20 Things You Should Never, Ever Say at Work

Sure, you’re super tight with your workmates and perhaps you even have a coworker so close to you that you’ve dubbed them your work wife or work hubby. But sometimes getting a little too chummy can lead to putting your foot in your mouth and saying some things that are more suited for that weekly happy hour at Beer Garden than the workplace lunchroom. Below, 20 phrases you should never utter while on the clock.

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things you should never say at work hangover
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1. “Guh. I’m so hungover.”

So, you drank a little too much at dinner last night and now you’re suffering the consequences. Instead of telling your colleagues that you’re hungover, you’re better off just saying you’ve got a cold, OK?

2. “Hey, can you proofread my résumé?”

Surely you have trusted pals outside the office to help you out. And even if you do trust your work bestie wholeheartedly, you never know who’s listening or watching you spruce up your resume for another job. And while we’re here, stay off LinkedIn, Indeed and Monster while you’re on the clock. If you’re on the market for a new job, conduct your searches afterwards.

3. "How much do you think Melissa makes?”

While it’s always good to have discussions about salary so you know you’re not being short changed, don’t go asking around for other people’s salaries, especially if they’re not in your work hub. This question may be better reserved for a work friend you’re close with.

4. “I heard…”

Whether that’s office murmurs about someone getting fired, someone not coming back, or someone who’s up for a promotion, just say no to unfounded rumors. They tend to have legs of their own and can easily create unnecessary drama within the office. Let management and HR handle making the company-wide announcements.

5. “I can’t believe you’re eating that.”

Food shaming is just bad etiquette altogether, and since you never know what eating disorder someone may be suffering with, it’s best to stay away from this one. And, for the record, who among us hasn’t given in to the stale cupcake in the conference room from time to time?

6. "This will only take sec.”

Because it hardly ever does! This can come off as dismissive of your co-workers’ time and tasks especially if it comes after they’ve politely declined.

7. "That was my assistant’s fault.”

Managers, this one’s for you. If there was a particular gaffe in scheduling or instructions weren’t relayed the right way, it’s better for you to take responsibility, even if it was someone else’s fault. Shucking responsibility can feel dismissive to your employee or client.

8. "You bringing anyone to Steve’s barbecue?”

Did Steve for sure invite everyone? Because no one likes uninvited guests in their house. Especially if there is a finite number of plate settings, food and seats planned.

9. "This place is a joke.”

You know what else is a joke? That promotion you’ve been gunning for.

10. "I’m too good for this.”

No one likes an uncompromising team player. Every now and again, you may have to do tasks that you feel are below your pay grade if it’s for the greater benefit of the entire team. If it’s a matter of constantly doing menial work, you feel like you’re not being challenged and you’re overall not happy, then you can look for another job. Just don’t boast a superiority complex around the office.

11. "Nothing personal.”

Think of this as kin to “no offense.” The minute you say it, the person you’re addressing immediately puts their guard up and is likely to take the comment personally. Simply deliver your point respectfully and honestly. We’re all adults here.

12. "Goddamn, mother-f*&#@-er!”

Yes, some offices are more obscenity-filled than others. But on the whole, lose the potty mouth.

13. "Sorry, but…”

With your work relationships and your personal relationships, atone when you make an actual mistake. Putting “but” in your apology defeats the whole point.

14. "I heard he sleeps with all the interns.”

This is not the day and age to be spreading this kind of salacious gossip. Refrain from speaking on and spreading rumors about workplace romances unless there is some sort of abuse of power going on, in which case, defer to HR.

15. "Thanks, hon…”

…or sweetie or darling. Unless you have an that kind of relationship with your co-workers, save the endearments for your poodle and respect your colleagues by using their names.

16. “Because I said so.”

This is just never a good way to get any adult to do something, so even if you’re in the middle of a disagreement try asserting your authority in a more respectful way.

17. “We’ve always done it this way.”

Just because one formula has been working well for the past decade doesn’t mean it can’t be tweaked to become better. Shutting down a new idea simply because you want to keep an old tradition going may leave your employee feeling like there is no room for improvement or innovation at the company.

18. “That will never work.”

Not unlike, “We’ve always done it this way,” unless you’ve already tried the idea in the past and it in fact didn’t work, don’t be quick to assume a new way of doing things will fail just because it’s never been tried.

19. “How old are you?”

When referring to someone who is younger, this can come off condescending because the question implies they’re too young to be as skilled as they are. When it’s toward someone older, it can also be rude because it implies they seem too old not to know a certain skill. Just give a compliment or offer constructive criticism without bringing age into it.

20. “Are you pregnant?”

We cannot stress this enough. Asking women whether or not they’re pregnant is just inappropriate—whether you’re at work or not. If you ask and she’s pregnant, now you’ve just outed news that she may not have wanted to share yet. And if she isn’t pregnant, she may end up feeling self-conscious the rest of the day. Stay away from the pregnancy questions, and act excited if and when she tells you the good news herself.

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Resident Hufflepuff, Beyonce historian, self-proclaimed tea sommelier

Steph is a native of Zimbabwe who is both enamored and genuinely baffled by the concept of silent letters. From 2020 to 2022, she served as Associate Editor at PureWow covering...