What Is (And Isn’t) Acceptable Office Etiquette?

The workplace has changed almost beyond recognition over recent years. Technology, open plan working spaces and flexible work patterns are just a few factors that have had a radical impact on how our staff work and as a result, office etiquette.

Some businesses have embraced change more readily than others, so what might be acceptable behaviour to one employer, may be entirely unacceptable for another.

As a result, whether it’s a new employee or a staff member who has been with you for a long time, there is a good chance that there are office etiquette issues people aren’t quite sure about and, perhaps, are even embarrassed to ask.

Office Etiquette Challenges

Left unchallenged, misunderstandings about acceptable office etiquette can quickly lead to discontent or even conflict within your workforce. But before we look at that, let’s look at some examples of what we are talking about.

  • Open plan workspace irritations
    • Flexible working patterns and the resulting comings and goings.
    • Excessive co-worker noise.
    • Talking too loudly on mobiles.
    • Strong smelling food.
    • Not contributing to office cleanliness.
  • The trouble with tech
    • Long or frequent personal calls.
    • Wearing headphones while at work.
    • Deciding to work remotely without telling their colleagues.
  • Consideration for their teammates
    • Rocking up late for meetings.
    • Worse still, not turning up at all!
    • Disrupting others.
    • Turning up for work full of colds or viruses.
    • Pinching someone’s lunch from the shared fridge.
    • Fiddling with phones while in meetings or talking to colleagues.

In isolation, or on the odd occasion, it’s likely that most reasonable employees wouldn’t get too worked up about some of the minor niggles. However, when it becomes persistent and disruptive to others, you have a problem that you need to tackle. Worse still, if staff clearly contravene company policy and you don’t act, you’re setting yourself up for a whole host of problems.

Warning Signs To Look Out For:

If you know your team well, you’ll probably be able to spot underlying tensions, defensive body language or off-the-cuff comments that suggest there is something amiss. Alternatively, you might hear rumblings from other staff that certain individuals are causing irritation in the ranks.

Minor workplace disagreements aren’t unusual. But if you notice that certain members of the team can’t resolve matters or move on from a seemingly minor issue, it’s a good hint that there is something more simmering.

In this kind of situation, you must rely on your emotional intelligence instead of waiting for the situation to escalate.

What To Do:

There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to dealing with what different people perceive as acceptable behaviour unless you are prepared to have a strict policy that is updated continuously as new issues emerge.

In all honesty, that might start to feel dictatorial and oppressive in many businesses and wouldn’t foster good working relationships or motivated and enthusiastic staff. You are going to need to strike a balance when looking for good office etiquette!

Policies regarding flexible or remote working, personal phone calls, attendance and punctuality at meetings and the like are straightforward. They will certainly protect you in the event you are faced with performance management issues in the future.

However, minor irritations that affect inter-personal relationships between your employees will need you to draw on your softer skills.

In much the same way you might deal with these issues within a personal relationship or with children, you need to encourage your staff to communicate, in a non-confrontational way, about how certain things impact on others.

Acknowledge how all parties feel and look for a positive and constructive way forward. Empowering staff to find and implement their own solutions will enhance the chance of achieving a successful resolution.

You could consider introducing a rota for tea and coffee rounds and if people want drinks outside agreed times, agree they don’t need to make on for everyone; make teams responsible for their own washing-up, or have a no eating at their desk rule.

Compromising to accommodate others is an unavoidable part of life, and the workplace is no exception.

Office Etiquette Summary:

Setting company standards and communicating them to your staff frequently is your duty as a business owner or senior manager. When it comes to office etiquette – building a company ethos to support your values will send a powerful message to current and future employees and ensure that they ‘buy-in’ to what your organisation stands for.

If you’d like help to develop robust policies regarding acceptable office etiquette in your workplace, or you have a conflict that you need help to resolve, please do not hesitate to contact us for support at [email protected].

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