Learn the dos and don'ts of professionally navigating the workplace
By Kimberly Fusaro Posted November 17, 2010 from WomansDay.comEven if you think you have office politics down pat, it can never hurt to brush up on your workplace etiquette—especially now, when jobs are still scarce. Below are our top 10 rules for professionals, accompanied by real-life examples of coworkers behaving badly. Learn from their mistakes before your own missteps damage your professional reputation, or worse, cost you your job.
Rule #1: Think before you speak.
Sure, your close friends “get” your dry sense of humor and blasé attitude, but you should keep personality quirks in check when dealing with coworkers. Tina, an office worker from Pennsylvania, tells the story of a boss who could never quite phrase a compliment nicely. "A woman on her team who was getting married came to work the day after her wedding hair trial with her hair still blown out instead of its usual all-business bun,” says Tina. “The boss said, ‘Wow! I’ve never seen your hair look nice! What did you do?’ She didn’t come out and say, ‘Your hair usually looks totally boring,’ but it’s what we all heard.”
Rule #2: Be a team player.
Lots of companies are short-staffed, which means many employees are shouldering a bigger workload. Make a point not to overburden your coworkers by shirking your responsibilities. Jeanine from Vermont worked with a woman who clocked out at 4:30 every day while everyone else stayed until 7. “She’d make a big show of hauling a massive pile of work with her,” says Jeanine, “only to haul it back untouched the next day. Her inability to do a full day’s work slowed down our entire department.”
Rule #3: Respect a closed door.
If a coworker has shut her office door, stay out––even if she doesn’t look busy. Says Renee from New Orleans: “I kept a big bowl of candy on my office desk. Most of the day, my office door was closed, but I always opened it around 4 and people would stop by for candy and a chat. Except for one coworker, who would knock on my door all day long. ‘Excuse me,’ she’d say. ‘Chocolate craving! Sorry to interrupt!’” When you really need a sugar fix and the candy dish is with a colleague who’s holed up in her office, head to the vending machine instead.
Rule #4: Skip the childish pranks.
Any joke made at your coworker’s expense—or worse, a customer’s—probably isn’t all that funny. Flight attendant Betty from California, author of Betty in the Sky with a Suitcase, spent a plane ride with two coworkers who went way too far. “It’s common for flight attendants to take empty passenger seats, but obviously customers get first dibs,” says Betty. “Well, two fellow flight attendants were unhappy when a couple took over a row of seats they had their eye on, so they stole the couple’s shoes and left them in a trash bag in the galley.” Sure, there might be someone out there who will laugh at your antics, but they’re best saved for your time off.
Rule #5: Take a breath before you hit "Send."
The easiest way to confront a coworker is often via email—you get to have your say without any ugly face-to-face drama. But remember that once you hit "Send" from an office computer (or to or from a work email account), your words are now company property. Sarah from New York tells the story of Ralph, a mailroom worker who fired off an angry missive when someone swiped his lunch from the office refrigerator. “The email was long, angry and childish,” she says. “And he sent it to the entire company.” Ralph didn’t lose his job, but his account was modified so that he could no longer send company-wide emails.
Rule #6: Keep your personal matters and opinions at home.
It’s OK to have strong views, but it’s not OK to push those views on your coworkers or pick fights with them when they do something you don’t approve of. Mark from Iowa works in an advertising office by day and writes horror stories by night. When a coworker found out about his nighttime gig, which earned him a nomination for a national book award, she chastised him for “glamorizing Satan,” he says. “The funny thing is, it was clear from her rant that she hadn’t even read the book, in which the forces of good win in the end.”
Rule #7: Consider your coworkers when you pack your lunch.
Sure, last night’s delicious cod dish would make a delightful lunch—but it’s not nice to make coworkers suffer through your smelly meal. Cindy from Indiana worked with “a woman who claimed that, because of her diabetes, she needed to heat up a pungent meat or fish dish every single day.” If your meal will stink when it’s reheated, save it for home. Also skip smelly foods when you’re ordering takeout.
Rule #8: Watch your language, even when you're away from your desk.
Anything you do during the day—even while you’re on break—is a reflection of your professional self. Especially when a client might witness or hear your bad behavior. Blythe from North Carolina worked in a call center, which meant most people in the office were on the phone for most of the day. One coworker was 100 percent polite while dealing with customers one-on-one, but after he hung up the phone, “he’d stand by the water cooler and curse—loudly!—like it was going out of style,” she says. “Anyone who was still on the phone with a client would have to raise his or her voice to keep the caller from hearing Mr. Pottymouth’s tirades.”
Rule #9: If problems arise, handle them privately.
If clients see you clash with a coworker, you’ll both come off as unprofessional. Treat your colleagues with respect and hopefully they’ll follow your lead. Caitlyn in New York worked in clothing retail for two years and often butted heads with a particularly snippy coworker. “Any time I asked for help, like during a holiday rush, she’d say over her shoulder—and in front of a line of customers—‘Not my problem.’” Whether a colleague seems to be extra-needy or entirely incompetent, wait to deal with the situation (probably by having a private conversation with your boss) once you’re out of customers’ earshot.
Rule #10: Respect company property.
That means no lifting sticky notes from the supply closet or taking a company car to run personal errands—illegal or otherwise. Carl from Colorado, who works in construction, knows of two coworkers who lost their jobs after misusing company vehicles. One repairman drove the company van to a well-known drug house in the middle of the day; he was busted when the boss drove by on his way home for lunch. A second coworker was fired after getting a DUI while driving a company car. Even if your misdeeds are seemingly more innocent—say, mailing your grandma a care package from the office mailroom using the company's account number—remember that anything that might be considered stealing is grounds for dismissal.