Like other types of etiquette, office etiquette is grounded in good manners, and it is intended to keep people relaxed and contented in the office environment. The fundamental rule of office etiquette is that people should behave as they expect others to behave, and be attentive of the way they interact with others, and of the impact of various activities on coworkers. People who are considerate, polite, and thoughtful in an office environment will tend to be valued as employees and coworkers.
While different offices have different policies, there are a few universal truths about etiquette that you need to be aware of at all times:
Interactions with coworkers are a regular part of office work, and a huge part of office etiquette. Staying on task and avoiding gossip, office politics, and personal conversations is considered polite office etiquette, as is offering to do things for coworkers and asking for permission before borrowing things or asking for advice or assistance with a work-related task.
Be respectful to all, no matter what their title. Treat everyone — from the company president to the office boy — with respect and dignity. Never engage in any actions that may embarrass people or make them feel uncomfortable or degraded. This also includes avoiding public criticism. If you disagree with a co-worker or with your boss, request a private meeting where you can ask for clarification and, if appropriate, express your concerns.
Pay attention to your appearance – If you show up to work every day with a crumpled shirt, unkempt hair or unshaved, it will be noticed. Who do you think your boss is going to choose to represent the company on a business trip or in a meeting? The person wearing sneakers and T-shirt, or a co-worker who always shows up for work with well-groomed features and freshly ironed clothes? Always try to look your best and smell good, though it is advisable to avoid strong scents. What is pleasant to some is offensive to others. Careful: some personal hygiene practices can undermine professional image as well. Never groom in public. This includes brushing hair, fixing makeup, clipping a nail, cleaning your teeth, or a big nose blow. It takes only a couple more seconds to walk to the restroom to take care of a personal matter.
Make the physical environment of the office pleasant. Your desk or cubicle should be an extension of yourself. If it’s messy and cluttered, you’ll probably have difficulty locating necessary items. In addition, business associates will not regard you in a favorable light due to the untidiness of your workspace. No one likes to wait while a co-worker attempts to unearth a missing item from under a pile of papers. It’s best to keep desk clutter to a minimum. Try also to keep messes in office kitchens and restrooms under control.
Volume awareness is also imperative in many offices. People need to talk softly to each other and on the phone in the office to avoid creating a very noisy and stressful environment, and office workers are also usually encouraged to keep their cell phones off or on vibrate, and to keep the volume settings on office phones low. Don’t use a speaker phone except for conference calls. If you need to use your hands, get a hands free headset instead. Keep private phone calls to a minimum. As to people who like to listen to music while they work, they will definitely earn points with their coworkers by wearing earphones to keep their music to themselves.
Eating at Work should be for your refreshment and not an annoyance to your co-workers. Avoid eating at your desk…it is a work station, not a picnic table, and avoid eating food with strong odors for obvious reasons. Eat quietly. Keep the scraping, chewing crunchy foods and slurping the last of your drink through a straw to a minimum. Better yet, don’t do them at all. Find somewhere to eat other than your workstation. If there is a break room or cafeteria, use it when you break for a meal. Not only is it better for you to get away from your normal work environment for a while, your co-workers will definitely appreciate you for it.
Respect the privacy of those around you. Don’t read memos or faxes on other people’s desks and don’t make comments about overheard phone calls. Knock before entering someone else’s office, and wait to be invited in. If you’re in someone’s cubicle and he or she receives a phone call, offer to excuse yourself. And don’t make cell phone calls in public places, such as the break room or the restrooms. You never know who’s in there; the person on the other end of the line will hear bathroom sounds, e.g., toilets flushing; it is an invasion of your co-workers’ privacy.
Be on time – If you’re tardy on a regular basis, people notice. While everyone has the occasional tardy morning, it’s not fair to your co-workers to feel the rules don’t pertain to you. If you have trouble leaving the house on time, or seem to always be missing connections, perhaps you should wake up earlier to remedy the situation. The same holds true for business meetings. It is never a good idea to arrive late for a business meeting. Someone has taken time out of his or her busy schedule to meet with you; the least you can do is show up on time. If you are late because your train is delayed or there’s a traffic jam, call ahead to explain your delay. Never intentionally keep a client, or anyone else for that matter, waiting.
There are many more rules of office etiquette – the list is endless and will continue to evolve as new technologies develop and protocols for using them are established. The best advice? Common sense is the best rule of thumb when navigating the rules of office etiquette.