8 times you should never feel guilty at work

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When Work Takes Over Free Time

Guilt is not a fun emotion. When we forget someone's birthday, or hurt someone's feelings, we have every right to feel a little guilty. Similarly, if we miss a deadline or make another mistake at work, guilt is an appropriate emotion. But sometimes, it's just not necessary. Here are eight times when you should banish those guilty feelings once and for all. (See also: 8 Awkward Money Moments Everyone Has at Work)

1. Taking Time Off When You Need It

One of the big complaints the HR department has about its company's employees is that they don't take the appropriate amount of time off. In other countries, people take time off regularly, and the company encourages it. They don't want people to be burned out, or hating their job.

In the U.S., however, it appears that people don't want to take any time off because they're afraid of being laid off, or seen as not essential. This is wrong on so many levels. We need time off to recharge, and you should not feel guilty about taking vacation time, personal days, paid leave, or sick time. In fact, when it comes to the latter, use your sick time. Do not come into work when you're ill. Sitting at home feeling awful is one thing, but adding guilt to that mix of nasty symptoms is even worse. The company has figured time off into your position, you should take it without ever feeling guilty.

2. Leaving Early If You Worked Late the Day Before

Salaried employees have certain benefits. For instance, in most salaried positions, if you come to work for just one hour, feel ill, and go home, that counts as a day's work. You do not have to use any sick time. Similarly, if you put in a 14-hour shift on a Monday, and you have all your work done by 3 p.m. the following day, you should not feel guilty about going home. You should of course check with your manager first, but any reasonable boss will be more than happy to let you go early, and for good reason. They have just gotten a whole lot of work out of you, and if they want to see that kind of dedication again, they should be willing to be flexible with your hours. Even if you leave early a week or two after you put in a big shift, don't feel guilty. You have more than worked those hours.

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3. Competing With a Colleague for a Promotion

A position has opened up at work that you really want. Then you find out someone else, maybe even a friend or boss, is going for the same role. Should you feel guilty about competing for that title? Absolutely not. This is business, and this is also your career. Concentrate on yourself and your own best interests first, and go for that promotion with all the drive and vigor you can muster. To quote Col. Jessop from the movie A Few Good Men, "We went to the Academy together, we were commissioned together, we did our tours in Vietnam together. But I've been promoted up through the chain of command with greater speed and success than you have. Now if that's a source of tension or embarrassment for you, well, I don't give a s**t."

4. Telling Someone They Have a Bad Idea

Hurt feelings are legitimate in some aspects of life, but they have no place at work. Too often, people feel guilty about telling someone they have a bad idea, so they don't. They say it's fine, or they say nothing at all. This is not good for the business, or the person that had the idea. By saying "your idea sucks" you are not saying that the person who had the idea sucks. Not at all. This is no time to confuse the two issues. A great person can have an awful idea, and it is not only okay to say so... it's essential. (So long as it's done respectfully.) Otherwise, terrible ideas gain traction, and before you know it, you have to deal with the fallout of that bad decision. Stop a bad idea in its tracks, and never feel guilty about it.

5. Reporting Someone to HR

There are many reasons to report someone to HR. It could be sexual harassment, racism, bullying, favoritism, illegal activities, or anything else that directly violates HR policy. It doesn't matter if that person is your boss, a friend, someone with a family, or any other reason that could put your guilt chip into overload. The fact of the matter is, they are doing something wrong, and if all other attempts to stop them have failed, talking to HR is nothing to feel guilty about. Of course, you should try to reach out to them first, if possible, and avoid escalating it to something that can have far-reaching consequences. If that falls on deaf ears, going to HR should have no guilt attached.

6. Refusing to Be More Than Colleagues

Some people at work will take a liking to you. They may want to be a friend outside of work. They may want to be more than a friend, and start a personal relationship with you. In either case, you should not feel guilty about rejecting these advances or requests. You may just want to keep your work life separate from your home life. You may, in fact, not really like that person and thing things he or she is into (and let's be honest, that happens a lot). At work, being polite and making it work is the right thing to do, but you should never feel guilty about letting someone know that you want to keep things strictly professional.

7. Reprimanding Someone (Especially a Friend)

It's not easy telling someone off. If that person is a friend, it's even harder. But you must not feel guilty about the admonishment. If someone gets out of line, makes a costly mistake, or acts in a way that embarrasses both you and the company, you must crack the whip. How you do it is up to you. There is no reason to be overly harsh or sadistic, and inversely, being too "nice" will reduce the impact of the reprimand to something forgettable. Find the line, and walk it well. Guilt should play no part in the rebuke — it's part of working life and if that person cannot handle it, they're clearly in the wrong career.

8. Blowing the Whistle

If your company is doing something illegal, unethical, or otherwise not correct within the organization, you should not feel guilty about blowing the whistle. There is a reason whistleblowing laws exist, and you have the right to be protected and expose any wrongdoing without it coming back to bite you. Yes, your actions may result in some people losing their jobs, but those people were doing something wrong. You cannot afford to feel guilty about that, even if they are really cool people who are fun to be around. Illegal activities can hurt everyone in the company, including you, and if you have the knowledge and ability to stop them from happening, do it. No guilt allowed.

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Take advantage of your college career center
Most universities offer career coaching from trained professionals who specialize in development and advancement. Whether or not you have an idea of your career plans post-college, it can be beneficial to take a few hours out of your day and set up an appointment with one of the counselors. Many times, these professionals can review and help you tailor your resumé and cover letter. To top it off, because of their experience and networks in various industries, counselors have the potential to connect you with hiring managers.

Photo credit: Getty

Begin creating and using your network 
One of the most important aspects to finding a job is taking advantage of your professional and personal network. Your connections can vary from your family members and friends to your professors and alumni. If you feel as if you're lacking a valuable network, however, business association events and gatherings are the best way to gain important contacts.

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Participate in recruiting and career fairs 
This piece of advice may be the most obvious, but many students fail to take advantage of it. Careers fairs orchestrated by your specific college are invaluable. They allow you to not only learn about opportunities in your respective career, but it also allows you the opportunity to network with hiring managers and employers of the companies present.

Use your social media wisely 
It goes without saying that we live in a social media world. Everything you do online can be tracked, so it's important to make sure you are representing your personality and style accurately, and in the best possible light -- you never know who may be looking at your page.


 
Always follow up  
With the advancement of modern technology, most job applications are done online. Because of this new process, it oftentimes makes it harder to find the person of contact to follow up with. However, you shouldn't let that initial obstacle prevent you from following up. If you can't find the name of the hiring manager directly reviewing your application, use LinkedIn to do a search of the next best person to reach out to. Many potential employees miss out on interviews by not being proactive and sending follow up emails.
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