Office etiquette is an act that helps smoothen the wheels of daily interaction within the office. Getting along with people you’d probably never ask home to dinner is essential for good work outcomes and a happy co-existence, and it’s office etiquette that ensures this even where there is mutual dislike or disinterest. Moreover, office etiquette ensures that you don’t become office enemy number one because you’ve been irritating people with unhelpful habits or comments.
Not that you’re deliberately aiming to be an office challenge, but there are some actions that can unwittingly cause others discomfort or unease. Moreover, office etiquette is the key deciding factor in how your colleagues will respond to you and come to your rescue when you need help. The manner in which you conduct yourself within the office environment among people who effectively become your “second family” will determine how you’re viewed and the ease with which you will be supported by others around you.
Understand the point of office etiquette. While the term “office etiquette” may conjure up images of stiffness and formality, it is in actual fact very simple. Office etiquette is about observing a simple set of rules for getting along with other people in an organizational context. Just as living in a society requires us to follow a set of conventions (unwritten but well understood expectations) and rules, observing appropriate social behavior within the work context ensures congeniality, team respect and an enjoyable day-to-day working experience.
While most etiquette remains unwritten, just because it isn’t down in black and white and pinned to the noticeboard doesn’t excuse lack of observance. There will always be a larger proportion of any social group expecting that the unwritten conventions of etiquette be observed regularly, with few exceptions and no matter how quirky, rebellious or authentic you feel like being.
Be punctual. Being punctual is very important, especially if you have an appointment. It shows that you respect the time of your colleagues and in turn it will compel them to respect your time too. The popular saying that would fit in this situation is that ‘Time and tide wait for no one’. Avoid turning up later than your boss when you’re a junior. At the entry stage of a job, sending a clear message that you’re eager and already working is vital.
Dress appropriately. Most offices have a predefined dress code that has to be followed strictly. However, if you do have the privilege of working at a place which does not define a dress code, then it’s up to you to dress appropriately.
Remember that the office is not a party place and you will have to dress in a way that commands respect both from your colleagues and clients. The dress code has a strong influence in establishing the trust that your client places in your abilities in giving them their money’s worth. Dress professionally, or in the manner expected at your particular work site. Do not wear ultra-casual, provocative or evening attire.
Stay away from gossip. Office gossip might not make or break your career but it can cause a lot of unnecessary stress which should be avoided at all costs. You would not want someone to gossip about you and neither will the next person. In some cases, if the source of some malicious gossip can be traced back to you, then your job can be in jeopardy. Limit your comments about co-workers to positive ones only.
Office grapevines can be faster than the speed of lightning; anything negative you say will get around and may reflect poorly on you, or possibly label you as the company gossip. You may overhear the conversations of others. Be good and forget you ever heard them and apply the “so what” rule. Don’t refer to what you’ve overheard and definitely don’t add your own advice!
Ask before borrowing. If you’re at good terms with your colleague, then it may appear all right if you borrowed a stapler or a marker from their desk without asking. Well, the fact of the matter is that it is not all right. It is imperative that you ask first and then borrow. This attitude of yours will ensure that people also treat your things with the same respect and your things are not missing (read borrowed) when you get back to your seat after a meeting.
If there are some items that are always needed, have a central common pool for such items so that desk-nabbing ceases to occur. For example, a central spot for stapling, sticking and enveloping is a good idea as nobody owns the items there and they always remain within the pool.
Always say “sorry”, “please” and “thank you”. A few nice words can keep the mood of the office uplifting or at least keep the mood from turning foul. When you pass co-workers in the hallway and this person isn’t particularly your friend, smile or nod. Acknowledge that they are there. You don’t have to run over and hug them but just say hello. Think about what kind of message you send when you look the other way to purposely avoid contact.
