Lifeline for Newcomers: Unspoken Rules of Office Etiquette


Workplace etiquette is an essential part of successful communication in today’s business world. Its major purpose is to enable people co-exist and collaborate productively in the busy office. Some may assume that the rules of etiquette had had their days; however, that is totally not true. The rules and norms of etiquette change as our society evolve, regulating the manners and norms which are most appropriate in each certain case. Moreover, kindness, respect to others, both clients and co-workers, and politeness even in such situations like workplace criticism will never go out of fashion.

How to define etiquette? Basically, etiquette embraces the rules and cultural norms of successful and productive interactions, both in society and business. Some people adopt these rules naturally, while adhering to the corporate culture and relying on their good manners and respectful attitude. Others, however, fail to grasp manners and politeness and end up labeled as people who are tough to work with. In most extreme cases (like yelling on an important client or texting with a girlfriend during negotiations) rudeness and poor manners can lead to resignation (here you can get some guidance on what to do after you’ve been sacked:

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There’s a set of unwritten rules of office etiquette every success-driven individual should know by heart. If you are hesitant about whether you behave in the right way in specific cases (especially touchy ones), our best resume service is ready to provide you with guidance and a handful of critical tips.

Why office etiquette is important?

  • To make a positive first impression on people in business environment. Proper etiquette always makes a lasting impression on people you meet for the first time. Moreover, if you work with vendors or customers, keep in mind that people are more likely to build long-term partnerships with someone who looks educated and polite.
    Etiquette matters for your job interviews, too; see how to impress in the matter of seconds:
  • To feel more comfortable in a new job – when you are aware of peculiarities of that etiquette, you’re halfway through to establishing positive relationships with new coworkers. Knowing how to act in certain situations will add you confidence as well – this won’t be left unnoticed.
  • To keep workplace relationships respectful – nobody wants to work in the office where people disrespect the contribution and private space of each other. Avoiding sensitive subjects, managing conflicts and following unwritten rules of behavior will make your teamwork experience more positive.
  • To maintain clear communication – contrarily to the common myth, etiquette is there to break down barriers in communications and not to erect them.  Therefore, any workplace issues will be managed faster and with higher efficiency.

Who is this office etiquette guidance for?

  • Students who are new to professional world – yes, you might have learned some basic rules while in academia, but the world of work is a bit more complicated so you’d want to get ready in advance.
  • Mid-level managers – as a leader, you’ll want to set an example and identify the issues of inappropriate behavior. Knowing etiquette rules up and down will help you communicate on all levels of organization with confidence.
  • Professionals changing field – you have already learned the commonly accepted rules of behavior in your industry; however, you might find yourself insecure in a different field and different organizational culture. So, if you’ve decided that the previous career path is not for you, check the tips below to be totally prepared for a new role.
  • New to the US – although respect and courtesy matters in all cultures, there are some peculiarities of the United States business etiquette you might be unaware about, so be sure to find them out when applying for the US jobs (for instance, here you can learn how to write your resume correctly:
  • Anyone who is looking to enhance their soft skills – knowledge of office etiquette will make you a better communicator and a pleasant individual to work with. Moreover, developed soft skills are crucial for building a successful career. Here’s the full list of skills the modern workplace requires you to master:

Unspoken rules of office etiquette: a complete guide

Tip #1. Be mindful of the industry and the company

All of the office etiquette rules you’ll find below are commonly accepted and it’s expected that you follow them, as it makes the difference both in your career and your employer’s success. Nevertheless, your workplace behavior should be regulated by the rules and guidelines accepted in your company the first place.

For example, the rules of etiquette presume that you show up for work 15 minutes before the working day actually starts. If your coworkers feel comfortable being late, and your boss’s attitude is “No matter at what hour you show up, just get the job done”, you don’t need to rush to the office early in the morning.

