Admit it: there's at least one thing you do at work, maybe even on a daily basis, that you're a little nervous or guilty about. I'm not talking about embezzlement or corporate espionage; I'm talking about small, innocuous habits you might not even think about anymore. You do them, knowing they're not in accordance with policy or etiquette, and you aren't worried about the consequences because of how trivial the action seems.

Nobody is perfect in the workplace, and we all make mistakes and knowingly violate policies from time to time, but this unworried, habitual mentality can be dangerous. If repeated enough, your actions will eventually be noticed, and if your habits are bad enough, you could wind up suffering substantial disciplinary action, possibly losing your job.

These seven sneaky work habits are good examples of how little things can land you in some serious jeopardy:

1. Goofing off online. In this era, social media and online recreation have become commonly accepted; few bosses would ever think of scolding you for jumping on Facebook to check your newsfeed every once in a while. But if you find yourself browsing through social media, reading articles, or even playing games online more than once or twice a day on a daily basis, eventually the habit will catch up with you. Around half of all employers monitor Internet usage to some degree, and while that information shouldn't make you paranoid, it should dissuade you from spending too much time online doing non-work related things.

2. Shirking small responsibilities. There are several ways to shirk those small responsibilities you hate doing--you might pass them off to a coworker, you might state that they "aren't your job," and you might even ignore them altogether. In any case, shirking a responsibility like this may not bring any significant punishment; it might even be justifiable in some cases. But if you form a pattern of behavior in line with this type of action, you'll eventually have to pay the price. If you find that you're getting too many tasks not relevant for your skillset, you can initiate a conversation about redefining your responsibilities. Don't just ignore them or pass them off.

3. Hiding mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes. Most of them are survivable. When you mess something up (for example, let's say you gravely misreported the effects of last quarter's new marketing initiative), it's tempting to try to cover it up. You might avoid bringing up the topic, change the subject when it does come up, or continue lying about the outcomes. Doing this might temporarily keep you out of trouble, but if the mistake is found out later, you'll be in worse trouble than you would have just admitting the error. If you do this repeatedly, eventually someone will catch you, so be as open and honest about your mistakes as you can.

4. Gossiping. Gossiping can be positive or negative, though the overwhelming majority of gossip is negative. On the surface it seems harmless, and because gossip is naturally so conversational, you might not even realize what you're saying is gossip. But if sensitive information starts to circulate the office, it could come back to haunt you. Even if you keep a tight seal on your gossip's reach, eventually you could develop a reputation as the office gossip, meaning people will trust you less and might even avoid you altogether. You might escape formal punishment here, but the office culture will suffer at your hands.

5. Using company tech as personal tech. Your work email is intended to be used only for work-related communications. Like with Internet usage, many companies actively monitor company-related emails. If you use your account to email with friends and relatives, the personal information you include in the exchanges could be subject to external review. Beyond that, if you're caught using company equipment for personal use--like printing off flyers for your garage sale or playing mobile games on a company phone--enough times, you could wind up facing disciplinary action.

6. Complaining about your boss. Even the best boss in the world has some flaws his/her employees will want to complain about. That doesn't mean you should do so openly. Complaining about the boss when he isn't around might seem acceptable--and the people around you might even join in--but if you do it often enough, eventually that information will get back to the boss. At that point, you'll seem negative, but more importantly, you'll seem sneaky and deceptive. That isn't a reputation you want to build for yourself in the workplace, and especially not with the boss.

7. Playing on your phone during meetings. Most employees now bring their smart phones or tablets to office meetings, under the pretense of taking notes or being available for emergency calls. But more often than not, employees use these device to multitask or distract themselves when the meeting runs too long. Even if the meeting is overly long or pointless, distracting yourself in this way shows disrespect to the meeting organizer, and if done repeatedly can severely weaken your reputation as a committed team player in the office. You're better off leaving your devices outside the meeting area so you aren't even tempted.

If done once or twice, these seven habits probably won't warrant any meaningful attention beyond a casual warning, but if repeated indefinitely, you could land yourself in real trouble. They may not seem like anything significant, but they're certainly not worth losing your job over, so avoid them whenever you can. Again, nobody expects you to be perfect, but knowingly committing sneaky or dishonest actions repeatedly could illustrate you as a sneaky, dishonest person. Instead, climb the corporate ladder through hard (and quality) work, honesty, and integrity.

Published on: Sep 25, 2015