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Workplace tips: How to avoid the biggest mistakes and succeed

Feb. 26, 2014 at 11:17 AM ET

Video: Personal finance experts Farnoosh Torabi and Mark Jeffries join TODAY to chat about some of the big boo-boos employees make at work, like asking for a raise at the wrong time or failing to maximize your 401(k). They offer tips on how to manage these situations.

We learn from our mistakes and being at work is no exception. Areas such as having a positive attitude and appearing eager at meetings can have just as much an influence on your work success as asking for a raise or managing your retirement plan.

TODAY asked personal finance experts Farnoosh Torabi and Mark Jeffries what they find are the biggest workplace mistakes people make.       

Asking For A Raise At the Wrong Time

"Obviously one mistake people often make at work is failing to ask for a raise in the first place," said Torabi. "We may fear asking for a raise because we're worried about rejection or appearing greedy."

Never ask for a promotion or an increase in money on a Monday morning, said Jeffries. "No one is in the right frame of mind to listen… Save it for a Thursday afternoon and you'll get a much more positive response."

Torabi said women tend to ask for 30 percent less than men ask for.

"But even when we DO ask for a raise - and get rejected - we make the mistake of accepting a NO as the final word," she said. Instead, you should offer up an alternative and negotiate. Perhaps suggest working from home on Fridays or getting an extra week of paid vacation.

Failing to Maximize Your 401(k)

Torabi said a 401(k) is a cost-efficient way to save for retirement with the pre-tax savings and possible employer match. However, 401(k) participation is down and a recent study finds that US employees closest to retirement are decreasing their planned savings by more than 18 percent.

"With longer life expectancy, it's imperative that we stay invested to let our money continue to grow through retirement.... and to be able to have enough to afford the rising cost of basic necessities like health care," she said. "Pulling out at this age, when so close to retirement, may mean not having enough money to survive on."

Spreading Negativity

"As bad as your journey into work was, or how horrific your weekend turned out to be…never bring your horrors to the office," Jeffries advises. Whining about the trouble you have experienced, breeds negativity will brand you as a downer. "You don't want this label attached to you. Negative people are always the first to go. And this is true for gossiping too. Who can you trust?"

Leaving The Meeting

Jeffries also said one of the biggest errors people make when they attend meetings is to "leave the meeting" simply by how they sit. Many people make the mistake of showing how bored or disinterested they are by sitting back crossing their arms, staring off into space, sneakily checking their phones. "If you want to show that you truly mean business, think about how you are sitting," he said "Lean into the meeting, spread your eye contact around like a lighthouse and, even if you say nothing, these actions alone will show that you are an important part of that gathering!"

Getting Too Comfortable

"As someone who has experienced a layoff in her career, the lesson is you should never be too comfortable with your job security or too presumptuous that you'll never lose your job," said Torabi. There is no such thing as an "essential" employee. To that end, it's always important to stay on top of the news in your industry, to continue to grow in your field and network. "My first boss gave her some valuable advice: Always keep my resume fresh, updated and circulating, at all times!"

Jeffries agreed. Early in his career, he sensed a layoff was coming, so he brushed off his resume and started circulating and laid out a plan. Always have a plan B ready.

"Go to work parties, attend conferences," he said. "Regularly put yourself on other people's radar, find reasons to send them interesting links and articles and keep 'ever present.'"


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