10 Ways to be Annoying at Work and Ruin your Career

by Darwin on May 15, 2009

After spending some time in corporate America in roles ranging from the trenches in manufacturing to the cube farms in corporate to running international teams for projects, there are probably hundreds of annoying behaviors I’ve witnessed (and admittedly, a few that I’ve exhibited and learned from as well) that are worth mentioning.  Here are ten behaviors and tactics that are commonplace in the American workplace and are annoying at the most basic level and could actually end up hurting your career for more egregious or unchecked behavior.  In no particular order, here are some of my pet peeves:


  1. Blatantly Ignore Calls, Emails and Meetings – Look, we’re all busy – I get that.  If you get bombarded with a few calls in a day or your inbox is overflowing, for the queries that actually require a response, at least have the decency to say, “I got your note; I’m really tied up for the next day or two, but I’ll get back to you by the end of the week”.  It’s incredibly annoying to send a request to someone that you’re relying on and be blatantly ignored on a routine basis.  It puts you in an awkward position of either looking like a stalker by continuously harassing your counterpart or you end up missing deadlines or burdening other people with your responsibilities.  What I like to do, especially when someone sits in a rather remote area like a different building (so it’s totally unexpected), is just drop in on them and say, “Hey there, I didn’t hear back from you the other day, I need your input on…”. This is especially effective when they have their feet kicked up and they’re surfing the internet or something (real busy!).  I’ve done this twice and it’s worked like a charm.
  2. Gossip about your co-workers or the boss – This is one of the inevitable laws of human nature and Murphy’s law jumbled together.  Always, Always, Always – what you say about someone will get back to them. It may take days, weeks or years, but let’s face it, alliances change.  People drink together and spout off about something someone told them in confidence.  And the worst – the person you’re talking about has a tendency to quietly sneak up and walk in just as you’re delivering a punchline about them!  You may think that the person you’re confiding in or venting to is on your side and they’ve dished even more dirt than you have, but the reality is they will likely tell someone else what you said.  Another side-effect is that you earn yourself a reputation of being someone who can’t be trusted, a backstabber, two-faced, whatever.  If you’ve evolved to be “above it all”, you not only exhibit the leadership and maturity that your company is probably seeking, but you’ll earn the trust and respect of like-minded colleagues as well.
  3. Be an eternal Pessimist – Sure, the eternal cheerleader can be a bit annoying, and these days, they’re a bit muted, but a downer is even worse.  You know, that guy who seems eternally annoyed, bummed out, hates his job, hates the company, feels entitled, etc.  They keep him around for whatever reason, but when you ask, “How’s it going?”, the reply is inevitably something like, “To Hell” or “It’s going…”.  You’d be surprised at the reactions you get, when you’ve just been slammed with some sort of major challenge or setback and someone sheepishly asks how you’re doing and you say, “Great!  How ’bout you?”.  Even if it’s sarcastic with a laugh and you say, “Livin’ the dream baby!”, it beats the loser approach.  Attitudes are contagious and if you exude confidence and a positive outlook, good things happen. I’m not a strong believer in fate, karma, “The Secret” (what a joke, even at 5 bucks), but I do believe motivated, enthusiastic, happy people end up being much more successful in life than their opposites – probably due to human interactions, behaviors and outcomes that cannot be quantified.  But, it’s been my experience and the experience of practically everyone I’ve ever known which is enough for me.
