Working in a professional environment with others can be challenging at times. Everyone has their ideas and ways of handling situations, which can cause conflicts or breakdowns in communication for co-workers who aren’t on the same page. Therefore, every workplace needs to establish ground rules for everyone to get along and maintain positive relationships.
But what can we do to respect our co-workers beyond any mandated rules about respect and communication? Well, that’s where workplace etiquette comes in.
What Is Workplace Etiquette Anyway?
Workplace etiquette is a term used to describe proper workplace behavior. It includes everything from how to talk to co-workers to the appearance of your desk (and everything in between). It also encompasses email communication, meeting attendance, and protocols for common spaces like the breakroom or bathroom.
The goal for any set of co-workers should be to create a work environment that is pleasant and respectful for anyone who works there, and workplace etiquette is how this happens. When one person chooses not to follow the workplace etiquette rules that the team has developed, it can lead to animosity between co-workers. Over time, this can impact everyone’s ability to complete their work tasks, which can affect the company’s productivity as a whole.
Some companies help enforce this with their list of workplace etiquette guidelines, while other businesses choose to let colleagues work these things out among themselves. Regardless, people must operate under the assumption that the most common workplace etiquette rules are in place.
16 Workplace Etiquette Tips to Always Keep in Mind
Some workplace etiquette rules vary based on the line of work you’re in and the dynamics of your workplace. However, you can safely follow these workplace etiquette tips in nearly every job as they are fairly common practice.
1. Arrive Early
Punctuality doesn’t just help you look good in front of the boss. It also shows your co-workers that you take your job seriously and respect everyone on your team’s time. Therefore, you should always arrive at least a few minutes before your designated start time for work each day.
Depending on where you work or what you do, you may also have meetings with colleagues or deadlines to meet for completing tasks. So, try to show up early for these things as well. It will show your co-workers that you are committed and easy to work with.
2. Dress Appropriately for the Workplace
Whether it is clearly stated in your employee handbook or not, most companies have a standard dress code that everyone follows at work. Dressing professionally lets your co-workers see who you are as a person, and it lets everyone know how you feel about the job. In other words, it’s basic professionalism and common courtesy to dress appropriately for work.
3. Introduce Yourself and Remember Names
Whenever you switch jobs or get promoted to a new team, it’s only right that you introduce yourself to the people who are there. Sure, you could argue that they should be the ones introducing themselves to you – but you can’t control what others do. As an adult, you may as well take the first step and start building relationships from day one. That said, when someone new joins your team or workplace, be the first to reach out to them.
And once you’re acquainted, don’t forget their names! I’ll be the first to admit that names often slip through one ear and out the other because I’m more focused on what to say next, whether I’m making any social missteps, etc. But that’s why I’ve learned to put even more effort into learning and remembering names. Trust me, people will appreciate it!
4. Let People Work
When you’ve become comfortable with co-workers, sometimes the line between personal relationships and business relationships can get blurred. It’s fine to get chummy with people, especially if they like your company and reciprocate, but you have to give them space at work. Spontaneous conversations can derail trains of thought, distract them from important tasks, and lead to trouble.
5. Be Willing to Help Co-Workers
Most of the time, each co-worker has tasks to focus on and work to complete at work. However, most work eventually connects to someone else’s, and if they can’t do their job, you can’t do yours. So, if you notice a co-worker needs help, you should try to chip in and see how you can assist them.
6. Use Your Indoor Voice
Voices can travel quite far, especially if you have a naturally deep or shrill voice, and especially if you work in an open office environment. Again, it’s important to be courteous to your co-workers; they deserve to have a non-distracting work environment where they can get stuff done. If people can hear you from the next room over, through the walls, or across the hallway, you need to be mindful and turn it down several notches.
7. Avoid Gossip
The way we address our co-workers and talk about them with other people says more about us than it does about our co-workers. Therefore, you should always keep your comments about people respectful and kind when you’re at work. This can be hard when someone does something that frustrates you, but it’s far better to avoid judgments and harsh words in the workplace if you want to maintain positive relationships with your colleagues.
