

Sure, Mark Zuckerberg hits the office in jeans and a hoodie, but that doesn't mean that anything you want to wear to work is fair game. As a rule of thumb, anything ripped, body-part-bearing, or with offensive sayings on it should stay at home.

"Your workplace might be very casual, but your clothing still needs to be very neat and appropriate. There's a difference between casual and appropriate and casual and not appropriate," says Berger. "You don't want to draw too much attention to yourself. If you're questioning it yourself, it's probably not worth wearing."

Arrive late

Time Being Single in your thirties

We're all a few minutes late to work from time to time, but chronic lateness is actually a pretty big deal. Not only is it rude to keep showing up late, it also slows down your whole workplace and may even get you fired in the long run. To hone your punctuality, learn these 15 Easy Hacks That Will Make You On Time—All The Time.

Disclose company secrets

hilarious words

Did you hear your boss talking about a potential merger? Are you certain that your firm is adding a hotshot new hire to the team? If you happen to hear a company secret, keeping it to yourself is always the best policy; if it gets back to the folks in charge that you're spilling the dirt, don't be surprised if you end up on the chopping block.

Arrive sick

Sick woman

If you're feeling under the weather, stay home. While one study reveals that 69 percent of American workers don't call in sick, even when they should, taking the time off is important for your health and the health of your coworkers. What could just be a one-day bug for you might seriously compromise the health of your colleagues, especially those with other medical issues.

Listen to music without headphones

energy before noon

Your office isn't a house party, so there's no good reason to have your music blasting at your desk. However, that doesn't mean you should necessarily keep your headphones in all day, either—if you're not listening to something, having your headphones in sends a message that you don't want to communicate with your colleagues. "You might be tuning out the noise, but it can also be seen as antisocial behavior," says Berger.

Waste your day on social media

social media changes after 40

According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, 77 percent of employees surveyed admitted to going on social media despite workplace policies that specified against it. And while in many workplaces, it's not exactly out of the ordinary to check in on Facebook or Twitter from time to time, if you're spending hours doing so, you're wasting company time and shouldn't be surprised if it becomes an actionable issue.

Start conflicts

never say this at work

Sure, it can be frustrating to work with someone who has a different style than you. That said, it's better to try to compromise than to be known as the employee who's always arguing with their coworkers.

Skip important events

things divorced people know

You don't have to be on call for social events after work every night of the week, but it's important to attend the right workplace events. Skipping office birthdays or the company holiday party year after year means you're not only missing out on opportunities to bond with your coworkers, you're also making it clear that the company's priorities and yours aren't exactly well-matched. And if you feel like you and your current job aren't a good fit, try scoring one of the 20 Best Jobs if You're Over 40.

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Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more
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