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Avoid Workplace Traps

In most work situations your positive, professional attitudes and actions play a large part in your success. If you’re feeling down about your job and stalled on your career path, it could be because you’ve stepped into a workplace trap—a situation where your actions and attitudes may be making you, your co-workers and your supervisor uncomfortable.

When you learn to recognize workplace traps, you can escape from the ones you’ve stepped into and step around others. This article looks at five of the most common workplace traps and offers suggestions to avoid them.

  1. Avoid complaining
    There will always be problems in the workplace and complaining won’t solve them. Complaining is never a good option because it just makes a bad situation worse. It lowers morale, wastes energy and gives you a reputation for negativity that can hurt your career. In fact, in a recent survey, the top workplace pet peeve is people who complain too much.

    Do what you can to change the situation. If that’s not possible, accept it and move on. If the situation is unacceptable and you’ve done everything in your power to change it without success, then look for a different job or ask for a transfer.

    • Avoid gossiping
      Gossip reduces productivity—if you’re gossiping, you’re not working. It creates mistrust and suspicion, leads to comparisons among co-workers and generally makes for an unpleasant workplace.

      When a co-worker starts gossiping, choose one of the following responses:
      • Leave the conversation—"I’ve got to run." "Got to make a call."
      • Change the subject—"How was your weekend?"
      • Steer the conversation in a more productive direction—"We can’t do much about that. What can we do to make things better around here?"

    • Avoid inappropriate online activities
      Your employer probably provides you with online access, including an email account. In an increasing number of workplaces, you may also be allowed to access social networking websites. Many employers can and do keep track of their employees Internet use.

      Make sure that the searches, posts and social networking you do during work hours and on workplace computers are related to your job. Check with your supervisor if it’s okay to access your personal email or social networking account during your breaks. Never visit a website that you wouldn’t want your supervisor to know about. Never email or post any content that you wouldn’t want to see, with your name on it, on an office bulletin board.

    • Avoid comparisons
      Comparing yourself to your co-workers creates anxiety and unhappiness. Dwelling on how much better they’re being treated, how much more they’re making or how much more attention they’re getting does not help you. In fact, it wastes your time, destroys your morale, increases your frustration and keeps you from taking positive action.

      When you’re tempted to compare your situation with a co-worker’s, ask yourself if there’s anything you can do to change things:
      • If the answer is yes, make a plan and take positive action, e.g. improve your skills, volunteer for a project or increase your workload. In other words, make sure your supervisor notices you for all the right reasons.
      • If the answer is no, accept the situation and take action to release any negativity you feel. For example, write down your short- and long-term goals and begin working towards them.

    • Avoid worrying about things beyond your control
      Office politics, confusing workplace policies and complex bureaucracies can sometimes be a fact of working life. If you’re worrying about big picture issues that don’t directly affect you, you may be finding it difficult to focus.

      Determine if the workplace issue you’re worried about is central to the work you’re doing. If it is and it’s not possible for you to change the situation, accept it and do the best you can under the circumstances or start looking for a different job.

    In just about every workplace, there’s the potential to step into uncomfortable situations. Being aware of these workplace traps makes it easier to avoid them. If you have stepped into a workplace trap, taking positive action will help you change either the situation or your response to it, and increase both your satisfaction and effectiveness.

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