Unprofessional man at his desk
Naps at your desk are probably frowned upon. Image: Antonio Guillem/Shuttestock

10 bad habits that make you look unprofessional

8 Feb 2017

Do you sense hostility from your colleagues? Sure, maybe they’re not very nice people. On the other hand, maybe it’s you. Are you guilty of any of these bad habits?

It might seem obvious, but bad work etiquette isn’t always obvious to the person who’s doing it.

Some employees might not realise how often they’re turning up late to meetings, or how loud they are when they talk on the phone.

If that someone is you, then you might need to check your behaviour as these habits make you look extremely unprofessional and, in extreme cases, could even cost you your job.

If you feel like your boss is suddenly treating you with a certain level of disdain or your colleagues are keeping you at arm’s length, you might want to check this list of unprofessional behaviours before you get pulled into a meeting.

Going into work sick

You’re not a hero, you’re a martyr – and an unhelpful one at that.

For a start, employees often underestimate how much being sick affects their mental capacities. You will not be firing on all cylinders and therefore, not delivering the best standard of work.

Secondly, no one will thank you for coming in with a contagious illness that you can spread around the office. No matter how careful you are, sickness will spread like wildfire in work.


It might feel like harmless office gossip, but talking about your colleagues behind their backs will not end well for you.

Even if there’s just a pair of you in it, bitching about a colleague doesn’t exactly make you seem like a good team player.

What’s more, getting involved in office gossip or bitching is toxic. It creates bad vibes and negative energy in the office. It makes you think, ‘What are they saying about me?’.

Poor grammar

Depending on the industry you work in, you might not think perfect spelling and grammar is essential to how well you do your job – but you’d be wrong.

Someone who doesn’t take care when writing reports, presentations and emails shows someone who doesn’t take much pride in their work. Even if spelling and grammar aren’t your strong points, there are plenty of ways to check it before sending it on.

Similarly, good email etiquette seems obvious but in fact, it’s so obvious, that it’s easily neglected. Bad email manners are impolite and makes you look unprofessional to others.

Being late

You probably know that being late makes you look unprofessional. But how often are you late? You might not realise how frequently you’re emailing your boss complaining about the traffic.

If you want to look even more unprofessional, rock into the office late with a takeaway coffee. That shows your boss and other colleagues that you were already running late for work and made the decision to delay yourself further by stopping for a personal errand.

Having a messy desk

Of course, this depends on how much storage you have and what has your desk so messy. Is it piles of important files and reports that you have nowhere else to put? If so, you can probably skip this point.

However, if your desk is cluttered with random scraps of paper, scattered post-its and numerous old coffee cups, then you should probably take a step back and look at your desk. Does it look like someone professional works here?

A messy desk makes it look as though you take no pride in your place of work. Take the time to clear out anything old, tidy up any unnecessary papers and put away any files or notes that you don’t need. Then, clean up what you do need on your desk and make sure it’s organised and easily accessible.

Taking personal calls

It’s okay to take the occasional personal call, as long as you keep it short. However, the employee who is constantly on the phone to their friends or family just for general chats is being disrespectful.

Equally, texting excessively or just generally being on your mobile a lot will make you look unprofessional. Keep the non-work communication for your lunch break or after work.

Lone wolf syndrome

If you want something done right, you better do it yourself, right? Wrong.

If you have a tendency to take on all the work yourself, it shows that you are bad at delegation, a bad team player and, yes, unprofessional.

Think about when you played team sports in school. No one liked the ‘selfer’ who ran down the field and tried to score without any help.

If you’re the type of person who wants to do it all on their own, you will inevitably fall short somewhere, which will look bad on you, not just because you failed to deliver, but because you don’t trust your team and aren’t willing to accept help.

Being negative

We’re all guilty of complaining about work occasionally, but make sure you check how often you give out, particularly in the office itself.

Similar to office gossip, negativity is infectious, so complaining vocally to other colleagues (or even just sitting at your desk with an angry face) will not portray you in a good light.

If you sound and look like you don’t want to be there, your boss will think you really don’t. They don’t want a disengaged employee filing work that might be inadequate because you didn’t care enough to make the effort.

Social media addiction

There are a few danger zones here. For a start, procrastinating on Facebook or Twitter looks bad for obvious reasons.

Secondly, you have to watch your online presence too. Even if you don’t go on social media during your work day, you still have to watch what you say.

Don’t complain about work or your company on social media. Even implicit or veiled complaints are a no-no. You should also be careful about saying anything controversial that might paint you, as an employee of the company, in a bad light. Remember: writing ‘All views are my own’ on your Twitter profile doesn’t necessarily protect you.


This one is an easy, yet dangerous, trap to fall into.

The truth is, we can all be guilty of overpromising and underdelivering. Did you promise you’d make it in for a certain meeting? Did you put an unrealistic deadline on yourself for a project? Have you ever taken on too much in a desperate attempt to impress?

Most unrealistic promises will eventually lead to you letting your team down. Even though it’s an accident, knowing how to manage your time and being realistic about what you can do is an important part of any job. Leaving your boss disappointed will definitely make you look unprofessional, even if your good intentions were there.

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Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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