Manners exist to keep us from getting into fist fights every time more than one person hangs out in the same space for a period of time. In the office, where you don’t get to choose the people you spend time with, manners are more important than anywhere else. Too bad some of your co-workers seem to have missed the memo on office etiquette.
We would not suggest printing out the following and hanging it in the breakroom (as you’ll see, in the first rule, below). But, if your team is pondering why people seem to be getting on each other’s last nerves these days, it might be worth it to mention the following workplace do’s and don’ts as a guide.
1. “Your mother doesn’t work here!”
Don’t: be passive-aggressive.
Kitchen notes, vaguely accusatory emails, muttering under your breath … however you convey it, passive-aggression is not the way to communicate effectively with your co-workers. Yes, they should clean up their mugs and be on time for meetings and hold the elevator door; no, you shouldn’t try to get them to do this by hinting around. The secret about passive-aggression is that it’s just aggression, minus the willingness to take responsibility for what you want.
Do: be direct.
No one likes to be told that they’re doing something wrong, but it goes down easier if the person giving the message talks about the issue openly. For one thing, it shows respect. For another, it’s harder to misunderstand and blow it up into a larger problem.
2. Just because your lunch tastes good, doesn’t mean it smells good.
Don’t: eat your stinky tuna sandwich or hard-boiled eggs at your desk.
Food always smells great to the person who’s eating it. To everyone else, it smells like a freshly filled wastebasket.
Do: eat at a table, like a human.
Let your consideration for your co-workers inspire you to take an actual lunch break, away from your desk, and you’ll improve your productivity and maybe even your mood. Plus, lunch is a great time to connect with your colleagues without having to attend some horrifying networking function after work hours.
3. Music makes you more productive, but only if it’s your music.
Don’t: force other people to listen to your tunes.
Some offices have a stereo setup that’s shared, with the assumption that everyone will bond over music and work that much faster. These offices might secretly be psych experiments, or a reality TV show in the making. If you do share music, you should be willing to take turns controlling the stereo, so that country-music fans don’t have to listen to a steady diet of EDM, etc.
Do: wear headphones when you listen to your own music.
Keep the volume low enough so that others aren’t listening along with you. (And also so that your ears don’t start bleeding.)
4. Hygiene is important.
Don’t: bathe yourself in perfume, cologne, hairspray, or other smelly products.
When is your perfume a weapon? When it’s inadvertently deployed against your fragrance allergic co-worker. For people with allergies to scent or multiple chemical sensitivity, a good smell means a bad day at the office, and possibly a trip to the emergency room. Be considerate, and leave the scented products for your time off.
Do: wash frequently.
On the other end of the smelly spectrum, there are those co-workers who seem to be saving soap for a rainy day. Don’t be one of these folks. No one wants to promote a person they don’t want to sit next to in a meeting.
5. In an open office, we create our own walls.
Don’t: assume that because there’s no office door, it’s always open.
Proponents of open plan offices say they save money on office space and promote collaboration, but for a certain type of worker, they’re absolute hell. We’re talking, of course, about introverts, people whose idea of a fun day at the office is when everyone else is at a conference.
If you’re an extroverted type, introverts might seem unsocial, but they’re not necessarily. Introverts get energy from within, and need to replenish it by being alone. To do their best work, they need a lot of space – and as few drop-ins as possible.
Do: be considerate.
The best way to be respectful of everyone’s work styles and personality types is to pretend that you all have offices and packed schedules, and act accordingly. Don’t just pop by your teammate’s cube to ask a question, especially if she seemed startled the last time; drop her an email. If it’s not an emergency, ask your colleague for a good time to chat, instead of assuming now will be just fine.
The bottom line for all these do’s and don’ts is pretty clear: treat your co-workers the way you hope they’d treat you, and be respectful of each other’s time and goals. After all, you’re all in this together.