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  • Writer's pictureSarah Butler

Workplace Etiquette: 6 General Tips For The Office

Updated: Jan 5, 2023

In the business world, good business etiquette is essential for success. Etiquette refers to the set of written or often unwritten rules that govern social situations, professional workplaces, and relationships.

Good business etiquette means that you act professionally and exercise proper manners when engaging with others. Being mindful of etiquette can help you to stand out from others and improve your chances of success.

According to Hubspot there are five types of etiquette in business:

  1. Workplace/office

  2. Meal/social

  3. Communication

  4. Professionalism

  5. Meeting

In this article we will focus on workplace or office etiquette.

Office etiquette

Office etiquette is important for creating a productive and positive work environment. Proper office etiquette can help to foster a sense of camaraderie and respect among coworkers, which can lead to better teamwork and productivity.

Note that office etiquette and norms will differ depending on the organisational culture. Pick up on what's acceptable and what isn't by reading organisational literature like a code of conduct, observing the behaviour of seniors, and following the universally accepted rules outlined in this article.

Here are some of the key office etiquette rules that every professional should follow:

1. Introduce yourself properly & professionally

When someone you haven't met before comes into your presence take the initiative by rising, greeting the person, smiling, saying your full name and position and shaking their hand. It may also be appropriate to welcome them if for example, they are a new team member.

It is worth noting that shaking hands was not the norm during the height of the pandemic and some people are still a little resistant to this now. If someone is reluctant to shake your hand, don't press them - take it in your stride and move on. However, you should always endeavour to shake hands. Signal your intention to do so by raising your arm early and making eye contact. A good handshake is neither too firm nor light and should be perpendicular to your arm. Don't try and put your hand on top of the other person as this can be seen as a sign of a power move.

Apart from a handshake, avoid all other physical contact, no matter how innocent, as this can be unwelcome and considered as overly familiar.

When someone is introduced to you, repeat their name back to them throughout the conversation - in a natural way. This will help you remember their name and help to create rapport as it has been proven that people enjoy hearing their name used.

"A person's name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language."Dale Carnegie

If you forget or don't hear their name, simply and politely say something like "I'm sorry I didn't catch your name. Could you repeat it please?"

2. Conversing with your colleagues

Respect for colleagues is one of the most important office etiquette rules. This includes being polite and courteous in all interactions. Listen to what other people have to say, and avoid dominating conversations.

No matter how excited you may be, try not to interrupt when others are speaking. Interrupting can come across as a sign that you believe your opinions are superior to theirs. If you are feeling the urge to step in, jot down your thought (in case you forget) and take a deep breath. Only speak up after the other person has finished expressing their idea.

Conversations should remain professional at all times. Avoid talking about personal or sensitive topics, and don’t gossip.

Respect other people’s boundaries and don’t take it personally if someone isn’t interested in engaging in conversation. Don't overshare about your personal life as this can make some people uncomfortable and may even be construed as unprofessional. Also, steer clear of hot topics like religion and politics.

When speaking with others be concise and get to the point. Then use active listening to clearly hear and understand what others are saying. It is a poor reflection of you if you ask a question about a topic that has just been discussed.

Acknowledge everyone you come into contact with. Even if it is just passing someone by in the hallway, make eye contact, smile and offer a quick hello - even if you don't know them. You may be ignored but at least you won't gain a reputation for being cold and stand-offish.

3. Present yourself appropriately

It is important to dress and groom appropriately for the workplace. Even if your workplace is super-casual make sure anything you wear is clean and presentable and that it complies with the company’s dress code, which may be formally written, or unwritten. If you are unsure of what to wear take your cues from your manager's attire. You are better to dress a notch higher than what you think rather than risk being too casual.

Remember this famous quote:

"Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have."

Even if you work from home, ensure you are wearing appropriate clothing for video calls, even if they are just internal to your workplace. This is a sign of respect for your organisation, the position you hold and a reflection of your professionalism.

4. Be punctual

Make sure to be on time for appointments and meetings. If you need to reschedule, give as much notice as possible and notify them in a method that is a quick and convenient as possible for the recipient. Think twice about doing this via SMS, particularly if this is a meeting with your seniors or an external party like a client. A text message may be seen as too casual and flippant. If you do choose to use SMS, then follow up later when you have the time with an explanatory email or call while also offering your apologies and the opportunity to reschedule.

Don’t keep people waiting unnecessarily. This can be misconstrued as unorganised and disrespectful. In the worst case, others may interpret your tardiness as you not valuing their time. Leave plenty of time between meetings and allow for delays like traffic or software updates or technical issues if connecting online.

Be sure to finish meetings at the specified end time, or better yet, earlier. People will be impressed and appreciative if the hour-long discussion is concluded 10 minutes before its allotted time.

5. Respect your environment

Your office environment needs to be treated with respect. This means simple things like returning items you have borrowed, throwing waste in the appropriate bin, replenishing paper in the printer, and reporting malfunctioning or broken equipment to the relevant person.

Don't use office facilities for your own personal use such as using the colour printer to print your birthday invitations.

Keep your desk free of clutter and debris and regularly sanitise the area - particularly if you are hot desking. Keep personal mementos to a bare few. It isn't professional for your desk to be awash with your life story.

Clean up after yourself in shared spaces like meeting rooms and the kitchen. A surefire way for tempers to flare in the workplace is to leave a mess for the next person. Wash kitchen items, wipe surfaces, and replace the water cooler bottle if it's empty. And please do not heat up super-stinky items. Before eating at your desk check that it is acceptable to do so and if so, ditto about eating smelly food. Ensure whatever you are eating is done so quietly and with your mouth closed. Never eat while speaking to someone whether it be in person or on a call.

Take it one step further and clean up after others when you notice a mess has been left - particularly somewhere public facing like a waiting area or meeting space.

6. Don't distract others

Respect other people’s need to work by keeping noise levels to a minimum. This includes things like taking phone calls (particularly personal ones) in another area, avoiding interrupting them with trivial matters and making small talk in the workspace. Save these moments for the lunch room or water cooler - that's why they are called 'water cooler conversations' because these are the most appropriate places to catch up with a work buddy about the latest sports or show you just watched.

Turn off audible notifications on all of your devices and never play music in a shared space without gaining the agreement of all beforehand.

If someone has their headphones on and is resisting eye contact then this is usually a clear sign that they wish to be left to concentrate so only interrupt these people if it is essential.

Be a role model

The way employees behave in the workplace should be led by the example of their manager. If a manager is prompt, courteous, and professional, they can create a pleasant atmosphere for their team. Organisations can make it easier for their workers to be aware of the appropriate behaviour by including rules in their employee handbook or having HR do onboarding presentations or providing manuals on workplace etiquette.

Managers should also encourage their staff to respect each other and avoid gossip, treating everyone equally. It is also a good idea for managers to remind their employees of the standard of professionalism expected and consult HR for any help needed. Showing appreciation for those who go beyond the basic requirements is a great way to positively reinforce proper behaviour.

Wrapping up

By following these office etiquette practices, you can contribute to a harmonious and positive work environment and boost your professional appearance. It is important to remember that office etiquette is not just about rules and regulations, but about creating a culture of respect and good conduct in the workplace.

Be aware that workplace culture and norms are constantly evolving so you need to keep pace with any shifts. Lastly role model the standards of behaviour and etiquette you wish to see in your workplace.

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