Success in the workplace means more than just showing up and completing expected tasks. Office etiquette and co-worker interaction is also an important part of your workplace performance, and it isn’t always easy.
Nadene Reynolds, associate director for professional development and experience at the University of Florida’s Career Resource Center, defines office etiquette as “a collection of behaviors and procedures, spoken and unspoken, that are normal for that particular office.” Office environments are diverse, multigenerational and can be hard to navigate. Appropriate behavior in a Big Four accounting firm may not be appropriate if you’re a CPA working for the NFL, and vice versa.
In the office
Young professionals want to prove themselves with dedication, work ethic and a desire to learn and contribute, but employers warn that there are recurring and emerging behaviors of which to be aware.
Conversations over a coffee break are where most young professionals trip up.
The line between what is appropriate to contribute to casual conversation and what should be avoided can be blurry, especially when you’re striving to fit in with co-workers. Feel free to let them know about your family’s world famous chicken enchilada recipe, but stories about your eccentric Uncle Fred might be better suited at your own dinner table.
An easy rule to follow: If it’s a conversation you wouldn’t have with your boss, it’s a conversation you shouldn’t have with your co-workers.
Maintain the same mindset when sending emails. An email’s purpose is to provide succinct information and should avoid flowery, unnecessary language. While it is important to get right to the point, avoid using text talk or shorthand such as bc, idk or LOL. Emojis are fun and have their place, but be careful not to confuse an email to your boss or colleague with a text from your BFF.
And speaking of that smartphone, it’s tempting to pick up your phone during downtime at work. Even if it’s just to check and see if you missed a text from Mom or to peek at what’s trending on Twitter—don’t.
“Resist that temptation,” Reynolds said. Phones and personal devices are a growing concern in the workplace. The New (Micro) Leisure study found that 51% of young professionals believe using phones for personal reasons at work reduces stress, but the other 49% of the same young professionals said smartphones make it harder to focus on a single task.
“Be all in when you’re there at work. Be present,” Reynolds added. “If you’re a young professional in a work environment for the first time, don’t isolate yourself in your social media world. If you’re spending lunchtime with your face in your phone you’re going to miss amazing opportunities to connect with people.”
If you do make a faux pas, use the opportunity to learn from the experience and improve upon your interactions going forward.
On the web
Social media is now playing a predominant role in the workplace. With an abundance of platforms, you may feel pressured to connect with colleagues or managers. Many corporate cultures rely heavily on social media to plan events, communicate initiatives and make important announcements. Social media can blur the line between personal and professional lives, meaning you should be extra aware of what you share.
Spend your first days on the job familiarizing yourself with the company’s social media policy, especially if you plan to post about your work life on your personal accounts. FYI: You might work for a company that monitors your personal Facebook. Or you may be asked not to post pictures with alcohol or other things that don’t align with the company’s values. Even if the rules are not spelled out in the policy, it’s wise to mind your digital manners and not post anything you wouldn’t want grandma or your boss to see.
“People can be fired because of Facebook posts,” Reynolds warned. “Before posting think about this: Does the content align with the company’s values? How will the content reflect on you as a young professional?”
The general rule: Keep it professional.
You may choose to keep your social media exclusively as a social outlet, or you may choose to blend professional and personal life. Regardless, be mindful of your personal brand. No matter what you decide, how you present yourself online reflects on the quality of employee you are to current and future employers.
And what happens when you get a friend request from Bill in purchasing?
Reynolds suggests this test: “Do you know this person well enough to want to associate them as a friend? Co-workers are not necessarily your friends. Make that distinction. Consciously think about how you want to move forward with that person.”
If you must connect with colleagues you do not have a personal relationship with, LinkedIn is the best option. LinkedIn is solely focused on networking and sharing professional milestones with peers and managers
What you can do now
If you need to build up your office etiquette skills outside of an internship, there are a few places you can look for help. Many state CPA societies host etiquette events for student members. Or check on campus with your career resource center for advice on necessary experience and skills.
Local events like career fairs or trainings are another great way to build these skills (and you can even put them on your resume). The more comfortable you get interacting with professionals and recruiters, the more comfortable you’ll be when you enter the workplace.