Dos and Don'ts of Workplace Decorum
Every workplace has a couple of people who seem oblivious to the idea of etiquette and common courtesy. You’ve undoubtedly come across them at some point: the person who finishes the coffee but doesn’t set another pot to brew; the one who monopolizes conversation during staff meetings and glares if they don’t get enough attention; the office drama queen who interrupts you with bits of gossip and doesn’t take the hint when you have work to do.
If you’re really surrounded by jerks, you may share a cubicle with someone who’s fond of rating their belches, or, if you’re in a shared open-concept space, you may have to put up with loud, obnoxious discussions by someone who doesn’t quite understand the idea of an “inside voice.” It’s important to remember that the workplace is a public environment where a certain measure of decorum should be adhered to. These are just a few basic Dos and Don’ts that should be common sense, but are often overlooked.
Whether you’re talking to the receptionist, assigning work to an employee, or on a phone call to tech support, keep in mind that everyone you associate is worthy of respect and courtesy. You might be a manager, a secretary, an office cleaner, or the CEO, but that doesn’t mean that you are any greater or lesser than anyone else in the company. Saying “please” and “thank you” is a courtesy that should be extended to everyone.
Keep your feet off your desk, and try to keep the surface tidy
If it wasn’t acceptable at your mother’s house, it sure isn’t acceptable at work. If the thought that propping your hooves on your desk makes you look edgy and cool, you’ve been watching too many 1980s flicks.
As for keeping your space neat and tidy, there’s a difference between an organized mess and a cesspit. Allowing empty chip bags, takeout boxes, and styrofoam cups to accumulate around you is just disgusting, and if you’re old enough to have a job, you’re too old to keep a collection of dolls and toys on your desk. Clean it up.
Respect other people’s property, as well as their personal space
I once worked in an open concept office environment in which the managers would have impromptu meetings in front of my desk, and ended up using the desk top as a coffee table as they talked. Not only was this horribly disrespectful, but their inane chatter also distracted me from my work. Be aware of those around you and treat them with the same courtesy that you’d like extended to you.
In a similar vein, it’s very rude to just grab an item from someone’s desk without asking if you can use it. If you need to borrow a stapler/ruler/pen from your colleague’s desk, ask them nicely first, and then return it promptly. Don’t eat anything from a shared fridge unless you’re the one who put it in there, or if it’s clearly labeled as something that’s meant to be shared around.
Chew gum during meetings
If you have to chew gum at all, please do so with your mouth closed and don’t snap it or blow bubbles‒you’ll drive your co-workers insane. Be diligent about spitting it out before meetings or you’ll end up looking either slovenly or juvenile, and those aren’t traits that any employer wants to see.
Use mugs with obnoxious phrases or slogans on them
This also applies to neckties and T-shirts (yes, programmers: this means you too). If you’re fond of clothing and accessories that are redolent of sexual innuendo or pop culture references, indulge in them at home—not work. Coffee mugs shaped like toilet seats, or those with handles that look like brass knuckles are frowned upon as well, and for goodness’ sake, skip the animated character tie unless you work for Pixar.
Have loud conversations on office phones
No one needs to hear you having a fight with your partner while they’re trying to work, nor do they need to hear you braying with laughter if you’re trying to schmooze a client. Shared office spaces like lofts were likely dreamed up by someone from the seventh circle of hell, but those horrible environments are made even more intolerable when people don’t respect the fact that they aren’t the only ones there.
If the person across the room glares at you when you’re on a call, you’re too damned loud. Either lower your voice, or step out into the hall.
Even in offices where everyone is pretty laid back and relaxed, a certain level of grace and courtesy is always appreciated. Do try to maintain a respectable appearance, especially if clients ever stop by to visit, treat others as you’d like them to treat you, and everyone should be able to play nicely together.
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