What Is Appropriate Workplace Behavior?


employees working on a project together


Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine
What is appropriate workplace behavior? This question is actually twofold. There is appropriate employer behavior and appropriate employee behavior. And it’s not just limited to problem behavior. The behavior you expect of your employees—and your employees expect of you—contributes to the entire company culture. It is also integral to the success of the organization itself.
Why is behavior important in the workplace? Ensuring that all employees conduct themselves in a professional manner promotes the safety and well-being of both individuals and the entire company. When people exhibit inappropriate behavior in the workplace, everyone suffers. For instance, if someone is frequently late to work, her disruptive behavior might affect a coworker’s ability to do her job, because she is depending collaboration with the late arrival.
So, how should you behave in the workplace? If you are an employer, how do you ensure that everyone is engaging in professional behavior in your workplace?

Four Ways to Establish Appropriate Workplace Behavior

1. Follow Workplace Behavior Trends and Best Practices.

Depending on the size of a business workplace behavior may be governed by human resources or another individual or department. If you do have a human resources department, work with your representatives to develop policies and procedures that promote the well-being of your employees and outline consequences for unsafe behavior or disruption to the workplace.
• Outline policies in an employee handbook and post signs as needed. 
You should include the general rules and policies employees are expected to follow and a code of conduct (maintaining a respectful workplace, what disciplinary action an employee might face if she were to disregard rules or engage in problem behavior in the workplace.
Some state laws require policies such as minimum wage or anti-discrimination to be posted in visible locations. As an employer, be sure to review the laws about signage and what policies need to be visible at all times.
• Create a diversity policy, explicitly stating that intolerance with regard to race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, and other classifications will not be tolerated. 
Many companies may also create other workplace initiatives to promote diversity, such as establishing a diversity task force.
• An anti-bullying or anti-harassment policy is also essential for maintaining a respectful workplace. 
Create a policy that outlines the importance of maintaining professionalism with your colleagues, even if you disagree with their views or beliefs. Make it clear that bullying will not be tolerated under any circumstances, and outline the consequences for disregarding the anti-harassment policy.

2. Outline Expectations for Workplace Functions

Policies and procedures can get a little murky when partying and alcohol are involved. Often, workplace functions involve both. While you should encourage your employees to have fun at work events and parties, be sure to emphasise that you still expect them to exhibit appropriate workplace behavior, even if the event takes place off-site.
Some rules, of course, may not be in play at workplace functions; for instance, if your code of conduct prohibits alcohol at work, you may relax the rule for a holiday party at an off-site venue. However, the guidelines as far as what is appropriate and what is inappropriate workplace behavior should still be in play. For instance, your employees should follow your policy regarding respectful attitudes and unsafe behavior at all times.
Before workplace functions, it is a good idea to send out an email reminder about expectations for how employees will conduct themselves. If something strikes you as a particular concern, highlight it your email. Remind your employees that they still need to follow work rules and exhibit appropriate workplace behavior, even if they’re off-site.

3. Gauge Employee Attitudes.

The attitudes you and your employees exhibit go hand-in-hand with behavior expectations. Understand that employees come to work with different goals and expectations. Some may just be looking to expectations; others may be motivated to someday achieve a leadership position; others still seek fulfillment and enjoyment out of their work experiences.
Depending on the size of your business, you may not be able to meet and interact with every single employee. Ideally, you would be able to have a conversation with each individual to understand their personal goals; this can help you establish initiatives and procedures that improve your company culture and organization overall since you are ensuring that everyone’s needs are being met. However, if you are unable to meet with each employee, you can gauge attitudes in other ways.
Gauging attitudes is less about each individual’s personal motivations for coming to work and more about understanding their views regarding the company, the work they do, and their overall satisfaction with their role and the organization as a whole.
You might ask employees to take annual surveys to better understand their attitudes. Since many employees could be reluctant to fill out yet another form, you could incentivize them to complete it with a chance at winning something in a drawing.
You might also offer a survey after a new initiative or change takes place, so you understand how employees feel about it and how it affects their work personally. It’s a good idea to find a way to gauge employee attitudes about a big change that is about to take place as well. For example, if your company is relocating, you should make an effort to understand the pros and cons from your employees’ perspective, as well as inform them of the reasoning behind the decision.
Once you understand your employees’ attitudes about situations or the company as a whole, make it clear that you’re listening to them. Even if a situation is beyond your control, you don’t want them to think their feedback is meaningless. Find ways to encourage and promote an open dialogue. You might hold a town hall meeting to allow employees to express their views and vent their frustrations; this gives them a forum to make their voices heard.

4. Pay Attention to Employee Engagement Trends

Promoting a safe and inclusive work environment also means empowering and rewarding your employees. According to Inc., strategies for doing so include:
  • Fostering open communication
  • Rewarding self-improvement
  • Encouraging safe failure
  • Providing context
  • Clearly defining roles
  • Requiring accountability
  • Supporting independence
  • Appreciating employee efforts
Make sure you are making these efforts to engage your employees at work; everyone will benefit from these initiatives.
In 2017 and 2018, many employees have begun employing engagement trends such as:
  • Investing in their employees’ career development.
  • Creating workplace initiatives to improve the culture of the workplace and attitudes of employees
These measures can be a great way to improve the work-life balance of your employees and make them eager to come to the office. For instance, you might offer wellness reimbursements so employees are incentivized to visit the gym, hold networking events to encourage interaction, or host other events that keep your employees engaged.

Workplace Behavior: The Bottom Line

There are many situations in which there are blurry lines, so when dealing with what is appropriate and inappropriate, allow yourself the flexibility to deal with some situations on a case-by-case basis. Still, you should try to anticipate any type of situation that might arise. Run through examples and consult your peers.

Next Steps

Are you interested in learning more about promoting appropriate workplace behavior and creating an inclusive and safe workplace culture? There are many how-to books and manuals, as well as workplace behavior training courses, that can help you hone your leadership skills in this area and develop workshops and policies at your workplace.
Also, read Fairygodboss's advice for how to behave and conduct yourself in the workplace:

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