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Confusing business etiquette explained

arnk02v6xc60q678mnxgYou might have bagged an amazing job opportunity with a great company but however impressive your academic qualifications are, it’s all too easy to upset or alienate your workmates by making a simple breach of office etiquette.

With the help of Tanya de Grunwald, founder of the graduate careers blog Graduate Fog and author of How to Get a Graduate Job in a Recession, we’ve put together a list of common pitfalls awaiting the unwary in the world of work…

1. Behave appropriately – and stay sober

You might be excited at landing your first real job and instantly click with your new workmates, but hold back a little until you know everyone properly, especially where “team drinks” are concentred.

‘This is not the same as being in the pub with your mates, so be friendly but don’t over-share,’ advises Tanya. ‘Office politics aren’t immediately obvious, so take time to get to know people and the lie of the land. And watch how much you drink at office social events, even if others are taking full advantage of the free bar.’

Sensitive or potentially embarrassing personal details shared in the pub after work could be common knowledge by lunchtime the next day if you accidentally confide in the office gossip. There’s always (at least) one.

2. Taking or making personal phone calls

We might do most of our communicating via text message or social media these days, but phone calls are still an important part of everyday life, especially when dealing with organisations or tradespeople.

‘Many workplaces will be fine with you making or accepting the occasional urgent personal call during work hours, so long as you keep them short and to the point,’ says Tanya. ‘However, if you’re interning or very new in your role, it’s best to let it go to voicemail, step outside and call them back during a break.’

Even if your manager is not in the office, your workmates are unlikely to want to hear you engage in a heated 30-minute debate with a customer services advisor.

If you have to take a phone call of a more personal nature and you work in a shared space, pop out of the office and make your excuses upon your return.

There are rules around texting in the workplace too. ‘Because many offices are relaxed, it can be hard to differentiate between formal and familiar situations,’ says Tanya. ‘The rules are: never text with bad news, don’t text to call in sick and never text your boss unless he/she has texted you first.’

3. Leaving before your colleagues

When you’re new to a job it’s natural to want to impress with your willingness to go the extra mile, and some companies are only too happy to exploit that goodwill, but what if your boss is a workaholic who stays until 7pm every night?

‘If you’re finding it hard to gauge the expectations on you and your hours are not clearly defined in your contract, feel free to check with your manager or colleagues,’ suggests Tanya. ‘Leave around that time, unless there’s something really urgent that needs doing. And try not to leave on the dot every day. It gives the impression you’ve been ‘clock-watching’ for the last hour – and that you see your job like a “shift” rather than something you’re really into.’

If your boss and the rest of the team are still working when it’s home time, pop over and let him or her know you’re planning on calling it a day – “unless there’s anything else you need me to do?”

‘If you need to knock-off early on any given day, ask your boss for permission as far ahead as possible – preferably not on the day concerned. They’re under no obligation to let you go, so always offer to make the time up later,’ suggests Tanya.

4. Don’t play that funky music

Music in the workplace is fine if you happen to work in a hairdressing salon, a bar or a recording studio – but it should be pretty obvious that it’s a no-no in most other situations.

What might not be so obvious is that it’s also bad form to sit at your desk with your headphones on, even if you have a job that doesn’t require much office interaction and your workmates aren’t particularly chatty.

‘Working with one of your key senses blocked creates a division between yourself and your colleagues and can build resentment and the impression that you’re not a team player,’ warns Tanya. ‘You could also miss out on important conversations and it’s also annoying if your boss needs to get your attention.’

5. Keep emails formal

We rarely write formal letters on paper any more, but there was a good reason for the dry, unambiguous language that business correspondence was written in when it was all on paper.

Tanya says, ‘Our electronic missives have become much less codified, but it’s still important to keep your work communications free from slang, too much abbreviation and smiley faces.’

It’s also best to refrain from jokes unless the recipient is a friend as well as a colleague – and while you might be teased for one accidental “x” on the end of an email, you’ll end up scaring people if you do it all the time.

6. Know who to introduce first

Meeting new people in a business setting can feel awkward, but if in doubt, offer to shake hands.

‘Look them in the eye and keep the handshake firm, but not too strong or too weak,’ says Tanya.

But what happens when you’re called upon to introduce someone to a room of people?

‘When you need to introduce people, always present the most senior business person in the room first. And when you need to introduce yourself, remember to use your surname, not just your first name. Women are particularly likely to forget this, but it can undermine your credibility.’

7. Stay away if you’re sick

We all like to think that we’re indispensable and that the business would collapse if we had to take a day off work unscheduled – and it’s also tempting to think our workmates will thank us for battling against adversity to get the job done.

In reality, you’re likely to provoke resentment if you turn up at work looking like an extra from The Walking Dead. If you must soldier bravely on, do so from your laptop at home where you can hold the fort without infecting the rest of the troops.

Finally, don’t forget to let your boss know you won’t be coming into work.

‘A phone call is always preferable,’ says Tanya. ‘Never text and never have someone else make the call for you – unless you’re really at death’s door or have lost your voice.’

Book link
How to Get a Graduate Job in a Recession by Tanya de Grunwald

Image: © apops –

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