Whether your goal at work is to get promoted, snag a raise, or simply succeed at the level you're currently at, the last thing you want is for a few seemingly innocent habits to propel you backward. But if you're guilty of the following low-key offenses, you could end up hurting your career without really knowing it.

1. Complaining

It's human nature to gripe about deadlines, bemoan the fact that you're working late yet again, or rag on a colleague who isn't pulling his or her weight the way you'd expect. But while it's one thing to occasionally express your displeasure about something work-related, it's another thing to complain frequently.

If you're guilty of the latter, you may not even realize it. But pay attention to the things you say or the extent to which you make sour faces or roll your eyes when you receive news at work you don't like. Too much moaning and whining could hurt your chances of moving your career forward.

Man sitting at desk with open laptop, taking notes


2. Showing up late to meetings

It's not uncommon to arrive a little late for a meeting here and there. Maybe you had a report you had to finish beforehand. Or maybe your previous meeting ran over.

The problem with walking in late, however, is that it sends two messages -- first, that you don't respect other people's time, and second, that you're not organized enough to get to where you need to be in a timely fashion. Neither message will help your career, so you're better off avoiding being tardy, even if it means blocking off time on your calendar before meetings to give yourself a buffer.

3. Apologizing for things that aren't your fault

Some people have a tendency to say they're sorry when they're not to blame or in situations where apologies aren't warranted. For example, if you disagree with a colleague's approach to a marketing campaign, you might say something like, "Sorry, but I think we should go in another direction."

Apologizing needlessly is a workplace habit you should really aim to kick because it sends the message that you're not bold enough to stand behind your actions or opinions. And if you're looking for a leadership role, that's a very bad thing.

That said, don't hesitate to apologize when you are actually in the wrong. But don't say you're sorry by default.

4. Having a messy workspace

When your desk is cluttered with piles of paper, and your laptop is perpetually half-buried under stacks of files, it sends the message that you're disorganized, even if you actually aren't. Rather than give people that false impression, take some time to organize your workspace.

Shred documents you no longer need or scan the ones you want to keep and then dispose of them safely after the fact. At the same time, implement some sort of filing system so that you know where things are at all times.

5. Not proofreading emails before sending them

You're probably aware of the importance of editing major reports before putting them in front of your boss. Well, it wouldn't hurt you to take the same approach to email. Though a casual reply to your manager or colleague may not seem all that critical, if it's filled with spelling or grammatical errors, it could make you look really unprofessional. A few extra minutes here or there could help you avoid giving off that negative, career-damaging impression.

Sometimes, it's the little things you do or don't do on the job that can make or break your career. If you've been known to fall victim to these unsavory habits, aim to break them as soon as you can. Doing so could be just the thing that finally takes your career in the direction you want it to go.