  4. Punt! Play dumb and divert responsibilities elsewhere – This one drives me nuts.  There are people who are clearly responsible for a particular activity, workstream, whatever…and every time an obvious assignment heads their way there is an excuse as to why they can’t or won’t do it.  The efforts these people go to in order to avoid work astounds me.  Some common tactics include citing department/bureaucratic procedures that conflict with or disallow the request (inconsistently of course, depending on which interpretation benefits them for each situation), citing workload constraints, citing competing priorities, challenging the value/support/sponsorship for the request, asking “for more information on this because I need to understand this better” over and over without actually doing anything, and more.  Often, the end result is that the requester just finds someone else to do it or does it themselves, while the punter has just reinforced their behavior as effective. Fortunately, I don’t interact with anyone like this in my current role, but they’re out there!
  5. Play Office Politics – As coy and sophisticated as one thinks they are when they’re cozying up to the boss’s boss’s boss 3 levels higher or trying to form social contacts with “the powers that be”, the brown-noser often underestimates the ability of coworkers and bosses alike to spot what’s going on and it’s usually recognized early on and results in, well, #2.  People will talk about you behind your back and be annoyed by your disingenuous corner-cutting behavior.
  6. Gloat about your latest Achievement (or Bonus!) – Nothing fosters dissension amongst the ranks better than a department full of co-workers questioning why Johnny got a special award bonus or a huge raise last year when he was a total slacker and took credit for an idea or efforts that really belong to someone else.  If you had a great year or were just recognized, that’s great for you; perhaps not great for the morale of everyone else who either a) is in no position to judge or fully grasp what you did since they’re not you or your boss or b) thinks they are much more deserving of such accolades.  When you gloat, it just makes people want to see you fail – and that’s not where you want to be.
  7. Root for your colleagues to Fail – or worse, sabotage – We’ve all seen the show with the evil jealous friend or co-worker who’s constantly seeking to sabotage the success of the protagonist with mild success while never really being called out.  It’s so annoying to watch, it makes you just want to choke the character.  Well, in the workplace, it exists as well.  And while choking is usually frowned upon, there isn’t much you can do other than educate yourself, exert situational awareness and in some cases, confront the saboteur head on (in private is my recommendation).   They’ll likely deny any overt intent and come up with excuses for their conniving behavior, but they’ll know you’re on to them and back off. Some people think that they’ll rank higher at the end of the year because their peers did poorly.  Examples include subtly “calling out” a mistake in a staff meeting that anyone with a 3rd grade eduction can figure out who you’re talking about, finding an error or knowing someone’s headed in the wrong direction and just watching it happen instead of helping them out, or, partaking in #2.
  8. Never get your hands dirty and learn the process – Now, this isn’t necessarily a career killer, and in fact, plenty of people get ahead by actually NOT knowing what the heck is going on by just checking boxes, jumping job to job and delegating.  However, if you plan on being in a role for any reasonable period of time and want to earn the respect of your peers, subordinates and managers, LEARN THE PROCESS!  I don’t care if it’s construction, programming, sales, high tech, whatever – there are small nuances in the way the business runs, the way procedures are performed, common mistakes, opportunities for improvement, etc.  By showing the tactical day to day employees that you’re in it with them and willing to learn the landscape, you’ll garner immediate respect and they’ll go out of their way to help you when you need them.
  9. Obnoxious office behavior like leaving conference calls on speaker for the whole office to hear and arguing with your wife – There’s no need for your co-workers to have to listen to some customer meeting for 2 hours straight on speaker phone because a co-worker’s too lazy to pick up the earpiece or just wear a headset.  There are offices and conference room options, but please, no more meetings while we’re trying to work!  This should be common sense, but evidently, it’s not.
  10. Be a Slacker – with an aire of entitlement about oneself, just kick the feet back and watch everyone else do the work.  When the tough decisions are required, shift the tough call to someone else.  When a volunteer is needed, look away and get up and go to the restroom.  When a teammate needs a helping hand, find an excuse not to help.  You know who I’m talking about.  And if you take offense to this notion, perhaps it’s you!

