Office Etiquette: 17 Unwritten Rules of the Workplace

Life in the office isn’t just about how well you do your job; adhering to the correct etiquette can directly affect the trajectory of your career. Office etiquette is important to professional success, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re an intern, executive or upper management, the way you interact with your co-workers says a lot about who you are as a person and as a member of the team. In this article, we will look at the rules of work etiquette and give you some dos and don’ts that will help you excel in an office environment.

Office Etiquette: The Don’ts

female worker disturbing her colleagues by taking a phone call

While there is correct etiquette, it’s potentially more important to avoid doing anything that could negatively affect your career and potentially irritate your co-workers. Here are some don’ts of the workplace:

1. Don’t have personal conversations at your desk

Having a personal conversation at your desk can be distracting for colleagues working close to you, and it can also portray you as someone who finds it difficult to leave their private life at home. If you must answer the phone at work, most offices have conference rooms or step out into the hall.

2. Don’t bring emotions into the office

Similar to the above, bringing emotions into the office can be distracting and there is no guarantee that your colleagues want to hear about what’s going on in your life. If it is something important and it’s making it difficult to focus, take some personal time or confidentially reach out to your manager or HR department. If your emotions are work-related, again, reach out to HR, don’t vent to your desk neighbour.

3. Don’t gossip about your colleagues

This isn’t just office etiquette; this should be a no go outside of the office too. Whether you’re tempted or not, the only person you will be hurting, in the long run, is yourself. It will portray you as someone who can’t be trusted and isn’t a team player, and if word gets back to the person you’re gossiping about, it could seriously damage your work relationships.

4. Don’t forget that at work socials, you’re still at work

It’s not a rule of the office, but you will certainly feel the backlash in the office if you forget that at work socials, you’re still at work. It’s a great opportunity to socialise with your colleagues and you should enjoy yourself, but remember you’ll be working side by side with these people tomorrow. If there is alcohol involved, they will all know why you called in ‘sick’ the next day.

5. Don’t cook smelly foods

This is one of the most important things to remember when it comes to good manners in the workplace. As much as you may enjoy fish for lunch, your colleagues may disagree. Try to avoid cooking smelly foods in the work kitchen, and not eating or drinking anything that slurps or splatters at your desk also falls under good office food etiquette.

6. Don’t go to work if you’re ill

Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, don’t go to work if you’re not feeling very well. Not only is coughing and sneezing distracting, but it may make colleagues worry they’ll catch something.

7. Don’t use emojis or multiple exclamations in work emails

This isn’t specific to all workplaces, but it is good office etiquette to avoid using emojis or multiple exclamations in work emails unless told otherwise. This should always be the case when sending external emails. Many workplaces expect certain levels of formality, so you should be careful when sending emails. The longer you spend in a job, the more familiar you will become with the best way to communicate.

8. Don’t use reply all unless it’s really necessary

More company etiquette regarding emails – remember not to ‘reply all’ unless it’s necessary. Receiving emails you don’t need can be irritating, and also, you might feel a little embarrassed if the entire company reads an email you were only supposed to share with someone specific. Before hitting ‘reply all’ think, does everyone in the email chain really need to see this?

9. Don’t complain about work on social media

Nothing is private anymore, and it won’t do you any favours complaining about work on social media. Even if your account is private, it could end up getting back to your boss one way or another.

Office Etiquette: The Dos

female worker shaking the hand of male worker in an office

We have talked through the don’ts, now let’s look at some dos that could help you find success in an office environment.

1. Do arrive early

One of the first steps when it comes to office etiquette is arriving early, or at the very least, on time. Regularly arriving early will give you time to set up and start your day in the office right, and this positive, organised approach could be what seals you your next promotion.

2. Do stay focused and polite in meetings

If you’re in a meeting, give your undivided attention to the person speaking. It’s perceived as rude if you’re leading a meeting and it looks like no one is listening to you. If you do need to check your phone or send off a quick email reply, make it quick and let people know.

3. Do network with people outside of your team

It can be easy to only socialise with those inside your team or work circle. It’s good manners in the office to network with as many people as you can, especially when you’re new in the job. These connections can be consulted for advice and you can learn from their past experiences, which could help you progress in your current role.

4. Do keep your computer and phone on mute

Keeping your devices on mute throughout the working day is a simple, but important office courtesy rule. If your computer or phone make a noise every time you receive a message, it’s going to be distracting for co-workers who sit close to you. It’s polite to keep these on mute so everyone can remain focused.

5. Do dress appropriately for the office

What is considered appropriate differs depending on the culture of the workplace, but it’s always important office etiquette to dress to impress. Save the flip flops and sunglasses for the weekend and focus on creating a good impression with your new colleagues.

6. Do have a positive attitude

A smile and a friendly hello go a long way when it comes to being successful in an office environment. It’s not asking for much, and having a positive attitude at work can help you build relationships and improve your job performance.

7. Do bring in food to share

Bringing in goodies like cookies, crisps or other snacks is a really nice gesture and can lift the mood in the office. Make yourself aware of any allergies or dietary restrictions your colleagues may have, so everyone can enjoy the food.

It’s also important office etiquette that if someone else brings in food, they aren’t left to clean up as well. If you take the last slice of cake, make sure you give the plate a quick clean afterwards.

8. Do respect everyone’s desk space

One of the most common things that can wind up co-workers in the office is letting your clutter and equipment take up their desk space. Be mindful of everyone’s space in the office and if you don’t have enough room on your desk, store it in your drawers or lockers.

This also applies to borrowing anything; don’t just help yourself and instead ask before using something that belongs to someone else. Alternatively, get your own supplies. If you’re looking for office supplies, you can find a range of equipment on our website.

Following this good etiquette in and around the office will help you make friends, move towards promotion, and maintain a good attitude throughout your work life.

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