11 career mistakes that will land you in Hungry Ghost hell

Which of the 18 levels of Chinese hell will your workplace misdeeds land you? 

Work life
PHOTO: Phovoir/ Ingimage

Next week marks the end of the spookiest time of the year: Hungry Ghost Month, where ghosts and spirits emerge from the lower realms to mingle with the living. According to Chinese legends and the Buddhist concept of hell, the lower realms consist of 18 levels, each one designated for specific sins. The bad ghosts who end up in there can only escape after atoning for their sins. Until then, they receive only one reprieve a year: the 15th night of the seventh lunar month, when the gates of Hell open so that the ghosts can receive food and drink in the earthly realm.

Back when we were kids, this was a legitimately scary time. Nowadays, young adults are just grateful to have been spared any wrongdoing from malevolent spirits on top of dealing with their daily problems at work. But people tend to forget that according to Chinese tradition, the decisions we make in our careers can result in serious karmic retribution. Commit any of the following sins, and you might just find yourself down being fried in oil, cooked in a giant steamer, or crushed under a rock for all eternity.

Click through our gallery to see which level of hell your workplace misdeeds could land you in. 

1. Spreading rumours about your colleagues
Resisting the gossipy office culture is one of the most difficult challenges you’ll take on at work. Having the inside scoop not only makes for hilarious stories, but it makes you feel powerful among your colleagues. However, gossiping might land you in….

The First Floor of Hell: The Chamber of Tongue Ripping, where people who cause mischief by gossiping will have their tongues ripped out.

How to atone in the earthly realm: The thing about gossip is that once you put something out there, you can’t take it back. Even if you and the person you were gossiping about end up becoming best friends, no matter how hard you try to take back the rumours, they’ll always be in the back of people’s heads. So to avoid being sent to the Chamber of Tongue Ripping, you should avoid gossiping altogether.

2. Having an affair with your married colleague
It started simply enough: the two of you were put on a project together and you thought nothing of it. But one night, after staying to finish, the two of you decided to grab dinner. You had so much fun, dinner after work (in the name of “finishing our project”) turned into a nightly ritual – and then some. But you should be careful, lest you spend eternity in….

The Second Floor of Hell: The Chamber of Scissors, where those who destroy other people’s marriages will have their fingers cut off.

How to atone in the earthly realm: Like gossiping, affairs are a temptation you should flee rather than fight. After all, relationships with one’s married colleagues don’t go from platonic to sexual overnight. It always starts with a bit of flirtation and some inappropriate eye contact. So if you find yourself spending an inordinate amount of quiet nights in the office with your handsome married boss, perhaps it’s wiser to take your work home instead of staying late.

3. Punishing your subordinates for misdeeds that you yourself commit
Every now and then, you scold your junior teammates for slacking off, for being careless, or for missing deadlines – all of which are fair complaints, except for the fact that you do all these things as well. But you should watch your hypocrisy at work, unless you want to end up in….

The Fifth Floor of Hell: The Chamber of Steamer, where troublemakers and hypocrites will be steamed alive.

How to atone in the earthly realm: Stirring up trouble among people who are scared of you can make you feel powerful. But instead of scolding them for the sake of feeling mighty, point out their mistakes, and then mentor them, so that they actually learn.

4. “Forgetting” to invite your colleagues to important meetings and parties
Have you ever sabotaged a colleague (however subtly) just to stay ahead? Left a coworker out of a meeting, tattled on a mistake she made, or stuck a subordinate with tons of busywork to prevent him from being promoted? While it’s easy to manipulate people to achieve your own ends, you might just spend eternity in…

The Eighth Floor of Hell: The Hill of Ice, where schemers, con men, and adulterers have to stand naked in freezing cold temperatures.

How to atone in the earthly realm: Bless the people around you instead of acting like a curse. Rather than suppressing people so you can remain above them, be the type of leader who helps them shine in the workplace. Doing otherwise just shows that you are insecure about others’ success.

5. Asking the attractive intern out on a date
Intern season may be Christmas season for the lecherous at heart, but just because interns are young, cute, and easy to please, doesn’t mean that you should take advantage of them – be it by inappropriate flirting, suggestive comments, or inappropriate touching. Not only does this behaviour harm them, but it can land you in…

The Ninth Floor of Hell: The Cauldron of Boiling Oil, where sex offenders will be fried in boiling oil.

