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The Unwritten Rules of the Office

When you started with your company, you were more than likely handed an employee handbook, had office policies explained to you, and gained an understanding of what was expected of you in the role you were hired for. However, there is another category of workplace rules that are not written anywhere and govern not only the way things actually get done but shape company culture. According to Frances Frei and Anne Morris in the Harvard Business Review, these rules pick up where the employee handbook leaves off. Mistakes regarding the unwritten rules of the company usually aren’t what get you in trouble with human resources or supervisors, but they are the things that will turn off coworkers or clients and leave you feeling isolated.

Now, just knowing these rules exist is not enough. Each workplace has their own set of “rules” and it is up to you to decipher the unwritten rules of your own office, but there will be some rules that show up in almost every workplace. We have accumulated several of the most common unwritten rules that could save you from a potentially sticky situation in the office.

First and foremost, be respectful of other people’s time. Obviously, arriving at the office on time is a given. But timeliness is also important if you are visiting a client as well. Being on time shines a light on the fact that you’re serious about the work that must be done and that you respect the other person’s time. Nobody wants to feel that you think your time is more important than theirs, so it’s considered good practice to let the other person know when you’re running late and keep them updated.

It is also important to maintain a balance between sharing personal details and being professional. Recognize the boundaries for the kinds of personal details you share with coworkers. Also, avoid making anyone feel obligated to divulge personal information. Of course, you don’t want to appear snobbish by not sharing at all, but be mindful that the stories you share are not distracting you or anyone else from professional projects.

Try not to harbor a negative attitude or complain all of the time. It’s normal to have a complaint every now and then, but you want to maintain a generally good spirited mindset.

Another unwritten rule to keep in mind is keeping your workplace clean. This doesn’t mean only at your desk, but also in common areas of the office. You don’t want to be known as someone who can’t pick up after themselves, but rather as someone who is organized and clean. This is more of a manners-based rule, rather than something that has to do with a company’s specific business.

Last, but certainly not least, respect seniority. It exists in almost every workplace. Those who have been around for the longest tend to have the deepest connections within the company. It’s good practice to show respect for those who have a longer tenure at the company than you, and sometimes they even have tips to help you avoid making mistakes.

In the end, no matter what is handed to you at your orientation at a new company, all you need to know to succeed isn’t necessarily written out. By observing the office environment and culture, you will discover these rules. Of course, you can’t go wrong by remembering the golden rule: treat others as you would want to be treated. Simple gestures of inclusivity, like inviting more people to lunch or saying hello to people the first time you see them, are useful and hold a lot of meaning.

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