Everything You Need To Know About Office Etiquette

Posted October 13, 2011, by Andrea Riddell

Working five days a week, eight hours a day often means that we end up spending more time in the office with our work colleagues than at home. In order to peacefully work, live and play with our office family we need to follow the unspoken rules of workplace etiquette.

Etiquette guidelines are important to show your manners and respect for others to ensure a harmonious workplace. While the accepted behaviour is different at different workplaces, there are some common practices which can be applied to most.

1. Dressing the part

Unless you work in Hungary where shorts are considered acceptable office attire, you should err on the side of formal for your first day of work. While Google’s dress code is simply ‘must wear clothes’, most other companies will require you to put in a bit more effort. Dress codes will vary with the industry and business you are in and it’s best to scope out your colleagues’ attire before you pull out your sequinned one-piece.

2. Cleanliness is next to godliness

There is more to portraying an appropriate image than just choosing the right clothes. Cleanliness is also a very important factor and taking your personal hygiene seriously is good etiquette. No one will remember what you wear if you accompany it with your own pungent, personal fragrance. The state of your clothes will also reveal your attitude towards hygiene as well as your work. Nothing says ‘I deserve a promotion’ like a crumpled shirt with tomato sauce stains down the front.

3. Cover up odours

It’s important to eliminate any potentially offensive odours you may be responsible for. As covered in point number two, deodorant and showering are not optional in the workplace. Keep your feet in your shoes and breath mints in your pocket. Also refrain from trying to mask strong smells with equally strong perfume or cologne, unless you want to leave a path of nausea and gagging in your wake.

Avoid any overly strong-smelling foods that may have a way of travelling around the office. In a professional environment it is also frowned upon to emit bodily gases of any kind. If nature comes a-calling, it is best to step outside and deal with the issue in privacy.

4. Acting the part

Take heed of the wise words belted out by Aretha Franklin and respect your co-workers. The saying, ‘treat others how you want to be treated’ is never truer than in the workplace. Make sure you listen to others and value their opinion and, if they also follow office etiquette, they shall do the same for you.

Teamwork requires you to be diplomatic and while this can be difficult especially when dealing with troublesome colleagues, it will help to ensure all hell does not break loose when you reach a disagreement.

5. Mind your Ps and Qs

Being on your best behaviour means that you cannot treat the office like your bedroom and your colleagues like your siblings. Opening the door for your colleagues, asking them how they are and using ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’ are small acts that can make a huge difference in your office relationships. And if you happen to enjoy a bit of colourful language when you’re with friends, it’s best to leave it at the office door and keep your workplace lingo cuss-free.

6. In sickness and in health

With air-conditioning systems, shared kitchens and windows that don’t open, the office can be a breeding ground for all sorts of bugs and bacteria. If you are sick and decide to come to work, take steps to avoid creating an epidemic in the office, infecting all your colleagues and bringing productivity to a grinding halt.

Take the necessary precautions to avoid spreading your germs by covering your mouth when you sneeze and cough, and washing your hands on a regular basis. Dispose of your used tissues quickly and thoughtfully. Your colleagues will not look too kindly upon your sickly state if they find dirty tissues sandwiched between important files.

7. Loud noises

Loud people, loud music and loud ringtones can make working in an office unbearable. The more distracting you are, the more you are going to get on people’s nerves. Unnecessary interruptions can severely disturb one’s train of thought. Be careful that your voice is not an assault on your colleagues’ eardrums, especially in an open plan office. Turning your phone off or on silent when you enter the building will ensure that no one has to share your love for Justin Bieber whenever you receive a phone call.

8. Synchronise your clocks

It is poor etiquette to turn up late to anything, and in the office this can be a strong reflection on your work ethic. Turning up late to meetings can leave you frazzled and unprepared and the other party unimpressed. Synchronise your watch with the main clock in your office to ensure that you’re not turning up to work five minutes later than you think you are. And if unforeseeable circumstances mean you do happen to arrive late to work, show your good manners and stay back late to make it up.

9. Be a team player

Working in a team environment means that it is important not to forget your team. Never make a tea or coffee or undergo a beverages run without consulting the rest of your colleagues. Otherwise be prepared for a sea of beady looks eyeing you off while you obliviously sip your mocha frappuccino.

If your office usually collects money for birthdays or even just for the weekly milk, remember that ‘chipping in’ is not voluntary. If you don’t contribute to team presents, don’t expect one on your birthday, but do expect to be labelled a scrooge for the rest of your working life.

10. Etiquette is for everyone

Remember that these rules do not only apply to the people you work with, but also anyone else who occupies your office space. Cleaners and deliverymen, as well as other businesses, deserve the same respect you bestow upon your colleagues and it would be poor etiquette to neglect them. Good etiquette is just all-round good form and should be adopted in all scenarios, inside the office and outside, to ensure that practice makes perfect.

Andrea Riddell

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