Say “hello” to people in your vicinity when you come in every morning. A vicious habit can creep in when people let this well-mannered greeting slip and just slink into their seats without saying a word. It’s rude and it’s not going to garner you any favours with others. Even if they don’t make the effort, be the example for everyone else to let them know it’s not only okay but expected.
Watch your language. When interacting with others at the office remember that profanity offends some people. Also avoid innuendos or jokes at the expense of other people.
Don’t consistently interrupt people. Doing so will suggest that your time or opinion is more important than theirs. If your co-worker is on the phone but you need to ask a question, don’t linger. Tap them on the shoulder and whisper that you need them for a minute (or leave a quick note in front of them) and ask them to call or see you when they are done. If your co-worker is having a work related conversation don’t interrupt – just wait for them to finish or ask them to see you when they are through.
Refrain from being loud. For those without an office door to close, the most frequent complaint made is about noise from other people in the work environment. Keeping your voice down should be a priority in all work interactions:
Whether you’re on the phone or talking to a colleague, avoid being loud. Use your handset or headset–not a speakerphone–to take all calls, unless you’re behind closed doors.
If you have a received a call on your cell phone, it’s a good idea to take a walk down to the corridor or to find a room with a door you can shut to take the rest of the call if you’re likely to disturb others. This is especially recommended if it’s a personal call or one that’s likely to take some time.
Avoid speaking in a loud or belligerent manner. Aggressive or increasingly loud vocalizations upset people and even those who are not the target of the aggression will be left with a sense of unease and discomfort. Turn off your personal cell phone during business hours; use its vibrating feature if you need to leave it on. Avoid making personal calls at your workstation; your coworker need not know that your spouse needs to pick up a pound of ham.
Be considerate around meeting rooms, even if you’re not sure whether or not a meeting is in progress – always assume there is one and be on the safe side.
Be sensitive to others’ need for privacy. Don’t read someone else’s faxes, emails, mail or computer screens. Only share personal things at work that you wouldn’t mind reading in next week’s newspaper. And remember that when you send emails, never write anything that would be a problem if forwarded; simply by virtue of the fact that anyone can forward an email, you need to be alert to this potential.
If you need to discuss anything sensitive or private with another colleague, find a room where you can shut the door and nobody else can overhear you. Personal issues and work performance reviews are not for the ears of anyone other than the recipient. Only use a speaker phone behind closed doors. When working in open areas, use your handset or headset for all calls.
Avoid being a source of odors. Eating odorous food at your desk, removing your shoes or spritzing perfume or air freshener during the day can upset those sensitive to odors. Nobody wants a whiff of smelly feet no matter how much you think you can’t smell them and the odor of lunch is a very personal thing, so don’t assume it’s as delightful to someone else’s nose as it is to yours. Besides, just what are you doing eating at your desk anyway? Go out and get some fresh air!
If you don’t know if something you’re doing, wearing or eating is strong in odor, assume that it is. Our olfactory system can play tricks on us when we’re habituated to an odor that others aren’t familiar with, downplaying its strength to our own nose while others might be gagging. This isn’t a time for standing up for your “rights”; you are likely to be causing genuine distress to other people.
Keep your work area tidy. Try not to be messy. A messy cubicle or desk shows how confused and careless you are, and that you’re not clear about yourself. Also, it can reflect your personality or personal life at home. So don’t let people think that you’re always an unorganized person. Keep your cubicle tidy and decorative (with relevant material only, for example, some charts or articles etc.).
If you like adding a personal touch, such as photos or trinkets, choose only a few decent ones. Don’t overload the space as if it’s a collector’s corner. Not only does having too many personal effects make it appear that you’re rather territorial and sentimental but it can make it hard for others to take you as seriously in the work context. Moreover, if you’re shifted frequently, it’s just more stuff to keep moving about with you.
If you have a communal kitchen area keeping it clean is vitally important. If you spill it, wipe it clean. If you drop it, pick it up. Your mom is not there to follow behind you to clean a trail of mess that you made. Don’t expect your co-workers to do it either.