The second example: it is recommended that you wear neutral or business outfits to the office (no short skirts, flip-flops, etc.). However, some modern offices allow their employees to dress casually, and even bright T-shirts and shorts can be appropriate. If you keep wearing a suit for the company like this you’ll look unnatural and not culturally fit, which will reflect in your performance.

Thus, although good behavior and courtesy have no geography and industry limits, if you want to make it in this particular company, you need to align your conduct with its internal culture and etiquette. The resume experts of our company will share all aspects of workplace etiquette.

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How to survive in the open office space

An open office with cubicles is a real challenge for your productivity and a test for your ability to work with others when everyone is out in the open. The etiquette rules below will help you share the space productively without becoming everyone’s pain in the neck:

  1. Respect the private space of others – probably, it’s the #1 advice for everyone who shares the giant office with dozens of other employees. If you need to approach your colleague, don’t just break in with your questions or notes – introduce yourself with a note or ‘Excuse me’ and ask whether it’s a good time to talk. And if your colleague is busy at the moment, don’t just stand behind his/her back waiting until he’s done – it’s extremely annoying. Never read someone’s computer screen, it’s rude. Another taboo is using the cubicle for chitchat and gossip about other coworkers – the latter isn’t the best idea in general.
  2. Mind your cubicle and your surroundings – since this isn’t your private office, try limiting the activities which might make others feel uncomfortable:
    • Avoid making too much noise such as pen tapping, incoming message notifications, and lengthy phone conversations. Private calls can make colleagues feel uncomfortable, while business calls can continuously distract them, so going to a hall or meeting room to make a call is a good idea.
    • Don’t use strong perfume or cologne – some people are allergic to scents.
    • Keep your working area neat and clean – not only mess on your working table will make a bad impression on people passing by, but also it can make the colleagues sitting next to you feel uncomfortable. If desks are not divided, it can spill over someone’s desk. Moreover, redesigning your area is one of the best ways to get away from workplace routine.
  3. Kitchen and restrooms – maintain clean and neat environment everywhere outside of your office. Clean up after yourself in kitchen and don’t forget to trash the food from refrigerator on time before it starts to spoil and smell. Don’t bring smelly food to the office and never warm it in the microwave, as the smell is likely to spread throughout the floor. It’s a taboo to take someone else’s food without their permission, by the way. Treat the kitchen equipment in a proper condition – this also applies to fax, copiers and all kinds of electronic equipment in your office.
  4. Maintain positive attitude to work – sounds cliché, but in the office many of us are thinking over (or even doing) things that have little to do with the actual job requirements. Nevertheless, taking new tasks with enthusiasm and working in a positive mood is the same part of workplace etiquette as respecting others’ privacy or cleaning your desk:
    • Be enthusiastic and do your job responsibly – this improves your productivity and affects positively on the productivity of others. Leave any private issues outside of the office. If you feel stressed and burnt out, take care of it in advance before it directly affects your work – for instance, learn more about how to regain motivation for work. If you’re sick, take a sick day instead of sniffing, coughing and spreading the virus across the office. This will show not your sickness, but respect to your coworkers.
    • Be willing to take on unenjoyable tasks – if there’s a responsibility everyone else shies away from, don’t follow their example. Taking on challenging, important tasks makes you more disciplined, contributes to your pride for getting the job done and shows your corporate integrity.
  5. Manage your time and respect others’ – if you don’t work flexible hours, it’s a good idea to show up 15 minutes earlier than the working day actually starts. You’ll use this time to have small talks with co-workers and set yourself for a productive day, so by 9 am you’ll be ready to get busy. Try your best to never miss deadlines, as this will affect the work of others.
    • Arrive on time for meetings and other activities – by doing this, you’ll show respect to the time of others and your ability to manage your own time.

Getting on well with your boss and coworkers

Successful teams are built on equality, enthusiasm and mutual respect. The latter is achieved through the use of business etiquette rules for effective communication. You don’t have to befriend everyone you work with; still, respect to their opinion, expertise and willingness to find compromises are necessary for achieving company’s goals.

