If you’ve ever been sat at your desk, hard at work, trying to finish your report in time for that very important meeting with the Managing Director; you’ll know just how annoying it is to have the wacky office comedian come striding up to you in his Homer Simpson tie, wanting to play his new collection of stupid cell phone ringtones. Welcome to the dark and murky world of Office Etiquette.
I actually made a big etiquette faux pas at my new employer just this week. I was well-groomed, well-dressed and I was polite, pleasant and smiling as I greeted my new co-workers. But as I sat down after making myself a cup of tea, I couldn’t help but notice that everyone in the office was looking at me like I’d just murdered their cat. I’d committed a cardinal office sin: never, ever make a drink just for yourself.
So how do you know what the politics of your office are? Well, like the many different cultures and societies of other countries and continents, it varies from office to office. In England you could be hung, drawn and quartered for not making a round of tea for your colleagues. In Russia however, they’d be more upset if you forgot to slip a drop of vodka into their brew. For this very reason, we’ve created The Ultimate Office Etiquette Guide so that you never again make the mistake of taking a stapler without first asking for permission!
General Office Etiquette
While different offices have different policies, there are a few universal truths about etiquette that you need to be aware of at all times.
- Ask before you borrow anything. There’s nothing worse than being branded the office thief because your stash of ‘borrowed’ rulers is discovered by the cleaning lady.
- Wash your mug after you’ve used it. If you expect the cleaners to wash up for you, you’re going to be in for a big surprise. You might find your mug covered in mold and thick, congealed milk floating around the bottom. Clean it yourself.
- Any release of bodily gases is highly frowned upon. Farting may have been okay back in High School, but you won’t be taken seriously if you perform a rendition of Flight Of The Bumble Bee through your ass.
- Don’t fall asleep at your desk. And if you do, make sure you’re at a desk that faces away from everyone else and you don’t snore.
- Open doors for your colleagues. You won’t do yourself any favors by letting the door close on the geeky guy from I.T while he’s carrying a computer tower and monitor into the office.
It’s important to always be respectful of your colleagues and avoid burning your bridges with them. You never know when you may rely on their help to get you out of a tricky jam. Here are a few things you should be aware of:
- There’s nothing more annoying that a ringing phone that goes unanswered. If you don’t want to answer your phone put it on silent or divert calls to your answerphone. Also, keep your cell phone on vibrate because if I hear another rendition of the Crazy Frog ring tone, I will kill someone.
- Office politics is unavoidable. Don’t let people undermine you or draw you into arguments. Let your achievements do the talking for you and make sure that the right people are aware of what you have accomplished without you needing to brag about it.
- If you’re going to take lunch at your desk, keep it simple. A sandwich is best. Don’t go bringing in a homemade spicy chicken and pasta dish that’s going to stink up the office and annoy people. On the lunch subject, make sure you don’t disturb people with work-related problems when they’re on their lunch. They won’t thank you for it and you’ll be repaid in kind at a later date.
- Always offer to make tea and coffee for your colleagues. If you don’t chip in and help out with drink rounds and buying in the milk, you may find that your “World’s Best Guy” mug mysteriously disappears, never to be seen again. You’ll also be seen as the cheapskate who won’t stump up for a bottle of milk. Evil eyes and anonymous hate e-mail will surely ensue.
- If you really must have sex with the insanely hot girl in Accounts; be a gentleman. If you love her and leave her, you better believe the office will be rife with talk about your lack of stamina and ‘pinky’ sized penis. You’ll look unprofessional to your bosses and, worse still, when an even hotter girl joins the Sales team, she’ll know about your indiscretions almost immediately and you’ll never have a chance with her.
The way you communicate with fellow employees is very important to your career. Get it wrong and you’ll be cast out into the abyss and moved to the office in the basement with no windows or heating. Here’s what you need to know about verbal office etiquette.
