Sweating the small stuff at work helped me succeed, says Mindy Kaling — here's how it can help you

Savannah Guthrie, Mindy Kaling, and Hoda Kotb speak onstage during "Closing the Dream Gap: Showing Girls (and Ourselves) What's Next" panel at the Glamour Women of the Year Summit on November 11, 2018, in New York City.
Ilya S. Savenok | Getty Images

The saying "don't sweat the small stuff" has been repeated to the point where it's become a cliché. And the idea that to be successful, you should focus on the bigger picture and avoid what's petty and inconsequential is certainly a good one. But the small stuff can actually be a sign of bigger problems.

"Sometimes you do need to sweat the small stuff and, depending on your job and the situation, 'small stuff' can mean different things to different people," says Vicki Salemi, career expert for Monster.

Comedian and NBC's "The Office" alum Mindy Kaling recently made a similar point on Twitter, pointing out that paying attention to details helped her get ahead: "They say don't sweat the small s--- but I feel like I wouldn't be successful if I didn't."


If you're ignoring all of the small stuff at work, you might be missing some red flags. Here are three situations where you do want to pay attention.

You notice that you are being repeatedly shut out

If you're left out of a meeting here and there, it's probably not cause for alarm. But if you're repeatedly excluded, it could be a problem. For example, if you notice that your boss is starting to repeatedly eliminate you from meetings you previously participated in, as well as shutting you out of opportunities on more than one occasion, especially long-term projects, it might be time to think about about other job options.

"Your job might be getting eliminated," says Salemi. "While you don't want to speculate, it's a good idea to look for a new job."

Instead of worrying, take some time to polish your resume, brush up on interview techniques, and reach out to your network to inquire about possible opportunities. "In the best case scenario, you won't be losing your job, but you will perhaps have found an even better one externally," says Salemi.

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Your employer is cutting back

Take notice if your company starts curtailing spending on various expenses, like department lunches and office supplies. "If they're cutting back on small ticket items, will cutbacks on your annual raise be next?" says Salemi.

Cutbacks on small expenses could also foretell a reduction in employee benefits like PTO days, commuting benefits, and tuition reimbursement. These types of perks are offered to make employees feel valued, and getting rid of them can lower morale among workers.

If you start to feel additional stress or pressure because a benefit that improved your quality of life is gone, or if you feel undervalued because a perk that made your job worthwhile being threatened, speak to HR about your options. You may need to ask yourself if you can stick it out or if the job is no longer worth it without certain benefits that improve your quality of life.

You're having too many bad days

If you have a rough day due to an unexpected challenge at work or stress at home, don't sweat it. Bad days now and then are normal and come with the territory.

But when you find yourself having multiple bad days, whether caused by internal or external stressors, pay attention to the causes.

"A bad day at work or with a colleague or your boss that leads to multiple bad days is not necessarily small, it's more like a big deal," says Salemi. And "when your bad days outweigh the good, that's a red flag."

Sometimes you do need to sweat the small stuff.
Vicki Salemi
Career expert at Monster

If you find that your bad days are rooted in negative interactions with your boss, schedule a time to talk and explain your concerns. While you're having that conversation, keeping your tone casual but matter of fact can help you get your point across, Alison Green, founder of advice column "Ask a Manager," wrote on her blog earlier this year.

If your bad days are due to internal stress and you're feeling overwhelmed or pressured at work, it's important to find ways to cope. Try setting boundaries to maintain a work-life balance. Burnout affects 44% of workers and you can try to avoid it by creating and sticking to a sleep routine, working out to reduce stress and anxiety, and seeking out affordable mental health care options.

What not to sweat:

  • The occasional conflict at work: Just like occasional bad days, disagreements at work happen. "Don't worry about them. Just try to analyze what you could have done differently if the situation repeats itself and anticipate a different outcome," says Salemi. "So if it does happen again, your actions and/or behavior and attitude will be different."
  • Not getting a "Thank you" or "Great work!": "Yes, we all need to hear this every now and then, but don't sweat it if your work doesn't get acknowledged every single time you do something well," says Salemi. "If your boss and/or clients were unhappy, you'd definitely hear about it."
  • Taking breaks and PTO: "You should feel like it's OK to take a lunch break and step away from your desk while you're at it," says Salemi. "The same applies to PTO. Studies have shown you'll be more refreshed and productive at work when you take a break instead of always being on. Don't feel paranoid or worried that you'll lose your job if you take that paid time off that you earned."

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