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5 Workplace Myths Unmasked


I’ll be the first to admit my career path has been anything but level and linear. I’ve jumped between industries, jumped from job to job and, when necessary for my mental health, jumped ship. I’ve worked full time, part time and overtime. I’ve been a salaried employee, civil servant, contract hire and freelancer. I’ve worked as a minimum-wage earner and a corporate manager. 

My uncommon career journey certainly helped disavow me of many common misconceptions about the workplace and how business really works. But when tasked with the job of identifying and unmasking workplace myths for this blog post, I discovered there’s still a plethora of misguided ideas out there masquerading as conventional wisdom.

There were so many, in fact, it was difficult to choose exactly which illusions to shatter. Here are five that resonated with me:

Myth #1: HR works for you

The truth is the human resources function exists to support and serve the business. Often that mandate involves protecting the interests of employees, especially with regard to things like a safe work environment and legal compliance. But the best interests of the employer are always paramount. So, the onus is on you to be the problem-solver. You’re the only person who is truly accountable for creating a positive work experience.

Myth #2: Taking a break cuts into productivity

The Draugiem Group, an umbrella organization for several start-ups and host to the national social network of Latvia, used its time-tracking app DeskTime to analyze the habits of highly productive employees. Surprisingly, the employees with the highest productivity didn’t work longer hours or even full eight-hour days. They actually took a 17-minute break for every 52 minutes of work. Other countries around the world have already caught onto the connection between taking a break and making it work. So, step away from your desk if you want to step up your productivity. 

Myth #3: Rules are what make a workplace run smoothly

Companies certainly need to have rules; otherwise chaos could ensue. But the trend toward “zero tolerance” and a get-tough approach to anything that even smacks of veering from the company line are simply “shortsighted and lazy” attempts to create order, according to author and TalentSmart founder Dr. Travis Bradberry. Among the counterproductive and morale-killing rules he thinks cross the line are forced performance rankings; silly attendance and time-off policies; too-restrictive bans on internet, email and cell phone use; political correctness that runs amok; and not letting people reasonably personalize their working space and wardrobes. The real upshot of all this unnecessary law and order is often a dispirited rather than a disciplined workforce.

Myth #4: Agreement is good; conflict is bad

While a lot has been written about hiring for cultural fit, the underlying assumption has always been that people who are alike and who get along will also get more done. But it turns out too much conformity and consensus can undercut innovation, stifle performance and encourage complacency in the workplace. In her research on rebel talent, Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino shows that “going against the crowd gives us confidence in our actions, which makes us feel unique and engaged and translates to higher performance and greater creativity.”

Myth #5: The best people/organizations don’t make mistakes

It would seem logical to assume that making fewer errors is a legitimate metric of success. But it turns out being infallible is overrated. A Harvard Business Review article on the myths surrounding great places to work points out that to “achieve top performance, we must first recognize and learn from our mistakes. … Paradoxically, fostering top workplace performance requires a new way of looking at failure. Instead of treating mistakes as a negative consequence to be avoided at all costs (thereby making employees reluctant to acknowledge them), organizations are better off making improvement rather than perfection a primary objective.”

Got any other workplace myths you’d like to bust? Just let us know, and we’ll track down the truth — after we take a break, of course.

Diane Landsman

Written by: Diane Landsman

Diane Landsman is familiar to many in the HR community as a former editorial director at Human Capital Media. Now an independent communications strategist, writer and editor she helps enterprises educate, engage, influence and sometimes even entertain their audiences. Her specialty is crafting original content across media channels, from websites that attract searchers and keep them engaged to email campaigns, articles that put organizations on the map, and executive-level whitepapers, speeches, and op/ed pieces.


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