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10 Habits You Don’t Realize Could Be Costing You That Promotion

If you're looking to move up the career ladder at your company, avoid these mistakes, which might cost you the promotion you've been hoping for.

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Viewed through glass with reflections of sleepy young Asian woman yawning while using laptop at cafe

You lack initiative

Unless you’re an entry-level employee, and likely even so, your boss and your company hired you to assert some level of independence in your role. In other words, waiting for your boss to micromanage and tell you every next step can cost you a promotion. “As an employer, I look for employees who can add value to my organization, save me time or money and make a positive contribution to the company and its clients,” says Jessica Hernandez, certified social branding expert, career expert and president of Great Resumes Fast. “If I have to constantly check in to make sure an employee is doing their job or taking the next logical course of action, it’s wasting time and energy that I could be investing into another project that will bring value or generate revenue.” What if your boss is a micromanager? Here are nine signs—and what you can do about it.

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Serious multiracial businessmen holding documents at meeting with businesswoman, male diverse entrepreneurs considering new contract with female partner, employees reading woman boss instructions

You’re not engaged

Just showing up to work isn’t even half the battle—you’re expected to participate in all conversations that are work-related, especially in meetings. Sitting there idly while the rest of the team converses and discusses official business shows you’re not passionate about your job. “If you want that promotion, consistently demonstrate the passion and performance that will make senior leaders stand up and take notice,” says Don Rheem, author of Thrive By Design and CEO of E3 Solutions.

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Two young businessman having a successful meeting at restaurant.
Dusan Petkovic/Shutterstock

You mix work with pleasure

Office romances happen—here’s what you need to know about dating a co-worker. Most employers discourage their employees from developing romantic relationships because, well, it can get messy, and it will likely impact your place in the office as well as the dynamic of your entire team. “Your romance will have an impact on promotions, projects, team building, and responsibilities,” says career coach, Kim Jones. “The relationship could make it more difficult for your department—and, depending on your position, your company to operate effectively.” Bottom line: You should never engage in mixing pleasure with your work.

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businessman looking at his watch on his hand, watching the time

Showing up late or leaving early

Even if you’re sure that your boss could care less, other people take note of your coming in late and heading home early—especially if you’re doing it all the time. “Coming to work late sends a message that your job is not a priority for you and that you don’t respect other people’s time,” says Jones. “Get in the habit of showing up on time and continue the practice if you want a promotion and the respect of those who work alongside you.” Read tips on how to better manage your time.

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A young woman sits in front of a pile of papers and a computer holding her head


No one likes being around a complainer—even if they agree with the complaints coming out of this person’s mouth. Sure, professional life has its frustrations and there are times when what you’re doing at work is less than ideal, but complaining won’t actually fix anything, explains Jones. In fact, constant complaining could make your coworkers see you as a negative person, and, in turn, lead to less-than-stellar peer reviews or even a reprimand from your superiors. “Learn how to deal with each situation as it comes and stop complaining no one will want you on their team with all the negativity coming from you,” she says. “If you don’t like something fix it, but don’t complain about it.”

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Business people meeting at office and use post it notes to share idea. Brainstorming concept. Sticky note on glass wall.

Not clearly understanding your organization’s goals and objectives

Large company meetings, especially ones scheduled at the crack of dawn might not be your favorite, but if you’re a valued member of the organization, you should be truly interested in hearing about annual reports and targets. “Even in smaller companies, it’s very important to listen to what your leader is saying about their growth plans,” says Rhian Sharp, president and CEO of Sharp Medical Recruiting and HR Consulting. “If you want to be promoted take notes of what your company plans do to achieve for the next one to five years.” This way, she explains, you can figure out what skill sets you need to improve upon to assist in helping the company achieve its targets.

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Two millennial coworkers having argument and business dispute in office. Businessman showing businesswoman paper document with working problems

You’re a naysayer

If you’re someone who has a habit of pointing out why a plan, idea or strategy won’t work, almost as a method of defense, chances are, you won’t be getting that promotion. “It’s important to have a balance when offering feedback or sharing constructive criticism,” explains Hernandez. “If you’re constantly negating or arguing with other people’s creative ideas, solutions and strategies it can stifle growth, advancement and an open environment within the company.” Check out the right way to give constructive feedback.

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bored business woman is almost falling from her chair
Franz Pfluegl/Shutterstock

You often kick back requests and additional work duties

If you immediately turn down work requests that aren’t entirely in your job description or that require you to come in early, you’re not being a team player. “If your employer starts to see a pattern in your declining to help or take over projects as assigned, this can certainly cost you a promotion,” says Hernandez. No one should expect you have to say yes to every single bit of extra work that comes your way, but you should be open to helping out now and then even when you don’t “have to.” This willingness to help, while being communicative of everything else you have on your plate, is how you get ahead, adds Hernandez. Here are some organizational tips that might help you get promoted.

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Young Handsome Office Man Talking to his Female Manager While Holding a Paper at his Working Table with Computer.

You tend to shift blame or not accept responsibility

Some people have the bad habit of automatically blaming mistakes on others or making excuses when they err, explains Hernandez. But nothing makes you less promotable than failing to accept responsibility when you make a mistake—or shifting the blame to another person or circumstance. “Employers want employees who know how to accept responsibility when they make a mistake—people who offer a solution to the problem, correct it, and move forward with a plan in place to prevent the mistake from happening again,” she says. “We all make mistakes—it’s how we learn and grow—but it’s what we do about the mistake and how we move forward that can be the determining factor between getting a promotion or not.” Try some of these easy ways to get your boss to trust you.

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Pretty girl in vintage denim clothes relaxing with legs on table and hands up. Tired young woman in black sneakers resting in office after hard work day.
Look Studio/Shutterstock

You dress very unprofessionally

Even if your place of work doesn’t have a dress code, you should try to follow this dress-for-success advice. “Good grooming is key,” says Jones. “Even if your workplace is casual, make sure you come in bathed and wearing clean clothes.” Remember the saying: Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. This is where it comes into play. “If you want to move up, dress for the role you want. Change your appearance. Look the part, smell the part and go for it.”

Jenn Sinrich
Jenn Sinrich is a freelance writer and editor with a passion for health, wellness and all things beauty. She has written for Women's Health, Shape, Self, Men's Health, Glamour and Healthline. Jenn holds a degree in journalism from Northeastern University, and she currently resides outside of Boston with her husband and two children. When she's not working, you can find her exercising, trying out new healthy recipes or exploring the city with her family.