8. Mind Your Hygiene
Nothing will make your co-workers more uncomfortable or disgusted than poor hygiene. If you didn’t brush your teeth or floss, they’ll notice when they talk to you nearby. If you haven’t taken a shower all week, they’ll smell it. Whether you think it is or not, all hygiene is noticeable.
What’s worse, you might be oblivious to what you smell like, but everyone else will be keenly aware. Also, poor hygiene can negatively affect your overall health. So, take care of yourself, not solely for their sake, but also for your health.
9. Wear Cologne or Perfume Lightly
Do you ever get nauseated by an overly sweet, overly cloying scent? I mean, I love the smell of cookies baking in the oven, but one time I spilled vanilla extract in my car, and it made me wretch for weeks. Turns out, too much of a good thing can be bad, and this includes perfume and cologne.
That body spray may smell amazing in small doses, but no one wants to be smothered by your signature scent. When in doubt, spray according to the golden rule: “Fragrances should be discovered, not announced.” Also, try to find awesome men’s colognes that aren’t too potent for the office.
10. Follow Email Etiquette Rules
Many of us now rely on email as our primary communication method with co-workers and clients. However, not everyone knows common email etiquette rules (although they should). These rules keep email communication effective, professional, and polite.
Some common examples of email etiquette include:
- Not using caps lock when typing an email
- Responding to colleagues within 24 hours
- Keeping emails brief and on topic
- Not pressing Reply All to messages that don’t require it
- Including an email signature line that includes your contact information
- Using BCC when sending the same message to multiple people who may not know each other
11. Think Before You Speak
Sometimes our emotions can push us to respond instantly or do things impulsively. However, this behavior is usually harmful in the workplace. It can break down relationships with your co-workers, not to mention make you look bad.
Therefore, part of good workplace etiquette is choosing your words carefully. Ask yourself if what you want to say is necessary, helpful, and true. Also, ask yourself how your colleagues may take your words and decide if you need to rephrase them. All of this can help avoid conflict and engage your communication skills.
12. Stick to Inoffensive Lunches
Hygiene, fragrances, and lunch make up the trifecta of workplace smell that can easily repulse your co-workers. You may be entitled to a packed lunch daily, but it’s common courtesy to avoid bringing in stinky cheeses, fish, or anything fermented. Before you take something to work, ask: will this smell bother someone? If so, then maybe leave it at home.
13. Keep Your Workspace Tidy
A clean workspace is simply more pleasant to look at than one suffocating under piles of papers, books, or garbage. You don’t have to go all out with plants, photos, and other niceties. Just do your best to keep everything organized, and always throw out your trash instead of letting it pile up.
14. Use Headphones or Take It Outside
You might think you have impeccable taste in music, but many people won’t share those opinions. Even if they do like the same kind of music as you, that doesn’t mean they appreciate you using your phone or computer as a boombox. This helps your co-workers focus on their work, plus it’s just an overall act of courtesy to keep in mind whenever you’re in public.
And if you have to take a phone call, try to take it in an inconspicuous space like the hallway, a side room, or even outside if you have quick access to an exit.
15. The Conference Room Isn’t Your Office
Every office has its own rules and culture regarding using conference rooms (and other shared spaces). Nonetheless, you should never claim a certain area for yourself, especially not an entire room. You might prefer to do work in the conference room than in your cramped little cubicle, but others might feel the same way. Live and let live; use it when you can. Don’t hog it.
16. Stay Home If You’re Sick and Contagious
This one’s tricky because some workplaces expect you to work when you’re sick. I know this, and I would never advocate for something that could get you fired. However, assuming you aren’t employed in a toxic work environment and don’t need every single hour of work you can get to scrape by, it’s right to use your sick hours when you’re sick. They’re meant to be used, so you don’t spread your sickness to the rest of the office. Care for their health as you care for your own.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is workplace etiquette so important?
Workplace etiquette helps co-workers get along. It helps people feel respected, and it creates an atmosphere of healthy workplace communication.
What should I do if a co-worker isn't following workplace etiquette?
When you notice a co-worker who isn’t following the office etiquette your workplace has established, you can try talking to them about the situation. They may not be aware of how their behavior is affecting you or other colleagues.
Image credit: Pexels
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