18 Actions That Scream Unprofessionalism at Work

Maintaining an air of professionalism in the workplace is crucial for building a successful career and earning the respect of both clients and colleagues. While everyone makes mistakes now and then, certain behaviors can seriously hinder your reputation at work. This article explores the 18 actions that are true signs of unprofessionalism.

Offensive Language

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Unless you’re a foul-mouthed comedian, profanity, racial slurs, and other offensive language have no place in the workplace. Business Insider warns against cursing, even when stressed or irritated, and recommends using courtesy and civil language at all times, even with colleagues who are close friends. This demonstrates maturity and respect for others.


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We all moan a little about work, but make sure you keep it respectful and avoid excessive complaining. A negative attitude about work tasks, coworkers’ performance, or management’s capability can dampen team morale and reduce productivity. Try being more constructive with your criticism and avoid giving your opinions without being asked.


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Being consistently late for work, meetings, or deadlines demonstrates a lack of respect for your professional duties and your colleagues’ time. No matter your career path, punctuality is universally appreciated and respected. It indicates that you take your job seriously, respect your colleagues, and are organized and reliable.

Unprofessional Dress Code

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Depending on your career, your dress can say a lot about your seriousness and commitment. While plumbers and builders require practical, safety-based attire, lawyers and financial advisors will not earn their clients and colleagues’ respect if they show up to work in jeans, beachwear, or sandals! Chron says dressing appropriately is crucial to professionalism.

External Distractions

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Spending excessive time on personal phone calls, texting, or browsing social media during work hours highlights to everyone how little you care about your professional duties and can generate resentment from colleagues who are more focused on work. If you want to be valued, avoid spending your employer’s resources scrolling through Facebook or chatting with your friends!

Failing to Deliver

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Anyone can make a mistake and promise something that they fail to achieve, but making false promises on repeat can seriously erode the trust your employer and coworkers have in you. The Job Network says that consistently failing to meet deadlines or make progress causes you to look unreliable, incapable, and untrustworthy.

Public Displays of Affection

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Your private life is simply that—private! Even if you’re married to the CEO, don’t engage in public displays of affection at work, especially when in the company of colleagues. The workplace is a professional setting, and your behavior should reflect that. Otherwise, you may get a reputation for being unprofessionally inappropriate.

Throwing Others Under the Bus

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Teamwork requires trust and taking responsibility for your own actions and mistakes. Even if another coworker is wholly or partially responsible for a work-related failure, don’t publicly humiliate them by pointing the finger. Professional people deal with such issues quietly and with respect for everyone involved, not like a child in a playground!

Lazy Body Language

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According to American Express, body language at work is crucial and says a lot about your professionalism and attitude. Slouching, crossing arms, shrugging, or avoiding eye contact can make you seem like a petulant teenager who doesn’t want to be in class. Always use postures that convey interest, respect, and openness.

Bringing Personal Problems to Work

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Sometimes, this is unavoidable, but—emergencies aside—you should avoid sharing details about your private life or using personal struggles as excuses for poor work ethic or performance. Avoid emotional outbursts, venting, or oversharing with your coworkers, or they may lose respect for you and your professional standing.


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No one likes a liar, and lying to, or deliberately misleading, colleagues, supervisors, or clients will seriously erode your credibility at work and ensure your reputation is forever tarnished by dishonesty. Good teamwork requires trust, and your coworkers won’t ask for your input or respect your opinions if you’re known for being less than transparent.

Blaming Others

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Career Addict says, “Playing the blame game is one of the favorites of unprofessional employees. They don’t own up to mistakes and insist on blaming other people for their shortcomings.” This behavior reflects poorly on your character and will seriously damage your relationships with colleagues.

Lack of Enthusiasm

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Unprofessional employees often seem like they don’t want to be there, resulting in a lackluster attitude and a lack of initiative. While we all have bad days, try to remain engaged, willing, and focused during working hours to avoid gaining a reputation for being unmotivated and indifferent.


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Gossip is often seen as childish, shallow, and destructive, so it can harm your professional reputation if you’re caught indulging in it. Spreading gossip or rumors around your workplace can create an unpleasantly toxic work environment and give you a damaging reputation for unreliability.

Sleeping at Work

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There’s no excuse for sleeping or taking naps during work hours, and doing so demonstrates a lack of respect and commitment. If you are feeling exhausted, try to address the underlying cause and seek help from a healthcare professional if needed. Otherwise, your colleagues may see you as lazy, inappropriate, and unprofessional.

Unauthorized Absence

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It’s okay to miss work as a one-off, but repeatedly being absent without prior arrangement or a decent reason (like illness) is bound to annoy your coworkers and make you seem unreliable. If you need time off, go through the proper channels and provide the necessary proof to ensure you aren’t labeled as a mere work-dodger.


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Making other people feel physically or verbally threatened by you is never a good thing, no matter the environment, but it’s particularly damaging in a professional setting. Bullies are universally disliked and often regarded as untrustworthy. Keep your negative opinions about others to yourself, and deal with disagreements with respect and professionalism.


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This isn’t high school, so most professionals won’t find pranks in the workplace amusing or appropriate. Even if you have a naturally ‘goofy’ nature, try to behave with maturity while at work and keep pranks for more casual occasions, like hanging out with friends.

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