I think that any of us who have worked in any sort of job have had a panicked moment where we overheard a very personal conversation of a coworker or a boss, accidentally hit “Reply All” instead of “Reply”, or have even avoided attending conferences and events because we aren’t sure how to interact with people. Etiquette is not only for your personal life, but also for your professional life! In fact, I would argue that it probably has more of an impact on your professional life. Today I’m sharing a few tips to tackle those tough situations at work!
This post is going to focus on etiquette for the job that you have. There is certainly etiquette for job searching and interviewing, but I don’t participate in that frequently enough to speak on it. These will be fairly broad tips, as the culture of your department, company, and field will dictate a lot of behaviour in your job, but these should be applicable to most people! Today’s information is mostly from The Etiquette Advantage in Business from the Emily Post Institute.
1) Work Wardrobe
Unless you work in very artsy field or a small start up, I would not recommend using your time at work as the time to experiment with your wardrobe. If you are starting a new job, I would start with a simple but dressier business casual look and then adjust accordingly once you start (if they do not provide a dress code). Something to remember with your appearance at work is that you are representing your team, department, and company to anyone else you may interact with. I don’t always wear make up to work, but I always wash my face and apply moisturiser, and have clean and brushed hair. If it is easier for you, keep a section of your closet/dresser where you keep all of your work clothing to avoid having to ask yourself “Am I okay to wear this to work?”
Always ensure that your work clothing is neat, clean, and ironed (if applicable)! If you have a physical or manual job, your clothing should always meet safety standards. Your wardrobe should never be distracting to others at work, and you should be comfortable but appropriate. A rule of thumb is to dress to the level of your supervisor or manager!
2) Bringing Food
This does come down to office culture and tradition, but I think we can all remember a time when someone decided to heat up fish in the communal microwave and everyone smelt it for the rest of the day. Try to be aware of the food that you are bringing, and how strong of a smell it has, especially if the microwave is near someone’s office or if you are eating at your desk. (A lot of work places have a scent free policy, and food scents can be one of the biggest offenders!) And if there are any food allergies in the office, either leave those items at home or know that you may have to eat elsewhere… If you have a communal fridge, or shared food space, be prepared that someone may take your food (by accident or otherwise). I avoid this by bringing a lunch bag with an ice pack and keeping it at my desk.
If you eat at your desk, ensure that you move your work aside so that you do not spill on it, clean your desk of any spills or crumbs after you are finished eating, and place your garbage in the kitchen garbage rather than at your personal garbage to avoid fruit flies in the office.
This is an incredibly broad topic but always err on the side of cautious in your communication at work. Even though you may very well be friends with your coworkers, keep your work emails and memos professional and remember that they may be read by anyone. (Depending on the topic of it, it may be filed and kept for information in the future.) It also helps to keep a somewhat formal tone when emailing someone you don’t know at work, as you have no idea what their expectations are and how they conduct themselves. You have far less of a chance of offending them if you are a little more formal than they expect than if you are more casual… Depending on your job and company, you may want to follow discussions by phone with a quick follow up email (“As per our discussion…”)- you may have to duplicate some of the conversation, but it will catch “He said, she said” moments before it goes too far, and will also allow both of you to make sure that you understood what was discussed.
Always re-read an email at work before sending it, for errors and anything missing (including attached documents). Be very cautious and careful when hitting reply all- does everyone need to read it? And when you are typing an email up, don’t enter in the recipient until you are sure you want to send it- you can’t accidentally send an email to no recipients!
4) General Courtesy
Now, this is certainly the most vague but I think it is the most important part of etiquette at work! You will potentially spend more of your waking hours with your co-workers than you do with your family, and it’s important to keep a polite, civil, and friendly atmosphere in the office. I have had different experiences with workplace bullying, incivility, and general animosity, and it made going to work unbearable. I am always an advocate of taking the high road in situations, but it is doubly important at work- not only can you make an uncomfortable and awful situation for one person, you may make everyone else uncomfortable as well and potentially have a trip to see your supervisor or HR. And if you are on the receiving end of this behaviour, please speak up. It is a difficult thing to do, but things don’t change if you don’t say anything…. Finally, as Lizzie and Dan always say on the Awesome Etiquette podcast, in the workplace it’s often not huge issues that create tension and rifts in the workplace but often small and seemingly unimportant things.
Always respond when someone speaks to you at work- the silent treatment is not appropriate for the work place. Don’t bring outside issues into the workplace, and always remain civil no matter what is happening in your personal life! And if there is an issue, do bring it up directly with the person, or a supervisor if you don’t feel comfortable with the individual.
What is the toughest situation you have faced in the workplace? And what is your number one tip for business etiquette?