  1. Be thoughtful, positive and polite – an open office is a kind of melting pot of people with different backgrounds, education and tempo. And the only way to collaborate productively in this environment is to foster courtesy and respect to each other. Don’t hesitate to use ‘excuse me’, ‘thank you’, ‘please’ and other expressions of this kind even if you’re not totally sure the situation requires it. Master the active listening skill so as to hear and understand the point of view of your colleague without interrupting them – career experts and seasoned resume writers always highlight this point.
    In the office you need to behave formally and politely, even if you’re working with friends and the office environment is quite casual. If you can’t feel the line between the right and wrong conduct, imagine a valuable client entering your office. Would he be comfortable seeing the environment and your manners in particular?
  2. Keep your boss informed – the best way to impress your boss is to relieve them from the necessity to micromanage. In other words, don’t bother him/her every time you need the task assigned or a minor issue arises. On the contrary, do keep your boss informed on the status of your project, and ask for help if something doesn’t go to plan. Be initiative and if you have any applicable suggestions regarding the work process, feel free to come up with them. Being a self-started coupled with willingness to inform your manager on any important issues is a good tone. Moreover, building effective relationships with your boss is one of the important components of professional development at work.
  3. Manage your emotions – open space isn’t the best place to lose your tempo even if you’re angry and upset. It doesn’t mean that you should hide and suppress your emotions – it’s harmful for your health. Nevertheless, don’t let them take over as it’s easy to say something you’ll later regret. A good etiquette assumes that you acknowledge your emotion and say aloud what you think and feel, but in a soft and polite way. This rule is twice as much important if you work with key accounts.
  4. Acknowledge and accept criticism – nobody is perfect, so once you’ll have to face criticism from the side of your boss and coworkers. Here are the two things you should do: a)take it on your stride without blaming someone else for the things that went wrong and b)accept criticism in the right way and learn from your mistakes. If you don’t know how to behave in front of someone criticizing you, here you’ll find a few hints: The correct way of accepting criticism shows your professionalism, good etiquette and adaptability.
  5. Beware of expressing sexism – today’s etiquette at work is gender neutral. Moreover, during your daily communication with coworkers avoid any kind of behavior that can be perceived as sexism or sexual harassment (i.e. joking or showing your sexual affection to someone you work with). Remember that the kinds of behavior such as paying for the meal or helping to get off elevators which were appropriate in the past can be treated wrong now.
    If you feel that someone expresses sexism towards you, learn how to react to this here:
  6. Follow your body language – many professionals care of their language and work attitude but totally forget about that body language. However, it plays the vital role in making a good first impression! So, learn the basics of body language and use it in communication with coworkers and clients. Your posture, eye contact, smile and other details should demonstrate your attention and respect to your interlocutor, and the quality of your interactions will only benefit from it. You can train your body language during the interviews (by the way, here’s a list of questions to ask job interviewer).
    If you are serious about changing the job, consider purchasing a cost-effective resume that will generate you more interviews.

Control your use of technology

Since the modern technology such as smartphones, tablets and web platforms occupied our everyday life, it became a part of our professional life as well. You are expected to use professional software, e-mail, etc. in the most productive way and in the same time don’t let the private tech distractions interfere with your working process. Here’s how to maintain good etiquette in this case:

