Gone are the days when office etiquette was clearly defined. In today’s relaxed professional environment, conduct is more casual, which means it’s often difficult to know what is OK and what isn’t. Fortunately, some rules of workplace etiquette are universal.
These 12 tips can help you adjust to a new office or clean up your behavior in a place you’ve worked for years.
1. Avoid social media. Unless your job requires you to peruse social networking sites all day, avoid them while you’re on the clock. Though surfing Facebook or Twitter might be tempting, it can be detrimental to your work performance and productivity, not to mention the way your boss perceives your enthusiasm — or lack thereof — for your job.
2. Take that phone call elsewhere. Everyone has a cellphone these days, so getting personal calls at work is pretty much unavoidable. But don’t assume that just because your phone rings, it’s OK to take it right there at your desk. If you get a personal call, excuse yourself and answer it in private. The last thing you want to do is air your personal business.
3. Gossip: The big no-no. Who hasn’t been tempted to speculate on the lives of their co-workers? It’s especially tempting when everyone else in the office is doing it. But remember that gossip says more about you than it does about the person you’re discussing. Don’t talk about others, and keep your personal life private to discourage water-cooler talk about you.
4. Keep emails formal. Email seems pretty casual, doesn’t it? It isn’t like correspondence on letterhead that requires careful composition and proofreading — right? Contrary to popular belief, work emails should be held to the same formal standards that you would hold any other office correspondence. So toss the slang, get the punctuation right and proofread before you hit send.
5. Watch your language. No matter how comfortable you are with your co-workers, or how casual your office may seem, blurting out a curse word can get you noticed for all the wrong reasons. You don’t want that accidental f-bomb to overshadow your work, so keep the language clean.
6. Stay tuned in to the world around you. Want to plug in your headphones and jam while you finish that report? Go ahead (if your office allows it), but don’t make them a constant fixture on your head. In the workplace, having headphones on all day can come off as antisocial. Need to focus on a project? Sneak away to a conference room for a while.
7. Knock before entering. Sometimes an informal office atmosphere can go too far. That’s especially true when people start drifting from one cubicle or office to the next, without bothering to knock or otherwise announce their presence. Treat others as though they are in the midst of serious business — even if they aren’t — and knock before you enter their personal space.
8. Stay home if you’re sick. It seems like an obvious rule, but when you’re stuck in the rat race, dropping out for a few days of the flu can seem detrimental to your career. However, going to work sick does more harm than good. Not only does it make you feel worse and potentially spread your germs to others, when you’re under the weather your productivity most likely suffers. Make life easier on everyone and use those sick days.
9. Remember that scents travel. Do you have an allergy to perfume or cologne? Do you get a headache when you smell spicy food? Some of your colleagues might. Keep those potent lunches away from your desk, and don’t overdo it on the fragrances. Those around you will be grateful.
10. Dress like the rest. There are many places where expressing your unique style is a fantastic thing to do. The office is not one of them. To make sure you’re dressing the part, use your boss’s attire as an example. If you want to appeal to management, dress just a notch above the office norm.
11. Save the job search for home. Looking for a new job? Don’t do it on company time. Not only might someone get wind of your search (and feed that information into the gossip mill), but taking time away from your current employer to look for a new one is just plain rude.
12. Remember that everyone has a life. Show respect for everyone’s down-time by avoiding late-night emails, phone calls or anything else that might require someone from the office to respond after hours. Save those for the next business day. Leaving the office behind when you walk out the door is important for everyone — so honor business hours, but make sure you honor your time off, too.
Whether you’re in a high-stress office or a relaxed small business, etiquette matters. Brush up on it now to continue making a great impression on your boss, co-workers and clients.
Shannon Lee writes for OnlineDegrees.com. This article was originally published on OnlineDegrees.com.