How to atone in the earthly realm: It’s not enough to stop harassing the interns. You also need to protect them by keeping an eye out for colleagues who might be making unwanted sexual advances.

6. Working the interns to death
A couple of weeks ago, reports emerged that a summer intern at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch had died in London after working too many overnights. While most of us haven’t ever pushed an intern that far, we’ve all been guilty of treating them like robots with infinite capacity. Which can land us in…

The Eleventh Floor of Hell: The Chamber of Rock, where those who abandon or kill babies will find themselves being crushed under a rock and soaked in disgusting water.

How to atone in the earthly realm: Okay, granted, interns are only babies in the figurative sense, but the principle remains. Don’t hurt people who are weaker than you are! To atone for your sins, treat the interns you’ve abused to coffee or lunch and encourage them to go home early once in a while when there aren’t any pressing deadlines.

7. Ordering expensive food on the corporate credit card
If you’ve ever been given a corporate credit card for meals outside the office, you’ll know how tempting it is to blow all of that sweet cash on buffets and 5-course meals that you won’t even finish. We get it, you want to feel like a high flyer. But you’ll feel a lot worse when you end up in…

The Twelfth Floor of Hell: Chamber of Pounding, where those who purposely waste food will be force-fed hellfire by demons.

How to atone in the earthly realm:  Buying people food is one of the easiest ways to bless them. Spend money treating others to nice meals or surprising the office with snacks, takeout, or coffee.

8. Showing up half an hour late for meetings
Do you have a problem with punctuality? Showing up for appointments on time is just common courtesy, as is replying to emails, making your deadlines, and generally not wasting other people’s time. Making others wait 10 minutes might not seem like a big deal, but them, that time can feel like an eternity. And speaking of eternity, you don’t want to end up in….

The Thirteenth Floor of Hell: The Pool of Blood, where those who disrespect others will be soaked in blood.

How to atone in the earthly realm: Nowadays, it’s not enough to show up on time. You should arrive 10 to 15 minutes early to demonstrate how eager you are for the meeting as well as how good you are at planning your time.

9. Taking the credit for your teammate’s work
Taking undue credit is one of the most common workplace sins. When you work in a team, it can be hard to tell exactly who did what – and so when you receive credit for work you didn’t do, or pitch an idea that might not have been entirely yours, it’s easy to justify your actions by saying that you did have a part in what was accomplished. You might revel in glory now, but watch out, as your spiritual reward will actually be located on….

The Sixteenth Floor of Hell: The Mountain of Flames, where thieves, bribers, and the corrupt will be thrown into a volcano.

How to atone in the earthly realm: It’s simple. Don’t steal. When you’re inspired by someone else’s idea, work with them to make it better instead of taking it for yourself. And when the boss gives you undue credit, correct her.

10. Asking your juniors to paint your office, clean your rug, buy you coffee, and other tasks not in their job scope
Three words: Abuse of power. These people aren’t maids. They more than likely have university degrees, job skills, and a dignity to uphold. Take advantage of their junior position and you might one day wake up in…

The Seventeenth Floor of Hell: Yard of Stone Mill, where those who abuse their power will and oppress the weak will be pulverized

How to atone in the earthly realm: The role of people who are powerful is to give power to the powerless.  Instead of subduing those who might someday succeed you, groom them for success so that when you eventually leave, you will have a worthy replacement.

11. Paying people less than they deserve
Plenty of companies write complicated clauses into their employees’ contracts to save a few bucks. By adding lots of loopholes that naïve fresh grads will overlook, you can deny them their bonuses, pay increments, and other benefits. Yeah, you’ll save some money without breaching your contract, but that might not be enough to save you from….

The Eighteenth Floor of Hell: The Chamber of Saw, where people who exploit loopholes and engage in malpractice will be sawed in two by demons.

How to atone in the early realm: Be as transparent and straightforward as you can with new hires. Just because you’re technically right in denying them bonuses or pay increments doesn’t mean your actions are ethical. 

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