- Although you may hate the idea of being formal, it is a necessity in the workplace. You’ll be speaking to people you’ve never met before, customers, other departments and so on. Answering the phone, “Yo, ’sup homie?” just isn’t going to cut it in the business world.
- If someone gives you their name, remember it. Especially if you’re in a role where clients regularly come to the office. Using their name to address them throughout the meeting makes it more personalized and makes them feel more relaxed and willing to engage in conversation with you.
- Leave the bad habits at home. Don’t swear and don’t chew gum when speaking to someone. Even over the phone. They can hear it and it is annoying.
- Make sure you listen when people are speaking to you. Looking around and wondering what time you’re meeting the guys in the bar later while your boss briefs you on a new campaign is poor form and when you can’t remember what he’s said, you’ll look incompetent and unprofessional.
- Over time you can reduce the formality, but for an initial meeting play it safe and keep conversation solely on work matters. You don’t want to be telling the I.T. Manager about the bedroom antics of the hot girl in Accounts.
- End your meeting with a hearty handshake, thank them for their time and exchange business cards if necessary.
Outside the office
Office etiquette extends beyond the walls of your workplace and into any venue that involves work. This is where it gets tricky because, as they say, you should never mix business with pleasure. Apparently.
- If you’ve got a business lunch, then get there on time. Leave early if you need to but do not be late because it isn’t a lunch per sé, it’s a meeting in an informal location.
- Turn your phone off during any business lunch you go to. Nobody wants to look inconsiderate while taking a call during an important meeting.
- Keep your greeting short and sweet with the aforementioned handshake. Proper business meeting etiquette allows for a few minutes of small talk but keep it simple. The weather, the latest football results and so on.
- If you invited your guest to the lunch, you’re the one who should be paying for the meal. You can of course discuss splitting the bill when arranging the meeting but don’t leave it till the bill arrives as some people see this as a sign of professional weakness. Don’t forget to tip the restaurant staff.
- When networking at business conferences you should make the first move to approach people wherever possible. Remember that first impressions count so dress to impress and keep the conversation formal.
- You can build your business contacts by networking with the speakers at conferences. Do your research and find out who is speaking and what they are about. This will give you some good topics to discuss with them if you get the chance.
- Set yourself a target to meet during a conference. Say, five new contacts through networking. Using the amazing etiquette tips you’ve learnt so far, it should be easy.
- Don’t get too drunk at the office party! How many people have lost respect, pay rises and even their job from drunken antics over the years. Keep your alcohol consumption in moderation and avoid fornicating with the boss’ wife wherever possible.
- Don’t moan and complain about the lack of direction in the business while enjoying a cocktail with the girl from Accounts. It will inevitably get back to someone senior and you’ll be the guy who cleans the toilets for the next 30 years.
On top of these tips, you’ll need to be aware of the following as well:
- There is always a ‘mother’ figure in the office who will sort out birthdays, collections and the office milk fund. When she asks for a donation to Jeff in Marketing who is leaving for pastures new, don’t make the mistake of thinking the donation is voluntary. If you don’t put a bit of money in there you can forget about ever getting a collection yourself and you will be branded as the office Scrooge for the rest of your professional career.
- Most offices have some sort of Friday ‘ritual’. One office I worked in had a dress-down Friday where everyone came in jeans and t-shirt. The first time someone told me, I thought it was a hazing thing and so turned up on the Friday suited and booted as usual. Imagine my surprise when I saw the MD waltz into the office wearing a Nike tracksuit with matching sweatbands. Find out if your office has a Friday ritual so you don’t look a fool like I did. (Or was it the MD that looked the fool?)
Office etiquette is basically about communicating with people in a professional and formal environment. When it comes down to it, it’s about making the right impression and every office has a different environment and structure. If you have any thoughts and ideas on office etiquette, tips and tricks for business meetings or not getting too drunk at the Christmas party then leave a comment for everyone else to learn from. This guide will only become truly Ultimate when the community of readers have put across their thoughts.