Say “please” and “thank you” and keep your hands off—everything that isn’t yours. There are definitely two camps when it comes to workplace etiquette. One camp says abide by the strict rules laid down by your parents and you’ll be fine. The other says an office presents a different set of manners that need minding. We think a combination of the two will pack the best etiquette punch. Etiquette has to do with appropriateness so while some of the basic rules of etiquette are covered by human resources, there are some unwritten rules that we’re going cover.
Here are some of the basics you probably already know or have experienced but might appreciate a reminder (or, ahem, might like to avail to someone else in your office space).
Touching: Keep it Simple with a Handshake
Let’s cover the big one first: touching and personal space in the workplace. So much depends on the ethos and structure of a business when it comes to hugging, for instance. Much of the time a split second judgment will have to be used to determine what is appropriate. But don’t make assumptions. Instead, make it easier on everyone and stick to the most widely accepted form of personal touch in business: the handshake. Shake a hand and leave it at that. No need for shoulder rubs, hugs, knee pats or elbow grabs. While you may be comfortable, assume your knowledge of how others might experience any touching beyond a handshake as nonexistent. Anything beyond a handshake leaves a vast chasm where someone can interpret your good humor differently than intended. The workplace is for focusing on work. Keep physical interactions simple with a handshake so attention can remain focused on projects and business and the bottom line.
Email Subject Lines: Accuracy of Language
If emailing is a first point of connection with a new client, customer or co-worker, the professional route is really the only way to go. Subject lines are critical. This is the first opportunity to communicate your professionalism. Avoid generic subject lines like: “Hi” or “New project” or the ever-famous blank subject line which says much without saying anything. When crafting your subject line, get into the mode of email etiquette and ask yourself what you could include that might help the recipient search and find your email later, if need be. Be clear, yet concise:
“Hertz Client // January Billing Question”
“Staff Meeting 8.24 // agenda items needed”
“2014 October Google Analytics // response requested”
Then, make the body of your email match the subject. Avoid bringing up new ideas for other clients or random thoughts that don’t apply to the subject. Nail your subject line and maintain your professionalism.
Watch Your Language: Your Mother Was Right
Turns out, swearing and cursing at work is more than just tacky. Cursing gives the impression that you lack intelligence—never a good thing if you’re looking to advance and get a promotion. Swearing on the job also lessens your trustworthiness in the eyes of your superiors. Don’t forget, too, that even if it isn’t formal, your words and actions are mentoring new people on the job. Most importantly, swearing signals a lack of creativity. Creativity is considered an asset to businesses looking to advance in their industry or sector. Keep your language in check—communication that includes curse words can hint that you can’t calmly handle high-pressure situations. Office etiquette on swearing: watch your language.
Gadgets at Meetings: Zero Tolerance
Turn off your phones, cover your tablets, close your laptops when a meeting begins. Nothing is more obnoxious than someone fiddling with their devices during a meeting. Gimmicks can work like the person who’s phone rings during the meeting has to buy donuts for the staff the next morning. But when it comes to workplace etiquette fully engaging in a meeting will only be helpful and noted. Everyone bristles at coworkers with necks bent over a glowing screen. It screams: this is way more important and interesting than anything you’re saying. There are people who might make the case that they take notes on their laptops or tablets but the truth can’t be beat: unplug to mind your manners.
There are so many points of workplace etiquette—like working in open space layouts or how to behave at happy hour or even the best way to function in a workplace kitchen. Considering how professional manners are an impactful form of communication, it is wise to put these wise pieces of etiquette to good practice.