Assumptions in the workplace can be serious trouble--they not only can create conflict, but also have the potential to affect how you work in ways that hold you back. Out of all the assumptions that float around cubicles, these are arguably the worst.

1. People who stay late or put a lot of hours on the clock are hardworking and dedicated.

Like Peter Gibbons from the classic film, Office Space, a lot of "work" is actually stare-at-the-computer/desk-and-space-out time--we're often overwhelmed and unhappy and can't help but mentally shut down. And even if we're not spaced and are perfectly blissful, that doesn't mean we're "doing for the boss" (personal calls, social media, snacks ring any bells?). A 2016 survey, for example, revealed that the average worker actually only works 3 hours a day!

It's important to know that many of us are "there but not there" because, psychologically, we tend to compare ourselves and try to outdo each other in terms of work hours to gain some semblance of job security/social status. The undue stress from that comparison has real, negative connotations for both mental and physical wellbeing.

What you can do:

Experiment with shorter work weeks and other policies. Research indicates that companies effectively can cut down on worker hours and actually see an increase in productivity due to better work-life balance and decreased stress. Other policy changes (e.g., personal phones in lockers, clock out once assigned tasks are done) can improve efficiency, too.

Employ more transparent metrics. You don't have to give names. But if employees know what's actually getting done in meetings, on applications, etc., they can modify their behaviors to get more done in less time.

2. You'll climb the ladder as time goes on.

This might be true if you stay with one company for a long time. But now more than ever, people are leaving jobs, usually around every 4.2 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And that doesn't necessarily mean that you pick up at a level you left off at. Because the job market is so competitive, some people actually have to take jobs below their last title or pay grade. Some people also want to explore different careers, so they end up at the ground level multiple times.

Leaving this assumption behind can reduce title and pay envy--you can focus more on what you've learned or done at each business to define your success. It also can make you more willing to hear out workers with lower tenure, as you'll understand that they might have life experience that could yield massive contributions. Just as importantly, it can force you to rethink your financial plan, as you'll be more realistic about how your income might increase over time.

What you can do:

Try new things and educate yourself. The more you learn and try, the more likely it is that you'll discover what you're really good at or passionate about early. Then you can set up a clearer career path you don't have to keep deviating from.

Find at least one great teacher. Finding a fabulous mentor can make it easier to see your strengths and weaknesses so you take a good path. But they also have the connections you can lean on to get an "in" when skills, experience and education alone won't set you apart for better gigs.

3. Those at the top have money, intelligence or both.

Lots of people in business make huge financial sacrifices to keep their businesses solvent, and when you first start a company, you can be a founder who's thousands or even millions of dollars in debt to lenders and investors.

Many individuals who start businesses actually aren't on the high end of the IQ scale. But what they do well is leverage the talent and intelligence of others. They are willing to admit what and when they don't know, and they lean on experts to pull everything together and make it work.

It's critical to leave these assumptions behind because they can stop you from feeling like you have the tools or resources to experiment with great ideas. They make it seem like you have less control over your own success than you really do.

What you can do:

Make more information about your personal and business finances available through the year. It's not necessary to disclose your entire personal portfolio here, but employees will appreciate published pay scales, and openly discussing important decisions like loans and mergers can give workers a much better understanding of the company budget.

Engage in games, classes and conversation. Participating in simple activities like chess with coworkers, registering for courses and talking through topics more in depth/at length will reveal the reality of how you think and what you're mentally capable of doing, both to you and others.

Admit flubs. Be honest about and promote your strengths. But the more you also come clean about what didn't work or times you had mental lapses, the more relatable you might seem to others.

Give due praise. Out of anything a boss can do, taking credit for others work is the behavior employees loathe the most. When you give credit where it's due, you and others can see just how much of the result you're personally responsible for.

4. Everyone else is able to handle the load/stress.

As Henry David Thoreau is often quoted, "most [people] lead lives of quiet desperation". We're more accepting of personal conversation, connection and empathy in the workplace than before, but many of us still don't admit when we're overwhelmed or in trouble because we don't want to seem weak or incompetent.

Abandoning this assumption can do you good because it prevents you from feeling isolated. Feelings of isolation can make stress feel even worse. Letting this assumption go also enables you to be more realistic and make healthier choices about what to put on your plate.

What you can do:

Be honest about what you're going through and need. Once you reveal your own vulnerabilities, most people become more willing to share theirs, too. They'll confide what they really think and feel, which will help you adjust your own expectations of yourself and find solutions to bad policies/practices.

5. Management is always going to tell you what to do.

Modern companies now prize employees who can formulate their own way of reaching end goals. Additionally, factors like complicated mergers, unreasonable task/subordinate loads and leadership styles can make some managers unable or hesitant to offer firmer guidance.

Getting rid of this assumption can improve your connections and prevent you from adopting a divisive, "us vs. them" mentality. It also helps you realize you do have power in the workplace and the room to take a few creative, independent risks.

What you can do:

Ask for permissions. Management is much less likely to hover over you and shove specific concepts in your face if you're proactive about making suggestions and offering alternatives. You might be surprised how much leeway you get once you demonstrate you can deliver.

Be prepared to request clarification. If managers don't initially volunteer what you're supposed to do, point out that you need more direction and ask what they need or intend.

Published on: Jul 27, 2018
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