Office Etiquette

Monday Author: Susanne Skinner

Bad manners are bad for business. Basic rules of office etiquette seem like a no brainer but I’m not convinced everyone is on my page with this concept. There is a link between good business protocol and co-worker harmony. When bad manners creep in they make your work place uncomfortable and unproductive.

Secretary at desk with a typewriterOffice manners are all about the ability to work side-by-side, even if you aren’t BFFs. They’re a deciding factor in how colleagues relate and respond to you. Bad manners affect everybody, but it appears not everybody knows what constitutes bad manners in the office.

High walls are fading, replaced by the open-concept office. Personal space takes on new meaning when you live together on the open plain and it deserves our respect. We all need to get our best behavior on when we go in to the office.


Nowhere are bad manners more widespread than the world of email. One company I worked for included email dos and don’ts as part of their employee orientation. I gave it a passing glance; believing I knew all there was to know. Turns out I didn’t.  In the interest of brevity and speed I am guilty of typing quick responses without taking time to include a salutation or close. I have been known to type a single word and hit return. I am working hard to remedy this shortcoming.

This is my e-manners list:

  • Your subject line must match your subject
  • Always use professional salutations
  • Be brief and to the point
  • Consider the use of ‘reply all’ before using it
  • Include an email signature
  • Nothing good ever comes from bcc:
  • Check and double check the recipients’ names
  • Do not use all CAPS in the body of your email
  • Proof read and use spell checker
  • Always reply—non response does not give plausible deniability
  • Try to reply within 24 hours

And my own particular pet peeve

  • Avoid the delivery or read receipt option unless absolutely necessary. It very rarely is and it’s annoying. 

Nobody Wants Your Germs

My company has a clear policy on sick leave. It reads “if you are stick please stay home and return when you are well.  Do it.

Rainn Wilson from The Office: Would an Idiot do That?It is beyond inconsiderate to come into the office when you are under the weather.  Even a simple cold morphs into Typhoid Mary and can take out an entire department. Our work culture is partly to blame for this one but no individual or job is that important. If you must work when you are sick, work from home.

Meeting Manners

Let’s get a bunch of people in a conference room for an hour and waste their time while failing to make a decision.

Everyone’s time is valuable. If you have called a meeting or are attending one make sure your attention is focused on a clear set of deliverables and accomplishments.

Productive meetings respect the value of time. They solve problems, set direction and strategy, and deliver results. By observing a few best practices organizers and attendees get what they came for.

  • Respect people’s time
  • Publish an agenda in advance of the meeting
  • Indicate the purpose and goals of the meeting
  • Never arrive or start late without a very good reason
  • Make sure dial-in numbers and links are working ahead of time*
  • Do not text or take calls

* I have a love-hate relationship with GoToMeeting. I learned the hard way that dial-in numbers will expire even if you have a recurring meeting.

Proper meeting etiquette and good planning are two of the most important parts of a successful meeting. When they fall by the wayside a wasted hour becomes the new meeting standard.

Thou Shalt Not

Some behaviors are just plain wrong.  That being said, many of the offenses listed below are common. Do not:

  • Wear strong perfume or cologne
  • Take food from the refrigerator that does not belong to you
  • Use offensive language
  • Forgo showering or the use of deodorant
  • Reheat fish or burn popcorn in the kitchen microwave*
  • Leave food and unwashed dishes in the sink
  • Walk away from a paper jam
  • Whistle, hum, or sing along to the music in your ear buds
  • Conduct personal hygiene at your desk
  • Use your cell phone in the restroom
  • Take out your bad mood on your colleagues
  • Let a colleague’s rudeness diminish your good manners

* The popcorn burner gets one get-out-of-jail-free card.  Blaming the microwave is allowed, but only once.

We know that behaviors like these are rude. If you wouldn’t behave this way outside of the office why behave inconsiderately at work?  Your office it is your home for five days a week. The people you work with effectively become your second family and the way you conduct yourself will determine how you’re treated. Attitude is a decision—don’t let your mood define your manners.

Manners Cost NothingMost of us already know these things. When bad manners present themselves at work, it’s often unintentional. People become focused and lose sight of the impact their words and actions have on others. When disrespectful conduct surfaces, or when it’s used by executives towards others, it becomes part of the organization’s culture. Bad manners are absorbed into the daily routine; nobody demands or expects polite behavior.

Good manners were part of our growing up; but over the years work culture has relaxed. Offices are open and casual; formalities are no longer a part of the setting. That’s a good thing from where I’m sitting because I enjoy the millennial culture much more than the hierarchical culture that defined my early career. Part of that open culture is the practice of good office manners. Accept nothing less from yourself and others. Each of us is responsible for creating good office Karma.

One thought on “Office Etiquette

  1. we get an idea that most of us already know these things. When bad manners present themselves at work, it’s often unintentional.These post also is about that only.

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