With the Trump presidency in full swing, it’s an ideal time to consider the rules of workplace etiquette. While his style of governance – act first, possibly think later, disparage opponents, blame scapegoats, avoid accountability through the revision of facts, ignore any inconvenient truth – has garnered headlines and fascination, it’s one that shouldn’t be held up as a role model for anyone hoping to be an exemplary colleague.
To realize your career ambitions, it’s critical to act with integrity and respect. You might think that nice guys (and gals) finish last, but this kind of approach is fundamental to the long-term success of your career (and your workplace).
Think about your appearance
There’s a reason for dress codes. A workplace must appear clean, organized, and professional and the same applies to employees. Your attire, rightly or wrongly, contributes to your professional image and what you wear should reflect your environment and position. Coming to work dressed as if you just threw on whatever was crumpled into a pile on your bedroom floor is going to send the wrong message. Do you really care about your work? Dressing like this can make it hard for people to take you seriously, which in turn, can limit your chances of moving up.
Of course, dress codes are not standard across industries. Creative outfits like advertising agencies will probably skew a little more casually than a financial institution or law firm, but if you don’t dress for a management role, you’ll never be in a management role. As they say, dress for the job you want.
A good way to gauge what’s appropriate is to look at what your colleagues are wearing.
Take care of yourself
Yes, getting out of bed in the morning can be a challenge but it’s important to give yourself time in the morning to get ready. We’re talking specifically about hygiene here. If you find colleagues avoiding your desk and you’ve been left anonymous gifts of mouthwash and deodorant, chances are good you’re going to want to put more thought into the impact your hygienic habits are having on your professional image and coworkers.
The same goes for food. No one wants their office to smell like fish, so if you’re dead set on warming up your leftover salmon, make sure you eat it in the kitchen.
Respect your colleagues’ time
Workplaces are busy. There are hundreds of demands on people’s time every day so it’s imperative to respect your colleagues’ schedules.
Sure, it’s great to have a little chat with coworkers, but maybe they don’t want to see more pictures of your kids, or hear about your thoughts on the housing market. Chances are, they’ll be too polite to actually tell you to go away, but if they start showing signs of getting back to work – like reading an email or answering with monosyllabic grunts – pick up on the cues.
If you’ve been invited to a meeting, make sure to come on time or better yet, arrive early. Coming late is disruptive and may not only delay the meeting’s start, but also its conclusion.
If you can’t attend, let someone know. Unless you’re a masochist, you really don’t want to leave a room of busy people waiting for you not to show up or have a colleague try to track you down.
It’s also a good idea to avoid the temptation of using your mobile phone during a meeting. Yes, you’re probably receiving important emails, phone calls, and WhatsApp messages, but you’ve been invited to that meeting because your input is valued. The least you could do is give your colleagues your undivided attention. This signals to them that you care, and that you can be counted on.
Keep your business and personal lives separate
There’s one (and possibly more) in every workplace: that coworker who insists on having personal phone calls at his or desk, subjecting everyone within earshot to all the intimate details of their lives. Don’t be that person.
And if you do overhear someone’s conversation, don’t bring up its details with them later. They’re probably unaware that everyone has heard about their child’s health problems and may view your concern as intrusive.
You want to maintain as pleasant as possible a relationship with your colleagues. After all, they aren’t friends whom you can choose to stop seeing. Fracture a relationship and think about how awkward it will be to see that person’s face every day.
To that end, avoid divulging too much of your private life. Think of it like when you’re hanging out with distant relatives over the holidays; it’s best to avoid topics like religion and politics.
Inevitably, there will be times when your private life will intrude but exercise discretion on how much it affects your performance. If there’s an emergency at home – a child is ill, a water pipe has burst – it’s going to be fine if you have to come in late or leave early. If, on the other hand, you had a few too many beers the night before, you’re going to have to push through that hangover and come into work.
Own your behaviour and actions. Children (and politicians) get to avoid accountability because they’re, well, children (and politicians) learning how to function in the world. Adults, on the other hand, should know better.
For example, if you’re chronically late to the office because there’s too much traffic on your commute or because your car keeps breaking down, try a different commute, take public transportation, or leave home earlier.
When you’ve made a mistake in your work, don’t make excuses. Doing so speaks greater volumes about your character than what your work says about your abilities. Above all, don’t throw a colleague or manager under the bus – it’s counterproductive and jeopardizes not only your reputation, but also your relationships.
Pay attention to details
In life and in work, it’s the little things that matter. There are a few things you can do to behave with grace in a workplace and help make the environment just a little better for everyone around you.
Treat everyone with respect and kindness.
Whenever you’re the person who uses something up, like coffee from the percolator or paper in a printer, take a few minutes to replenish the stock.
When you’re in the elevator, hold the doors open for approaching colleagues. Don’t stand there mashing the close button furiously as you mutter a completely insincere apology through the closing doors to your stranded coworkers.
Surprise your coworkers. If a colleague has done something to help you out with a job, acknowledge his or her efforts with a coffee or by taking them to lunch. Staring down the barrel of a long meeting? Bring a box of donuts or cupcakes.
There’s no doubt that a workplace can be a stressful environment and one that can push even the most mild-mannered of individuals beyond their breaking points. To act with respect and integrity, it’s probably best to take a deep breath and remember the Golden Rule, that one simple adage we’ve heard time and time again from the time we were toddlers: treat others as you want to be treated.
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