Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Etiquette Rules for the Work Place

Professional Etiquette You Don't Think About
By Anthony Balderrama, writer

In theory, etiquette is a way for everyone to express mutual respect for one another. In practice, it's a confusing set of arbitrary guidelines not everyone follows.

For instance, the next time you're eating at a restaurant or even at home, notice how many people put their elbows on the table. For some diners, an all-arms-on-deck approach to eating is an unforgivable transgression. To others, you'd look stuffy if you didn't lean in to engage in conversation because you were more concerned with your posture.

Once you leave the comfort of your home, whether or not other people will conform to your expectations on various types of etiquette is out of your control. You might think "sir" and "ma'am" are passé ways to address people, while others might think you're rude if you don't. And who knows if anyone still cares about where your elbows are when you eat?

Etiquette and manners still matter at work, but it's not as cut and dried as not licking your knife while enjoying a steak dinner. The workplace etiquette you need to think about is more about consideration than it is about tradition. Sometimes we don't notice little things that irk other people.

Here are some times throughout the day when you might want to stop and think about whether or not you're being a good co-worker:

Waiting for the elevator...

Don't push the Up button when elevator doors are about to close just so you can make everyone wait while you squeeze in.

Do hold the elevator doors open if someone's only a few seconds behind you.

In the elevator ...

Don't stand uncomfortably close to someone, especially if there is plenty of space. Forcing yourself onto a packed elevator, thereby smooshing yourself up against someone, is just as bad.

Do cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. (Not just in elevators, but anywhere, really.) You might think this one is obvious, but no ... it's not.

In the lunch area ...

Don't forget about the apple you left in the fridge two months ago. Sure, lunchroom nitpicking is the epitome of workplace banality, but the break room is one of the few places everyone shares.

In the mail room ...

Don't forget that the mail staff is part of the company, too. If you walk in, get your mail and leave as if it magically appeared and those people working in the room had nothing to do with it, you're being rude.

Do say "thank you" to workers throughout your building. From the maintenance staff to the security guards and cafeteria workers, several people are making your daily grind easier. Whether it's a quick "thanks" or small talk in the elevator, talk to the people outside of your work bubble.

On the phone ...

Don't call someone, call back an hour later, call a third time in the afternoon to leave a voice mail, then send an e-mail, then call again to see if he got the e-mail. Not everyone is available when you need them to be, so give them some time to respond to you. Give people a day or a week (depending on the urgency of the issue) before following up.

In the hallway ...

Don't ambush someone with a question. If you've been waiting for your boss to answer a question you had and you run into her as she's rushing off to a meeting, don't corner her to get an answer. For one thing, you don't know if she has a pressing engagement. Also, her answer might be more complicated than a simple yes or no, and she doesn't want to give you a Cliff's Notes version while heading to the elevator.

In a meeting ...

Do keep the snarky comments to a minimum. Sure, meetings can be boring and some people are way too excited about them, but snickering with your co-workers is rude to whomever's talking and to the people trying to pay attention. Plus, your negativity won't go unnoticed by the boss.

In the restroom ...

Do wash your hands. If you leave the restroom without washing your hands and someone sees, you will be the germy person of the office. Frankly, it grosses people out and makes them not want to ever get near your desk or you.

At your desk ...

Don't complain about the weather, your workload, the boss, your pay and everything else that you encounter. Sure, blowing off steam is what people do, but a constant flow of negativity gets bothersome for those around you. Pretty soon everyone around you will be listening to their headphones to avoid listening to you. (Keep this in mind when you're in the elevator, too. No one wants to ride down 10 floors with a crabby colleague.)

Anthony Balderrama is a writer and blogger for and its job blog, The Work Buzz. He researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues. Follow him on Twitter at