So, What Are Your Annoying Office Behavior Stories?  I’d Love to Hear.

You're Not Following Darwin's RSS? Check out Why You Have to Subscribe to Darwin's Finance!

If you enjoyed this post, you can get free updates through RSS Feed or via Email whenever a new post is published. Rest assured that you can unsubscribe at any time via the automated system and your information will not be sold, archived or utilized for any other "nefarious" purposes.

{ 8 trackbacks }

Carnival of Twenty Somethings- Wedding Edition | Financial Highway
May 18, 2009 at 3:25 am
Real Time Internship News & Information Online.
May 18, 2009 at 9:02 am
Carnival of Personal Finance #205: Pay it Forward Edition
May 19, 2009 at 2:22 pm
Money Hacks Carnival - Otter Pop Editio | StretchyDollar
May 20, 2009 at 10:50 am
Weekly Mashup, Apple Pie Edition | My Life ROI, Getting the Best Return On Life
May 20, 2009 at 4:45 pm
Weekend reading: 23/5/09
May 23, 2009 at 4:28 am
* Weekly Highlights: May 17, 2009
January 31, 2010 at 12:30 pm
I Want A Second Income! | 20s Money
February 25, 2013 at 10:46 am


1 Money Beagle May 15, 2009 at 7:22 am

11. (To my co-worker) – Don’t clip your nails at your desk 10 times a day (or even once for that matter). Eww, yuck, enough already!

12. (Something I have to remind myself of during bouts of number 11 taking place) – Take calming breaths and walk away knowing that the preferred alternative of force-feeding nail clippers to co-worker (or shoving them somewhere else), would probably not help advance career goals.

Money Beagle’s last blog post..Annual Review Of Our Homeowners Insurance Policy

2 Funny about Money May 18, 2009 at 8:47 am

LOL! My obnoxious story has to do with a moronic secretary whom I couldn’t get rid of because she was a state employee. She almost burned down the building when she put her lunch in the microwave, turned the timer to 10 minutes (thinking she’d set it to 1 minute) and then wandered off and forgot about it.

When billows of smoke pouring out of the back room caught her attention, she trotted back there, saw her lunch on fire, reached into the micro, scraped the burning food into her purse, ran down the stairs with it, and threw the greasy, carbonized, burning mess into the atrium fountain! Needless to say, the resulting volcano-like eruption of steam entertained the bystanders no end.

She never bothered to offer to replace the microwave, which belonged to me and which was ruined beyond repair. It took two weeks to get the stink out of our office suite.

This was the same woman who used to stand over the shoulders of my research assistants while they were trying to eat their miserable little lunches and criticize everything they ate! The campus had no food vendors that were not junk-food chains–literally, your only choice for sorta real food was a JambaJuice in the basement of the student union, and there’s a limit to how many JambaJuices you can stomach. So of course they were eating Taco Hells and Burger Kings…because they had no choice. No amount of telling her to mind her own business did any good–she persisted in doing what she thought was “right.”

Which reminds me: you could add “be endlessly insubordinate for the sheer joy of insubordination” to your list.

Funny about Money’s last blog post..w00t! Times has PF frenzy!

3 Chris @ BuildMyBudget May 18, 2009 at 7:38 pm

All I can say is wow…what an excellent post. haha

4 Darwin May 18, 2009 at 10:29 pm

Beagle and Funny, these are great ones, thanks for sharing!

Clipping nails in the office? Wow. Reminds me of a co-worker that was trying to lose weight using a cabbage diet. He was constantly blasting ’em in the office and then he’d tell of his escapades in the rest room (which apparently come quite frequently on this type of diet). As a guy, OK, it was a bit amusing maybe the first two times, but got old real fast.

5 dashton dietrick July 8, 2009 at 4:08 pm

I found your blog on google and read this great post on loan modification. I just added this site to my Google News Reader. I Look forward to reading more here in the future.

6 David November 12, 2009 at 1:05 pm

What utter tosh! You have obviously never worked in the “pc” correct Blue Chip environment. Sure these 10 attributes will annoy the hell out of everyone else as they know full well there is nothing they can do to remove the person concerned. Subsequently smug gits will continue to hold down a well paid roles at the expense of others who could perform a damn site more professionally.
Welcome to the UK! My office is my playroom not my workroom!

7 MoneyEnergy November 12, 2009 at 2:08 pm

Excellent list food for thought – but it seems some of these points might be really fine lines to tread. Hard to imagine an absence of a**-ki*sing with higher-ups, especially when it’s baked into the system. But some of them (like gossip) are clearly not only bad for the workplace but bad anywhere in general. That’s what you do in elementary school. There’s a good way and a bad way to talk about others and get the info you need.

Comments on this entry are closed.