Etiquette. The word alone has the power to dredge up childhood memories of dinnertime reprimands: Elbows off the table! Napkin in your lap! Excuse yourself before leaving the table!
Most of us likely have mastered table manners by now (or at least know not to talk with a full mouth). But what about office etiquette?
Vicky Oliver, an expert on the subject and author of 301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions, says most workers get a B-minus when it comes to practicing good workplace behavior. The grade would improve, she says, with better training.
“We are tested on our manners daily, and yet most of us are never taught them. By learning just a few basics we can distinguish ourselves at work and position ourselves for more responsibility with clients,” she says.
That text (or Facebook update) can wait: Hey … it’s just a quick text to a friend confirming your after-work plans. No problem there, right? If it happens during a meeting or presentation, Oliver says, it is a big problem. As harmless as it may seem, the person you’re supposed to be giving your attention to will notice, and it can end up straining workplace relationships. “It’s kind of a snub,” Oliver says. Even outside of a meeting, using social media and doing other personal stuff distracts from the work at hand, she says. Bottom line: no one is that good at multitasking, and productivity will suffer. “It’s almost like a collective attention deficit disorder,” Oliver says. Showing up to work is the easy part, she says. It’s really being there that counts. So save that crucial Facebook status update about the great lunch you had for later.
Pretend there’s a wall: For the most part, the days of private offices and high cubicle walls are gone. But does an open workplace mean personal space is a thing of the past? No, Oliver says. You should pretend that the walls are still there. Send an email to see if someone is available to chat, rather than just barging into their space, Oliver suggests. At the very least, she says, don’t sneak up behind someone, announce yourself as you approach and knock on the edge of their desk when you arrive. You should “bend over backwards” to respect coworkers’ personal space, Oliver says.
For workplace fashion, go with the crowd: To dress up or dress down, that is the question. The answer: Dress to fit the workplace. “You want to blend in,” Oliver says. “Fit in with those around you.” Use the boss as a gauge, she says. If the boss comes in in khakis and a short sleeve shirt, that’s a good indication that casual dress is appropriate for the office. And remember, Oliver says, dressing too formally in a casual workplace is just as bad as dressing too casually in a formal workplace. If you have questions about a company’s culture, research the company online.
Gossip on your own time: Don’t be the source of gossip in the office -- whether it’s about your life or someone else’s -- or a participant in it, Oliver says. Gossip distracts people from their work and can create an unprofessional environment. That’s not to say you have to quit gossip cold turkey. Oliver suggests deflecting gossip in the workplace – saying you’re too busy to chat, for example – and moving the conversation to a personal space, such as meeting for a drink after work.
Keep that phone call to yourself: That call may be important to you, but chances are it’s not vital that your coworkers hear it as well. Just like gossip, loud phone conversations in the office can distract people from their work. Oliver says phone conversations in the workplace should be kept down to a “polite murmur.” And if it’s a personal call, take it elsewhere. Also, she says, don’t use speaker phone (unless, of course, it’s necessary for the call).
Believe it or not, you still can learn some things: No one says you’re not great at what you do. Likely, you wouldn’t have been hired if you weren’t. Confidence is good. Arrogance, on the other hand, is not. “Sometimes people feel like they don’t have to pay their dues … like they don’t have to learn from those who came before them,” Oliver says. Don’t hold back your good ideas. But have respect for what people already have done at the company, even if you would have done it differently.
Don’t search for jobs on the job: So you want a new job. That’s fine. But, Oliver says, keep your job search separate from your current job. Don’t use company resources to look for new employment. It demonstrates a lack of respect and loyalty to your current employer. And don’t tell coworkers about your job search. The information will leak out (we all know not everyone adheres to the rule about office gossip) and can damage your position at your current job before you’ve found a new one.