Job Advice: How to Fix a Bad Reputation at Work

headache during work at the office

Woman with headache| iStock.com/gpointstudio

A good work reputation is everything. Without a positive reputation, career advancement can be tough, especially if you work in an industry where everyone seems to know each other. If you make a big mistake, say the wrong thing, or send a poorly worded email, your reputation could be on the line.

What’s most frustrating is your lack of control over the situation, notes Dr. Alex Lickerman in his Psychology Today column: “Your reputation lives a very real existence apart from you, representing the collective mental construct everyone but you shares about you. It is a construct based partially on your own actions but also on the perceptions others have about others’ perceptions of your actions.”

However, the good news is that there are some steps you can take to make your tarnished reputation just like new again. Here’s how to fix a bad work reputation.

Why your reputation matters

Your co-workers and supervisors will decide whether they can trust you based on your reputation as well as your prior performance. If there are any dents in your armor, you’ll have to work hard to prove yourself. Depending on the situation, you may not get a chance to prove yourself at all. For example, if you’re up for a promotion, a spiteful colleague or boss might tell the hiring manager something that puts you in a negative light. In this instance, one person bringing up a past mistake could hurt your chances of getting a better position. When your reputation is lacking, so are your opportunities. Missed opportunities can also mean missed money. It is for this very reason that it is so important to guard your reputation fiercely.

Millennials are most concerned about their work reputation, according to a survey by Weber Shandwick and the Institute for Public Relations. Roughly 47% of millennials said they think about their work reputation all or most of the time compared to 37% of Gen Xers and 26% of baby boomers. The study found that although millennials have grown up surrounded by technology, they place a higher value on their face-to-face interactions at work than their co-workers.

Rebuilding your reputation

Did you mess up at work? You can recover. Here’s how to regain your good reputation:

Apologize

meeting

Meeting | iStock.com

If you made a mistake at work, your first step should be to acknowledge it and apologize. If you carry on as if nothing happened, you could make the situation worse. However, don’t overdo the apologies. Apologizing too much could make you seem as if you’re a weak leader, according to career coach Jenn DeWall. This may be the reason why bosses rarely apologize. A survey published by The Forum Corporation found that only 19% of employees said their bosses always or often say they are sorry.

Address false rumors

gossip among co-workers

Gossip among co-workers | iStock.com

Don’t just sit back and let false rumors fly; clip those wings as soon as they’re about to take flight. Do what you can to correct any information about you that isn’t true. While you may not like a lot of work drama, take steps to engage in damage control because once those lies are out there, it will be hard to reverse. Remember that at the end of the day it’s up to you to protect your reputation. Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You, said it’s important to be proactive whenever you have the ability to change someone’s perception of you. “A person’s perception may be different from what you feel is the truth, but it’s not necessarily wrong. It’s real for them, and the onus is on you, not them, to work to change the dynamic,” Clark told Harvard Business Review.

Do your best work

happy woman at work

Happy woman at work | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

Everyone will be watching you just a little bit closer after you experience a ding to your reputation. Use this opportunity to do your best work and outperform your teammates. Let their negative chatter fuel you to do better. While you can’t do much when you’re the center of office gossip, you can control your response by producing excellent work.

Lend a hand

Handshake between two colleagues in office

Handshake between two colleagues in office | iStock.com/Saklakova

Also look for opportunities to help a co-worker in need. One quick way to rebuild a bad reputation is to help others in the office. The fact that you helped someone in a bind will get around the office and this might slowly help you get back in the good graces of your office mates. While this shouldn’t be your only reason for helping, it does work to improve your reputation.

Don’t be mean

Businessman stressed and angry in office

Stressed businessman | iStock.com

Remember that you can’t control what others think of you. It is only possible to influence their opinion. So put forth your best effort to make sure you have a positive influence. One way to do this is to work on being likable. Experts have found that likability can affect everything from your chances of getting hired to getting promoted. Your co-workers might be less likely to believe a vicious rumor or more likely to forgive you for a work flub if they like you. So if you’re a meanie, now is the time to work on this.

Don’t forget your online reputation

Man working on computer

Man working on computer | iStock.com/NakoPhotography

Remember to pay attention to how you’re represented online. A bad online reputation can hurt you just as much as your real-time reputation. Roughly 52% of employers in a Career Builder survey said they use social networking sites to research job candidates. Approximately 48% said they have come across information that resulted in them not offering employment.

Move on

Businessman working on laptop with some documents on table

Businessman working on laptop with some documents on table | iStock.com/jacoblund

Don’t be a work martyr. Once you’ve done all you can, it’s time to move on. This can be in the form of finding a new job, switching to another department, or just accepting where you are for right now.

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