There are all kinds of potential landmines in the workplace. Hardnosed office politics. Tight deadlines. Difficult co-workers. But perhaps few areas are as difficult to navigate and as fraught with peril as technology, where one wrong step could literally cost you your job.
We could — and did — fill a book with rules and etiquette for the digital age. But let’s focus on three particularly tricky trouble spots where even the most experienced professionals sometimes struggle. Here’s how to spot and avoid these digital hazards:
Complaining about work on social media
It feels good in the moment to post about your terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad workday or passive aggressive co-worker on Facebook. But venting about work on any social-media channel — from Twitter to Instagram to a personal blog that no one reads but your mom — can have serious career consequences.
Don’t think you’ll get caught? Neither did the executive who sent out a negative tweet about Memphis just hours before a meeting with FedEx, which happens to have its headquarters there. This misstep damaged a client relationship and even made news headlines.
Your moment of bad judgment might not hit CNN, but there’s a long list of workers who have jeopardized or lost jobs because of social media slipups. Their online offenses ranged from criticizing company policies to badmouthing management to poking fun at customers or clients.
Remember that people are always watching online, and you never know how far or wide your posts will spread. Even expert use of privacy settings can’t guarantee your comments will remain secret.
So skip the negative comments about your company, boss, clients or colleagues. If you’re in the middle of a bad day at the office, try counting to 10 before you post online, and use those few seconds to consider the consequences of what you’re about to share.
Forgetting that you’re at work
If you’re lucky, you have a few close friends at the office. That’s great, but it’s crucial to keep your interactions within professional limits.
It’s easy to think that your buddy won’t be offended by a racy joke or will agree with your feelings about a certain political party. But think about even seemingly innocuous steps outside workplace boundaries. That hilarious — and totally PG — cat video you sent your mom isn’t appropriate for the boss.
Gossip is another office no-no. If you must blow off steam, separate it from the workplace. Save your comments for your spouse or a close friend who doesn’t share the same employer.
In fact, your best bet is to draw a line between your personal digital activities and your professional ones. Don’t check your eBay bids or shop on Amazon at the office. Even streaming music is frowned upon at many companies because it hogs bandwidth.
Failing to secure company laptops or phones
Did you hear about the unlucky Apple employee who left an unreleased iPhone prototype in a bar? You’re probably not carrying around top-secret new hardware, but your laptop and smartphone hold more company secrets than you think.
It’s crucial to keep these devices secure to protect your employer’s confidential information and your good standing at work. For starters, play within your IT department’s rules. Don’t turn off password protection or any other security features installed on your devices.
Take the time to review your company’s security policies. Some workplaces frown upon leaving a laptop at your desk after hours if it’s not locked to the desk. There might even be rules about anything from using public Wi-Fi networks to overseas travel. A few companies, for instance, don’t allow workers to take laptops or smartphones to certain countries because of piracy concerns.
If you’re traveling, never check a laptop in carry-on luggage and keep a close eye on your devices as you move through security. You also should avoid leaving your devices unattended in a car — even a locked trunk — or a hotel room. The same goes for coffee shop tables or conference rooms.
When it comes to navigating the digital world at work, it’s always better to err on the safe and cautious side. Slow down, use common sense, and if you’re not sure about something, it’s better to skip it than to make a misstep that could put your professional reputation — or even your job — at risk.
Robert Half is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 400 staffing and consulting locations worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit www.roberthalf.com. For additional career advice, view our career bloopers video series at www.roberthalf.com/bloopers or follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/roberthalf.