5 Cardinal Sins in the Workplace

Ah, the cardinal sin.  A concept in Catholicism, it means the most egregious of the bad things you can do to piss off God, such as murder, adultery, stealing, and calling your helicopter parents names and throwing their house keys into the sewer.

When I get my hands on you, you're going to regret that one, sonny!

When I get my hands on you, you’re going to regret that one, sonny!

Image: stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Well, God isn’t in your manager’s office, but you might want to avoid the following activities at work anyway.  In no particular order, here are the five sins you don’t want to commit in the workplace.

Stealing:  lunch, etc. 

Whether you snake your filthy paws right into innocent, defenseless lunchboxes or accidentally take a piece of cake Shirley the accounting lady brought from her granddaughter’s second birthday party but didn’t label, you’re scum if you do this. 

Okay, maybe Shirley didn’t write her name on her Tupperware cake holder, but that doesn’t matter.  See, maybe it was special sugar-free cake, because Shirley is a diabetic, and maybe she’s only allowed one slice of that per year, and little Tamara’s birthday was her one shot.  Or that sandwich the receptionist brought is vegan, and there isn’t a damn thing in the vending machine she can eat, and she doesn’t have any money to go out for lunch.  Congratulations; you just made another human being go hungry. 

I’m not even going to mention stealing from your company—money, office supplies, etc., or taking anything that isn’t yours off someone else’s desk (iPod, wallet, etc.).  That could land you in jail.  And you’d deserve it. 

You can get by pretty well in this world if you remember one rule:  if it’s not yours, DON’T TOUCH IT. 

Snooping in someone’s desk/purse/locker

No, there isn’t a commandment that says “Thou shalt not snoop,” but there ought to be.  Besides, do you really want to know that your coworker needs a midday application of specially prescribed hemorrhoid relief cream? 

What has been seen cannot be unseen.

What has been seen cannot be unseen.

 Image:  stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mind your own business, please. 

Smell offenses

You like the smell of burnt popcorn?  No?  Well, other people don’t either.  Most microwave popcorn burns because people walk away from it.  Stand by that microwave, or just wait until you go home and make it the right way, on the stove or with an air popper.  You don’t need to breathe all that diatacyl anyway.   

Same with your kale / tuna / hardboiled egg / Limburger casserole.  Blech. 

Excess cologne can actually trigger asthma, migraines, and allergy attacks in susceptible people.  Some offices have a no-scent policy for this reason, or simply because what smells nice to one person may gag another. 

One guy at a former job, Bob, wore a lot of cologne—you smelled him before you saw him.  A coworker making fun of him one day said sarcastically, “Hi, I’m Bob—I stink like a French whore!”  (Inappropriate?  Maybe, but I laughed my ass off.)  Another coworker told me about someone who predated me (we’ll call him Stinky Horace) who rarely took a bath because he just couldn’t be bothered. 

Don’t be Bob or Horace.  Your colleagues will remember you, but for all the wrong reasons. 


Grow up and deal with your coworkers like an adult.  If Trixie comes in an hour late and leaves early, that’s not your problem.  You’re not the time clock police, are you?  There may be some arrangement there you don’t know about.  And if you complain, the first thing a good manager will probably say to you is, “Don’t worry about Trixie’s schedule; get back to work.” 

If Trixie’s schedule legitimately interferes with your job, you need to be proactive.  Let’s say you need forms from her but she isn’t sending them before she leaves.  Talk to her first, politely.  Maybe Stinky Horace isn’t sending them to her, either. 

If you can’t work it out, then you might need to bring it up with your boss.  Alison Green at Ask a Manager recommends framing it as though you’re asking for advice about YOUR work, like “I’m having trouble getting data I need from Trixie when she leaves at three.  I went to her and asked if she could send it earlier in the day, but that didn’t seem to help.  Do you have any ideas about how I can finish the TPS report and maybe incorporate it later?” 

Gossiping is just as bad.  Speculation can severely affect someone’s reputation and in turn, their career.  You do not want to be seen as the office gossip; if you spread rumors, eventually, you’ll damage your own credibility and you can even be fired. 

Lame when you were a kid; lame now.

Lame when you were a kid; lame now.

Image:  Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Bullying in the workplace isn’t illegal, though many people think it should be.  Suzanne Lucas of Evil HR Lady argues against that here.  She also says it should be stopped.  And she’s right.  Just like it does in elementary and high school, bullying makes people feel afraid, helpless, and angry. 

This is a problem best handled at management level.  The workplace is for competent adults, not tantrum-throwing, bullying babies. 

If you’re a manager, don’t bully.  Either PIP or fire bullies on your team.  You’re not doing yourself or your company any favors by allowing this disgusting behavior to continue.  And if someone actually gets physically hurt (it can happen—some bullies like to throw things), you could be sued. 


Most of these behaviors are or should have been weeded out past elementary school.  If you see these with your direct reports, then you should really think about firing these people and hiring adults.  If you recognize your own behavior in any of these list items, STOP IT.  Regardless of whatever valuable skills people have, if they can’t get along with their peers, your company will suffer.



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