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The 10 Unspoken Rules of Office Etiquette
AdobeStock/zorandim75
Abby Lee
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It’s your first day at a new job. You walk into the office and realize the layout, the people and the pace are completely different from your last role. 

How do you adjust to the new environment while being professional? Each office has its own characteristics for being a good employee, but there are general office etiquette rules you can take with you when changing jobs. 

What is office etiquette and why is it important?

Office etiquette is a set of unwritten rules for employees to practice professionalism and polite behavior. While office etiquette varies based on the company, generally, respectable office etiquette allows employees to form strong relationships with colleagues and clients and helps employees advance their careers. 

When it comes to etiquette, first impressions matter. In the results of a recent study from researchers at the University of Chicago, people were much quicker to re-define someone based on bad behavior rather than on good behavior. Therefore, less than ideal impressions stick and might hinder you from forming critical relationships with your colleagues and boss. Establishing good relationships right off the bat will make you quickly integrate into the work environment and impress your boss. Those with good etiquette also show that they’re serious about their work performance, which can put them on the path to future promotions. Below are office etiquette rules you can follow in your work environment. 

10 Office Etiquette Rules

1. Be on time.

Time is precious, and no one wants to feel like you think your time is more important to their time. Whether arriving to the office, visiting a client or making a deadline, being prompt shows that you’re serious about work and respect the other party’s time. If you miss a deadline, your whole team is affected and may have to cover for you. Clients expect high quality service so if you are late to an appointment, the client might question their money and wonder if you value their time. When running late, it’s courteous to let the other party know and keep them in the loop about your schedule. 

2. Avoid gossip.

Think high school is over? That’s not always the case in the workplace. While it’s natural to stress over work, be careful about the extent of what you share. How you treat people reflects on your character, and if you speak negatively about your coworkers, people might associate you with that negativity. Also, colleagues might be less inclined to trust you if they hear you badmouthing other colleagues, wondering if you do the same to them.

3. Understand your work environment.

It’s important to observe and understand your work environment so you know what’s appropriate. For example, startups have a more relaxed dress code, but if you work in the corporate sector, you may dress more business professional. According to Columbia University Center for Career Education, if you work at a larger organization, you can access the HR department and in-house trainings. For smaller companies, you would learn from observing others and asking questions. You’ll learn the values and policies of your company over time, but it’s good practice to research and observe in order to navigate the company. 

4. Keep it clean.

At work, you don’t want to be known as someone who can’t pick up after themselves. If you are in common area and leave coffee cups, pieces of paper or random snacks, then someone will clean it for you which can cost time and their patience. Also, keeping your desk or workspace clean and organized reflects your professional brand. It is good to periodically check to see if you have maintained a clean workspace. 

5. Be mindful of how others work.

People have different working styles, so be mindful when working in an open office. Some people might want to blast music and others might want silence. If you want to listen to music, podcasts, or any other audio, do so with some headphones or if permitted, find a cubicle or office space. 

6. Be personal but professional.

Since you’ll see your colleagues for the majority of your week, it’s human to get to know them on a personal level. If you don’t share, you might come off as snobbish. At the same time, you don’t want to relay everything such as a cheating spouse or your drunken weekend escapades, since that may distract you and others from focusing on professional projects. It’s also important to be mindful of other peoples’ boundaries. Sharing personal information is a choice, so do not push employees to divulge information.

7. Show genuine interest.

We all have thousands of thoughts running through our head. We’re checking off to-do lists, worrying about how we’ll finish tasks and if we remembered to pick up the dry cleaning. When speaking with colleagues or clients, we’re hoping they speak quickly so we can move on. However, people can tell when you are actively listening. When speaking with others, give your undivided attention, maintain good eye contact and ask inquisitive follow-up questions. That way people are aware that you are focused and also a pleasure to be around. 

8. Introduce others.

If you’re new to a workplace or even if you have been in a job for awhile, there’s always more people to meet. It’s not fun to stand awkwardly with a group of people who have no idea who you are and vice versa. When given the opportunity, introduce people to each other. It’s polite and it makes people feel valued. 

9. Be polite and professional in all communication forms.

For phone, email and meeting face-to-face, it’s important to remain professional. When emailing, keep in mind that there is no context for tone or facial expressions, so keep messages short but friendly. Do not send anything that you wouldn’t say in person as emails are permanent. 

10.  Put down the phone during meetings.

Nowadays, it is hard to put down our phones. However, when you are in meetings, it’s not advised to be texting or browsing the web. It gives off the impression that you’re not paying attention and it can reflect poorly on your company if in front of a client. In meetings, turn your phone off or put it on silent. 

How can managers influence office etiquette? 

Workplace etiquette is exemplified from the top down. As a manager, you have the opportunity to set a good example for your team. If managers are on time, courteous to others and professional they set the tone for their team and promote office culture. An easy way for employees to be aware of workplace etiquette is to include rules in the workplace handbook or to request HR to put etiquette into onboarding presentations or manuals. 

Managers can also encourage respect between coworkers, by avoiding gossip and treating their employees equally. If there is a dispute, it is important to hear both sides without favoring certain employees. Managers can remind employees that professionalism is expected and can consult HR if they need guidance. A positive reinforcement of office behavior is showing appreciation for employees who go above and beyond the standards.

While we may not always consciously think about etiquette, there are certain formalities that can show you are an above and beyond employee. Good business etiquette can accelerate your career and make a more comfortable work environment. The general key etiquette skills are to respect others’ time and workplace habits , avoid gossip and research your work environment. 

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