  • Put your phone away during meetings, face-to-face conversations, and other work-related events. Not only smartphone serves as a huge distraction, but also it shows disrespect to people around you. When chatting or scrolling during the meeting or negotiation, you lose touch with what is going on in the room, lose credit your boss gave you and make a poor impression as a company representative. Again, it is expected that you are fully focused on your work while in the office, not on texting with your boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • Job-related posts shouldn’t belong to your social media profiles. Keep your Facebook or Instagram account fully focused on your private life (unless sharing job-related posts is one of your responsibilities). Just like inappropriate social media posts can prevent you from getting a job, they can damage your career. Avoid spreading the word about confidential details of working process, as well as badmouthing your boss or coworkers. Remember that it only takes a few clicks to find your personal page, so keep job-related issues out of there.
    If you want to use the social media to find a job, start with getting your resume updated professionally for a better result.
  • Use e-mail and internal chats wisely – technology has improved business communication dramatically. You can send a short text without the necessity to go three floors up and meet someone in person. Still, due to such availability you have to balance between being in touch and being productive. According to office etiquette, it is appropriate to check your mailbox once or twice a day and respond to all incoming. However, keep in mind that workplace e-mail isn’t private and you shouldn’t speak as freely as if you were talking to a friend. Successful e-mail communication requires you to write clearly and concisely; so, if your writing skills need improvement, check content writing tips for novice.
  • Use workplace computer for work only – most big companies block the access to social media and likewise websites on corporate computers; but even if they don’t, checking your Facebook during working hours isn’t the best idea. Remember that all your web actions can easily be tracked – your boss is literally spying on you. Remember that all those videos with kittens can reflect on your salary eventually.

Business cocktail etiquette

Whether you like it or not, your job assumes that you visit some kind of corporate events, presentations, celebrations, etc. Business events of this kind require you to follow certain etiquette rules as well. To make a good impression during the professional party, be sure to do the following:

  • Get dressed appropriately – the type of the event often gives you the hint of how to dress, so don’t neglect the rules of dress code. However, even if the event was announced as casual, don’t just put on something you’d typically wear when going to get some food in a local store. Get dressed casually, but stylish and with good taste;
  • Grab a plenty of business cards with you – even in the era of smartphones people still use them for networking. To get the most out of your cards, it’s a good idea to put on them a QR code that would take to your LinkedIn profile, online portfolio or resume (if you need your resume done rapidly, we can provide quality resume help at a cheap price);
  •  Don’t head to a buffet at once – not only this is considered a poor etiquette, but also it isn’t good for your career. You need to spend this valuable time making new professional connections, not eating something you can easily get in the nearest supermarket. However, if you haven’t eaten in advance, do have some snack so you wouldn’t drink on empty stomach;
  • Keep your drink in the left hand so the right remains dry in case someone comes up to greet you. There are a plenty of surefire ways of spoiling the first impression, and wet handshake is one of them. The handshake can tell a lot about you – check if yours sends the right message;
  • Observe for a while when choosing a group to join – if you see a few people engaged in serious conversation, don’t just break in. instead, look up for groups where people look friendly and relaxed. However, even in this case you shouldn’t interrupt the dialogue. Come closer, smile, and ask whether you can join them, and only then get engaged in a group conversation;
  • When joining people you haven’t met before say your name clearly and shake everyone’s hand. It’s a good tone to ask where they’re from or which company they represent (if this is a huge event). Learning about people’s background will provide you with hints for subjects of conversation. Moreover, this shows your courtesy and interest. And, if the interest turns out to be mutual, you can exchange your business cards or set up a LinkedIn connection. Don’t be annoying and don’t offer your cards to someone you haven’t talked to or someone who obviously isn’t interested;
  • Keep subjects of conversation neutral – even if this is a casual event, beware to raise touchy or controversial subjects such as politics, religion, etc. Remember that your goal is to establish new connections, not to provoke a discussion which is the sign of a bad tone.

For more guidance about corporate events and how to get the most out of them read how to behave at the office party.

Showing good manners isn’t that difficult, is it?

Good etiquette is the key to successful communication, mutual respect and positive attitude in the office. Luckily, it’s very easy to learn the basics of etiquette and stick to it. Moreover, it’s very efficient both for the company and your prospective career.

Need a stellar resume to get hired to your dream company? Our experts can’t teach your proper etiquette; however, they do can make your resume look up to scratch. Learn more about our prices and packages or contact us anytime to discuss your needs.

Do you consider yourself as a person with perfect manners? Why/why not?

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