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Office Etiquette 101

On the way from a cube to the corner office, office etiquette is an unwritten rule to success. Start working on your next promotion by learning these simple social graces.

Whether you work in a cube farm with fellow recent grads or on the top floor among upper management, once you’re at work, the rules of etiquette change. It’s not hard to be on good behavior at the office, but your attention to details that coworkers overlook may be the ticket to a promotion.

Timing is Everything – Punctuality isn’t just good office etiquette, it can make or break your reputation. Upper management may not review everything you do, but you can be sure they notice who is at their desk at 8:30 and who the stragglers are. If you are even a few minutes late, need to take an extended lunch, or are otherwise out of the office for any period of time, let people know where you are. Leave a note on your desk and tell at least your boss. Nobody will judge you for your commitments, but they will if you go AWOL.

Time is Everything Else – In today’s workplace, everybody has too much to do and too little time. Office etiquette rule two? Do not waste your coworkers’ time. If you’re discussing business, leave the small talk for the lunchroom. Speak clearly and concisely at meetings and keep email brief (if an email is more than three sentences, pick up the phone). If you run a meeting, conference call, or webinar, leave at least fifteen minutes beforehand to ensure your equipment is running properly. If you have technical problems or a key contributor can’t attend, cancel. Better to reschedule on meeting than have the same meeting twice.

Workplace Respect – Remember the golden rule from kindergarten? It is no different at the office: treat others as you want to be treated. Respect other people’s space, belongings, and privacy. If your office has cubicles or an open workspace, remember that what’s on or in somebody’s desk or cube is their property. Don’t enter somebody’s cube without permission, and never use somebody’s computer without asking. With workers often hunched in concentration over their keyboards, somebody entering their cube can be startling. Say hello in a moderately loud voice as you approach somebody’s workplace. It’s a polite gesture that will go along way in making that person feel comfortable working with you.

Lunch Lessons – Food is often the source of workplace grudges. People have different eating habits, and some find certain habits, or the aroma of particular foods, vexing. While it’s healthier to change ergonomic positions and not eat hurriedly at your desk, be considerate if you do take a working lunch. Choose foods that are quiet and do not have strong aromas (save the onions, garlic, or fish for later). Avoid potato chips, cereals, and other “crunchy” foods. Finally, clean up after yourself! Don’t leave old yogurts in the refrigerator or a banana peel in the trash where everybody will smell it.

Gossip Sparingly – It can be easy to get caught up in the marathon watercolor gossip sessions about who has quit, who had cosmetic surgery, and who is next in line for vice president, but excessive gossiping can spell trouble. Some gossip may not be bad (studies have shown people trust and like other people who gossip). Still, be careful what you say. Keep gossip lighthearted. You never know who’s listening, or will become the next boss. If true feelings about a coworker are eating at you, confide in a friend outside of work, or confidentially and professionally express your concerns to your manager.

Read More

The New Office Professional’s Handbook from Merriam Webster provides everything a new professional needs to know about fitting in and getting ahead.

Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People is a must-read for anybody entering the office world. Follow his simple rules to interpersonal communications and you will be the most well-liked person in the building.

Published or updated on September 8, 2006

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.


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