Workplace Dos and Don'ts

The workplace can be a minefield for any young professional. Learn the survival skills with our workplace guide.

By Selina Tan

It’s your first day at work and you have the jitters — will you fit into your new workplace, adapt to a different environment and get along with your colleagues? The concerns are plenty for a seasoned professional, let alone a fresh graduate. One of the best ways to start your career on the right foot is to cultivate good work habits. Here’s our guide to the top 10 things you should and shouldn’t do at work:


1. Organise
A messy desk says a lot about you as a worker. If you find yourself searching through a pile of documents for 10 minutes each time you need something, you really should organise your desk. File your documents into folders and label them — you’ll be thankful when finding information becomes a breeze. Repeat the same steps for your computer and email account. Multi-tasking may be a valuable skill, but if it’s making your work life a mess, you should be organising and prioritising your work. Pick the tasks that are more critical, and work through the list in order of importance.

2. Listen, and learn
Listening is an under-rated skill in the workplace. Many of us have attended meetings where everyone is taking but no one is listening because they’re trying so hard to get their point across. Rather than striving to make yourself heard all the time, take time to listen to your co-workers, clients and the boss and you could be surprised by how much you learn. More often than not, customers just need a listening ear, so listen, find out what the problem is and the solution could be easier than you think.

3. Keep an open mind
Work is often unpredictable, as with the people you work with. Learn to keep an open mind to changes at work, new ideas and your colleagues’ different styles of working. Conflicts at work often happen when a worker is unable to accept new ideas or work methods, but you can discover efficient ways to get work done if you allow more innovation and creativity to flourish in the office.

4. Stay positive
Whether at work or in life, a positive attitude will get you ahead in any situation. Stuck with a nitpicking boss, hostile colleagues or a rough week at work? Take a short break to rest, gather your thoughts and go back into the battle zone with a positive, never-say-die attitude. Everyone loves a cheerful go-getter in the workplace, so adopt the right attitude, start the day on the right note and your colleagues will thank you for it.

5. Upgrade and improve
Change is the new mantra in many companies, so upgrading your skills is important in any job. Government agencies and multi-national companies often encourage their workers to learn or upgrade their skills by sponsoring courses – in technical or soft skills– with training or educational institutions. Take advantage of these opportunities to pick up a new skill or upgrade your knowledge in your area of work.


1. Join the gossip mill
Water cooler talk, in moderation, may be good for your emotional well-being, but it’s important to know where to draw the line. Participating in petty gossip about the boss or other colleagues is unproductive, and often disruptive in the workplace. Rather than risk riling your boss and coworkers, use that time more efficiently: doing research for a proposal, building a relationship with a client, or just taking a 10-minute break to stretch your legs outdoors.

2. Be pessimistic
Remember Chicken Little and his story of how the sky is falling? No one likes a pessimist at work telling them that the project is going to fail, that the company is in the red, or that a job is not worth the effort. Negative talk will affect morale at work, so avoid it – even if you really think the worst is going to happen – unless you want to be branded the company’s Chicken Little. Inspire and motivate your colleagues instead of getting their spirits down with your pessimism.

3. Procrastinate
Procrastination is definitely one of the deadliest diseases in any working environment. We’ve all been a victim of it – putting aside a dreaded task for tomorrow when it should be done today, or yesterday. The task won’t go away and procrastinating will only make the matter worse; you could end up feeling guilty or depressed. So, just grit your teeth and get it sorted out before the problem becomes worse.

4. Be afraid to rock the boat
Playing it safe may be a stress-free way for many, but great ideas do not come from staying safe. Isaac Newton, Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin — these men earned their place in history by challenging the norm and developing inventions or ideas that contributed to society. The tried-and-tested formula may not be the most efficient method at work. Challenge, provoke and reinvent — it may not always work out, but you’ll love the adrenaline rush that comes with the challenge.

5. Lose sight of your goals
With so much happening at work, it’s easy to lose sight of your goals. Evaluate your work goals every six months and ask yourself these questions: is your job still relevant to your career goals? Are you meeting targets at work? Are you on the right track career-wise? If you think you’ve reached a roadblock, you may want to engage the help of your boss, colleague or career coach to get you back on track.

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