I have been working in one form or another for the last 18 years. I’ve worked at a law firm, at resort-style health clubs, in retail, for a professional sports team and in the corporate world. I’ve lead teams and been a contributor; I’ve hired and fired; I’ve been the mentor and the mentee; I’ve been laid-off and gone through extensive interview processes to not get the job.

I’ve seen this “work” thing from all different angles.

You could be working your butt off and doing everything you think you need to do to impress your boss and get that sparkly new promotion. But sometimes, there are subtle behaviors that you’re doing that you don’t even realize are hindering your growth opportunities in the work place. Let’s check them out.

1. Your wardrobe.

It seems like a lot of companies have picked up the philosophy of “no dress code” or “business casual” or even “dress for your day”. In my opinion, we have slipped into the abyss of people wearing sloppy clothing to the office. Torn jeans, football jersey’s, graphic t-shirts, flip-flops – no, no, no.

If you want to be taken seriously and respected by your peers, dress that way!

My rule of thumb is to always take note of how the executive leadership team dresses and follow suit. Some people will make comments that you are over-dressed, but let them think that and move on with your day.

You have a duty to present yourself in a professional manner. You can dress in a casual and comfortable way and still look professional. Heck, toss a blazer on over a plain tee with jeans and you already look more put together.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “dress for the job you want, not the job you have”… it’s true! You will make an impression on leadership by presenting yourself in a professional way. And, standing out from the crowd in a positive way is a good thing!

2. You are too casual.

It’s great that you enjoy the people you work with and you’ve developed personal relationships. In some cases, you might even have family that work with you.

But, despite the fact that you might have family and/or friends at your company, it is critical to act professional in a professional setting. 

Telling funny or crude stories to co-workers, sharing way too much information about your weekend adventures or reacting emotionally (e.g. crying or yelling) is wildly inappropriate and even one instance of these types of behaviors could color your reputation to leadership.

Word gets around quick in companies and even though you may not know they’re talking about you, leaders will hear about these behaviors and remember them when it comes time for your annual review or if you’re attempting to transition into a different role.

It’s worth noting here, I am not telling you that you need to be a cold, emotionless robot at work. If there is something that gets you worked up or you feel like you might be highly emotional and cry, excuse yourself. It is ok if you need to take a walk around the block or go to the bathroom to collect yourself. Then re-enter the office or the meeting and present yourself as the professional you are.

3. You are a tattler.

Everyone is not a by-the-book rule follower like you. Ryan shows up to work an hour after you each day. Sandra takes personal phone calls all day long. Michael takes what seems like extra-long smoke breaks every day, twice a day!

So what?

You don’t know what their conversations have been like with their boss.

Perhaps Ryan has an agreement with leaders that he can show up an hour later than everyone else so he can take his son to school but he also stays an hour later.

Perhaps Sandra has an elderly parent that is in the hospital and she has made leadership aware of the temporary situation but has made plans of how to make-up the time.

Maybe Michael is already on a performance improvement plan.

Let their boss do the leading. You do not need to be the team spy. Every time you go into tattle to your boss about someone’s misgivings, you are essentially telling your boss they are not doing their job right. No leader enjoys being told they’re bad at what they do.

Unless expressly solicited, keep your criticism of other teammates to yourself.

4. You are a stick in the mud.

A phrase that makes my blood boil (and I hear it all too often) is “we’ve always done it this way”. 

Ok, so you’re telling me that we should be scavenging for food and walking everywhere? Change is inevitable. Yes, maybe a process has worked for the organization for the last 10 years but perhaps there is a better way. Perhaps there is a way to make it more efficient or cost the company less money.

I’ve worked at large companies who have acquired other smaller companies. As part of these acquisitions, there are typically people who are brought into the larger company. Often they have a hard time transitioning into the way the larger organization does things and end up quitting or being phased out because of their inability to evolve.

Change is going to happen in life. See the change as an opportunity to assess the situation and determine the next step forward. If you’re seen as someone who is unwilling to change or creating a difficult path for the success and future of the organization, then get ready my friend, because you will likely be shown the door.

Try to figure out a way to see the challenge as an opportunity for you to grow. Perhaps you will get to learn something new or work with different groups than ever before. Challenge yourself to embrace change.

5. You are not speaking up for yourself.

It might seem obvious to you that you’d like to be promoted and continue growing in the organization but that doesn’t mean it’s obvious to your boss. And I know it might make you cringe at the thought of pitching yourself but, if you’re not going to be your biggest cheerleader, than who is?

It should be one of your highest priorities in your job to clearly communicate your goals and ambitions to your leader. Get them on-board to partner with you on your career path and what that means for you within the organization.

Companies want to retain good talent and if they value you and your skills, your boss will welcome the partnership and opportunity to mentor you into your next role.

Take advantage of opportunities to talk with your boss about your professional development regularly. Your annual review is a good opportunity for this but I also think it is worthwhile to meet on a monthly or quarterly basis. Your annual review shouldn’t have any surprises so it is helpful to check-in with your boss on a regular frequency to make sure you are hitting all the marks and can pivot if you need to.


There are some real obvious things that will keep you from getting promoted. But, as we discussed here, a few subtle things could contribute to that dilemma as well. 

On the flipside, there are some key traits of employees who are on the track to promotion. Those include exuding confidence in all you do, be curious and willing to learn, set goals and bring your boss in on the process of achieving those, build and nurture relationships throughout all levels of the organization and volunteer to help others with projects.

What’s stopping you from getting promoted? What can you do to shift your behaviors so your company will see you as a valuable headcount to nurture and promote?

Please share with me in the comments box below!