Proper office etiquette tips are a recipe for success

Congratulations! You’ve gotten the job; now you can let your guard down and move full speed ahead toward making yourself an integral part of the office staff, right?

Actually, chances are you could make some big mistakes in your first few days if you don’t remember (or, worse, don’t know) some basic rules of on-the-job etiquette.

As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a good first impression, and first impressions are often the ones that linger in people’s minds. Be sure you exude professionalism and confidence (but not cockiness) by remembering a few key points:

Mind your manners. Stand straight (slouching screams “slacker”), make eye contact, turn toward people who speak to you, and offer a genuine smile. (If smiling doesn’t come naturally to you, practice in front of a mirror. You want to look sincerely interested, not as if you’re frozen for a camera.) And shake hands when you are introduced to someone, firmly but gently – no dead fish but no battle of strength. (Again, if you need to, practice until you’re comfortable.)

Look the part. Follow your office’s dress code or even step it up a notch ­– just don’t go overboard. Buy professional accessories; leave the college backpack at home and buy a good-quality, briefcase-style computer bag. Fill it with a nice notepad and ink pen, or perhaps a pen and pencil set. Details make the man or woman.

Do as others do, only better. Follow your company’s work hours, and consider arriving a bit early and staying a bit late. Treat your coworkers with kindness and respect, even those who might not treat you the same way.


After you’ve made a good first impression, keep and grow your positive image as a professional. One way to do that is to perfect your office persona:

Be friendly, but not too friendly. Getting to know people’s names quickly is important, and that includes support staff. But this is the office, not a social club or dating pool, so keep your friendliness in check. Be pleasant and genuinely interested in coworkers, but don’t confide your darkest secrets, or listen to others’. Don’t bore coworkers with – or waste company time on – your son’s soccer exploits. Don’t gossip; don’t even listen to gossip, no matter how juicy. And beware company parties – professional reputations have been ruined by inappropriate party behavior.

Respect others’ personal space. Ask before entering a coworker’s office or cubicle and don’t sit on his desk to chat. Ask before borrowing someone’s supplies, computer, or chair, but if you wouldn’t be comfortable lending yours, don’t ask at all. Remember that eavesdropping is an invasion of space and privacy, including standing by while someone finishes a phone call. Reading someone else’s email is an off-the-charts invasion, even if it’s open on her computer.

And never stand too close. Not only is that an intrusion into personal space, but it could also be construed as harassment.

Keep your work space clean, neat and professional. A family photo, a plant and a tasteful coffee mug are fine, but going overboard with personal items is not. Eat in the kitchen and tidy up your area before leaving each day. Spend work time working, not talking on your cell phone, playing computer games or shopping online.

Don’t criticize or complain. You may disagree with how another person handles a situation, but it’s not your duty to judge others. Unless you are a manager, you are responsible only for yourself.

And whatever you do, don’t take your complaints to Facebook or Twitter. That’s a sure recipe for professionalism disaster.


Next time we’ll talk about other important office etiquette topics, communication and how to handle meetings. In the meantime, if you have questions, comments, or need more information, contact us.

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